Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 21: Merganser Trifecta

Because he had surgery recently, my birding buddy Brian wasn't up for any hardcore hiking today. So instead he suggested a drive down the St. George peninsula to Port Clyde, via Weskeag Marsh in South Thomaston, to see what we might see. Other than a lone bald eagle soaring over the marsh, our biggest excitement of the day was seeing all three merganser species: hooded, red-breasted, and common. You know you're a true bird nerd when this is a day's highlight. But this is probably one of the few times of the year when this is feat may be accomplished. The hooded mergansers we saw are probably early migrants or strays from just south of here--they don't normally hang out in this area through winter. And while the hooded and common "mergs" both nest in Maine during the summer, the red-breasted merganser breeds far north of here. So today was our lucky day in this in-between, cross-over season for these diving ducks.

First, we stopped at Weskeag Marsh, where Brian spotted three female hooded mergansers in the river in the company of three black ducks. Before the eagle flew over and spooked them, we got good looks at their pretty brown crests, which were raised like feathered fans. I couldn't help but think of coy maidens of the bygone era when the way a woman deployed her fan conveyed more than words to a would-be suitor. Unfortunately there were no males around flashing their big white crests in return, so Brian and I were their only admirers.
Male hooded merganser with hood raised. 
Photo from Wikipedia Commons, courtesy of Benutzer: BS Thurner Hof.

The red-breasted merganser was a lone male off Marshall Point in Port Clyde. The red-breasted merg is notable for the crazy punk hairdo of its shaggy crest, which looks downright unruly compared to the smoother, rounder head of the common merg. In both species the female has rusty reddish-brown head feathers, while the male's head is green. Our common merganser was a solitary female spotted near two common goldeneyes off Drift Inn Beach in Martinsville. This sighting, which completed our trifecta, was unusual because common mergs don't usually hang out in the ocean. But there she was. And we were happy.

Even the spring ducks
wave fans, rearrange their hair,
trying to attract.

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