Recently we’d been listening to strange calls passing over the woods near our home on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Our neighbor said they were Canada Geese. But they didn’t sound like Canada Geese. They were more high-pitched, more duck-like.
A birdcall recording on the radio program Birdnote solved the mystery. They’re Cackling Geese! They look like a big harlequin duck of a different color. Little fat faces, short bills.
Speaking of harlequins, our gang is back for the winter on the rocks of Slip Point.
During the plankton derth last year, there was a fish and bird die-off. Except for the family of one fat little harlequin duck, who had figured out a different way to feed.
The first time anybody saw her feeding behavior, we thought she was wounded. She was being rolled about like a football in the surf over the pebble beach, as though crippled. Binoculars showed she was happily gobbling fat beach-fleas, with no care whether her feet were in the air or not.
The next year, she’d taught a daughter how to do it.
During the die-off, their kids — at least five of them — continued to eat and stay fat. They don’t need to do it now, and it is less common, but one smart little duck kept her family line going through the bad times with a very funny feeding strategy.
Go fishing on the beach to see loons. They come right up to the line to see what bait you’re using.