Sunday 10 February 2013

Common Mergansers and Arctic Cod

On Saturday 9 Feb 2013 I went out to Holyrood to try for pictures of Common Mergansers before Winter Storm Nemo was scheduled to hit eastern Newfoundland at noon. I knew there was an unusual concentration of Common Mergs at North Arm, Holyrood for the last two weeks.  Common Merganser is only locally common in Newfoundland and very uncommonly do we have a good chance to photograph them.

I arrived at North Arm not long after sunrise.  There was a heavy sea mist rising off the water.  The air temperature was -12C.   A Bald Eagle squealed at me from a tree above the car as I opened the car window for a view. There were plenty of mergs out there in the mist, 63 Common Merganser to be exact and one female Tufted Duck in the cove.  Scenic yes but not great for photography.   Eventually the temperature rose enough so the sea mist vanished.  But the mergs were no easier to photograph. As expected they were extremely wary of people even if in the open window of a car.  A gaggle of 30 multicoloured coloured joggers, all female,  moving along the little used road didn't help. The bottom line was without a blind or something similar along the shoreline there was no way to be close to the mergs for good photos. For the most part they fed from the safety of the middle of the cove. And on this day the heavy dark lead sky with the approach of Nemo added to the challenges. The photos below are big crops and using high ISOs

Watching the mergs for the next couple of hours proved interesting.  I figured the concentration of merganser were feeding on something like smelt that might be collecting in the cove before heading up into freshwater.  But it was Arctic cod.  The mergs struggled with the size of some of fish allowing for photos and then viewing details on the LCD camera screen.  The time lag before swallowing was an opportunity for gulls to steal the fish. This happened regularly.  Waiting Bald Eagles in the trees around the cove were then chasing the gulls that didn't swallow the fish soon enough. 
The Common Mergansers were content to feed in the middle of the cove or closer to the other shore away from human activity.

This group was fooled when they swam around a wharf not expecting me, but they became aware and smartly swam directly away.

Mergs eyeing a stranger on the wharf for just an instant before swimming away at high speed.

A long distance crop of a group of female Common Mergansers.
An increasing NE wind pushed some thin ice into the cove forcing the mergansers to readjust positions.  Excuses for photo quality are ISO 2500 and 100% crop.  A Smew would have made this a great photo.

Various shots of the fish. The proportionately large fins, long thin rear part, dark colour make these Arctic cod and not Atlantic or Greenland cod. I also had a good look at two specimens frozen in the ice by a wharf. 
A few harbour seals were also feeding on the Arctic cod bonanza.


  1. No photos of the 30 multicoloured joggers?


  2. Working on a separate blog for those photos....


  3. Greetings from Montreal, Quebec. Great photos, Bruce.


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