Common Merganser Ducks At Reifel Bird Sanctuary
As Bob and I approached the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island, it was necessary to wend our way along Westham Island Road and Robertson Road before branching off onto the narrow lane that leads to the entrance of the reserve. A glittering channel of water paralleled the lane, and providing a pop of colour on its surface were two Common Merganser ducks.
The view from our vehicle across the broad channel was one of wet farm fields and mixed forests, and keeping watch over the entire scene was a Great Blue Heron. We had no idea what was in store for us inside the sanctuary proper.
The Great Blue Heron looked as if it was frozen in time. In repose on a branch above the water’s surface, it maintained its fixed stare at something of interest in the distance for the full time that we observed the Mergansers.
Much to our surprise, a further 20 Great Blue Herons stood like sentries on the far edge of the first large pond within the Sanctuary’s boundaries. Only a small percentage of the herons is visible in this photograph.
What caught my eye when first Bob and I sighted the Mergansers was their striking long, slender red bills, a sure mark of a Merganser. Unlike a Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser drakes have no discernible crest on their heads.
Bob and I did not exit the vehicle as we were anxious to continue on our way. We only had so much time to spend at the Sanctuary that day given that we had to catch a ferry to Vancouver Island by mid-afternoon.
Common Mergansers are large but streamlined ducks, and males in breeding plumage, such as those in my photo, have clean white bodies with a black head, neck and upper back. In the right light, the head and neck are strongly glossed with green.
Common Mergansers are fish-eating ducks that use their sharply serrated bills to assist in catching slippery prey. Because these ducks dive when searching for food, they are quite often submerged. That combined with their large size has resulted in an alternate name for the species – Goosander. The name Merganser is rooted in Latin and means “plunging goose”.
Common Mergansers spend winters in the southern and coastal regions of their breeding range, often choosing a freshwater habitat. Inland reservoirs, lakes and rivers attract large flocks of these ducks where they will feed and court during the cold months while mixing with a variety of other species of ducks.
Common Mergansers are thought to frequent saltwater habitats equally as often as freshwater habitats although they are rarely seen in the ocean. Saltwater estuaries and coastal bays are an alternate choice for these ducks during the winter months, and with Westham Island being situated in the Fraser River Estuary, it explains the presence of so many Common Mergansers at Reifel Sanctuary.
Common Mergansers are frequently seen floating for miles down a large stream or broad river before they turn and fly back, or even more often, they will fish their way back with nonstop diving. On smaller streams, where there is a rapids or deep pool of water at the foot of a waterfall, a group of Mergansers will pursue continual fishing in the turbulent water.
This Common Merganser drake created a striking image as it floated gracefully on the surface of the pond. I only wish that the sunshine had been a bit brighter so that the green sheen on its head and neck would have been brought to light.