I unsubscribed from a local birding listserv awhile ago. For some reason, I started receiving emails again and took it as a sign when someone reported seeing a long-tailed duck about six blocks from my home. I'd seen one before, but it was years ago in a Wisconsin sewage pond. As a matter of fact, it was so long ago, I think the bird was called by its old name: the oldsquaw.
Non Birding Bill and I have a low-key attitude towards the holiday. We do Naked Thanksgiving: no dressing, pie for breakfast, and showing our gratitude. I read the email that someone had spotted the long-tailed duck this morning at Lake Calhoun--within walking distance of our home and a periodic bike ride for us.
So, we broke tradition, put on some clothes and headed over--I made sure to take along a flask of scotch, partially for Bill and partially for a toast if we saw the bird. We went to the northeast side of the lake. That was where it was last reported. We found lots of ducks, but no long-tailed duck. I scanned the lake and noticed lots of birders scattered about the shore. I then noticed a flock of hooded mergansers and goldeneyes on the south side. We headed over. I scanned a bit and then NBB went back to the car. I ran into local birder Jim Ryan (who is a regular of Birds and Beers) and he was with another local birder named Dave (can't remember his last name). We scanned and admired the waterfowl but found no long-tail. Jim mentioned he saw an odd duck earlier but it took off. He mentioned that he thought it might go to nearby Lake Harriet and he was going to head over. I wondered if I had enough scotch for NBB, so I could pursue the duck.
Just as Jim and I were about to enter our vehicles, Dave called us over--weird duck flew in with some other waterfowl. Jim and I hustled over and sure enough...
There it was. On the left is a hooded merganser, on the right is the long-tailed duck. The long-tailed duck breeds in up in the arctic. After breeding, the ducks migrate to either coast or even to the great lakes. This bird is far from either coast and far south of Lake Superior, not sure how it got here or how long it will stay, but it was treat so close to home.
It didn't stay near us long. There was a lot of traffic on Lake Calhoun--sail boats, kayakers, fishermen. The long-tailed duck appeared to be nervous and soon flew off, perhaps searching for a less boat heavy part of the lake. There were also quite a few walkers, joggers and rollerbladers around the lake. One woman stopped to see what we were looking at and I showed her. She asked if the ducks were here because the lake was heated. Apparently, someone told her that lakes in Minneapolis stay open because the city heats them. We laughed and told her that someone fed her quite a line.
I sent NBB a text that we had the bird (he decided to wait in the car where it was heated while I searched for the long-tailed duck). He came down with the flask and all of us, including the woman who asked what we were doing had a celebratory sip of 18 year old scotch for such a great bird on Thanksgiving Day!
NBB and I returned home and resumed our gratitude.