Monday, December 7, 2009

Red-breasted Mergansers and gulls--and a huge splashfest on Lake Erie...

Later in the morning we drove a little further west on Lake Erie to try another section of the lake. Dave had heard all three scoters had been sighted, and we were hoping for a glimpse. We didn't see the scoters, but we did see something amazing to me--thousands of gulls (mostly Herring and Ring-billed and even a few Great Black-backed Gulls too) were swarming around a huge raft of Red-breasted Mergansers. I'm sure this is a common sight for Lake Erie dwellers, but it was a first for me.

A group of Red-breasted Mergansers floating on the water surrounded by endless numbers of gulls.

Red-breasted Mergansers are fish-eating diving ducks, and this is the reason the gulls swarm around them. As a merganser surfaces with a fish in his bill, a gull is often there to help himself to the merganser's dinner. Mergansers are often called "sawbills" because their bills are serrated and resemble a saw. These sharp little edges help the merganser hold onto slippery fish, but even the serration is no match for a hungry Herring or Ring-billed Gull who can pluck the fish right out of the merganser's bill--pesky little fish thieves!

Icicles forming along the rocks and hanging from branches as the waves crashed up against the shore.

You would never know how cold it was in this photo...looks like a warm, summer day at the beach...

The Herring and Ring-billed Gulls were relentless in their thieving ways...

....of course, not all the gulls were stealing fish. Those closest to me and farthest from the mergansers were diving head first into the water to catch their own dinners. Here a group of juvenile Herring Gulls were trying their luck at fishing...

25 comments:

Heather said...

Wow, what an experience! I absolutely love that last photo with the gull just diving head-first into that very cold water!

Laure Ferlita said...

Every time I see a photo like the first one I always wonder how there aren't more head-on collisions in the bird world like there would be in the human world!


Very cool - thanks for sharing!

Elaine said...

Wow! What a special experience. I love the shot of the icicles and the shot of the hovering gulls is wonderful. You did remember to breathe while you were snapping these shots, didn't you?

TonyC said...

post Kelly. Oh boy do I miss winter birding!! Australia has planty of plus points....but no proper winter isn't one of them!!

Dave Lewis said...

That's not cold...now, JANUARY!, THAT'S cold!

√ Abraham Lincoln said...

I never have seen any of these birds. I guess I would have to be around an ocean. The icicles look familiar though. It is cold enough for them here.

Connie said...

I have never seen such a large assembly of birds. I like the photo of them hovering over the water, but I like the photo with the large rocks too.

Chris said...

Wow great shots Kelly. Gorgeous post! So many of them that is incredible!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Brrr---those icicles show how COLD it was up there on the lake, Kel....

But--the cold doesn't seem to bother those birds. Amazing!!!

Great pictures of the gulls and the mergansers.

Hugs,
Betsy

Steve Borichevsky said...

We get the pirate gulls here too. It is funny watching a gull try to dive for food. They just get in as far as their shoulders and bob back up.

But what goes around comes around, if a gull actually swipes a fish from a diving bird, then he is chases and harrassed by the other gulls.

Warren Baker said...

Action packed shots today Kelly, well done.

The Early Birder said...

So many Gulls & Mergansers, what a great sight.

Jenny said...

Fabulous photos Kelly. In that first one I can just imagine the sounds of those gulls as well. And I thought I had it cold the other day! Wow! Those icicles make me shiver! Great close up actions shots too.

robins-chaos said...

Holy Calzone, Batman! Where is Alfred Hitchcock when you need him? That was an incredible number of Mergs and gulls. I did not know that Mergs are called 'sawbills.' Interesting. Great photos!

carolmattinglyphotography said...

Kelly, love these photos. Can't believe the number of birds in one spot. The icicles reminds me of shooting the big icicle hanging off the side of Old Man's Cave at the Upper Falls. Keep posting. I'm reading. Carol

Susan said...

Great shots! We also call the Mergansers "Fish Ducks" and for obvious reasons they're not considered very tasty (which is a good thing!) I love watching them dip and dive and swim en masse!

Roy said...

Amazing images Kelly particularly the Mergansers on the water.

Nick S said...

Lovely shots Kelly. That one of the Mergansers is amazing...

Allison said...

Gorgeous photos, as always. Actually, my favorite is of the frozen water--reminds me of when the snow would melt a bit at the tail end of winter, down these cut-out hills for a road near my childhood home to pass thru. Someone would go and drop food coloring down them, so the icicles would be pink and green and blue!

Kelly said...

Heather...it was so cool...you've got to see it!

Laure...I wondered the same....they literally are swarming together with no space in between them!

Elaine...if I breathed too deeply, though.....my lungs would freeze, so I was better off holding my breath! ;-)

Tony...Australia has lots of fine points....especially now when you're running around in shorts!

Dave...I know, I know....but I'm almost a southerner and am not used to your cold, cold, temps! ;-)

Abe...I saw them at the tip of Ohio at Lake Erie...it was a great experience.

Connie....I had not either. It was amazing...Well...I've seen Starlings swarming, but they are much smaller. It's a totally different feel.

Thanks, Chris!!

Betsy....I said the same thing. Crazy birds floating around in ice water, but they are equipped to handle it. I'm not!!

Steve...you are so right. That's funny to watch as well!

Thanks, Warren!! Hope you're feeling better.

Frank...it was so cool....loved it.

Jenny....the sounds were wonderful as well--almost made me think it was summer at the beach, until I remembered it's cold!!

Robin...haha...Hitchcock would have loved it too!

Carol...thank you!! It looked very much like the icicles hanging from caves and waterfalls...very cool.

Susan...Fish ducks! Great name....thank goodness they are not tasty. In this state they would be sitting ducks! ;-0 ...and wouldn't stand a chance...

Thank you, Roy!

Thanks, Nick!

Allison...how cool!! I would have loved to have seen those colored icicles. I wonder who did it!!

Midmarsh John said...

Love the shot of the icicles and pleased it isn't that cold here yet. Also liked the final shot of the juvenile gulls diving. All that was missing was the constant noise they kick up. ;)

Kelly said...

John...thanks! you are so right! There was a constant squawking gull sound in the background...loved it!

Kathiesbirds said...

I had no idea that gulls snatched fish from mergansers. You have taught me something new! I would go nuts trying to count all those birds!

E said...

Great timing, the gulls are soo beautiful, wonderful pics, big embrace.

Mary said...

Wow...great gull and mergansesr shots! How mean of the gulls to steal a dinner they didn't catch.