Tag Archive | hooded merganser

A Symphony of Birds (Part III)

“Stand up and step out of the canoe. Have a look around,” instructed Larry. With a little bit of hesitancy, and with care, I stood up and stepped out of the canoe. And I’m sure glad I did! The sight that was blocked by the plants while I was sitting, was wondrous to behold. Across the morass of tangled aquatic vegetation sat twenty or so swans. It was hard to count them given the distance and the way they were grouped, for there were some behind others and it was a little hard to tell where one bird began and another one ended. Viewing swans is magical. They are too graceful, elegant, and white to truly be a part of this world, something out of a fairy tale. I wish we could have gotten much closer, but at least at this distance they were totally unaware of us. Some rested with their heads folded and tucked back on to their bodies. Others sat with their heads held high on long slender necks. One preened its chest feathers; another head in the water. Two were standing; one’s wings were at the ready, the other had its chest puffed out, wings flapping. The swans weren’t alone. A large number of ducks were also enjoying the water in that area – so many!   I was wonderstruck, although many, many years ago there were far greater numbers of waterfowl stopping in here on their way further north. It was different at this distance to identify the ducks but I thought a fair amount of them were mallards and ring necked ducks; at least those were the ones I was able to distinguish. Even Larry was impressed and awestruck by the number of birds. He exclaimed many times, “god, there are a lot of birds!” Throughout the ten minutes or less that we sat there, he exclaimed many times, each time his voice was filled with awe. A great many ducks were in the air, not because of us; we were too far away to be a disturbance. Larry soon observed the reason. “There’s an eagle swooping down on the ducks. Do you see the eagle?” It took me a few minutes to spot the eagle among the myriads of ducks flying.

Of course the sound of the swans and ducks intensified as we’d turned into the side channel and stood up. Earlier, I described the sound as a symphony. However, the musicians weren’t performing before an audience; they were warming up their instruments, each making a beautiful sound but not yet getting the right notes and not in harmony with the other musicians. The swans were on horns and trumpets, the force behind the orchestra. The ducks were on strings and woods. Sandhill cranes joined in occasionally on woods too. It was a privilege to have back stage admittance – just so long as we didn’t cause too many interruptions. The acoustics were fantastic. I could have stood there a lot longer than seven minutes – close my eyes and let the music carry me, lift me up until I too was flying. “Wow,” I breathed a quiet reflection on the scene before me. Larry was ready to be on the move again. I wish I was a composer to write down the movement I heard to play for other people who can’t hear it firsthand for themselves.

We sat back in the canoe. With some help from me, Larry got the canoe turned around and out of the narrow waterway, back onto the main channel. It was time to take the canoe back up the way we’d come. Back through the beaver dam we went, putting another pair of mallards in the sky. Going up stream meant Larry had to do a little more paddling but the current wasn’t strong enough to make it a struggle for him. His easy paddle strokes kept propelling us smoothly along. If he’d asked me, I would have been more than happy to help paddle but he wasn’t in need of my help and wanted me to be ready with my camera.

An oak tree on the bank, now on our right, still had its russet leaves that hadn’t dropped last autumn. There were a couple of other oak trees still clothed in last year’s leaves, but all other trees stood nude. Some maples had buds beginning to open, getting ready for a warm day to spring them into action. The swans were spectacular to be hold and listen to but since we were so far away from them, hooded mergansers became more of the highlight of the outing. A pair was swimming nearby and weren’t immediately startled by us lingering long enough for me to have a good look at them and take a reasonably good photo of them though not very close up. They’re so awesome looking, a bit goofy too. Despite her coloration being less vibrant, the female was perhaps more cool looking than the male; her “hood” was funkier – in fact her muted colors made it all the more so. They only tolerated one photo before they had enough. Water sprayed behind them as they ran and took flight. Another bird I hadn’t seen joined them in the air.

Scent mounds of considerable size captured my attention next. These mounds were definitely maintained. Large piles of black dirt along the banks and piled on dead, matted vegetation. The scent comes from castor oil secreted by the beaver. It’s a message to beavers that aren’t a part of the family to get lost, this territory is occupied. Like all other signs of beavers, I find them quite captivating. A fallen tree trunk snapped a feet from the base. Although there were evident teeth marks from beavers, I’m not actually sure it was felled by a beaver – there were no normal, conical teeth marks around where it broke. Another dead tree, still standing, was drilled four times by a pileated woodpecker. The four, nearly perfect oval holes were in a neat line like buttons on a snowman. This tree was another landmark on the way. We’d followed the curving channel almost back to where we started. Duck cabins on the bank to our right, ahead. The bridge had come in view; I’m always sad to see it come back into view. A large morass of rushes was between us and the bridge. Another bend in the channel to the left; we were drawing nearer. Past the yellow wildlife sign almost covered in water. We put the leaning willow, yet another landmark, behind us. The bridge drew closer and closer. Before going under it, Larry joked about a woodpecker drilled tree being a condominium.  Larry steered the canoe between the pilings, moments later we were on the other side next to the landing.

Just as we pulled out from under the bridge, I spotted a brilliant patch of white up ahead on the left. I studied it intently before I figured out what it was, “There’s an egret over there! At least I think it’s an egret!”

Larry had yet to see it and was doubtful, “An egret? It can’t be an egret. It’s too early for egrets.”

“It sure looks like an egret.”

Curious, Larry turned the canoe toward the dazzling white object. He eased it along slowly, trying to go unnoticed as long as possible.

“There are two of them!” I announced. The way they were standing the first one hid the second. Then the other moved a little bit, the bodies creating a white heart. So many ducks took to the sky clamoring as they flew. Larry continued to glide the canoe forward, pausing at times.

“They are egrets!” Larry was astounded.

I noticed a pair of hooded mergansers off to our right not yet concerned by our presence. But it was another bird that totally stole the show. A male merganser was flying straight toward us, so bizarre – all other birds were flying away from us but not this one. I quickly photographed his approach. White breast and belly glowing, coming directly toward me. We were stupefied. He plopped down on the water merely a few yards away from me, creating waves.




Far from ordinary!

I was able to take one perfect photograph and two slightly blurry ones before he’d realized what he’d done. He retreated hastily with quite the spray of water.



The best photo of the day. It had to have been a gift from God for me.

After the merganser took his leave our attention returned to the egrets. How their feathers glowed in the otherwise drab marsh. Larry pushed closer to them. They became nervous and effortlessly took flight. Larry pursued them, disturbing a pair of Canada geese, who grumbled loudly. The egrets landed not too far up the marsh from where they had been. Larry didn’t get as close to them this time.

“This weekend, they’re going to be regretting returning so soon,” remarked Larry. Colder weather and snow was in the forecast. With that we returned to the landing. Loaded the canoe and headed out.

Along the curving road, part of the marsh in view on the right, “I think I saw a northern shoveler.”

“I don’t think it was. It’s too early for them,” replied Larry. (Later, he told me he saw some a couple days later so I was probably right.)

Ducks on a Pond

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

April 7, 2014. It had rained off and on throughout the day, that kind of spotty rain that you can walk out of in a few steps with a rain cloud here and sun shine there. Mom and I decided to go bird watching, equipped with binoculars and camera.  We drove on County Road 8 out of Plainview. Descending into the valley, we stopped along a pond. Some ducks took flight, but mainly only the Canada geese were alarmed and left the pond. Several ducks remained. With delight we observed them, mom with the binoculars and I through my telephoto lens. We were excited to see four species of ducks; blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, hooded merganser, and mallard. Other than the mallards, I had never seen these species of ducks before except for photos in a field guide which I examined before our birding venture. We lingered to watch the birds for a few minutes, but this pond wasn’t our destination.



We continued on County Road 8 until it was intersected by Highway 74, and then turned south. This area is part of the Whitewater wildlife management area, most of it being state land. A big wetland area, with a large area of open water was to the right of the road. Just before it is a graveled parking area, with a path running along the water edge. We stopped in there, to walk along the path. The pond was filled with water birds. It was incredible! So many sounds – the splash of birds running on the water and lifting into the air, different sounds of quacking, and snort of geese. The birds, especially the ducks, seemed to be laughing.  They were joyous and delighted in talking to each other, every conversation resounding across the pond. Adding to the voices of the water birds were red winged black birds loudly singing in their shrill voices. A chipmunk chattered in the woods behind us. A woodpecker drummed on a tree. We were surprised by a chorus of frogs and toads, their beautiful music making it all the more spectacular. The beautiful music of nature delighted our ears.

Ducks 118The pond was also a pleasure for our eyes. There was a lot of diversity before us and with many patterns and sizes – the familiar gray, black of Canada geese, distinctive shovel shaped beaks of northern shovelers, the mallard’s metallic green head and yellow beak, the white and black of buffleheads,  and the distinguishing white pattern on the side of the ringed necked ducks. In the distance, trumpeter swans, a pure white, swam. A common merganser with his red bill and the russet feathers on his mate’s head making her look like she had a bad hair day. The red neck and head of a redhead bobbed above the grasses. Females differed in shades of browns and grays and also patterns from species to species.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

In the van again, we continued along Hwy 74, getting a closer view of the far side of the pond. I had only ever seen trumpeter swans in a distance, flying. To be so close was breathtaking. They weren’t pure white when you got closer, however. Majestically they floated atop the water. While I was admiring the swans, a beaver swam in front of me before it disappeared under the water. It was fantastic! Here we were watching birds and we got to see a beaver, too. A big cluster of blue-winged teals bobbed in the water at the end of the pond, a white crescent on their face and a touch of blue on the wing. It was amazing how many ducks there were, not just species but individuals as well.

Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal

Continuing on, we came to a stream that flowed under the road. To our left a pair of mallards and Canada geese sat in the water. Then we saw a hooded merganser puff out his hood trying to impress the female with him, he looked very silly to us. Further in, we observed a great egret standing by the water’s edge staring at it. The bright white, almost angelic egret was like a bonus gift to all we had already seen.

Great Egret

Great Egret

There was something special about seeing all these birds together, as mother and daughter that made the even more experience beautiful. It was an experience enriched by sharing it with a loved one who is equally as passionate and awed by the splendor of these birds.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser