Common Mergansers Lifting Off In Sweet Golden Light

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Two Common Mergansers running to lift off in golden light, Salt Lake County, UtahTwo Common Mergansers running to lift off in golden light – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

The last couple of days have been rather hectic for me and my hope is that things will settle down and that I will be back out in the field most mornings. Today is the coldest day of autumn so far in the valley and I anticipate that the colder temps will bring in more winter birds. Two days ago when I was out I saw my first of the year American Tree Sparrows at Farmington Bay WMA and that delighted me even though I wasn’t able to take any photos of them. Seeing the tree sparrows near the marsh reminded me that before long the Common Mergansers will make their appearance here in the valley. I checked on eBird this morning and see that some Common Mergansers are being sighted nearby, some were even seen on East Canyon Reservoir a few days ago which isn’t that far away from where I live as birds fly.

I’m fortunate that I live near two ponds here in Salt Lake City where I can find Common Mergansers at this time of the year and I appreciate being able to photograph them so close to home. Last winter I had many opportunities with this species and took advantage of that every chance I could.  The light is better on the ponds in the afternoon and evening for bird photography and just before the sun sets the golden light can be spectacular.

I love being able to get close to the Common Mergansers because of the fine details I can show in my photos but there are times when I am glad that they are further away from me and those times include landings and lift offs because the distance reduces the chances that I will clip important parts of the birds during the fast and sometimes unpredictable action.

In the photo above I was happy to have two of the immature Common Mergansers running to lift off while an adult female was stationary on the water in front of them.

Note: The adult female only has one, solid white spot on her chin and the white chin spots of immature Common Mergansers are divided by a streak of cinnamon colored feathers in the midst of the white feathers which can be better seen in the photo below.

Common Mergansers running across the water, Salt Lake County, UtahCommon Mergansers running across the water – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

This photo shows the same two immature Common Mergansers after they had passed the stationary female on the water. These mergansers move very quickly when they are running to take off and at times they are very challenging for me to track with my long lens but I believe the struggle is worth it when I can get action photos like these especially in such sweet, golden light.

Life is good.


Common Merganser facts and information:

Mergus merganser

  • Common Mergansers are long-bodied diving ducks with long, thin reddish serrated bills, orange feet and legs and dark eyes. The males have greenish, black heads, white bodies and black backs in breeding plumage. Females have gray bodies with cinnamon colored heads with shaggy crests
  • Common Mergansers are migratory.
  • Common Mergansers are found throughout most of North America, during the breeding season they can be found in northern forested habitats that include lakes, ponds and rivers. During the winter they will be found further south on lakes, reservoirs and rivers.
  • The diet of Common Mergansers includes fish, insects and aquatic plants.
  • Common Mergansers lay 6 to 17 eggs which hatch in 28 to 35 days. The female incubates and they are monogamous.
  • Common Merganser nicknames include “Fish Ducks”, “goosanders” and “Saw bill”.
  • A group of ducks can be called a “raft”, “paddling”, “flush” or “brace” of ducks.
  • Common Mergansers can live at least 13 years.


  1. Pepe Forte November 10, 2018 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Mia, your images are always so impressive, even stunning, but sometimes they are downright amazing. These pics are a case in point. The action, the colors, the balance…it’s all there. Simply incredible! Thanks.

  2. Patty Chadwick November 9, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Lovely shots..(love the golden water!)…Like those two birds in the last shot, may you and Ron “fly free”, free of traffic, free of people, free of hubbub, free of noise, free of all the annoying “too many people” stuff that we have to live with all the rest of the time…in that WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL camper!!! May you stay healthy and well…and may Ron heal well and SOON! (I couldn’t help but notice that there is room for me, Ellie Baby, and my two dogs–who, like me, are too old to bother much of anything)😍👍❤️

  3. humming bird lover November 8, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Hi sweetie! Oh they are so bright colored and beautiful! Cold weather is here in Va. and going to get colder! Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrr I love snow ,but not just rainy and cold! Love ya’s

  4. Elephants Child November 8, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Beautiful golden light, beautiful birds.

  5. Liz Cormack November 8, 2018 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Beautiful photos as always. I am going to go back through my photos of female Common Mergansers to see if they really are females or possibly immatures. Thanks for the heads up on that.

  6. Trudy Brooks November 8, 2018 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Hmmm nice pictures Mia. It is nice you have several good places to travel to and see birds all winter long. Keep up the good work with the camera and your blog. Thanks.

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