Since it was a gorgeous day when I had to work a week ago Saturday, it seems only fair that today, the day I took off instead, was equally beautiful. So after having lunch with a friend I decided to take a drive down River Road here in Arlington; it's a dirt road barely wide enough for two cars with a speed limit of 25 mph, so I can go slow enough to check out the Battenkill as I drive without worrying about causing epic levels of road rage behind me.
I hadn't been driving for very long when I saw a mallard over by the far bank:
It was pretty skittish, and even though I stayed in the car it took off for parts unknown before I'd had a chance to take more than three pictures. So I continued on my way.
About five or ten minutes later, I noticed a good-sized tree trunk lying in the water. I almost didn't give it a second glance, until my brain registered that one of the large bumps I'd noticed on the tree was white, not brown. Upon a closer look, those bumps turned out to be a male Common merganser and two females:
Needless to say, I pulled over.
I managed to creep far enough along the bank to get a clear view of the trio, by which time the male had gotten into the water for a swim:
The two females. I chose this shot despite the obstruction because I liked the perspective it provided of the head fringe of the female on the right:
The male swimming along the trunk:
And a shot of the three as they headed downstream:
Upon returning to Arlington I decided to head over to Howell's, where I what should I see but a pair of male Common Mergansers. As I watched they both did this thing where they skittered across the surface of the pond like they had an outboard motor attached to their tail for a few feet, after which they'd take a quick dip underwater. Unfortunately, this all took place at the end of the pond that's lacking in both easy shoreline access and unobstructed views. So, no real pictures of that behavior.
I finally managed to find a spot where the undergrowth looked a bit sparser, crouched down, and pushed my way through. I almost took one step too many (and still have the mud on my sneaker to prove it), but eventually managed to find steady footing fairly close to the shore. Better still, there weren't as many cattails as the first place I looked at, so I had a couple of gaps through which to try and shoot. Only one of the two males was in my field of view, but it was close enough at the moment to get some decent shots of it splashing around a bit:
Stretching its wings:
It then decided, for reasons known only to mergansers, that it didn't like seeing other birds using the bit of dry ground poking out of the water close by:
At first I thought it had chased a couple of wood ducks away, only to realize when I looked at my downloaded images that it was something else entirely. After an hour of internet work followed by a quick trip to consult with my dad, we finally identified them as male and female Hooded Mergansers. All of the images I'd come upon online were of the male with its crest expanded, which totally threw me off. It wasn't until I saw the picture in my dad's copy of the Sibley Guide to Birds that I finally put the pieces together:
"...and STAY off!"
Naturally, after ousting the other birds it wasn't ten minutes before this bird was back in the water with his buddy. After swimming around for a few minutes, they apparently decided it was time to head out:
Oh, and I'm now the owner of my own copy of the Sibley guide. ;)