Finally got that merganser footage! These are juvenile Common Mergansers, diving waterfowl. They were with an adult with a red head and darker feathers. [Video stills here.]
This represents the realization of a ten-year dream of getting such images. It was ten years ago that I was down around the same area (Duluth’s amazing rock beach known as the Ledges), standing on a rock outcropping with a steep drop off into 8-9 feet of water — labyrinth of boulders visible in the clear water — when a submerged loon zoomed by literally at my feet. It was probably chasing a small fish that escaped my notice; or maybe it was just living, doing the underwater boulder slalom. It was startling and unexpected, just wow, full-grown loons are as big as dogs!
Using that as a marker, I have always known such footage was possible to get, if conditions were right: timing x water clarity x luck x weather x diving waterfowl. I have watched them resentfully from the shore — loons, wood ducks, mergansers — wishing they would swim closer just one more time. Finally this summer I saw a family of mergansers diving in shallow water multiple times, and set my camera down there.
Day one produced some great fish footage; on day two the mergansers returned. Notice how fast they tear through these submerged spaces, it’s all over in a second. You can see a small fish running for its life almost faster than the eye can see. The stills in particular reveal how perfectly adapted these birds are to flying underwater, streamlined like torpedoes with snake-like necks. Their strategy as a group is to dive simultaneously, each sticking their thin snoot into spaces between rocks. Fish are scared up and even if one merganser misses his quarry, it is likely driven into the mouth of another. They are fast enough to give chase. This all happened in 18 inches of water. I am reminded by events like this that the water’s edge marks the beginning of the wilderness. We live right on top of it.
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