Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Red-Breasted Mergansers

One of the more interesting sights I found on my walk out to the Dungeness Lighthouse was a group of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers about 50 yards or so from the shoreline of the spit. Many birds came and went across the wave as I traveled but this bunch settled in after eating and began different dances along the surface of the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I had been searching for male Red-breasted Mergansers all week but only managed to find the females in various spots around Puget Sound. A few are reported every Winter along the Merritt Island area in Central Florida but I am never there at the right time.

That day there were several arriving just after the light rain and wind died down as I was halfway along on my way back from the lighthouse. It appeared to be 2 pairs resting near one another when the males began to move next to each other and started making bobbing movements with their heads.

Red-breasted Merganser

After several seconds they would change the dance and begin calling and motioning with their wings.

Red-breasted Merganser

As you can see from the distance photos, the females seemed not to be any real part of all this. Just hanging around waiting for them to wrap it up. The males would continue this set of motions as they paddled in small circles near the females but always seemed to end up in the middle of the dance floor.

Every now and then, the seeming civility of the displays would fall apart all together and one of the males would thrash about and run across the water in a brief shout.

Red-breasted Merganser

Not long after this outburst the males would settle back into a calmer posture and begin to nod and call in sequence as they had before.

It was similar to displays I have seen with Hooded Mergansers last Winter. I took a bunch of pictures of those displays one day and will post that in the near future. However, with the smaller 'Hoodies' the dance seemed more similar to a pair of rams challenging each other but not head-on.

This year I will try to get over to see any stray Red-breasted Mergansers over at the Cape. I doubt the displays happen in this wintering ground but you never know.

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