Sawbills rank amongst my favourite water birds. They are all attractive, present a good challenge both in being difficult to approach and a tough photograph exposure in their various combinations of black and white. There has been the usual group of winter Red-breasted Mergansers on the large local marine lake and I have had a couple of brief sessions with them. This is a bird that has a permanently 'bad hair day'.
The first session was on a bitterly cold day with flat calm water conditions but the birds were playing tricky as usual. I was laid flat in the frost on a floating landing pontoon. A male bird came in close as the water took on a slight pink tinge just before the sun had come up over the horizon.
The sun appeared but it was a while before another bird came anywhere close.
That was all I managed to get on that session, so a return trip yesterday was in needed. I admit I ignored the doctors orders but it was the first morning with clear skies in a while and my neck actually feels much better for some gentle camera wielding exercise. On this session a small group of birds were actively feeding along the edge of the lake providing some good photo opportunities. A good approach when photographing sawbills, or any diving birds for that matter, is to get in to position while they are under water. Usually you have about 20 seconds for mergansers to make the move. The wind was pushing in creating some useful low waves across the lake to add some further interest to the photos. I took a few photos while waiting for the sun to get up.
The the first rays appeared bathing the birds in a golden glow. The females were looking particularly good in this first light.
The white patches of the males were turned golden by the those first rays.
Once the sun gets a little higher the males become a real exposure headache as it is very difficult not to over expose the white neck and wings whilst trying to retain detail in the black head with its green sheen.
To finish this post, in with the group there was a rather tatty looking Scaup which must have been suffering a bit of an identity crisis as it was diving in unison with the mergansers. I assume this was a youngster changing into adult plumage and decided it would look best if half hidden behind a low wave.