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The peppy, little Hooded Mergansers have been visiting in their usual large numbers, this fall, on their way to warmer parts of the United States. They come in small flocks, one, two or three dozen at a time. In contrast to past years, though, they don’t stay very long.

The Bluegills were a major attraction for them. Alas, these small sunfish fell victim to a massive die-off last March. They should start to recover in the spring, when they spawn, but it will be a few years before they return to anywhere near their former numbers. In the meantime, the visiting “mergs” must rely on aquatic insects and small crustaceans they find by diving.

Occasionally a few of these diminutive ducks come close enough to shore for me to photograph. Among those that venture near, the males, or “drakes,” often outnumber the females, or “hens.” Such was the case on this day, so I got no shots of the hens. The latter are less flashy than the drakes, but elegant in their own right, sporting a frosted cinnamon crest (visible here).

In the second frame, the top drake appears in full breeding plumage, but with his crest lowered. The bottom drake is in transition from the dull eclipse feathers that he wore for several months during late summer and early fall, to the flashy breeding plumage he will need to attract a mate this winter.

Alternatively, the latter could be a young drake, growing his adult plumage for the first time. Both juvenile males and males in eclipse have a dull, black, brown and white plumage similar to that of the females, although males in eclipse retain their bright, yellow eyes (visible in frame one).

The drakes’ morphing, erectile crest is on display in frame three. It is used to attract females, we’re told. Does it also serve to signal emotions or warnings to others in the group? I’ve seen the hens “flash” their crests, raising and lowering them quickly. Are they signalling?

These photos were taken about noon on November 9, 2012.

See related posts: Mobbing Mergs, Mergs Taking Off.

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October and November have so far favored us with no fewer than five splendid dawn displays, all dramatically different, each uniquely beautiful. I’ve posted links to the other four below.

This photo was taken on November 15, 2012, at 7:07 am. Astronomical sunrise occurred at 6:37 that day, with the sun topping the lower portion of the eastern ridge some ten minutes later.

The colorful effects were produced by low, local clouds lit from above well after the sun had risen. More often, we see high, distant clouds lit from below by a sun still hidden from view. The latter produce the exquisite, ethereal displays we so admire.

Note the precise bands of shadow on the water cast by the clouds.

See related posts: Orange Dawn*, Foggy Dawn II*, Tubular Dawn*, Blue Dawn*. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.

 


Was the sky really this blue? A bit of blue was indeed present, but the camera pumped it up due to my error. I forgot to reset the color bias of the camera for the scene. (On digital cameras that setting, of course, is called “white balance.”)

I found the blue so striking, however, that I left it mostly unchanged, reducing the color saturation only slightly.

The date was November 2, 2012, at 6:56 am (daylight savings). Official sunrise that day was scheduled for 7:20, but as I’ve noted before, there’s a delay of some twenty minutes before the sun tops the highest point of the eastern ridge.

See related post: Black Dawn*. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.

 

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I know it’s a trivial name for so majestic a spectacle, but I couldn’t think of any other distinguishing feature by which to describe it.

As I’ve noted before, it’s unusual for so many gorgeous dawns to occur this early. It’s also unusual to see high altitude clouds extending east to west, as this mighty “tube” does. Usually these formations keep mainly to the southeast.

What’s not unusual is the short-lived nature of the event. The first frame was recorded at 7:39 am. Only six minutes later, when the last frame was shot, the tube had dissipated, no doubt blown away by high altitude winds.

If you peer closely at the bottom, left corner of the last frame, you’ll see our current resident swan family — cob, pen and four fully fledged signets.

Dawn arrived at 7:17 am that day, which was October 31, 2012, but the sun takes another twenty minutes to surmount the eastern ridge. The time of each photo is noted under it.

Below, I’ve linked two lovely dawns from October of last year, when I first became aware of such elaborate displays in the tenth month.

See related posts: Vapor trails at Dawn*, Pearly Dawn*.

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I spied its distinctive soaring flight across the pond, almost half a mile away. It was circling, apparently looking for prey on the ground.

I grabbed my camera and lowered the top sash of the window, hoping it would come my way. Sure enough, losing interest in the hunt, it headed west in the direction of the Cambridge Reservoir, flying directly over my house.

When it was right overhead, sadly, the camera balked. The Bald Eagle was now flying too fast relative to the camera for the auto focus to track properly.

I was disappointed, of course, but thrilled to see the great raptor again.

The date was November 10, 2012. The four photos were taken at 12:30 pm, just seconds apart.

See related posts: Bald Eagle Sighting, Bald Eagle Pair, Bald Eagle at Dusk, Bald Eagle at Noon, Perching Bald Eagle.

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The sun rose above the eastern ridge about 7:22 am, accompanied by an almost impenetrable fog. By the time this photo was taken, thirty minutes later, the fog had thinned to reveal a scene of austere beauty. The date was October 27, 2012. Astronomical sunrise took place at 7:12 am.

See related posts: Foggy Dawn*, Fog at First Light*. Click image to enlarge it, and browser’s back arrow to close. Comments are welcome.