Male Common Merganser, Mississippi River, Le Claire, Iowa

I felt a little like an oddball among all the photographers that gathered yesterday in Le Claire, Iowa. Almost everybody there seemed to focus on one subject only, the eagles. This is somehow understandable and I’m happy for everybody that travels to Iowa to see a Bald Eagle, maybe for the first time in their life. The return of the Bald Eagle is a great success story in North America. However, only a few people realized that we had a great light situation coming up, very beneficial for every bird that swims on the water, as the sun got lower and lower in the late afternoon. The presence of hundreds of mergansers, ducks, pelicans, and other waterfowl on the water right in front of us was probably noticed by some, but only a few people took advantage of the high quality natural light. To make this a little more clear, the Bald Eagles sit quite often in a tree and not much happens for long periods of time. Everybody waits for them to get into hunting and fishing mood and if one the eagles takes off and soars overhead, the rattle of camera shutters is the dominant noise in the air. At the other hand, there is a constant battle going on between gulls, ducks, mergansers, and pelicans about the best fishing grounds and none of these birds come ever to a stand still. Combined with just gorgeous light from the low sitting sun we had an abundance of photo opportunities even if the eagles decided to have a break.

My observations from previous years proved that the Common Mergansers can be found always close to the edge of open water. A little further north ice had jammed up the Mississippi, but here in Le Claire, Iowa was enough open water and plenty of fish for them to have a happy life. I shoot birds quite often with the support of flash light to overcome the gray of an overcast and bring out the colors of their feathers. Yesterday, with this gorgeous natural light in the late afternoon I didn’t even think about to get the flash light out of the bag…