We drove by our local retention pond over Thanksgiving break and found that our flock of Hooded Mergansers is back! These diving ducks are such fun to watch and photograph. They are pretty skittish, though, so you have to move carefully or the whole flock will fly off. A cold front was moving through, and the winds were freezing cold, but I ran home, grabbed my camera, and returned to spend an hour lying by the pond. The hoodies spent most of the time feeding, moving back and forth between the left and right sides of the small pond. Everybody seemed to be taking a bath when I got there, so I was hoping for wing flaps, but I only saw two or three the whole time I was there! Lucky for me, I managed to get a couple of them into my camera…
The Hooded Mergansers are challenging to photograph. For one thing, they dive so often, they can be hard to locate. At one point I thought the entire flock had flown off, when I realized they were all underwater! Once they come up, you have to expose them properly – it’s hard to get enough detail in the blacks without blowing out the whites. On the shot above, I really liked how the black vignette framed the bird.
Male Hoodies are black and white. The females are a pretty brown. They both have fun “hoods” behind their heads, which they puff up into a crest. Compare the female’s collapsed crest in the shot above to the male’s “inflated” hood in the first shot.
Their crests look pretty silly when caught in the gusting winds! I had to laugh at this guy with his “bad hair day” when he emerged from the water with an acorn. Normally hoodies eat small fish that they dive for in the water, but maybe these are vegetarian ducks! :)
Sometimes when the birds are on the other side of the pond, and you’re freezing while you wait for them to come closer, you just have to find something else to photograph. There weren’t a whole lot of other subjects silly enough to brave the winds, so I ended up playing with pleasing blurs with the choppy water. A 1/4 second exposure seemed about right. Rich rates this one as “it’s ok”, which I guess means it’s blog-worthy!
I love watching these happy-looking birds dive!