Friday, December 9, 2011

Antelope Island Causeway Harlequin Ducks Shot!

An online forum in Utah reports that the Harlequin Ducks we have been enjoying along the Antelope Island Causeway were shot. Damn! (And I'm not one to curse...ever. This seemed like the appropriate occasion for it.)
The late Harlequin Duck - male molting into breeding plumage - R.I.P.
Antelope Island Causeway
Photo by Paul Higgins
These three gorgeous ducks are likely to be only the 7th reported sightings officially accepted in the state of Utah. Certainly their rarity and beauty made them all the more desirable for a tactless hunter. This really sucks. We were enjoying watching them molt before our very eyes. Birders sent out reports and photos of them almost on a daily basis. We became emotionally attached. Now they are dead.

The late Harlequin Duck - female - R.I.P.
Antelope Island Causeway
Photo by Paul Higgins
I've never considered myself an "activist", but I'm certainly campaigning to stop hunting along the Antelope Island Causeway and asking for a 100 yard no-hunting buffer along both sides and maybe a restriction on chasing waterfowl with watercraft into legal waters. I've already sent letters to Davis County officials and to my local representatives in the Utah legislature and a reporter friend of mine is looking into it.

First, we need to get to the bottom of the confusion surrounding the legality of hunting along the Causeway. It is also perfectly legal to shoot waterfowl during hunting season, even the super cool vagrants, so that is not in question. It seems that even officials are not all on the same page about where and at what distances one can hunt along the Causeway.

Antelope Island, and specifically the Causeway, is famous in the birding community. Its fame for regularly hosting rare and vagrant birds has extended far beyond the shores of the Great Salt Lake. BiF! followers know that I have blogged about Antelope Island Causeway a lot since moving to Davis County, Utah about a year ago. This seven mile stretch of road on a dike is used frequently by runners and cyclists too. There simply is no reason that this Causeway should be open for hunting for the sake of human safety and for Utah birding tourism.

It has become apparent that local hunters follow the birding listservs and even my blog to learn about the rare bird sightings on the Causeway. They then use this knowledge we have so willingly, but unwittingly shared, to go and bag their trophy birds. Some hunters even brag about shooting the rare Long-tailed Ducks and Scoters we birders have found there. That just seems so unsportsmanlike and unethical. Come on some respect!

I don't have a problem with general. Hunters also have a powerful voice for conservation. I sport the Duck Stamp on my binoculars. I want to work with good hunters to further conservation partnerships with birders. Please don't see this as 'environmentalists vs. hunters'. This is not the case here. I suppose it is a case of two outdoor recreational activities butting heads, but I hope we can keep cool heads about it.

There are just some places that are so special and especially interesting for birders, that they should be protected. Losing some special ducks may have been the impetus here, but public safety is really the big issue. Birding tourism dollars for Davis County are also at stake. Birders and hunters share Farmington Bay and Bear River Migratory Refuge. All I'm asking is that hunter concede the Causeway to birders.

Utah Birders website has details about contacting authorities about this issue.


  1. That's a terrible shame. It's true that birders and hunters have conservation in common when it comes to habitats, but that amounts to little if there's no conservation of the birds themselves.

    I won't want to start inappropriately preaching here, but it seems to me that if the Endangered Species Act were administered on a state level and with state-standards, instead of in the overarching federal manner, the Harlequin ducks would've been given the necessary recognition and protection they deserve as rare birds within the state of Utah. Hunters can go hunt them up in Washington or wherever. Leave the causeway alone.

  2. I fully agree with what you've said here Robert. Hunting the causeway is inappropriate, unsafe and counterproductive to many of the goals of both the state park and Davis County. I saw hunters putting in boats at the first bridge on the morning after the last harlequin reports. Coincidence? - highly unlikely.

  3. Robert, this is so sobering and heart breaking and I agree with you. While I am not opposed to hunting either I do think that some places, such as the antelope island causeway, should be off limits. As you know, I lived in Utah before and specifically Davis county. I know the causeway well and cannot even imagine hunting being allowed anywhere near it! I have often stopped along the causeway and had my children out their. the thought that a person or child could get hit by a stay bullet or an over zealous hunter is frightening to me. I hope we can persuade cooler and calmer heads to make a rational decision and ban hunting along this beautiful stretch of road.

  4. What an absolute shame that so many should be denied the thrill of seeing the ducks in the wild so one person can have a trophy. I simply do not understand that "thrill to kill" of a rare species. If they want a memory of seeing the ducks, hunt with a camera, not a gun. The area definitely sounds like it should be a no hunting zone with all the human activity.

  5. I used to have a much more accepting view toward the sport as a whole, as others here have indicated. But for years now, I've spent countless days in the field as a photographer, sharing land with hunters, witnessing incident after incident of questionable and unethical behavior.

    In an effort to find common ground and address the issues I've encountered, I've engaged many hunters on these topics and I also regularly read hunting blogs and forums. Some hunters are clearly concerned about the same problems and we've had thoughtful debates on the subject.

    Unfortunately, there is just too much bad behavior out there which reinforces my negative perceptions. And the sad part is, most of it is legal. Unethical yes, illegal no.

    This has led me to a much less benevolent stance, especially in waterfowl hunting where the injury rate is estimated to be as high as one bird crippled and lost, for every three or four retrieved. When you see sky busters out there shooting at anything, even way out of range, and know the result will be maimed and crippled birds, you begin to lose your tolerance. Read any hunting forum long enough and you may be surprised by the commentary that prevails.

    I never post locations of where I photograph or find animals unless it's in a protected park. In fact, just a few days ago on the Field and Stream site, a writer bragged about using birding lists for unusual waterfowl sightings, so that he could better target locations. Hunters are notorious for not sharing their "honey holes," as they like to call them, so hunters do indeed turn to birding lists for information. I'd like to appeal to the best of human nature but I've learned the hard way not to.

  6. I'm more inclined to believe that the posts I'm reading from the so called 'outraged photographers' in that area bemoaning the loss of the ducks are only upset because they lost their photography subjects. No more, no less. Blab about rare birds on the internet and this is what happens.

  7. Very sad to read Robert, I have always been on the fence regarding hunting. Supporting oneself and family by providing food is one thing. Killing another being for sport alone I find awful. Too many times I will be hiking along protected land and see someone sitting on a ridge, rifle in hand, they are on the border of the land ready to shoot down towards the protected area. This is also very dangerous and why I only take my kids hiking in certain spots fall/winter.
    and to the 2nd Anonymous, very sad to read your stance. This blog especially shows how much we care about the birds. I think most if not all of us would rather see a bird than photograph it.

  8. Robert,


    It is not on an online forum.

    It is a second hand report form another birder along with bragging about killing other sea ducks on the forum.

    Thus far no one has taken claim--for the fact that not only has it outraged birders, and photographers--but also quite a few hunters are upset and think it was shady.

    I doubt we will ever find out who really did it.


  9. This EXACT SAME THING happened two years ago in Ohio. A Juvie male Harlie was shot point blank near a main interstate, just offshore, by a BIRDER who pulled the sighting off the listserv. No one would fess up but i traced some hints back to a couple in NW Ohio who vaguely said "it was taken legally." Unbelievably untactful actions by hunters.

  10. Whether or not there is proof the Harlequins were shot, the fact is, this happens all of the time ... that is, hunters following birding lists for the purposes of adding a targeted bird to their wall. Here's a current thread going on at Duck Hunting chat, about following birders to a Falcated Teal in California.

  11. Hunting Wild Duck,Goose,African Bird.They are hunt legally here in California as much as possible.