It’s time to get started early to attract cavity nesting birds like owls, ducks, and kestrels to big nest boxes, to benefit these birds with the best and safest possible nesting sites. Whether you plan to build a big nest box, or a number of them; or if you plan to buy a big nest box, now’s the time to follow through on your plans. Maybe you already have a big nest box or two installed on your property or at another site, or maybe this article will provide some inspiration for you to add a big nest box to your property to try to attract a nesting pair of owls, kestrels, or ducks.
Among the positive adjustments people have made during the pandemic period is that birding festival organizers have reacted by providing online opportunities for birders to participate from across the country – and around the world. This provides the chance for festival organizers and community tourism promoters to reach a far larger audience of birders, although it may not help to fill hotel rooms and restaurants. We are all looking for new ways to enjoy birding activities, and virtual online events are attractive and fulfilling, including Birding Festival options.
The start of the annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins this Friday, February 12, and continues through Presidents’ Day, Monday February 15. Every birder can take advantage of this opportunity to participate by identifying and counting the birds at a given locale or locations within time periods – at your feeders, in your neighborhood, or in the field – any or all of these options. If you can spend at least 15 minutes at a time, at as many places as you wish, you will quickly realize how easy and fun participating in the GBBC can be.
It’s not news that bird songs add to elevated psyches and happiness for many people during spring. After fall and winter months almost devoid of bird songs, here’s a little songbird excitement in the form of interactive songs of birds that migrate through the center of North America – Minnesota – although these are popular birds found in central and eastern states and provinces – during spring. A great new webpage provides opportunities to learn, or review, favorite spring bird songs.
Biologists from the National Audubon Society studied the abundance and concentration of 112 species of migratory land birds, week by week across the study regions that emphasize the high conservation value of California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta for tens of millions of migratory birds each year. Led by Audubon’s new Migratory Bird Initiative team, biologists estimate that more than 65 million birds use major portions of the Central Valley during fall migration, with about 17 million birds using the Colorado River Delta during spring migration.
I consider myself to be an adventurer, livin’ on the edge, traveling to the remote corners, hyper aware of my surroundings, sleeping bag will travel, camera ‘n binoculars within reach. But Saturday, I questioned myself several times about taking a road trip. From the time I took a shower to the time I left home – about an hour – the temperature had dropped below zero, never to return through the week! “Are you risking your life on the road,” I asked myself time and time again.
The Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 Binoculars are ideal for birding with an array of optical and technical innovations, including ED glass (Extra-low Dispersion glass) with a dielectric high-reflective multi-layer prism coating and phase-correction coated roof prisms to deliver sharp, bright, true-color images to your eyes. The long eye relief design provides a clear field of view and a scratch-resistant coating is applied to the outside surfaces of the objective and eyepiece lenses. Monarch 7 Binoculars are waterproof and fog-free with O-ring seals and nitrogen gas.
Perky-Pet’s Squirrel-Be-Gone II Country Style Feeder features a weight-activated perch for birds that automatically closes the feeding port under a squirrel’s weight, saving the seeds for wild birds. This eye-catching feeder can be hung or pole-mounted, and it’s large enough to hold up to 8 pounds of seeds. The removable roof provides a large opening for easy filling, and the weathervane lid lock prevents squirrels from lifting the lid. The feeder’s durable all-metal construction stands up against squirrels and discourages squirrels from chewing.
It’s exciting to get your favorite photographs made into metal prints, canvas prints, acrylic prints, wood prints, and many other options. Plus, Bay Photo can frame your print choices, print photo albums, make remarkable photo collage walls, print personalized calendars, and much more! You can redecorate using your favorite photos with the elegant prints and other products produced by Bay Photo. Get 25% off your first order – plus you can easily order online.
After two Redwings showed up in eastern Canada last week, Maine birders found two Redwings that created a First State Record at a yard in Washington, and a Second State Record in a city park in the capitol of Portland. Indiana birders also documented a Second State Record bird, a Common Crane among Sandhill Cranes near Stoutsburg; plus a rare sighting of a Burrowing Owl near Terra Haute. Oregon birders also tallied a Ninth State Record Painted Bunting in the capitol of Salem. There were more exciting off-course sightings too.

No way, I figured when I saw what was happening before me. Two male Common Mergansers were fighting over what appeared to be a way-too-large fish. By the time I was able to get into position to photograph, one of the males took possession of the big fish, but after trying to swallow the oversized fish, it dropped the monster and the other merganser quickly swam forward to pick up the fish and try to swallow it too. The back and forth among the mergansers continued 4 times across the frigid open water, with the animated chase providing an interesting series of photos.

Essentially, this series of photographs is self-explanatory – the photos tell the story; clearly, “a photo is worth a thousand words.”

As I followed the action through my telephoto lens, it was hard to imagine that either of the mergansers would actually be able to swallow such a big fish, which clearly appeared to be way too large to fit inside a Common Merganser’s mouth, much less down its throat – no way! Even so, the competition between the male mergansers was spirited and sometimes quite physical with flapping and pushing to take possession of the fish – probably a carp.

Promptly, the most aggressive male positioned the fish in front of it, then picked it up in its mouth – head first. I was surprised to see how the merganser could raise the fish high in the air, time and time again, apparently trying to use gravity to help pressure the fish down its throat, while keeping the fish away from the other male. And that’s when the action became more dramatic and provided the best opportunities to photograph the birds with the fish.

Tech Talk

I positioned myself on the south shore of the lake, where I had the best afternoon sunlight including both the light’s direction and angle. As for camera tech settings, I used a wider than usual f10 aperture to try to keep both birds and the fish within the area of focus. Using my favored aperture priority (Av) mode setting, the camera automatically set a corresponding 1/1000 shutter speed, which did a good job of keeping the action sharp, including the spraying water. There were a couple physical considerations too, in that I tried as best I could to stabilize my camera and lens from a standing position. I accomplished this by forming a bi-pod, holding my elbows tight against my chest – and by holding my breath each time I took a photo.

Back to the Action

Four different times, one or the other merganser grabbed the fish in its mouth and tried heartily to get the oversized fish past the widest point of its bill gape, and 3 times the fish was dropped and the process was attempted again. There was a level of hunger or winter survival involved in the action; the birds obviously seemed to need the food. Plus there was a lot of competition between the 2 mergansers, possibly also fueled by the need to eat that winter day. The resulting action was fast-paced, and it was sure fun to photograph!

After the third attempt by one of the mergansers to swallow the fish, once again I thought, no way! But as Wayne and Garth would say, “Way!” And although the fourth attempt at swallowing the too big fish seemed as unswallowable as ever, persistence finally paid off and the fish, miraculously, was swallowed! The merganser raised up to flap victoriously, although it was probably as much to help position the fish in its stomach.

Merganser Notes

Time and time again I have hoped and tried to get close enough to get some pleasing photos of wintering Common Mergansers, but they were always just a little too far away to get good detailed images. This is essentially true for almost all interactions with this species of specialized ducks. Unlike most other ducks, mergansers primarily eat fish, and lacking the large flat bills of most ducks, their thin bills lined with serrated tooth-like edges allow them to more easily catch and hold fish – usually small fish. Fish are caught underwater with the mergansers swimming quickly in pursuit of fish, usually minnow-sized.

Taking and sharing a series of photos can be especially fulfilling.

Many people wouldn’t initially identify a merganser as a duck, and the species probably has many qualities that would lead beginners to imagine they were looking at a loon or large grebe-like waterbird – and in some ways they resemble loons or large grebes – but all mergansers are indeed specialized ducks.

Important aspects of bird photography include documenting birds, bird behavior, and taking action photographs – all of which are included in this article. A documentary series of photos is always compelling, and offers detailed looks at how the action takes place. Cameras are important birding tools, and they can be our most important birding equipment of all. And you never know when an interesting activity will transpire before you – or a rare bird will suddenly appear for you to document. Good luck!

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

Share your bird photos and birding experiences at

Birding Wire - 2271 N Upton St., Arlington, VA 22207
Copyright © 2020, OWDN, All Rights Reserved.