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Glacier's Harlequins

Glacier’s Harlequins

John Ashley, B.A.

In Glacier Park, Harlequin ducks are as rare as grizzly bears, as secretive as goshawks, and as specialized as mountain goats. We’ll spend the day looking into the lives of these little-known natives and observing them feeding and courting during the peak of the breeding season.

Meeting Place:  Glacier Park Field Camp Meeting Hall (see campus map).

Itinerary: We’ll begin with a one-hour slide show and discussion to introduce you to the basics of Harlequin Duck ecology.  After the introduction, we’ll spend about 5-6 hours in the field finding and watching ducks along upper McDonald Creek.  We’ll return to Field Camp by about 3:00 PM.  Back in the classroom, we’ll spend about an hour mapping out summer/winter locations of any banded Harlequins that we see in the field and we’ll talk about what Harlequins need from us to survive and thrive in their summer and winter homes.  The class will end by about 4:00 PM and will not be cancelled due to weather.

Food:  Students are responsible for their own meals.  Please bring a sack lunch and ample snacks.

Required Equipment (all seasons): Warm Layers

Course Equipment: Please see basic gear list. The most important equipment during May in Glacier is good raingear!  Binoculars will be essential.  We will bring a few extra pairs to borrow if you don’t have your own.  If you have a tripod-mounted spotting scope, it will enhance your ability to see the harlequins without disturbing them.  Feel free to bring your camera if you have a strong telephoto lens, but please do not approach Harlequins with a short photo lens. 

Physical Requirements: Easy hikes. We’ll walk about two to three miles along the Going to the Sun road.  The elevation gain will be less than 100 feet.

Transportation: We will be traveling in a Glacier Institute vehicle.

Recommended Reading: Harlequin romances may be entertaining to some people, but there aren’t any trade publications that talk extensively about Harlequin Ducks.  Local author John Winnie included a short section on Harlequins in his book High Life: Animals of the Alpine World.  The best field guide for almost every conceivable subject, including harlequins, is Handbook of the Canadian Rockies by Ben Gadd published by Corax Books in Alberta. Unfortunately, it isn’t widely available.  Excellent books on general conservation include A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, Mountain Time by Paul Schullery, and Mountains Without Handrails by Joseph Sax.