Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Grand Compulsion - Common, Red-breasted and Hooded Mergansers

Common merganser drakes on the Kennebec River, Bath Maine February 2012
Common mergansers, Kennebec River, Bath Maine, February 2012
Common merganser hens or juveniles on the Kennebec River, Bath Maine 2012
Common Merganser close up, Kennebec River Bath Maine
Common merganser, hen, Maine
Common mergansers are recognizable by their white chin strap
Hooded merganser trio, left to right, two drakes and hen, Bath, Maine February 2012
Hooded merganser drake eating a crab, Bath, Maine February 2012

Red-breasted merganer drake, Phippsburg Maine

      I’m going to be fifty seven in a month. Rumor has it that at this stage of life, people begin to slow down, but not me. On the contrary, I’ve decided on a new career path. I’m hoping to get a slot on the new cable show “My Strange Addiction.”
      The show is reality trash TV at its best and perfectly suited to me. It’s not for the faint of heart, I can tell you that. I just watched one featuring a woman addicted to her own breasts. She has triple G breasts on a size four frame, yet persists in having upgrades to her breast implants. She has fourteen pounds on each side, but they aren’t enough for her. Her surgeon told her it was killing her and that he wouldn’t put more in, so she’s off to Brazil to get what she wants. There was another one with a woman who drinks nail polish. She favors the kind with sparkles in it and says that the color does influence the flavor. It’s that willingness to endure pain, the persistence and the attention to detail which make me an excellent candidate for the show. “How can people do these things to themselves,” I shudder. I wonder if I can get a film crew to document my strange addiction. 
     I spend stupid amounts of time looking for birds and beasts and other photo opportunities. Every day, I take shots of one thing or another for practice. There is nothing worse than seeing something then being too slow with the camera settings to get the shot. I’ve been there, though it’s just not that complicated. All a photographer has to learn to do is capture light with the camera.
      It doesn’t matter whether the photographer shoots landscapes, weddings, birds, or cans of beans to sell; there is only one thing the photographer has to learn to do: capture how the light falls on the subject. To capture that light, there are only three things the photographer needs to decide: how big the hole or shutter needs to be, how fast it has to close and how sensitive the storage medium needs to be (film speed or ISO). Yet, as simple as that sounds, it takes years of practice to master capturing light. And, it takes millions of shots. I often find it frustrating that for the time I put in, I don’t get the photographs I’d like to, either the subjects I desire or the quality. But, I persist.
     In the name of being ready when Big Foot shows up, a Martian lands in Phippsburg or a Snowy owl finally flies through my living room, I have taken millions of photographs. Well, not quite millions - I have six external hard drives attached to my computer which house roughly 100,000 images a piece. This does pose problems. It costs money to buy the storage and takes time to manage the organization.
      In spite of my best efforts to organize my photographs, I often can’t find something when I want it. Like Bob Cratchit, I hunch at my computer desk for hours sifting through folders of images. I wear a ragged robe and fingerless gloves. I too, have a cruel employer. When I can’t find what I’m looking for, I berate myself for not having a consistent system for organizing my images. Then, I crab at myself for clicking the shutter so often in the first place. I can’t help it and I’m disgusted with myself. Just about the time I decide to quit, I’m pulled back in.
    This time, the whiff of a nice bottle of fingernail polish, the jiggling joy of silicone came to me in the form of mergansers! Mergansers are common in Maine. In fact, we have three types. However, to photograph all three in a single day without even trying for them is unusual.
      Maine has three species of mergansers, Common, Red-breasted and Hooded. “Sawbills” are large, fish eating ducks with serrated edges on their long, thin bills for grabbing fish. They all have shaggy crests. Common mergansers (Mergus merganser) and Red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator) look similar, though the Hooded does not. Hooded mergansers are not in the genus Mergus, but are closely related. All three dive completely under water for food. Though they are all seaducks, only the Red-breasted is commonly found on the ocean. The other two hang out in riverine habitats. We have flocks of Red-breasted mergansers here on Totman Cove most of the winter, though never the other two Sawbill varieties. I travelled fifteen miles up the Kennebec River to Bath while doing mundane errands for the full complement.
     In Europe, the Common merganser is called a Goosander. Across continents, there are minor differences amongst Common mergansers leading to variables in appearance. Because the birds look very similar, here they are sometimes called ‘American’ mergansers, rather than ‘Common.’ Hooded mergansers are predictably called ‘Hoodies,’ because of their white hood, not because they rob convenience stores.
     Mergansers breed in the northern reaches of the planet. Of the three, Red-breasted ‘mergs’ breed the furthest north and winter the furthest south. The Red-breasted is the only one of the three that nests on the ground. The other two nest in tree cavities. None of the mergansers are endangered, though this could change if they start drinking fingernail polish. 


  1. Cindy Spencer (FB)March 3, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    Cindy Spencer commented on your link.

    Cindy wrote: "Absolutely gorgeous pictures!"

  2. Love the mergansers.Have not seen any here yet.Very good story.You really should finish your book.Great photos.

  3. I posted onthe wrong spot butto reiterate the hen merges ARE my favorite ducks. For many reasons. Thanks for the pics they are great and keep on indulging your indiosincrasiesthey are a gift for the rest of us

  4. As one delighted in all animals with a special addiction to ducks I am in the same psychotic box. My camera work is purely amateur and in no way even slightly comparable to your own and I have only one file in one hard drive for my shots but it is enough to understand and sympathize.

    Jan Sand
    March 03, 2012 08:33 PM

  5. oooooh, AnnieO, thank you! I read your other comment already and can say that as a woman with perpetually bad hair, I love the mergs, too! It's always comforting to know that someone out there probably looks worse than I do on their best day! HA!

  6. bmc, thank you! A book....yes, a book. I think my attention span might be too short. What do you think? The mergs are out there, by the way. Look closely, you'll see the hair. :0

  7. Bill Fryman (FB)March 3, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    Bill Fryman commented on your link.

    Bill wrote: "Great shots, Robin. I especially like the shots isolated on the drakes. I have a way to go to catch you since my two drives only house ~25,000 images. Still I have the same problems with finding things that I know are there. On the other hand, I don't see drinking nail polish in my future :-)"

  8. LOVE the hoodie with the crab-that's a fantastic shot, Robin!!

  9. Yikes, do they bite?

  10. I have never seen a picture like the Hoodie with the crab! Just un-freaking believable! I just don’t understand how you do it. I have been carving one difficult bird for many hours but when I get it done I’m going to do a merg with a crab in the bill! Just awesome!

  11. Publish! Publish! Publish!

    I just read, viewed your last Works. You must publish! I'll look for you on the Weird Addictions but don't think you can beat that woman with those fingernails and toenails! Kaky

  12. I agree!! You should definitely publish. You have two very special gifts - photography and storytelling. I always delight in visiting your blog. I have seen all three mergansers on the Kennebec River, too!!

  13. Deb Hirt commented on your link.

    Deb wrote: "Nice blog, Robin, with great pics!"

  14. KaHolly and Kaky, thank you both very much. A book, yes, a book. I'm not sure i've got the attention span for that! Ha! Deb, thank you, too. Maybe I should blame my strange addiction on you folks who keep up with the wonderful comments. Who wouldn't love that!

  15. Bill, that's the problem with getting bigger drives - the inclination to fill them with stuff. It's like buying a bigger house, more junk gets stuffed in! And come on, you really want to try polish with sparkles, don't you? I hear it's like bourbon, only burns the first few swallows.

  16. That dinosaurs have transmogrified into birds is a magic that one can only wish on our own species for we clearly need to have a fundamental change descend on the viciousness that has embedded itself into our genes. Whether we end up as colorfully feathered and atmospherically free is doubtful but our ventures into genetic engineering wedded into the fantasy of abstraction that lifts out thoughts out of the mire of destructive selfishness may turn the trick. Nature is a harsh mistress and will not tolerate us for long in our present configuration.

    Jan Sand
    March 03, 2012 09:30 PM

  17. Geez, Jan
    Just fingernail polish?

  18. It's already been established that the majority of cells within the human body are not human and the stomach bacteria we each harbor have a definite emotional effect on our attitudes. We are, after all, mobile cell colonies and I suspect that our insulation from all other life forms is some sort of attitudinal hubris. Perhaps we shall find ourselves mated, in the end, with mushrooms or Sargasso grass to float into the depths of the welcoming environment where whales and dolphins frolic or perhaps find ourselves dissipated into atmospheric clouds where intellectual thunderstorms vie with poetic winds. Fingernail polish is too superficial.

    Jan Sand
    March 03, 2012 11:10 PM

  19. Heidi Banerjee (OS)March 4, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    May I join the club?
    Your photos are magnificent.
    I would very much like to see Jan's,but those are probably rare objects as Jan usually meets them during pitch black nights.
    Heidi Banerjee
    March 04, 2012 07:54 AM

  20. Heidi Banerjee (OS)March 4, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    PS:The photos are great;the typing is a strain on my eyes.Could you perhaps change that?

    Heidi Banerjee
    March 04, 2012 07:56 AM

  21. Heidie, thanks for the read, rate and comment. The typing? I guess you mean the font? If so, I recently tried a new one as I like to change it up visually every once in a while. Guess it doesn't translate well on your system. So, next time, I'll have yet a different font! Sadly, this font is named David. I chose it partly because that' s my husband's name. He'll be sad.
    Jan, regarding 'the rest,' As near as I can tell, anything that must survive by eating something else, which is everything, grass, bacteria, dolphins, ALL of it, is by necessity harmful to something else. I have a photograph of a merganser drake wearing a shall of seaweed during a courting ritual. To my mind, that's not unlike nail polish (without the environmental harm, of course). There are many of us who are not insulated from other life forms, in fact, we work to be part of it all. In the end, we do become mushrooms and air anyway. In the mean time, I like to have a little fun along the way, try to make people laugh, and not screw anything up for the rest of the planet while i'm at it. I hope you enjoy the same.

  22. Martha Silver (OS)March 4, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Martha Silver commented on your link.

    Martha wrote: "These are my very favorite!! Rebel & I see them a lot on Center Pond!"

  23. Hi hey there Robin, thanks for the info on mergansers/goosanders and the interesting pics. If nail polish eaters are the norm, do you really want to be on that channel? You are far too smart and sensible and spirited really. Sex hard disk full? Wow! Lotsa pittures. I loved reading the 3 things a photgrapher needs to know and do part - it made me smile :) You get a hug. Keep shooting.

    March 04, 2012 12:35 PM

  24. Rolling, thank for the read, rate, comment and kudos to my intellect. I'm flattered.

  25. As always, you are very entertaining! Just think of all the readers you could delight with your photography and writing if you published all your stories. Love the Hooded Merganser with his mouthful of second later that shot would have been history...perfect timing!

  26. I loved all your merganser shots, the Hoodie with the crab is awesome. All the mergansers are cool looking birds. Great post!

  27. Algis Kemezys (OS)March 5, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    Oh I miss wanders by the lakes ponds and rivers and seing these wonderful birds. Cheers and more

    .........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
    ............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx, Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
    ⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥

    Algis Kemezys
    March 05, 2012 02:45 AM

  28. eileen and algis, thanks both of you. You inspire me to keep getting more interesting shots of birds' behaviors.

  29. Vicki Fisk commented on your link.

    Vicki wrote: "Loved the crab eater."

  30. Wonderful post filled with fabulous photographs and an especially entertaining narrative! I just spent the day photographing both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. Unfortunately I did not see any Hooded Mergansers. Love these birds! Your images are truly fantastic! The Hoodie with the crab capture is awesome!

  31. Julie, thank you! Had I known you were looking, I would have sent a couple of Hoodies your way! I did get Dark-eyed junco OREGON subspecies today which is huge here in Maine. More on that later. Thank you for the compliments and reads.

  32. You have some great captures here, and I was interested in what you wrote. Nice to know there is someone out there who has this obsession worse than I do. Wow, I feel better already. Thanks!

  33. Thank you, Sinbad and co.,
    I'm happy to have spread the joy around. I always appreciate it when someone looks worse than I do, so I'm pleased to have been that person for you. Thanks for the view, read and comment.

  34. The birds are beautiful and you are hilarious. Did you make those addiction examples up? (I don't watch much TV -- too busy sorting my digital pictures ;>)

  35. Sallie, thank you. I take that as a compliment. I too, spend way too much time organizing my photos. Between that and trash TV, I don't get much sleep. And yes, sadly, those addictions are real. Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say.

  36. Both entertaining and informative!! Also 50 is nothing you're just a kid. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  37. Thanks, Gary and Boom. I'm actually older than that. Now that I've told you, I'll have to kill you. Where are you, exactly? :) I understand that if you get the nail polish on your teeth, it can be removed with acetone. Just thought you'd want to know. :)

  38. Beautiful photos.

    Regards and best wishes

  39. Oh Robin! I have not read a blog post this good in a long time. What a tremendous last line! I share many of your compulsions, I can easily shoot a thousand shots in a day. You clearly know what your talking about when it comes to dslr's too. I would like to add to your list of photographic variables that includes shutter speed, iso, and f-stop with a fourth factor, stability. Nothing good comes from a shaky camera or drinking nail enamel!

  40. Tatjana, thank you very much for the compliment and viewing my work.
    Springman, glad to have made you laugh - that is supposing that laugh you did versus vomit at the notion. And, I totally agree about stability. Would that be the fourth leg of the stool perchance? :) I only buy image stabilized lenses for anything is going to be handheld for that very reason. It's worth it to save up the bottle and can redemption dollars to put into that.

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