I notice every year around here that I see more birds during the winter. Maybe because it does not often freeze where I live, so it must be a good place to migrate to, from colder places.
From my office window, I spot the birds I cultivate by putting out food: the jays, the juncos, the hummingbirds. And each winter, like clockwork, the Hooded Mergansers return to my pond. I love them and wish they would stay all the time. Instead, they show up for a few hours, then leave again. But they do come back every winter, and during the winter I spot them nearly every day.
About an hour ago I threw on some boots when Pedro spotted white specks down in the pond. I knew exactly what they were! It’s the first time I’ve seen them this season. I grabbed my camera and stealthily moved toward the pond, keeping two big trees between me and the pond. In the past I have learned that when they see me moving toward the pond, they fly away. Sadly, I have had no luck getting any closer than the big trees. So with camera on max zoom, I did my best.
As soon as I arrived, the males moved to the left and went behind some tree branches. I waited for them to move back out, then noticed their movements. They seemed to be doing some kind of courtship dance. After watching for 5 minutes or so, I learned the movements of their dance, which was accompanied by a loud croaking sound like a bullfrog. I have never watched this before. It was so fun to see!
The two males were watched by a single female at first. They would come close together and face each other, holding still. Then they would bob their heads up into the air and swim rapidly toward each other, then pass each other, then swing around to face each other and do it again, heads bobbing the whole time. Sometimes they would tip their heads backward onto their backs, and make the long croaking sound. My Nikon has poor quality video or I would have videoed it.
Eventually, the males moved out from behind the tree, so they could get closer to the other females. If they were giving a performance, they naturally wanted a larger audience.
I carefully backed out of the ferns and blackberries at the base of the tree. They immediately noticed me and stopped. I moved very slowly and managed to get back to the house without scaring them off. The photos were so cool I sat right down and made a blog post for you!