Common mergansers

I love seeing the sleek, black-and-white figures of male common mergansers in breeding plumage on the partially frozen waters of the Bow River. There seems to be a certain symmetry between the winter river and the birds. On overcast days, the river appears black and white and grey, its thick ice covered in blankets of pure white snow and its water, wild ribbons of greys and black. Black-and-white mergansers disappear in the summer and fall. From July to October, males in eclipse plumage wear the grey bodies and reddish-brown heads of females and juveniles.

It was too cold to go birdwatching for a couple of hours on December 28th 2016 but the weather was pleasant enough to take a stroll along the river near my favourite Calgary bakery. On the St. Patrick’s Island path, I didn’t hear or see a lot of bird life. I heard the ‘peek’ of one downy woodpecker and saw a juvenile bald eagle fly over the little forest of balsam poplars and across the river. I stared and stared at the empty river until a black-and-white duck flew by. Intriguing! (Photo below of a later flying event.)

Maybe he landed nearby? A few minutes of walking later, I found him floating with another black-and-white duck. Male mergansers! And then I spotted two others. They preened, floated, swam against the current, dove, bobbed up and down, and flew. And I found all that delightful.

A view of downtown Calgary from St. Patrick’s Island. The bakery is on the northeast corner of downtown.

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21 Comments

  1. I haven’t seen any mergansers for a long time. Lovely shots. They are are hard to photograph and get details in both darks and lights. A bit of extra processing sometimes works to bring out the eyes.

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    1. Thanks for the lovely compliment, Sherry :-). I know what you mean about the eyes. I could barely see a medium grey highlight on my large desktop monitor but the eyes are pretty much invisible on my laptop screen. I’m ok with it since I wanted to convey the muted light of that day. Even on sunny days though, I don’t think I’ve managed a decent photo of a male common merganser – I’ve never been perfectly co-localized with the sun and the merganser’s face. Plus, I think one has to be close enough.

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      1. Lightroom can do wonders for shadows and highlights in select areas.

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        1. Thanks for the tip! I don’t use Lightroom but I tried the shadows and highlights function in Photoshop on a Canada goose whose face was in shadows. The eye appeared!

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          1. Hope you try Lightroom someday. So much easier than in Photoshop.

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            1. Maybe someday. I’ve heard only good things about Lightroom.

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  2. ‘Ours’ should be returning to nest along our little river. Their brown puffball babies are the cutest things!

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    1. Oh, yay! I love seeing the 10 or so puffballs bob up and down as they follow their mom down the river. Cute indeed. πŸ™‚

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  3. Beautiful photos of the mergansers. Amazing that they appear to be enjoying the cold weather.

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    1. Thanks for your sweet compliment, Lois :-). I’ve heard that many mergansers migrate away from Calgary in the winter but maybe they do so mostly because many water bodies freeze and become unfishable. They seem to have enough insulation to handle the cold weather. I wonder how they sleep at night…

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  4. Beautiful images! Imagine how cold that water was and they seem so happy in it! We’ll be seeing them again soon in their red headed plumage. I’m looking forward to that.

    The skyline is beautiful from that vantage point.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Deborah :-). Their red mohawk is pretty swell! I’m always amazed by the diversity of wildlife I see in that area, so close to the skyscrapers.

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  5. A few times late last winter I was lucky enough to see some ducks in breeding plumage too. Like you, I really like how they echo the winter water colors. Very chic! Now I’ve ordered a better camera and am waiting impatiently for it to come. It has already been a week longer than they told me…hm. I hope I can get some nice pictures like these πŸ™‚

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    1. Oh yay! I’m so excited about your new camera! Have you been enjoying it?

      I’m glad you like the plumage “echo of the winter water colors”. πŸ™‚

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  6. Lovely that nature can be found right in the city, too. πŸ™‚ Lovely photos of the mergansers.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Hazel :-). Oo, I like your new avatar – love those forked tails! I’m glad that there are somewhat natural spots throughout the city which humans and wildlife can share.

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      1. Thanks! Me, too! I go visit one near my house all the time and its a great way to relax and connect with nature.

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  7. I can never seem to get enough of the mergansers, such a beautiful bird. So what a delight it was to see your common mergansers here, Myriam — you were rewarded on this cold day with some excellent views and photos. And that nearby bakery probably had a great reward for you too. Great post~~

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    1. Thanks so much, Jet :-). I’m glad you enjoy the mergansers too. Birding and croissants are a lovely combination!

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  8. Those are spectacular photos, Myriam!! I don’t see Common Mergansers very often. We get the Hooded ones here as they migrate through. And such a lovely cityscape, too!

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    1. Thanks so much, Teresa :-)! I think the Hoodies migrate through here too. I recall seeing them in the spring and fall but not in the summer. I just looked up their babies – sooooo cute!

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