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.