This Male Hooded Merganser surprised me when he suddenly stood up in the water and flapped. He looked as if he was walking on top of the water while flapping his wings! This is an adult Male with his distinctive flamboyant crest with the white patch. The Hooded Merganser is North America’s smallest Merganser but it has the largest crest. The Hooded Merganser can raise or lower the crest which completely changes the shape of the duck’s head. The Male courts the female by raising his crest so perhaps this one was looking for a mate. These small diving ducks nest in tree cavities near ponds or streams. The ducklings leave the nest at only one day old. The ducklings jump to the forest floor when Mama Merganser calls to them from below enticing them out of the nest.
As I drove around Merritt Island in Florida, the dark clouds and increasing rain seemed to put an end to any bird photography for the day. When I saw a woman with a big lens pointed out into the marsh, I obeyed one of my rules of bird photography which is to always try to spot what someone else is photographing especially if they have a long lens. I pulled over and searched hard with binoculars to find this Wilson’s Snipe. It was well camouflaged and very nearly invisible in the marsh in the pouring rain.
The Wilson’s Snipe hides extremely well. It is a pudgy little bird with an extremely long beak which it uses to probe in the mud for food. It was only in 2003 that it was named Wilson’s Snipe after the American Ornithologist Alexander Wilson. This snipe was previously thought to be a subspecies of the Common Snipe which lives in Europe not North America. The Common Snipe (which I have never seen) has seven pairs of tail feathers and the Wilson’s Snipe has eight. I read that and laughed because who counts the tail feathers? Once I started reading about Alexander wilson I discovered he has quite a few birds named in his honor. Wilson painted and published American Ornithology, a large volume of work in the early 1800’s. Wilson’s painted illustrations of birds became the inspiration for James Audubon. His paintings of birds are incredibly detailed and beautiful. After looking at some of the plates of his book, I could see who counts the number of tail feathers! I learned a lot about this bird and Alexander Wilson because I stopped in the rain to see what the woman in front of me was photographing.
I persevered in adverse conditions and was rewarded with these images of a beautiful but difficult to find bird. I also learned about a famous birder and artist from the past.
I was patiently waiting, with my finger on the shutter button, for a Red Shouldered Hawk to fly. I had been watching a pair of hawks for about 20 minutes when right in front of me in the water this Anhinga surfaced with this huge fish impaled on it’s lower beak! You never know what is going to appear in front of your lens.
The Mallard is one of the most recognizable and familiar ducks in the world. Mallards can live almost anywhere there is shallow water. This Mama Mallard has eight downy babies to keep up with. They nest on dry ground, sometimes up to a mile from the water. The Female Mallard leads her young to the water about 12 hours after they hatch. That’s a lot of babies and responsibility for Mama Mallard!
The American Avocet is described in most bird references as elegant. They are so unique with their upturned long bill. The tip of their bill is very sensitive to touch and enables them to find food in mud flats as they swing their bill from side to side. The American Avocet during non breeding season is black and white with a grayish colored head. During breeding season the head turns a beautiful rusty color with a black and white body. This pair of breeding adults seems to be flying in perfect rhythm as they make their way across a shallow pond in Delaware.