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Recently I devoted several posts to a small band of Hooded Mergansers that had elected to remain on the pond until it froze over, despite the loss of their favorite prey, the once abundant Bluegill sunfish, which fell victim to a massive die-off last March. These migrants had obviously found other sources of food.

A small flock of Common Mergansers had been visiting about the same time. Distant cousins to the smaller Hooded Mergansers, they also took a stand against austerity by falling back on smaller prey. Molluscs, crustaceans, worms, insect larvae, and amphibians are all on the menu of these intrepid, deep-divers.

For several weeks the larger mergansers remained resolutely far out in the pond, beyond the reach of even my telephoto lens. Then, suddenly, a few ventured close enough for me to photograph, allowing me finally to acknowledge their presence in print. On Christmas Day, a thin crust of ice formed overnight, forcing all of the rest of their band closer to shore where the warm water remained open.

Mergansers are partial migrants. They’ll remain on a pond unless and until ice forms, and then migrate to wherever they can find an ice-free location. Different this year was the small number of both species that stayed on — no more than a dozen each — in stark contrast to winters past when the small, Bluegill sunfish were plentiful, and so were the visitors.

As regular readers will know, male ducks are called “drakes,” and the females are “hens.” In frame two, a drake has just caught a small fish, almost surely a Bluegill. These catches are rare now, of course, but I did see two such last summer. The sunfish may be down, but they’re not out.

I titled frame four, “The Flock,” with literary license; it’s rare to see the whole flock together. There are always a few individuals feeding under water, or straggling at the other end of the pond. In fact, the photo recorded six hens, but only one drake, the other five males no doubt prowling about elsewhere on the pond. I estimate the total number of ducks in this small flock at about twelve.

The photos were taken between December 19th and 25th, 2012. The date and time is noted under each. They are displayed in the order taken.
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Related: Snorkeling Ducks.

 

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This young Great Blue Heron stops by quite often, but not every visit is a good photo op. It can linger just beyond the reach of my lens, or the light can be wrong. I last got some good shots of this two-year-old a month earlier, when it was onshore, and a few yards closer to my window than it was today. At the time, I wrote this:

This young’un in the photo is fickle, constantly flitting from rock to rock, always looking for a better place to fish. It hasn’t yet learned the virtue of patience.

When taking these photos, I ignored my own advice, which is to remain still. As usual, I was shooting from inside the house, through the windows, to avoid spooking the bird. Reflections off the glass got in the way, so I moved about trying to avoid them. I was careful to stay several feet back, but to no avail; the heron caught my motion and abruptly flew off. I dislike disturbing wildlife, and should have known better.

As it did a month earlier, the low autumn sunlight created an effect at once warm and dramatic, spotlighting this magnificent bird like a star performer on stage, singling it out for our grateful adoration and applause.

The photos were taken at midafternoon on December 13, 2012. Several of these are among my best, ever, wildlife photographs.
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Related: Highlights 2008-10, Great Blue on Shore*.

 

I raised the shade at first light.
Fog was layered upon its bed,
Still aslumber from the night.
Then Sky above flamed red, and
Fog lofted tufts to greet the day.
As Sun topped the distant hill,
Fog roused itself, slipped away.
Did I dream, elbows on the sill?

Ron Cohen © 2006
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These photos were shot in semi-
darkness and digitally brightened. The times were 7:05 am and 7:06 am, respectively, on December 10, 2012. Astronomical sunrise took place at 7:03 am, with the sun rising above the eastern ridge about 20 minutes later.

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Related: Foggy Dawn II*, Foggy Dawn*.

 

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This small, migrating band of Hooded Mergansers was back again, right off shore.

The usual suspects hang out here, along our shore. They are the dabbling water fowl, those that tip over to feed, such as the Mallard ducks and the Canada Geese. No doubt they keep coming back because the bottom is within easy reach.

I’m a little surprised that the diving mergansers like it here too. They don’t need shallow water to feed, so they must find their favorite snacks here in abundance.

Throughout this sequence the female was busily diving, presumably for small edibles like aquatic insects and crustaceans. She caught no fish, of course; the favored prey, the small Bluegills, are pretty much gone for now.

The photos were taken in the early afternoon of December 4, 2012.

See related posts: Mobbing Mergs, Mergs Near Shore, Mergs Taking Off*.

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These are the same Hooded Mergansers that I wrote about two weeks ago. This small group has remained on the pond longer than any others of their kind, this fall, no doubt living on small crustaceans and aquatic insects they find by diving.

Their favored prey, the small Bluegills, are now scarce in the pond, as regular readers well know. Perhaps their continued presence is a sign of returning normalcy, after the traumatic sunfish die-off last March. The noisy gulls are coming back, too.

On a recent gray morning, two drakes and two hens came close enough to shore to let me take their pictures. The drakes favored me with a take-off while I was shooting. Most ducks are fast in flight, but these guys are really fast, reaching speeds of almost fifty miles an hour. The entire sequence was over in just three seconds!

If you look closely in frame four, you can just see the prominent, white wing bars visible in flight.

The photos were taken late in the morning of November 27, 2012.

See related posts: Mobbing Mergs, Mergs Near Shore.

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If you look closely, you’ll see a second Great Blue Heron lurking in the background. It’s an adult, either standing on the shore, or in the water very close to shore. Whether it’s a male or female I can’t say because they look alike.

The star of the show, however, is a second-year juvenile, revealed as such by its overall gray color, dark crown and lack of head plumes. It has lost some of the first-year streaking on its breast and neck, while the adult’s breast plume is starting to show. Not until it reaches the age of three, however, will it acquire the dressy, formal plumage of an adult.

I believe these two have been on the pond most of the summer. Could they be parent and offspring?

There have been other great blues as well. Just a few days ago, I spotted a first-year juvenile here in our little cove, but it flew away before I could take its picture. It had the prominently streaked neck and breast I described above.

Baby herons in the nest are called “chicks,” but there’s apparently no name for juvenile herons — comparable to duckling, gosling or signet — except a British dialectal word, spelled alternatively hernshaw, heronshaw, or heronsew (from the Old French heronceau, a diminutive for heron). Perhaps we should adopt it.

This young’un in the photo is fickle, constantly flitting from rock to rock, always looking for a better place to fish. It hasn’t yet learned the virtue of patience.

As regular readers know, the small, bluegill sunfish have largely disappeared from the pond, at least for now, but all the herons we see here — Great Blue, Green, and Black-crowned Night Heron — take the bigger Largemouth Bass and catfish. Both of these species still reside here in goodly numbers, fishermen tell me.

The photos were taken late in the morning of November 9, 2012. The low, fall sunlight lit the heron like a flash-bulb, separating it from its darker background, and creating a vivid sense of depth.

Click to hear a Great Blue Heron call
(courtesy Wikipedia Commons).

See related posts: Great Blue Motif, Variform Great Blue, Big Great Blue, Great Blue in Flight, Great Blue Icon*, Great Blue Double, Great Blue at Dawn*, Great Blue in Rain, Great Blue After Rain, Great Blue Fishing, Great Blue in Fall*.

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