The Hooded Mergansers are back in the pond

I love this time of year for several reasons.  For one, my wedding anniversary is coming up soon.  This reminds me how Steve found the last rose of the year on his rosebush and gave it to me after he proposed.  How rare is a November rose?

I also love late fall because everything begins to slow down a bit at this time of year.  We take the time to reflect and ponder the stark beauty of nature when the world (well, at the least parts of the North Hemisphere) is laid bare.  And when the foliage is almost gone, it's a lot easier to identify the wild birds in our yard.  This is when we begin playing our bird identification game in earnest.  We especially look for the waterfowl who, escaping the colder climes, return to our pond.

Earlier this year, Steve bought some excellent binoculars with a tripod, so we are all set up for viewing from our porch to see the waterfowl this year.

Right before Thanksgiving this year, the Hooded Mergansers returned.  Steve looked for these diver ducks because I get so excited about seeing them.

(photo credit: Gary Witt, Flikr,

Almost perennially, we have the Mallard ducks, the Great Blue Heron (which will turn white in the winter), and red-tailed hawks.  (Although the red-tailed hawks are not considered waterfowl, they really do love the pond.)

But at this time of year, we also identify the Hooded Merganser and the Belted Kingfisher.  Both species are especially wary of humans and will fly away if we do not stay on the porch of our house.  One step into our yard, and they are gone.  Also, since they are diver ducks, they do not stay on the surface for long.

(photo credit:  Hugh Vandervoort)
Female Hooded Merganser in the middle

It took me a couple years to identify the Hooded Merganser.  Prior to having our excellent binoculars, I finally was able to see them only somewhat close up through my opera glasses.  I had originally said that they were perhaps Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, or Barrow's Duck.  I could not be certain because I simply could not get close enough to identify them properly.  I had only fleeting, blurry images of them in my mind.  And they do not hold their hoods "open" all the time.  In addition, the female's head camouflages so well with the pond that I did not realize her head shape was the same as that of the male's.

I love these birds so much that I researched to find the last time they were featured on the federal duck stamp.  Anyone who has ever watched "Fargo" knows about the national duck stamp contest for artists in the United States.  The last time a Hooded Merganser won the Federal Duck Stamp contest was 2005, with an entry from artist Mark Anderson.  

(Photo credit:

It's also easier at this time of year to see the Belted Kingfishers, who really shy away from humans.

(photo credit: Ralph Hocken)
Belted Kingfisher in flight

When I first saw a Belted Kingfisher years ago, I thought it was a Blue Jay from far away.  But it is slightly larger than the Jay and has a large head, out of proportion with the rest of his body.

(photo credit:  The Hanover Conservancy)
The female Kingfisher showing the characteristic rust-brown "belt" here.  
They are here year-round, but I see more of them in the winter.

(photo credit:
The Belted Kingfisher loves to perch on our sunken logs that eclipse the waterline. He will wait there until he is ready to dive with his scissor-bills to grab a tasty snack from just below the surface.

I am very thankful for our November guests, as Robert Frost would call them.

My November Guest

...The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But if were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

                     - Robert Frost

Soon, I'll do a blog post about how some of our bird visitors turn white in the winter.


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