By Rod O’Connell


The First "Atlas of Breeding Birds of the Maritime Provinces" notes that "Harlequin Ducks frequent rocky shores in winter, but usually breed by rapid, rocky rivers inland from the coast. They have never been known to breed in the Maritimes, although small numbers winter here regularly. During the Atlas, records were obtained in suitable habitats on the Nepisiguit River (H, in 1988) and on the Benjamin River (P, in 1989), both in northern New Brunswick. The species had been seen in two previous summers at the former location without other evidence of breeding. Most probably these few summer records of adult-plumaged birds were of strays from the small Gaspe population. There is no other evidence that the species breeds in the Maritimes at present."


Saturday May 24, 2008.

Harlequin Duck Sighting, Nepisiguit River New Brunswick

"This was our first canoeing trip of the season on the Nepisiguit River.  My wife Nathalie Thériault, Daniel Thériault, his wife Stella had put in at Popple Depot on the Nepisiguit at 09:00hrs and paddled east towards Indian Falls.  We were hoping to have lunch at the third (Lower) falls.  We made it to the upper Indian Falls by 12:00hrs.  Water conditions permitted us to run the upper rapids successfully and we pulled out river left, just before the large rock outcrop.  This is an area of slow moving water just above the second falls.  Daniel and I walked ahead about 100 meters with the paddles and dry bags to find a put in spot below the second falls.  We headed to the water edge to have a closer look at the falls, and just as we stood on a small rock outcrop at second falls, I noticed a couple (male and female) harlequin ducks in the eddy river left just below the falls.  The ducks were within 20 meters of us, and were startled by our arrival and drifted downstream about 80 meters taking shelter in eddies behind the boulders.  They dove a few times feeding from that location then dove and disappeared downstream.  The total observation lasted no more than 5 minutes until they went out of sight.  We paddled the lower section of the Indian Falls rapids, portage the lower falls and had lunch from 13:00-14:00hrs.  We continued paddling downstream and camped at 44 Mile Brook and then on to Grand Falls the following day but did not see the ducks again.

 Karl Branch"

Photo of area that Karl first noticed pair of Harlequin ducks on May 24, 2008.

Photo taken at 9 AM May 17, 2012 by Rod O’Connell with Karl Branch indicating the area of the sighting in 2008.


I report the sightings for the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas; Harlequin Duck Pair 2008 19GN04 Christmas Mountains May 24, 2008

Monday June 2, 2008

Went to Indian Falls with Karl Branch to clean portage trail and pick up garbage.  Check the Falls for Harlequin Ducks but did not see any. 

Friday May 29, 2009

Went to Indian Falls did not see any Harlequin Ducks

Jean-Francois Dufour reported to the Maritime Bird Breeding Atlas of seeing a Harlequin duck below Indian Falls in Square 19GN15 (no date)

On Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - I receive an e-mail from Kate Bredin, Coordinator, Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas, Sackville,

Hi Rod 

The Data Verification Committee for New Brunswick requires some additional information on your Harlequin record before we can finally accept it into the database – I have pasted their reviews below so you can see what kind of information is required – we primarily need information on the exact locality where you saw the birds.

 Reviewed by Dwayne Sabine (#7997)

Status: request more information

Comments: I spoke with Scott Guilliland (CWS) a few years back regarding inland observations of Harlequin Duck, after I found a pair on a river in southern NS. He indicated that their satellite tagged birds did not migrate inland and in fact did not leave the coast until they headed inland to their breeding site. The date is appropriate, and a pair of Harlequins is not likely to be mis-identified. Even in the absence of a detailed description, I would be inclined to assept as "P" if the locality were specified. Examining the map, I assume the observation was made on the Indian Falls stretch of the Nepisiquit River, where harlequins have been observed in breeding season in previous years. Can this be confirmed? Denis Doucet indicates that he spoke with Rod, perhaps he could confirm this and a note could be added to the form. I would accept "P" for a Nepisiquit observation.

 Reviewed by James G. Wilson (#9779)

Status: request more information

Comments: The general locality would be appropriate and late May date within a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately, no Rare Form available so cannot evaluate this record. Too bad!


My reply to the e-mail to Kate Bredin
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 9:44 PM
Subject: Re: More information on your Harlequin Duck 2008 19GN04 Christmas Mountains

Hi Kate,

Just to confirm our telephone conversation.  The Harlequin ducks - a pair - male and female were observed by Karl Branch, (instructor at the Maritime College of Forest Technology in Bathurst, NB) while stopping at Indian Falls on the Nepisiguit River to portage the Falls.  The ducks were observed for a period of time, swimming and dipping in the water, while the canoe party was resting at the portage.  Karl and I returned to Indian Falls to clean the portage in June, but did not see the ducks.  



I send another e-mail to Kate on Wednesday, May 02, 2012 5:27 PM

Hi Kate,

Karl Branch and I went to Indian Falls today to clean the portage trail and guess what - a pair of Harlequin ducks at Indian Falls. (See attached photo of pair of Harlequin ducks taken today, May 2, 2012, by Rod O'Connell.)

Cheers Rod

PS  You can use the photo for whatever purpose you want - even for the Atlas, if not too late.

Kate answers back the next day May 3, 2012

Thanks Rod. Wow – interesting news! I will send this info to Dwayne Sabine and Andrew Boyne. It would be great if you could keep us posted on future Harlequin sightings if you return to Indian Falls over the course of the summer.  

And what a great picture – I will forward it on to John Chardine, the Atlas photo editor - it is not too late for potential inclusion in the book.



From: David Christie     May 4, 2012


Hi Rod,

Thanks for checking that Christmas Bird Count information.

I've been getting reports of Harlequin Ducks off and on at Indian Falls for at least 25 years. Congratulations on getting such a great photo of them.

Would you mind if I share it with Dwayne Sabine, Jim Wilson and Kate Bredin, who've been discussing this and other rare species found during the breeding bird atlas project?




Pair of Harlequin Ducks Nepisiguit River May 2, 2012



The First Atlas indicates that a Harlequin Duck was seen (H) in 1988 on the Nepisiguit River, but it also notes that it has been seen on two previous years on the river.  David Christie reports in his e-mail to me in 2012 that "I've been getting reports of Harlequin Ducks off and on at Indian Falls for at least 25 years."


Harlequins remain loyal to both wintering and nesting ranges from one year to the next.  An assumption persist that Harlequins migrate somewhat like salmon, following the exact course of river upstream toward their nesting sites.  Once a hen lays her eggs and begins incubating in early summer, the drake won't stick around for long. He will drift away downstream towards the coast to molt.


Why has the Harlequin been seen for so many years along the Nepisiguit River?  Why is it that we do not have evidence of breeding on the river?  Most sightings are along the Indian Falls portage.  Why May? This is the time that most people start going on the river to do canoe trips if the water is favourable or when most fishermen start fishing for trout.  In May, the drake is easily identified but he does not stay long at the nesting site.  The hen is more difficult to distinguish. The hen incubates the eggs for about a month but during that time she leaves the nest infrequently to feed. An incubating Harlequin may not leave the nest until closely approached and nests are extremely difficult to find.


This year, the woods roads in Northern New Brunswick are not drivable due to the amount of snow that we had in late winter and early spring.  We are still waiting for roads to dry up so that we can return to Indian Falls to see if Harlequins are back on the river.

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Tags: Harlequins, Nepisiguit, River


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Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 15, 2014 at 9:54pm

The roads are finally passable to Indian Falls. I made a trip to the Falls on Tueday May 13, 2014.  I walked the entire portage but did not see any Harlequins.  I may be too early yet, since the river covers the rocks where I had taken the photos in May 2012.  There are however Harlequins down river in Charlo.  I got this message from Mike Lushington on May 12, 2014.

Hi, Rod

I found THREE pairs of Harlequins together (but acting as courting pairs) at one time yesterday afternoon in the Charlo River. Now to get down to check the Benjamin River. 


To view a photo of a pair of Harlequins taken on May 11, 2014 by Jim Clifford  - click on link



Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 9, 2014 at 11:01pm

Thanks Stuart - hope to get more info once we can get to Indian Falls in the next week or so and hoping more with respond with sightings that we have not heard about previously.

Comment by Stuart Tingley on May 9, 2014 at 9:51pm

A VERY interesting posting, Rod! Thanks so much for sharing.

Comment by Ron Arsenault (Halifax, N.S.) on May 9, 2014 at 7:58pm

Hope I did not get you in trouble with Mike!  :-)  Say hi to him for me.

Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 9, 2014 at 7:43pm

Ron - I got in touch with Mike and he will check his files - he said I was testing his memory! :-)

Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 9, 2014 at 7:41pm

Wow Thanks for sharing these photos Danny - they even have the "feel" of photos from the 70s. :-)

Comment by Danny O'Shea on May 9, 2014 at 1:07pm

"Thanks for the info Danny.  It sure is of value to the discussion since it indicates that Harlequins have been around the Indian Falls for many years.  From your info it goes back to about at least 40 years or so.  I am also interested in your comments about the building of the "new" road since it also gives me a date on when this road was rebuilt.  I am very interested in the history of the Nepisiguit Watershed.  It would be nice it you would post your photo to this blog."

I "thought" I remembered a pair(it was a while ago), but only see a female in the pictures.

Comment by Ron Arsenault (Halifax, N.S.) on May 9, 2014 at 11:29am

Thanks for the link Rod!  I was not aware (or had totally forgotten) of this article. Mike had mentioned he would be writing an article for the NB Naturalist in the fall of 1996; the link you provided is to an article in Elements Magazine dated December 2000.  Do you know whether or not this article was in addition to the one Mike had intended to publish in the NB Naturalist or did it end up replacing his initial intent?

Comment by Joanne Savage on May 9, 2014 at 11:15am

This discussion keeps getting even better. Thanks for your blog that started it rolling, Rod.

Comment by Rod O'Connell on May 9, 2014 at 10:39am


Mike Lushington's report is on the net at this link



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