Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red-Breasted Merganser: Fishing

Here is a photo of a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in which the differences in plumage can be easily compared. They are such cool (okay, awesome) looking ducks. With the thousands of feathers on a bird, think of the preciseness with which each one has to decode DNA to get those strongly delineated lines between, say, a white feather and a dark green feather that might be right next to each other. Look at that intricate window pane like effect over the shoulder area.

While these photos are great for identifying the species and seeing detail, they do lack one thing. The photos were taken at the height of the day, around one o'clock in the afternoon, so the light was more contrasty than I would have liked.  Actually, the contrast range wasn't as hard to handle as I thought it might be. What really would have been nice would have been to capture them in the magical light of early morning or late afternoon. You cannot overestimate how much of a difference that type of lighting can have on the resulting images. Maybe someday...

The flock was hunting as a unit. As I said a couple of days ago, I wasn't as impressed by them hunting like this as much as I was by a flock of cormorants doing the same, but maybe I should be. Think of the added complexity of feeding as a group as opposed to feeding individually. Someone has to decide to start the hunt and communicate that to the rest of the flock.  They have to decide where they are going and all sorts of other little decisions about when to dive, etc. Whether it is done vocally or through body language or in some other way, it still adds a level of complication far beyond fishing alone.

They were moving around the bay at a rapid pace which was probably set by the fish they were chasing rather than the birds. As the small fish darted away, they would want to keep up with the school to continue to feed on them. Again, you can see how the water is piled up in front of the birds indicating how quickly they were ploughing through the water.

Sometimes I crack myself up. I was going to show you a picture of just water here and tell you they were all underwater.  "Here is a picture where they have all dived underwater..."  Would you have believed me? LOL.  But, here IS a picture where most of them have dived underwater in a coordinated movement. You can see where three have just disappeared and the fourth is on it's way. I don't know about you, but the ability, if not willingness, of members of the animal kingdom to work together to improve everyone's chances fascinates me.

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