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It was a sunlit morning in early December. Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice a flurry of activity in the little cove between Smith Point and our property. I grabbed my camera, opened the window and began to shoot. It was all over in little more than a minute, rushed along no doubt by my sudden presence at the window.

It was only later that I pieced together what happened. A Mallard pair were feeding in the shallow water of the cove, as they so often do. Mallards are dabbling ducks, and tip over to reach organic matter on the bottom. This shallow, protected spot suits them to a tee.

A small flotilla of Hooded Mergansers, four males and one female, must have suddenly rounded the point, and caught the Mallards in the cove. When the latter tried to exit, several of the little “mergs” reacted to the bigger ducks’ movement, and mobbed them defensively. The mergs by no means presented a unified front, however; one can be seen still diving for food while his fellows pushed on.

That is not an improbable scenario. Mallards are normally placid creatures, whereas the Hooded Mergansers are little bundles of energy, ever darting here and there, or diving for food. In fact, they move so fast that it’s hard to follow them in the photo sequence, even though the intervals are literally split-second. A momentary confrontation was almost inevitable.

In the photos, you’ll see some merganser males with their crests lowered, others with it raised. The frosted, brown crest belongs to the lone female. The date was December 3, 2011.

Update: This post was originally published under the title, Duck Dust-up. Sorry for any confusion.

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