Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Duck Activity At Nearby Foster Island

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time photographer and birder. 

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

Three's Company
Friday morning as I passed Duck Bay a couple of birders pointed out hooded mergansers feeding near Foster Island. A small white spot on this male caught my eye. You can barely see it - just in front of the peak of his crest. At first I wondered if it was just a reflection. 

When he lifted his head a moment later, not only was the spot still there but he was also carrying a small stick on his crest. I wondered if the dark feathers on top of his crest are just tipped in black. Possibly, the tiny twig helped to expose the white coloring underneath.

 Soon the spot disappeared. The twig remained for a few moments.

When the merganser dived and resurfaced the twig was gone. No doubt it floated away while he was catching his breakfast. At this point I was hooked and I began thinking of this bird as Spot.

The wriggling fish attracted the attention of a female hooded merganser. Apparently, she wanted to be close by in case the fish got away.

Spot looks a bit confused when the weather fish wraps itself completely around his beak. 

When the fish begins flailing about in the water, I started wondering if Spot would rise to the challenge.

Ultimately, he swallows the fish.

While watching the action, the female merganser gets a little too close and her mate decides to chase Spot away.

A few minutes later, most likely while chasing another fish, Spot looks up and finds himself at a dead end among the 'ice floes' on Duck Bay.

When he attempts to leave, the female hooded merganser positions herself between him and freedom.

Not wanting any trouble, Spot turns away.

With no where left to go and the female's mate approaching in the distance Spot considers his options.

Luckily, mergansers are diving ducks. Spot remembers this basic capability just in time.

When he surfaces just beyond the ice, the male is waiting to escort him on his way.

Spot is a bit ruffled, but otherwise seems unharmed. The other male turns back - apparently wanting to keep an eye on his mate.

When fishing, the mergansers 'snorkel' about with their eyes just below the surface, as in the very first photo in this post. With their heads down they can be excused for not paying much attention to their exact position on the surface. This leads to Spot finding himself once again trapped in the same location with the same female closing in.

I wondered if Spot was beginning to think she liked him.

With her mate approaching, the female displays her true feelings and nips at Spot. 

Spot tries to walk away on the ice.

 The thin ice breaks and the aggressive pair paddle closer.

Spot tries to walk away again, but fails.

 With the alternatives dwindling Spot turns to face the music.

His straight forward approach causes the male to turn tail for a moment.

 The feisty female on the other hand is not intimidated.

 She crowds Spot into the frozen little cul-de-sac.

Finally, the pair begins to move away.

Apparently relieved Spot starts a bit of grooming - but the fighting female changes her mind again.

This time Spot sits up and flaps his wings, unleashing his largest muscles.

 His respite is brief and once again the female has him cornered.

As he tries to flee she takes another nip.

When Spot gets caught between the pair... 

 ...he stands up and lets loose with his wings again.

Finally, Spot bursts through to freedom. Once again he displays his little white spot near the crown of his crest. I have never seen a male hooded merganser with a similar white marking. I wonder if this mark is just individual variation, the result of some damage to the feathers on his crest or a marking which all male hooded mergansers have but is seldom displayed. I did a Google search to see if anyone else had photographed a similar marking. I did find one or two with similar marks

Spot finally settles down to do his grooming. It is surprising to see him hold his tail up while he works. 

 It makes him look a little bit like a ruddy duck.

Often after preening ducks will stand and flap their wings. I suspect it is a quick way to get rid of extra water and to get all their feathers to fall into place.

Having finally escaped the terrible duo, Spot takes to the air. 

Much to my surprise he does not fly away...

 ... but instead lands beside the male. It is as if he is saying, see how good I look. 

There is no way she could like you better than me.

Their positions slowly shift and then once again... 

...the male chases after Spot.

Crestfallen, Spot finally swims away. It appears that even among mergansers, the mating game can be hard on the ego.

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