Common Merganser

(Mergus merganser)


Shinano River, Niigata, Japan

July 21, 2018

Thank you to the members of Kantori, Japan for help with identification.
You give social media a good name.

After some quiet weeks for the birds, lots of action unfolded all of a sudden. Japan has been having an increasingly horrid heatwave. In Niigata, the temperatures have been 5-7 degrees higher than the usual averages. At 11pm on Friday night it was 27c outside. Although many in Australia think that temperatures below 40 aren't worth complaining about, there is something about the asian air pressure/humidity that makes 30 unbearable. I feel like I need to wind down the window even when walking along the river. There just isn't that thin dry air that supplies oxygen.

I became aware yesterday, that after months of few gulls, I sighted hoards of Black-tailed Gulls along the sea and up and down the Shinano River. I waited till late in the day to go out with my camera. After an hour or so of watching the gulls go back and fro, I was mumbling to myself and drawing circles in the air as you do, when I noticed a clump of tail feathers above me spiralling down to earth. Several other single feathers on either side of me also fluttered slowly to the ground. I looked upwards expecting to see a peregrine charging off, but the sky was quiet and empty. The feathers  were small, sparrow or finch sized, and I shuffled through the grass looking to inspect them. As I drew closer to the river's edge, I disturbed a larger bird from vegetation in the water. I first thought it was a Great Crested Grebe, which I often find throughout the year, but my eyes soon made it out to be some kind of merganser. I took several pics as it went out away into the river and it finally disappeared.

After so much quiet, it seemed surreal to have so much drama in a few moments. At first inspection on the back of my camera I thought it was a Scaly-sided Merganser, but went I downloaded the files, I felt more that it was a female Red-breasted Merganser. Anyways, I posted some images on Kantori and the kind people gently taught me it was a Goosander. I guess it is still a kind of merganser. I've only ever seen a handful of mergansers and only in icy conditions in January and February in Japan. It is an exciting find in the city in summer for me. It is also amazing how helpful social media can be when we stumble with our field-guides. Gone are the days of waiting a week for my film to be developed and sticking the slides in a box under my bed.

As for the gulls, I could see various patches of the river bubbling with movement below the surface. This morning I went out early to find them still crowding and diving into the river. The prey almost looks like some kind of eel. What do you think?

Feathers that twirled to the ground from the above

Black-tailed Gull