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Posts Tagged ‘mergansers’

There are, definitely, great advantages to napping.

I’ve been blessed with the uncanny ability to nap at any time, in any position, at any moment’s notice.

I’m sure many people have wondered if I was napping as they talked to me—even though my eyes were open and I appeared awake.

Not so many years ago, as I fished one April morning along the Poudre River in the northern Colorado Rockies, all I heard were trout laughing at me. Well, some giggled, too.

A merganser female (left) and male on the Poudre River. Photo by Edie Palmer, taken from her backyard in the lower Poudre Canyon.

A merganser female (left) and male on the Poudre River. Photo by Edie Palmer, taken from her backyard in the lower Poudre Canyon.

I came upon a deep pool fed by whitewater rapids, and decided upon the most productive, the best and the most logical course of action. I stepped over to a grassy shelf of soft, pillowy wild grass jutting out a bit into the pool.

Nap time: I laid down. With creel to one side, fly rod to the other, the back of my head comfortably on a flat rock, I gazed up at a sky as blue as a delphinium flower. The temperature was in the magical realm where neither heat nor cold could be felt. The air smelled so fresh that I took deep, meditative gulps through my nostrils.

It was perfect reclining there, slipping into what I do best: napping.

Sometime later I was awakened by loud grukking. The sound resembled off-key music made by a sharp-toothed orangutan blowing spit through a twisted copper pipe. In other words, indescribable unless you hear it yourself.

I had heard such sounds before, in the springtime when a dozen or fewer mergansers annually return to the Poudre for the summer. There are so few of these ducks that not many people have ever seen them, so any sighting is a blessing.

The mergansers hang out for a while along this stretch of the river and get acquainted before heading upstream to create baby mergansers.

By getting acquainted, I mean the lady does the choosing, and the guys do the strutting to gain her favor.

Beautiful babe: From my reclined position, I saw a female merganser move quickly down the rapids. She reached the bottom and swam into the middle of the pool, not far away from me.

I knew if I moved, even twitched my nose, she would take flight. Mergansers are skittish.

Her sleek body was replete with feathers of shades of brown and white. Her head was crimson, her topknot feathers wild and glorious.

All in all, a stunning babe.

And then came the source of all the grukking.

What ensued next was a classical look at the ways of many members of the animal kingdom, even humans and more specifically, unfortunately, some male humans.

The Three Stooges: Three male mergansers, each grukking boldly, cascaded down the rapids. With their black top feathers and white feathery bottoms, they bounced like fishing bobbers through the whitewater and onto the pool.

They hurried over to Babe, encircling her, dashing around and around, keeping her in dead-center.

She wasn’t having none of that.

She broke through the entrapment, hurrying away, leaving the surprised guys staring blankly at each other.

My childhood memory of Moe, Larry and Curly on TV came to mind as the guys grukked angrily at each other.

If they had hands rather wings, they surely would have slapped each other silly. As it was, they nipped at each other. Mergansers are diving ducks so they have sharp serrated bills for catching and eating fish. In contrast, mallards, often seen on the river, are puddle ducks with less vicious bills; they typically feed by tipping into the water rather than submerging.

Screaming out a world-class gruk, each of the Three Stooges reared up on their webbed feet, necks outstretched, chest feathers puffed out, and freight-trained across the surface of the water straight at each other.

The three ruffians collided with a calamitous gruk and bounced back, stunned. Necks flopped askew. Bills twanged. Bodies teetered this way, wobbled that way.

Babe’s escape: Unimpressed, Babe took a short run over the surface of the water, as ducks do when they are taking off, and became airborne.

She was gone from sight by the time the Stooges recovered. They looked around every which way, and I could feel their thoughts form:

Where’d that beautiful dame disappear to?

Finally, one of them geared up, sprinted across the water and flew downstream—just guessing on Babe’s flight plan, I suspected.

He let out a grukking raspberry to his two competitors.

They were having none of that.

Within moments, all three Stooges were speeding in flight downstream–in the opposite direction of Babe’s upstream journey. She was safe.

Back at my grassy riverside spot, I was having some of that: three bullies outwitted by a lady. I decided it’s always good to take a nap.

You never know what you’ll discover when you wake up.

 

To learn more about mergansers, read the March 26 poudreriver.org blog.

To contact this blog’s writer: GaryKimsey@yahoo.com. Cell: 970.689.2512.

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They have once again returned to the Poudre River—the mergansers. It’s a sure sign that spring is headed our way in northern Colorado.

If you believe in weather lore—how wild animals might predict the coming weather—the time of their arrival may speak volumes about the next six months.

A male merganser (left) and female lounging on a boulder in the Poudre River that flows along my backyard.

A male merganser (left) and female lounging on a boulder in the Poudre River that flows along my backyard.

I started tracking the mergansers about three decades ago, and I’ve noticed how the timing of their arrival seems to predict the amounts of rain for the coming summer: a mid-March arrival may mean a summer of average rainfall; earlier than mid-March, more rain, and thus a wet summer; and later than mid-March, less rain, an abnormally dry summer.

In 2000, for example, when the mergansers arrived extremely late—six weeks beyond their average mid-March arrival—northern Colorado had its worst-recorded summer drought.

Back then, the mergansers may have mysteriously and magically known that dry times awaited them at their summer home, so they continued hanging out wherever it was that they wintered over. Or they may have taken a short vacation to some other wet area before journeying to the Poudre.

A miracle: There are so few of them—a tiny, tiny handful of these members of the duck family—and they blend in so well with the river’s whitewater rapids, sun-reflecting ripples and deep greenish-blue pools.

Given those conditions, it’s a miracle the mergansers are noticed at all.

But they are. Residents living along the river where it passes through the mountainous lower Poudre Canyon 20 miles northwest of Fort Collins, Colo., keep watch for them.

This year, in mid-March, Bill Sears and Edie Palmer were the early ones to spot the mergansers. The news was relayed to Steve Den, a Poudre Park resident and retired Poudre School District teacher who writes a popular weekly Mountain Messages blog about local Poudre people and things. Steve alerted others by email.

Usually, the mergansers arrive almost with the uncanny accuracy of the famous swallows flying back to Mission San Juan Capistrano. As a rule, as many as 34,000 swallows return March 19 to the California mission. Their annual return from wintering over in Argentina is considered a religious miracle by some observers since the arrival takes place on St. Joseph’s Day.

Things are a bit different along the Poudre. The merganser population is fragile. Usually only six or seven mergansers show up. In some years, there may be as many as a dozen.

Few people even know about the mergansers. The birds are tough to spot.

Lazily drifting: The males are 23 to 28 inches long, about the length of two shoes heel-to-toe of a big-footed man. The heads of male mergansers are black with an iridescent green gloss. Their backs are coal-black. They have thin orange bills and—here’s the great identifier—lower sides of snowy-white feathers. Their wings are partly white and partly black.

Females are about the same size as males, with the same bill color. But their heads are rusty red with feathers of a mod ragged style. Females have a grayish brown body and off-white chest feathers.

The ladies blend in with the river’s shifting shadows. Males are easier to spot because of their white feathers. The males resemble big, white-bottom bobbers as they float with the current.

If you’re quick-eyed and lucky, you may see them lazily drifting on the river in early mornings. In the afternoons, they often tend to hide out—or, as I would, nap—in riverside foliage. They come out again before dusk.

Chances are you’ll spy a male, thanks to his bobbing whiteness. Look closely. There’s likely to be a female with him, but she’ll blend in with the water and you might not see her unless you specifically search for her.

The mergansers hang out for a while—resting up, feeding, courting, gossiping—along a 4-mile stretch of the river that goes from Picnic Rock, the first picnic area just inside the canyon, to the first bridge that spans the river.

Some of the river curves away from the road (Colorado Highway 14), requiring an easy bit of footwork to get to the stream. But there are some long rippling stretches and still pools where mergansers can be seen from the adjacent road.

Once they are rested and mated up, the mergansers head upriver to nest and hatch the next generation.

Fancy drinks, sunglasses: The mergansers on the Poudre are Common Mergansers. Colorado also has Red-breasted Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers, but they live in other areas. The famous bird artist, John James Audubon, went on a quest in about 1820 to paint every bird in America. The Common Merganser was one of his subjects; he called it a Buff-breasted Merganser.

Some mergansers winter on Colorado Front Range lakes where the weather is mild enough for ice to be sparse. Others head to the warm climates of Mexico or Central America, where I’m sure they wear sunglasses and sip fancy drinks with tiny paper umbrellas stuck in them.

That’s what I’d do if I were a merganser, of course, naturally.

Learn more about common mergansers:

Watch for the next poudreriver.org blog on March 31: Merganser love on the Poudre

To reach Gary Kimsey: GaryKimsey@yahoo.com. Cell: 970.689.2512.

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