The Long-tailed Duck or Oldsquaw – Terry Thormin
A few days ago I went down to Deep Bay hoping to photograph any seabirds that might be in close to shore. Deep Bay is well known amongst bird photographers on Vancouver Island because the water is quite deep and the seabirds often come quite close to shore at the end of the spit. The biggest attraction is the Long-tailed Ducks that regularly gather there in winter. Because the bay is protected by Denman Island which lies just offshore, the waters are often quite calm and it is possible to get shots with great reflections. On this occasion I managed to luck out and conditions were just perfect.
The Long-tailed Duck used to be known as the Oldsquaw until the American Ornithologist’s Union decided that the name was politically incorrect and renamed it. This is a bird of the Arctic tundra, often nesting in the grass and sedges that border small ponds. It is a strikingly beautiful duck both in breeding and winter plumage, although I am of the opinion that it is most beautiful in winter plumage. Although I have seen them on their breeding grounds north of Inuvik many years ago, I am most familiar with them in winter around Vancouver Island.
Males and females look quite different and the females lack the long tail that gives the species its name.
Arthur Cleveland Bent in his book “Life Histories of North American Wild Fowl” refers to these birds as “lively, restless, happy-go-lucky little ducks” and I couldn’t agree more. They are continually diving and bobbing back to the surface, chasing one another and calling constantly in their hauntingly beautiful, yodeling voice “awwawwah, awwawwah”. According to the literature they have a wide variety of calls but this is the one that I seem to hear most often.
Of all the winter ducks it is the Long-tailed that I most look forward to seeing returning to our waters at this time of year. They are present off our coasts regardless of the weather, and I will often see them bobbing in the roughest of waves, but on a warm, calm, sunny day in the middle of winter I can spend hours sitting in my camp chair at Deep Bay or Goose Spit in Comox watching these wonderful ducks as they cavort in the waters just offshore. It is days like this that remind me why I moved from Edmonton’s bitterly cold winters to Vancouver Island.