Red-breasted Merganser (Horseshoe Lake State Park)

April 28, 2015

I finally made it to Horseshoe Lake State Park in Illinois last week to check out the waterbirds and waterfowl. I was hoping for a horned grebe but I knew it was getting a little late in the migration for that species. Upon arrival, a little before sunrise, of course, I headed up to the north end of the lake to begin my walk. I was going on some information from an attendee at my wildlife photography presentation the night before at the Missouri Nature and Environmental Photographers (MoNEP) meeting. Although I didn’t see the horned grebe he had seen a few weeks earlier, his tip was still good because I immediately saw a drake red-breasted merganser and two hens out in open water.

The red-breasted merganser is listed as an uncommon migrant to Missouri so the sighting was a rare one for me. I had a couple of nice images of a hen, from a previous encounter at Columbia Bottom C.A. but had never photographed a drake. As I watched the awkward-looking drake a quarter mile out on the lake, I wondered how I would ever get an image.

I noticed that the trio was heading north to south, back the way I came from, but keeping their distance from the shoreline. I fast-walked south along the shoreline but soon realized they would never come in because they were aware of my shenanigans. Finally I just stopped and watched them proceed south and it wasn’t too long before they changed their heading toward the shoreline. I decided to run up to the paved road that circles the lake and head further south to get ahead of them without them noticing me. I wasn’t too optimistic about my plan but I had to try something.

As I ran south along the road, I checked back over my shoulder and saw that the mergansers had begun approaching the shoreline dead on. Once I was well ahead of them, I slipped down the hill to water’s edge and hid in a patch of horsetail.  My hide was behind a little peninsula that formed one of the many coves along the east shoreline so if I did see the mergansers as they closed on my position, I would see them all at once as they rounded the end of the peninsula at point-blank-range. All I could do was wait.

It wasn’t long before some coots rounded the tip of the peninsula and they never saw me as they proceeded south past my location. As I watched the spot where the coots had appeared, I softly chanted, “Please, please, please, come around the point Mr. Merganser!” A few minutes later I saw some movement as a group of three ducks rounded the peninsula. I knew which ducks they would be before my autofocus brought them into view:  the trio of red-breasted mergansers!

The featured image is of the drake of course, with his signature double crown, soaking wet in this case, and namesake red breast. I can’t continue without mentioning the drake’s incredible red eye, shown here with the saturation slider of my camera on zero. In other words, the intense red color of the bird’s eye is all natural.



Next I photographed one of the hens, more muted in appearance but as crazy-looking as the drake. My buddy said she looked like a punk rocker, probably because of the thick, black eyeliner around her ruby red eye.



I was happy to catch the drake as it stopped right in front of me to do some preening. It was obviously and wonderfully oblivious to my position in the tall patch of Equisetum. Check out those fish-catching serrations along its bill.



This final image gives you a nice look at the red-breasted merganser in full profile, showing off that red eye and double sprig of head feathers. What a unique looking bird!

I couldn’t have been happier with my trip across the Mississippi to Granite City to check out Horseshoe Lake. Maybe next year I’ll get there a little earlier to catch a migrating horned grebe and who knows what else.

Thanks for looking,


Email me at:  NatureFrames@Rocketmail.Com

Note to email followers: Just a reminder that when you receive your edition in the email, if you click on the blue-colored title it will link you to the actual blog which is in a nicer, more readable format. 

4 comments on “Red-breasted Merganser (Horseshoe Lake State Park)”

  1. Those are real beauties!

  2. One of those few times that I prefer an image in the body of the text to the “main” image! But then….there’s so much I learn from each new post on Nature Frames….Thank you each time.

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