May 6, 9 am.
Today the sunshine is intense, I can feel the ground drying up around me as I walk along the east side of Outlet creek. The sky i s a brilliant blue and I am grateful for our wonderful air quality. It is a lucky day for me because I am alone in the beauty of this natural place. Lately, there have been many people working here to eradicate the nonnative aggressive plants that have become naturalized along this riparian corridor, such as Himalayan blackberry and Poison hemlock. It seems that today they are not here so it is peaceful and quiet
As I approach the creek edge I see two large and impressive ducks. Their bills are bright red, contrasting with the males black and white body coloring. These are Common mergansers, Mergus merganser. This year seems to be a good one for them because I have been seeing them all over this valley in the creeks and on ponds.
The common merganser is a, mostly, fish eating duck that dives and swims underwater, though one of its favorite ways to hunt is to swim with its head totally under the water looking for food. I have seen them do this and we posted a video from one of our camcorders with a couple of them swimming past the camera doing this particular and funny hunting form. They use their eyes, of course, for finding fish and other aquatic food .Even though fish is their favorite food, they eat a wide variety of things from mussels and crayfish to rarely some plant material. The baby ducklings eat mostly aquatic insects. The cutest thing I have seen, but have not been able to capture on film yet (I hope I will get a photo during this season!), is when the ducklings get a ride on the back of the mother merganser. Sometimes there are 20 of them trying to ride on her back and they even do this when they have grown quite large.
Mergansers are cavity nesters like the Wood duck and we are hoping that this pair will nest in one of the close-by boxes that is empty. We will set up the camcorder if they do nest in the box and try and get photographs and video of the babies leaving the nest-box.
You can see that the female merganser has a warm reddish head with a crest and a white chin while the male has a smooth dark green head that can appear black and a very white belly and neck. The young males resemble the females with a reddish head.
As I walk back, I notice a small pool of water along the Outlet creek with an Alder tree that has its roots showing from years of water rushing past and eroding the soil from around it. It is in this pool that I often see a pair of mergansers swimming or on the sandy bank sunning themselves. The reflection of the sky and tree in the pool is a beautiful reminder for me to stop and appreciate the exquisite energy of this flowing creek and. I wonder if the mergansers feel it too.