|Photo courtesy Michigan DNR|
There was a lot more ice around the pier than there had been the day before, but as we approached the dock we could see some waterfowl out in the bay. I guessed they were mergansers, but then I noticed a much larger bird closer to shore, diving just beyond the thin ice. I moved to the railing and waited for it to surface.
I wasn't sure what it was, and for that I was excited, since it probably meant it was not a bird I'd seen before. When it dove again I walked farther down the pier. Once again it broke the surface, but dove quickly. As it dove I caught a glimpse of its tail and I knew what we'd spotted.
A Long-tailed Duck!!
Such a pretty thing, it is not all that common here in Michigan, at least inland. Sibley's shows its winter range to include the Great Lakes, but it tends to frequent the ocean coasts. I remembered the conversations of some of the birders I was with at the festival in Tawas last year--one of these birds had been spotted (at great distance) at the Foote Dam Pond on the Au Sable River, and there was much excitement about it. This is a bird that breeds in the Arctic, and to have one in Michigan in May caused quiet a stir.
We watched it dive, its tail feather last to submerge, and wondered at an animal so suited to a life in frigid waters.
Another "life list" bird, great payment for birding on such a chilly afternoon!
I have always been more of a landscape photographer, where depth of field is more important than stopping movement, so I have always shot in aperture priority mode (I set the aperture, which determines depth of field, and the camera picks the corresponding shutter speed). But what happened with the Long-tailed Duck is that the aperture setting I had chosen forced the camera to pick a shutter speed much too slow to stop any movement (usually around 1/40th of a second). I wasn't paying any attention, too excited about the duck to pay attention to what the camera was doing. There are other factors that contributed to the blurry photos, but this is the main one. So from now on, the camera that has the long lens will always be in shutter priority mode, and I will try not to let my excitement ruin my pictures!!
Next: Common Redpolls by the pier.