Monday, May 04, 2015

Birds on the River

Now they pass, filling the distance, 
a faint flapping of wings against the light, a throbbing winged unity. 
- Pablo Neruda

A few days ago I got out on the river with my kayak for the first time this year. I was on my own so I decided to take the long lens and see what birds were around. It always makes me a little nervous with the expensive camera and lens on the water, but our kayaks are fairly stable and the river was calm. Although it's a challenge to hold a long telephoto steady in a moving boat, it is a great view point and many of the birds are easier to approach from the water than from the land.

I mostly saw the usual suspects - Canada geese, white pelicans, and ducks. There haven't been a lot of pelicans on the river yet. Mostly I've seen a white clump of them on the end of the island above the weir. There were a couple of them below the weir parking lot just hanging out.

White pelicans

I could see another one on the other side of the river so I headed over there. But once I got across I got distracted by a pair of Common mergansers. (If I was a bird I think I'd be offended to be called "common"!)

Common mergansers

Eventually they got tired of me following them around and flew away. You can see the streamlined head and neck for diving and the hooked beak (with backwards pointing serrated teeth) for catching fish. Unlike most birds, the female is actually the more showy of the pair with her reddish brown crested head. The male's head often looks black but in the right light it has a green shine.

Common merganser (male)

By this point the pelican I'd come across the river to see had disappeared. But it's a common spot for them so I found an eddy to park in and waited. Soon enough one of the ones from the other side of the river took off and flew over. I tried to follow it with the telephoto but had the usual struggle getting it both in the frame and in focus. I count myself lucky if anything turns out.

White pelican

I also tried to catch it landing but the one that worked out is rather a funny pose. It looks like it's praying or something.

Pelican landing

This shot clearly shows the "horn" they temporarily develop in breeding season.

White pelican

This one didn't hang around for long either so I headed back down the river where I found the pair of mergansers up on the shore. I laughed when I got back to the computer and saw this photo of them walking in step like some old married couple.

walk this way

There were also small shorebirds flitting about but they moved around quickly and were hard to capture. This one looks like a Spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

Just at the end of my paddle I came across a Canada goose on the shore that let me get quite close before deciding to fly away. I shot a continuous sequence as it took off and a couple of them came out quite well. I love the long stride on this one. (I could just hear our paragliding instructor yelling "run, run, run" when we were taking off.) And you can see it had it's eye on me the whole time.

Goose takeoff

Any appearance of skill at this kind of photography is mostly due to taking a lot of shots and picking the lucky few that are half decent. Most of the 400 shots I took looked more like these two!


See all 14 photos as a slideshow or overview

PS. A sad postscript to this post is that two days later, walking along the river on my way to work, I saw a dead duck on the beach. I realized it was a male common merganser. I thought maybe a hawk or eagle had got it, but as I got closer I could see it was intact. Then I realized it was tightly entangled in fishing line and had likely drowned. I only saw the one pair but there could be others around so it's hard to say if it's the one I photographed. If so, those photos were its last. I wonder if his partner will find a new mate. Will they still walk in step? Yet another victim of the apex destroyer, homo sapiens. When we don't kill deliberately, we do it by carelessness and disregard.

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