A Cold Fall Morning
A Pied-billed Grebe sits calmly on a pond well before sunrise.

A Pied-billed Grebe sits calmly on a pond well before sunrise.

I love waking up early and getting outdoors before the sun has even had a chance to think of showing itself for the day.  To me there is something so serene about the monochromatic blue color scheme of everything, as well as the silence at that hour of the day. 

When I first walked to the edge of the pond located just outside my home on this particular morning it was dead calm.  There was not a bit of air moving and it was a nice crisp 37 degrees.  Due to the cold there was a thin layer of fog hanging right over the water.  I found a nice spot to tuck myself in along the shore and laid down on my stomach with my camera lens pointed out towards the water.  I had seen a decent group of Hooded Mergansers frequenting this pond for the previous few weeks and was determined to get some good photos of them.  

As I sat quiet and motionless, listening to the beginnings of the morning birds chirping, I noticed a few ripples of water arrive at the shoreline where I was laying.  Since there was still not a bit of a breeze I looked in the direction they came from to see a lovely Pied-billed Grebe heading my way.  It was an unexpected surprise and the first time I had seen one at this pond.    

A Pied-billed Grebe in the early morning fog.

It was still about 10-15 minutes before sunrise which meant a good half hour before I could expect to actually see any sunlight hitting the pond.  Since I was laying down I knew I could stabilize the camera and lens so I decided to try for a photo.  One of the first frames I took is the leading image to this post and I actually caught a street lamp reflecting in the water which added a very interesting element to the photo I thought.  As the Grebe moved in a bit closer it began to hear my camera every time I pressed the shutter button which made it noticeably uneasy.  After our first quick encounter the tiny bird decided to give me some space and headed towards the other side of the pond.  

At this point I was beginning to get a bit discouraged since I hadn’t seen or heard any other waterfowl including the always common mallards that frequent this pond.  Where were the Mergansers?  Shortly after I asked myself this question the friendly Grebe decided to come check me out again and with a bit of curiosity it slowly swam in my direction again.  This time I had a bit more light available and was able to take the photo above which still showed the cool blue morning light and that lovely fog.  The most interesting part of my interaction with this Grebe was almost every time it would decide to start swimming away I would make a small movement and show my face from behind the camera and it would immediately turn around and come a tiny bit closer.  The Grebe obviously knew something was there but it didn’t know what and was determined to find out.  

After playing around with the Grebe for about 30 minutes it decided it was tired of our game and again headed to the other shore.  Thankfully it helped to keep me occupied and just after it swam away a trio of Hooded Mergansers landed in the pond right out in front of me.

A female Hooded Merganser swims right at me.

I had placed myself right next to a small cove where I knew the Mergansers liked to hide in hopes of them heading my way and that is exactly what these three did.  Just after landing they motored right towards me.  I couldn’t believe this was going to work out as I planned it, lucky me!  I was hoping to get a good photo of the beautiful male but this trio seemed to only have three females, either way I was happy they were coming my way.  As they swam in closer the Pied-billed Grebe took up the back of the group and all four birds swam right in front of my lens. 

A juvenile male (left) and female Hooded Merganser

Once the group got closer to me I was able to notice that one of the Hooded Mergansers was actually a juvenile male.  He had an all black beak and also a much more yellow eye than the two females as you can see in the above photo (the male is on the left).  It wasn’t quite the piercing yellow of an adult male but he was well on his way.  This group of birds were much more shy than the earlier Grebe and after a few nervous moments listening to my camera fire away they quickly backed off.

The next thing I knew I had another pair of Hooded Mergansers drop in a land on the pond and this time a male!  This pair met up with the previous trio and moments later another male and female pair flew in to join the group.  All I could think was “this is perfect, now I just need them to come in a bit closer.”  I took a few photos of the pair and the large group while they were across the pond because it was a beautiful scene with the added fog.

A pair of Hooded Mergansers quietly swim across the pond on a foggy morning.

A group of Hooded Mergansers sit on the foggy pond early in the morning.

A Pied-billed Grebe sits on the flat water in the early morning sun.

All of the Mergansers headed into the thick brush along the opposite shoreline and didn’t come back out.  The Grebe headed back to me for a few nice portraits in some sunlight and then it all got quiet again.  The Grebe swam out of view and I couldn’t find any of the Hooded Mergansers while scanning the shoreline through my viewfinder.  I decided to wrap it up and I figured I’d clear out a few of the small branches that were somewhat in the way and of course, as soon as I start this I see the group of Mergansers make an appearance again.  I immediately stopped what I was doing and laid down again and this time one of the males started heading my way with the lonely Pied-billed Grebe in tow.  The male Hooded Merganser made one pass right in front of me and that was it, he took off way to quick for me to even get him in the frame.  A while later the rest of the group slowly left the pond and I managed to get one last image as one of the females exploded from the pond sending water spraying in all directions.  It was a wonderful morning to spend a few hours with just my thoughts and the beautiful birds that were kind enough to let me photograph them.

A male Hooded Merganser with a Pied-billed Grebe in tow.

A striking male Hooded Merganser swims in front of me.

A female Hooded Merganser explodes from the pond in a spray of water.

Below is a short video I took on this morning.  You can really get a sense of how neat the fog looked hanging on the surface of the water.

Nature photography has become a very passionate hobby of mine and whenever I get a chance I love to get outside and enjoy being outdoors. I am also the co-owner of KGM Expressions, a wedding and portrait photography business, with my wife Kim. This is how we make our living and I love that we get to do that together.