A first winter male Common Merganser

1st winter Common Merganser male at Farmington Bay WMA1st winter Common Merganser male at Farmington Bay WMA – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday morning I spotted a lone Common Merganser at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area nearly hidden in some phragmites and when we came around the corner the bird seemed to have disappeared but after a bit it came out from its hiding spot and gave us quite a show. When I first saw the bird my mind registered “female” because of the coloration and that adult males at this time of the year are in breeding plumage which is quite different from females.

Common Merganser being aggressive towards a Pied-billed GrebeCommon Merganser being aggressive towards a Pied-billed Grebe – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

There were more than twenty Pied-billed Grebes plus one Common Coot on the pond and the Common Merganser didn’t take to kindly when a Pied-billed would get to close to it. Several times I watched it behave aggressively towards the grebes and open its saw-toothed bill in a threatening manner.

Common Merganser getting out of the waterCommon Merganser getting out of the water – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1000, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

After a little while the Common merganser got out of the water near a Pied-billed Grebe that was resting on a sheet of ice along the shore of the pond. It was about this time that I noticed the clean white belly, the white speculum and how the throat was so white. With a female Common Merganser there would be gray on the throat.

The Pied-billed Grebe looked anxious as the merganser climbed onto the ice.

Common Merganser biting a Pied-billed GrebeCommon Merganser biting a Pied-billed Grebe – Nikon D300, f8, 1/640, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

As soon as the Common Merganser had its feet fully on the ice it turned towards the grebe and bit its head several times. At one point its bill covered the whole head of the grebe. I wish it had been turned more towards me so I could have gotten better eye contact. The grebe stayed right where it was and I suppose the merganser realized the grebe wasn’t a threat because the merganser soon plopped down and rested on the ice for a bit.

Common Merganser stretching on the shorelineCommon Merganser stretching on the shoreline – Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

It wasn’t long though before the Common Merganser stood back up, stretched and entered the water again. I was hoping it might start looking for fish.

First Winter Common Merganser maleFirst Winter Common Merganser male – Nikon D300, f8, 1/800, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

But it fluffed, preened and shook itself off several times. The merganser’s crest seemed fairly long and shaggy for a Common Merganser and the eye a little bit too light. But I was focusing on photographing the bird not trying to identify the gender of it at this point.

A preening Common Merganser in a funny poseA preening Common Merganser in a funny pose – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

As long as the Pied-billed Grebes stayed away from the merganser it seemed intent on preening. While I wish the grebes weren’t in this frame I feel they do give a sense of how large and long the merganser is compared to them and I even captured one of the grebes stretching.

First winter male Common MerganserFirst winter male Common Merganser – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Common Merganser gave us several opportunities to photograph it as it flapped its wings on the icy pond…

Wing-flapping Common MerganserWing-flapping Common Merganser – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 350mm, natural light

And when it climbed back onto the sheet of ice.

While reviewing my images on my screen at home I came to the conclusion that this is a first winter male Common Merganser. By next winter he will look very different when he gets his adult breeding plumage.

A comparison between Red-breasted and Common mergansers can be found here. All mergansers are diving ducks and they all have serrated bills.

Mia

Male Common Merganser in nonbreeding plumage

Common Merganser male in nonbreeding plumageCommon Merganser male in nonbreeding plumage – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Last week I saw quite a few Common Mergansers at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge but I wasn’t able to get close enough to them to get any quality images but they reminded me of images I had been able to take of Common Mergansers several years ago at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

This is a male Common Merganser in nonbreeding plumage, if he were in breeding plumage his sides would be nearly all white and his head a very dark green.

Mia

Things are getting Ducky in Utah!

Bufflehead femaleBufflehead (Bucephala albeola) female – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

You wouldn’t know it by the recent daytime high temperatures that fall has arrived here in Utah but I can see the changes. Higher up than the valley the leaves have begun to change to bright yellows, rust red and oranges while the grasses have gotten that pale golden look I associate with this season.

Another wonderful change that I have been seeing is that a variety of duck species have been arriving at the Great Salt Lake and the freshwater marshes, lakes and ponds in the Salt Lake Valley.

Mallard drakeMallard (Anas platyrhynchos) – Nikon D200, f8, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Mallards like the one shown above are present in the valley pretty much all year long but even the mallard population does seem to increase when autumn arrives. I know a lot of people who say they take them for granted because they are common throughout North America but I sure find the rich colors of the males appealing and the more subtle colors of the females equally so.

I was laying on a small rug of a snowy shoreline when I took the image above with my tripod as close to the ground as I was able to adjust it to get this low angle. The duck was eyeing me cautiously.

Cinnamon TealCinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) – Nikon D200, f8, 1/400, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Not only I am seeing ever increasing numbers of ducks along the causeway to Antelope Island State Park, I am also seeing more ducks in flight. Duck hunting season starts today in Utah so the ducks will be even more wary than usual and will require well-developed stalking skills to photograph them,  a blind; either fixed, portable or using a vehicle as a mobile blind, can help with the skittishness of the waterfowl during this period of time.

I love the brilliant red eye of male Cinnamon Teals combined with the rich, bronzy-red of their plumage.

Gadwall in pastel colored waterGadwall (Anas strepera) – Nikon d200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Some of the ducks that frequent ponds and lakes in the city parks are less skittish and will allow a closer approach than those in more “wild” areas. The Gadwall photo above was taken at a city park pond near where I live and was a very cooperative subject. I’m quite fond of the silvery tertials against the black rump of this species.

Greater ScaupGreater Scaup (Aythya marila) – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Greater Scaups are a duck species I do not see or photograph as often as I would like, the bird above was warming itself on a sunlit; albeit muddy, bank along a stream of water, well away from the larger inpoundments where hunting is allowed.

The angle I used was a bit on the steep side, I had to aim my lens downward to photograph this scaup because it was about 6 – 8 feet lower than where I was located in a mobile blind. If I had so much as cracked the door open to get out to take a shot this duck would have been long gone before I could set up my tripod and mount the camera.

Common GoldeneyeCommon Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I have yet to have the pleasure of photographing any Barrow’s Goldeneyes but have found a few cooperative Common Goldeneyes near where I live and at other locations in the Salt Lake Valley. This beautiful bird was a bit more wary of me than the Gadwall I posted earlier and stayed hugged close to the edge of the cattails which are seen reflecting on the water’s surface. I’d love the opportunity to photograph the males in breeding plumage though they breed well north of here.

Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Another species that are seen in the Salt Lake valley in large numbers are Northern Shovelers. Huge flocks of shovelers can be found along the Antelope Island causeway and in the fresh water areas of the valley. The bills of the male and female shovelers are quite distinctive because of the length. I often think that the shiny black bill of the males remind me of black patent leather because they are shiny and look slick. Even from long distances; both in the water and in flight, Northern Shovelers are easy to identify because of their bills.

Ring-necked Duck Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

This male Ring-necked Duck was a visitor at the pond near my home, when I photographed it the middle of the pond was partially frozen and open nearer the shore. I have a feeling that this duck would have liked to have been a bit further away from where I was photographing it but in order to do that it would have had to get out of the water and walk on the thin ice. For the most part it stayed close to where the water met the ice. It was preening just before I took this frame and was flapping its wings to settle its feather back in place. There is a bit of the reddish color showing of the “ring” around its neck.

Red-breasted Merganser Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) – Nikon d200, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Mergansers don’t have “paddle shaped” bill that other ducks have, their bills are relatively thin in width and all merganser species in North America have serrated (saw like) bills that aid them in catching and maintaining a grip on their prey. The two large mergansers; the Red-breasted and Common, are long bodied, diving ducks.

The bird shown in the image above had been preening its belly when it struck this pose while giving me great eye contact. The bills of Red-breasted Merganser are more orange than the bills of the Common Mergansers whose bills are more reddish toned.

Adult nonbreeding Common Merganser in UtahCommon Merganser (Mergus merganser) – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1500, ISO 500, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Common Mergansers also have dark eyes while the eyes of Red-breasted Mergansers are lighter and somewhat reddish in coloration.

I love to watch both of these mergansers hunting for prey, they move very quickly under the water and just below its surface. They amuse and delight me. Photographing them can be a challenge because the whites of their speculums are easy to blow out. I usually have to dial in some negative exposure compensation to prevent that from happening.

Northern PintailsNorthern Pintails (Anas acuta) – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

It is my opinion that Northern Pintails are one of the most beautiful ducks I have ever seen, I sure hope to have more chances to photograph them while they are here.

The ducks that I have shown in this post are just some of the ducks species that have or will soon descend onto the lakes, marshes and ponds in Utah, filling the air with their calls or the sounds of their wings as they fly by.

Yes, things are getting Ducky in Utah and for awhile they are just going to get even duckier!

Mia

*PS, I spent last week photographing at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, stay tuned for images from there!

Common and Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Merganser Close upClose up of a Red-breasted Merganser in Florida – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/320, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Mergansers are considered “diving ducks” and one of the things the three species of mergansers found in North America all have in common are their serrated bills. They all eat fish and their serrated bills must make it easier for them to grab on and hold fish after catching them.

The close up image of the nonbreeding, male Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) above shows the serrated bill. A nick name for these diving ducks is “Saw-bill” and I can certainly understand why.

Two species of mergansers that can be confused when making ID are the Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. Both are larger than Hooded Mergansers with Common Mergansers being slightly larger than Red-breasted Mergansers.

Adult nonbreeding Common Merganser in UtahFirst winter male Common Merganser in Utah – Nikon D200, f7.1, ISO 500, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) in the image above has a rustier colored head and crest than the Red-breasted Mergansers do in nonbreeding plumage, they have a deeper bill which often appears to be redder than the bill of the red-breasted. Common Mergansers have dark eyes and in nonbreeding plumage both sexes show a crescent shaped white patch on the chin.

Adult female nonbreeding Red-breasted Merganser in UtahAdult female nonbreeding Red-breasted Merganser in Utah – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/320, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The crests on Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) always appear more wispy than the crests on Common Mergansers. The bill has a more orange cast to it than the bills of the Common Mergansers and it is also thin and more slender. Both sexes of the Red-breasted Merganser have red colored eyes.

Breeding grounds for both the Common and Red-breasted species overlap in some areas though Red-breasted Mergansers nest on the ground and Common Mergansers are cavity nesters who infrequently nest on the ground. Red-breasted Mergansers have the most northerly range extending into the Artic Circle and they also winter further south than the other two merganser species found in North America. Common Mergansers being a very hardy species will stay further north as long as the water remains open for them to fish.

Watching either the Common or Red-breasted Mergansers fish is a real treat which is exciting to view and photograph. Soon I should be seeing the males and females in eclipse or breeding plumage coming through where I live in Utah. I can’t wait to photograph them!

Mia