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TALA 20: Spring 2013 in L. Allen
24th April 2013
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A collection of Merganser Photographs

Introduction: Paying back the favour!

Mergansers are one of LoughAllenBasin.com’s very favourite ‘bits’ of biodiversity. They have everything required to beguile. They are beautiful, unusual, mysterious, passionate, elusive and quite rare. Fairly common as a wintering sea duck but elusive and under studied as an attractive irish breeding bird. Lough Allen, we believe has one of the largest breeding populations, though it is still very small and highly vulnerable to disturbance and varying water quality and water level.

This page is dedicated to all those other Merganser lovers and to those people who have kept us informed of numbers and movements of Mergansers in the sea off Sligo. Presumably they have all left by now — as they are now back in L. Allen! It is nice to assume that but we cannot presume it. We, as of yet, do not know where our Mergansers come from and where they go to. There is a good population in the estuaried and bays around Sligo (and all around Ireland). Could they be just making short migrations from freshwater to the sea and back every year, or do the wintering populations there come from further north as do many of our ducks and geese?

Maybe we will find that out one day with the help of local and international birdwatchers. Just for today, thank you and enjoy the pictures shown below. They were all taken yesterday (23rd. April 2013), the firsst day we have seen substantial numbers of Mergansers out and about on L. Allen — though they may have been around longer and keeping their heads down because of unseasonable weather?

This was the first occasion we saw them actively feeding on a Lough Allen shoreline, presumeably charging their batteries before resuming their journey northwards. They were busy and reasonably approachable so we hope you will enjoy these photographs.


Three Mergansers exploring among the tree trunks...

Outbreak of Spring:

We have put this collection of images into our TALA series as we haven’t updated that for a long time and, also, because, all these photographs were taken in one morning between 7am and 10am. Weather conditions varied from very gloomy to bright sunshine. Apart from not being able to show the green glow in the mature males, we are happy with these images. Hopefully, there will be many more to come and Mergansers will be able to breed again in Lough Allen this year. (2013)

The same group of 2 mature males and 1 female emerging from shelter.





Marganser appearance, especially in the male varies depending on age and season. Most of the time during the winter the males will have a green head but very quickly this disappears when they move to the breeding site.

It’s a case of dressing up for the courtship and then ‘anything goes’ when they have got their female!


A typical mature male striking a pose when assoicated with other Mergansers. We are having much trouble recording the green sheen of these birds in early Spring. They look quite different from immature birds shown below.




Breeding Locations:

We will keep most of our biological observations to our Species Study of the Merganser but just to note here that the present high water levels may help this species whereas it is currently hindering gulls and waders.

Mergansers tend to nest very close to water. If the water rises their nest gets flooded. If they start to nest now, with most islands unseasonably covered with water, there is a good chance that the water will recede.

This is no harm. They are just lazy and when they have to they are well able to scurry through bushes and make their escape to water and escort their young day old chicks to the water also.


Female with toy-boy clambers out of the water!

It is unusual to see Mergansers out of water, apart from flying. It is amazing to note how fat and strong they are, clearly designed for diving and swimming.





The age of Mergansers very much affects their breeding pattern. The male shown in this picture is an immature male. Typically they don’t display the green sheen of an older drake and the speckled orange chest runs nearly all the way up the neck. Thier plumes also do not appear as long.

Interestingly they often form ‘learner groups’ with 1 female and another immature and they also keep away (or are chased away) from mature males and their partners. Perhaps they are related to them... last years ducklings?


This image very clearly shows the sturdiness of these birds and their powerful legs. They can walk quite well but the whole body shape is diferent from many ducks.

Highly streamlined but also very strong helps them both in wtare and air. Mergansers are very fast fliers and can get from one part of their habitat to another fishing area in a matter of minutes.




Wild and Elusive!

It is very difficult to approach these birds at any time. They are always very alert, though they have few predators, and will take off and fly a long distance away very quickly.

All these photographs have been taken off the 3 largish islands off Cormongan. Without a boat it would be very hard to find or approach these birds, let alone try and photograph them.


This is the same male as shown above in hot pursuit of the female who has just jumped off from the rock and headed away. We are not sure whether she was more worried about us or just wanting to get away from the attentions of her 2 suitors. yes, there were 2 young males in this group.





Adaption to their niche:

Mergansers are fish eating ducks unlike most Irish ducks which either feed on land or onshore or by dablling and ducking(!) for food. Mergansers can dive to considerable depth for fish and they like to nest in secluded areas close to deep water where they can dive for their chosen prey species. Hence their occurrence in L. Allen with its deep water and Alder Carr. Alder is the tree species most tolerant to submergence and around most of L. Allen’s shores and Islands and tangled system of Alder roots will be found either in, or close to, the water.

Also called sawbills they have long thin beaks serrated to enable them to hold fish. Their powerful chests and very large feet obviously must be of considerable help in enabling them to dive deep.




All done. Time to go! Mergansers are very active birds all the time apart from when the female is sitting on eggs.

Look carefully at this picture. There are 4 legs with the male in front but it’s the females brown head
that is showing. At this time of year they are highly active exploring the north and south of the lake, courting
and displaying, and then taking time off in the open water to catch up on fishing.




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If you have any interesting records of animals or plants from the Lough Allen basin, we will be very pleased to reproduce them here.