Tripod and camera slug over his shoulder, the man walked up the dirt road leading to the wastewater lagoons in Fennville on Tuesday morning, April 23.
“Is it still here?” he asked a passerby who quickly nodded.
“I could tell by your smile,” the man said as he quickened his pace to reach the top of the hill where a half dozen birdwatchers kept their binoculars and long camera lenses focused on the far end of a pond to see a rare Tufted Duck bob with the cold north wind.
For two days, birders have been flocking to the wastewater lagoons on the east side of the city to catch a glimpse of the duck that normally inhabits the East and West Coasts of the United States.
The ducks reach the northeast from Europe and Iceland, and Alaska and the Pacific Coast from Asia, according to Audubon.org.“Although they are turning up more often, they are still considered rare everywhere except western Alaska,” the birding website wrote.
“Who knows if it got lost, pushed off course by a storm,” said Jamie Krupka, keeping his eyes on his scope. “It shouldn’t be here. To have it here is quite rare.”
Word went out over the internet, on Facebook and birdwatching news feeds on Monday, April 22, that the Tufted Duck – Aythya fuligula, to be precise – was hanging out in the small Allegan County city.
“It hit the media,” said Matt Igleski of Hammond, Ind., who saw the posts and hit the road for Fennville. He joined people on Tuesday from Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Holland.
“It’s worth coming to see,” Igleski said.
This was the first time Jill Henemyer of Grand Rapids has seen the duck.
“This bird is really rare,” she said, keeping an eye on the lagoon.
Krupka, vice president of programming for the Outdoor Discovery Center on Holland’s southside, kept tabs on the single duck as it dove beneath the water dotted with other more common waterfowl.
“He’s up again!” Krupka announced, suddenly silencing the murmur of birder group clustered along the dirt road. The half-dozen other watchers whipped their binoculars and cameras to their eyes to catch a glimpse of the duck.
The sudden appearance of the feathered celebrity caught the city by surprise as the department of public works was draining the lagoons.
“The city is allowing people to enter the lagoon area to view the duck during business hours 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” said City Administrator Amanda Morgan. Visitors can park on the shoulder of South Maple Street – a dirt road south of city hall — and walk up the drive into the lagoons.
“We do ask that they remember that we are currently in the middle of the process to begin discharging our lagoons and access for maintenance vehicles must be maintained,” Morgan said on Monday.
The sewage is collected in the about 30-acre lagoon system, naturally filtered through a series of four treatment ponds and regularly drained into ditches that eventually take it to the Black River then Lake Michigan. The process is regulated by the state.
The birders weren’t sure how long the solo Tufted Duck would remain in town.