The phone rang. It was Debbie, my birding and photography buddy, calling to tell me that a male Eurasian Wigeon had been sighted in Cañon City! She had seen it on the area’s recent Christmas Bird Count, but she’d been without her camera. Now she wanted photographs. Did I want to go back to the area with her to look for it? You bet I did. It isn’t every day a Eurasian Wigeon comes to Colorado!
The following Saturday, just as the sun was creeping over the horizon, I met Debbie and her boyfriend at the park-and-ride. They piled into my car and we took off for the hour drive south. Yawning, I kept telling myself that the trip was worth it. I’d seen this duck twice before, in northern California, but I had no photos. With its bright, rust-colored head, cream Mohawk stripe, and complementary black and gray body, the male Eurasian Wigeon is an attractive duck. I knew it would be delightfully photogenic.
We cruised into town and started hunting in places the bird had been reported recently. We saw plenty of American Wigons (right). But the Eurasian Wigeon wasn’t in any of the pools along the Arkansas River. It wasn’t at the two duck ponds we checked. In fact, it didn’t seem to be anywhere. By late morning, we had to admit we’d been skunked. The car was pretty quiet as we drove home.
A few days later, a series of gorgeous Eurasian Wigeon photos appeared on a mutual friend’s Facebook page. I was happy for her, really I was. But I wanted to see it too. At least it was still in the area; maybe it would stay all winter. I noted that the pictures were taken at the “Cañon City park duck pond,” wherever that was.
Eurasian Wigeons aren’t rare within their normal range. They breed in far-northern Europe and Asia during the summers, then migrate as far as southern Africa for the winter. With that kind of stamina, it’s not too surprising that a number of individuals end up in the U.S. every year, particularly along the east and west coasts. Having one show up in Colorado is bit more unusual. As of 2007, there had been 26 sightings. While we typically get one or two per winter, I had yet to see one of them. In addition to the photos, it would make a nice addition to my state list.
A couple of weeks went by. We celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. Then Pete and I headed south on a trip to New Mexico, where we spent several days surrounded by thousands of Sandhill Cranes and light (Snow and Ross’s) geese. I’ll post about that trip next week. We were heading home Sunday afternoon when I realized we were going to be fairly near Cañon City again. Time for a detour!
Pete outdid himself with our GPS, an aerial view from Google maps, the topo maps he’d uploaded to his laptop, and the scant information I had to give him. He found a city park with a duck pond that we’d missed on our earlier trip.
The sun was heading behind the mountains as I navigated the turns to park. As we pulled into the parking lot, I could see the pond, totally covered with quacking Mallards and American Wigeons. Some kids were throwing bread crumbs (not very healthy for the ducks), and every bird in the place was jostling for a mouthful.
Piling out of the car, I grabbed my binos and scanned the small pond. Green heads bobbed everywhere. It wasn’t in the feeding frenzy, it wasn’t near the geese, it was… there! One spotted, the bright brick head was easy to track.
I hauled out my camera equipment and had a very enjoyable photo shoot, stopping only when it was too dark to get a decent picture. You can see some of the results here. Sometimes, chasing a rarity pays off!