Mergus merganser

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

March 18, 2012

Paris France centers on an island in the middle of the Seine, the Île de la Cité, home of the Cathedral of Notre Dame (think hunchbacks).

The motto of Paris is fluctuat nec mergitur. It is emblazoned on her coat of arms. The Latin translates roughly as “she bobs about on the waves but doesn’t sink.”  It is the mergitur (does not sink) that is relevant.1

To finally get to my point, this note is about mergansers, the diving (mergus) goose (anser)–which is actually a duck.

There are three mergansers in North America, and at different times of the year, you can see all three here in the mountains. By far the most common is, well, the Common Merganser (Mergus merganser).

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

Every winter brings them to the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers and, beginning right around the New Year, into the larger creeks, such as Sherman’s Creek, in Perry County.

A few usually stay through the summer. I have seen females coming and going out of cavities in the big stream-side Sycamores as late as June (they are cavity nesters).  In the summertime, I often fish Sherman’s Creek for Rock and Smallmouth Bass, and I have twice seen flotillas of flightless young. Both times, the young ducks floated around a curve in the creek and, upon seeing me, launched into desperate flailing skittering runs along the surface in their eagerness to escape.

But it is late winter when they are most common. By March, the males are in full breeding plumage, and they are quite a stunning duck.

I recently found a very cooperative pair loafing on a rock in Sherman’s Creek.

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

The male was dressed to the nines.

Common Merganser, male in breeding plumage.

Common Merganser, male in breeding plumage.

The female looked oh so alluring, a wild redhead in a conservative suit and tangerine pumps.

Common Merganser, female.

Common Merganser, female.

When I started cropping and enlarging these photographs, I learned something new: what attracted these birds to Sherman’s Creek when there are obviously far more fish in the river.

Look closely at the rock.

See them?

Crawdad wreckage from a merganser loafing rock.

Crawdad wreckage.

Crawdad claws. Sherman’s Creek is a-crawl in crawdads, an all-you-can-eat buffet for diving ducks. I’m no astacologist, but I suspect they are in the genus Orconectes; I’m not sure which species.2

I’m working on it.

Watch this space.

  1. Mergitur, from the verb mergere (to immerse, dip, or sink. It is the root of  words like submerge. []
  2. Astacology is the study of crayfish–I’m not making that up, I learned it at the excellent website of Dr. Ted Nuttall of Lock Haven University, which includes a great on-line key to the dozen species of crayfish in Pennsylvania: []

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