Black Scoters at suburban lake (again) are worth a visit

Tis the season for warm holiday memories and migratory waterfowl

When I was in grade school, my family would spend every Christmas Eve with a pair of elderly sisters, Fran and Doris Opeka [o-PECK-a]. We’d walk across the street to their home, where they’d greet us with platters of Slovenian sausage and sauerkraut. Though the food was delicious, this wasn’t the most exciting of evenings for kids. We were mostly anticipating what was going to happen the next day, with the opening of gifts on Christmas morning. There wasn’t much to do at the Opekas’ house but sit and listen to the adults have conversations.

Somewhere along the line we nicknamed the Opekas the “Lasagna Sisters.” I don’t really know where it came from, or why. I’m not sure if it was me or my sister, but we found the sobriquet entertaining. Both ladies had somewhat outsized personalities. They also had a distinctive appearance that brings to mind the “Saturday Night Live” character Linda Richman and her fictional show, “Coffee Talk.”

Fast forward many years, and I’m alerted to the presence of a group of Black Scoters in a suburban reservoir. It’s not a place I’d likely visit for any reason other than birding. The name of that reservoir: Lake Opeka. It’s a 60-acre lake that’s surrounded by a Des Plaines Park District property simply named Lake Park. It’s right by Allstate Arena, the entertainment venue once known as the Rosemont Horizon. From what I could find online, Lake Opeka was named for Frank Opeka, a park district attorney. As far as I can tell he wasn’t related to the Opeka sisters of my youth.

Those Black Scoters were lifers for me, seen on Nov. 25, 2020. Adult male scoters are eye-catching birds, jet black with a pumpkin-hued knob at the base of the bill. Females and immature males are drab and difficult to distinguish from Ruddy Ducks in some seasons. The Lake Opeka birds were along the lines of females and immatures.

News came this week that a Black Scoter is hanging around Lake Opeka again, which is what got me thinking about this post. On these gray days, there isn’t much at the lake and the park except an asphalt walking path and turf grass. The rental paddle boats have long since been stowed away for the season. Why these sea ducks stop at this nondescript lake is a mystery, but it’s one of the ways birds make the world more interesting.

It’s not quite Christmas Eve, or even Thanksgiving, but it’s almost time to get into the spirit. It’s a time to be thankful for Black Scoters—and those evenings with the Lasagna Sisters.