Monday, January 11, 2010

A Whole Mess of Mergansers

On my two recent visits to the South Platte river's course through Denver I have made an effort not to be sucked in for looks at the Barrow's Goldeneye, that is the locale's star attraction at the moment. Sure I have sought him out, and have successfully located him each time. It wasn't until I read another birders report from the area that I realized I might be missing something while I was there. Unfortunately I can't relocate the email or I would give due credit, but someone reported seeing all three Merganser species on their visit. I have seen two fairly regularly, both Common and Hooded Mergansers. Hooded Mergansers (female above and male below), were documented in my Collateral Duckage post from last month. Last weekend they were still present and I recaptured both, with the male showing a relaxed view of his hood this time.

Common Mergansers were there as well, and present in the most numbers. The female below shows the white neck and cheek that help to confirm her identity. Also of note on this individual is the mismatched length of her bill, which seems to have been due either to some past accident to her upper, or an abnormal growth on her lower mandible.

Here, two male Common Mergansers were shooting the rapids near the Florida Ave bridge. Mergansers are long and low slung anyway, so when they get in the rougher sections they practically disappear between the wave crests. For these guys note the plain white lower body, which runs unmarked from neck to tail. From a distance they can seem a bit like a Goldeneye, except for the long orange bill. That mistake is one that I have gotten well past, but what I learned yesterday is that I had been making a different oversight and not even realizing it.

Here was a picture that I snapped of the celebrity Barrow's on Saturday, swimming along with his Common Goldeneye girlfriend. What I overlooked at the time, and even on my first review of the shots, was that the Merganser swimming behind them was not Common at all.

It is a Red-breasted Merganser! I did notice the brilliant red eye, but thought it was just catching more glare in the midday sunlight. As I looked closer another difference became evident. Look closely below the neck!

The dark coloring dips forward, giving this merganser its name worthy reddish breast. I am now left to wonder if I have been overlooking these guys for a year, or if this was one that I can chalk up to hiding in plain sight, behind an even greater rarity. Either way, my first life bird of 2010 is in the books, the Red-breasted Merganser.
2010 Count: 34
Lifetime: 202

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