In the heart of Arkansas, near the Ouachita National Forest, my lens recently focused on a captivating scene — a male Hooded Merganser gracing my neighbor’s small pond. This photographic encounter marked a rare event during the winter, as it was the first time in many years that a pair of these striking birds visited.
The Dazzling Male Hooded Merganser:
The star of the show, a male Hooded Merganser, displayed his unique charm with a black and white crest elegantly laid back, yellow eyes that spoke volumes, and bold white patches creating a stunning contrast against his dark body. His presence turned the pond into a picturesque setting as he gracefully swam and dove in search of fish.
Adaptations for a Fish-Heavy Diet:
Hooded Mergansers, with their thin, serrated bills, are perfectly adapted for a diet heavy on fish. Their extraordinary underwater vision, facilitated by special “eyelids” functioning like goggles, allows them to see clearly even while diving and chasing prey at speeds nearing 50 miles per hour.
Nesting Wonders of the Female Hooded Merganser:
While the male took center stage, the female Hooded Merganser revealed her own marvels. Nesting high in tree cavities, these females lay up to 13 eggs. Once hatched, the day-old chicks embark on a perilous journey — a leap to the forest floor followed by a nearly mile-long walk to find a suitable pond for feeding.
A Glimpse Into Their Lives:
Over the following weeks, the male Hooded Merganser, accompanied by the female, became a familiar sight. However, by early February, the elegant visitors vanished from the pond, perhaps in search of a new aquatic feeding ground.
The Thrill of Observing Nature’s Beauty:
Having the rare opportunity to observe and photograph these magnificent birds in my own backyard during the short Arkansas winter was a truly thrilling experience. The vibrant plumage and specialized hunting abilities of the Hooded Merganser make each sighting a moment to cherish.
Anticipating Nature’s Return:
As the seasons change, I eagerly anticipate the return of these diving ducks to this pond. The hope of witnessing another Hooded Merganser pair gracing our waters is a reminder of the wonders that nature brings to our doorstep. Even the briefest glimpse of these extraordinary birds adds a touch of magic to the Arkansas winter.
Image Information (First Image):
- Date: 11/23/22
- Time: 10:29 AM
- Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
- Lens: Canon EF 100 – 400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II
- ISO: 1000
- Aperture: 5.6
- Shutter: 1/320
- Exp. Comp.: 0
- Lens (mm): 400
- Program: AV Mode