Harlequin ducks breed in Alaska as well as the west and east coasts of Canada. During the winter they move away from the fast moving rivers and streams of summer and head to the coast. Some will move down the coast traveling as far south as northern California on the west coast and Virginia on the east coast.
Occasionally a few may decide to winter in the central portions of the continent if they can find an adequate water source that will stay open during the entire winter and as long as it has the necessary prey available.
For the past two years one of these maverick harlequin ducks has decided to spend the winter on the Mississippi near Prescott, WI and Hastings, MN. Prescott and Hastings sit at the junction of where the St Croix and Mississippi River join. The churning waters caused by the collision of the two rivers helps to keep the water from freezing at this point. Even during extremely cold winters, such as this past winter, enough of the river stays open for the remaining ducks, geese and swans to find food and survive.
Since this is not a common bird to see in Minnesota I made numerous trips to Prescott back in January, which is when I took these pics. Often times it was difficult to locate the duck. Harlequins are small ducks and they swim very low in the water. They are approximately the same size as common goldeneye, and this one was often found swimming with or around goldeneye. It was even more difficult to photograph because I usually went out after work and by the time I arrived I would be shooting into a setting sun. When I got the opportunity to visit in the mornings I was often greeted by steam rolling off of the water because the water was warmer then the air around it. I can't really complain too much though since I only had to travel about 15 minutes to photograph a bird that I would typically have to travel to a coast to see. Hopefully it will return again next winter.