Ducks have reason to be nervous around us humans in the winter, and diving ducks are always dive-ready if danger is imminent. Sometimes, I refrain from even pointing my lens at ducks, having learned that this act alone can be a stressor for them. Almost all flying ducks will divert course, even a little, when they see an object like a lens pointed at them.
Yesterday, I came upon this male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye at the Ballard Locks in Seattle, an urban waterway and interchange that takes boaters (and migrating salmon) from Puget Sound, into the ship canal, Lake Washington and beyond. After watching this duck pair for a bit, I saw they tolerated humans from certain vantage points. They only skittered if a person crossed a particular walkway near where they were foraging and diving. The interruption to their feeding each time was easily five minutes, so I avoided the walkway and perched on the spillway which seemed to bother them none. They did check me out with a cock of the head whenever they swam by.
The pattern of foraging was the same each round: the female led the way, dove first, the male would follow, and paddle under the surface with those back-set legs, toward a barnacled seawall with mussel beds. Submerged walls and wharf pilings are common dinner tables for Barrow’s.
After less than a minute of underwater time, the two would rise almost in sync, usually bearing mussels they’d pulled from the wall. The mussels were so quickly ingested, I barely caught a glimpse before the Goldeneyes splashed their bills clean and went on the next mission.
I loved watching the perfect match of physiology and purpose. When you see divers on land, it’s clear their anatomy was not built to amble. In their dives, they couldn’t be more seamless and adept. The placement of the legs gives them great propulsion for the task at hand — which is getting and staying low until food can be acquired.
Here’s a photographic depiction, shot (as are most of my winter pics) on a darkish Seattle day.