Bird Effects


The picture below is another still from the 1967  Raynor Film. I can criticise it without fear of the photographer, since I am the photographer. At the time, I recorded on my Sighting Report Form that I had the impression of one object at the front of the disturbance and other objects catching up with it at times in the sequence. No-one seemed to realise the significance of that observation at the time.
About 14 years later, I was employed as an engineer on the Wave Energy Project of Sea Energy Associates /  Lanchester Polytechnic. They had a 1/10th scale test site at Dores, and that was where I spent most of my time. One June day in 1981 I was looking out of the computer room window when I saw something quite shocking. An object was travelling along the surface of the loch at up to 10 miles per hour ( ~15 kph ) accelerating and then slowing down just as my 1967 film had recorded. It was only 100 metres away, and after a few seconds I could see that it was a family group of mergansers - one adult at the front was running along the surface away from the group of seven or eight chicks, and after a few seconds it settled back onto the water while the young ones caught up with it. A short time later, the process was repeated.

That could have been what I saw and filmed from a range of one mile.

The group of birds often measured around 2 metres when spread out...entirely consistent with the JARIC measurement...

The average speed was around five miles per hour, as they estimated...

They were very accurate in their work, and only the failure of the camera system to resolve the individual birds at a range of one mile prevented , in my opinion, that particular mystery from being solved at that time.

For me, the sensible way is to wield Occam's Razor and go for the simple solution to this once enigmatic event.  If the choice is between a family of mergansers which I know to live there, and a chance encounter with a dragon from Legend, sorry Dragon!.

Of course, I don't know that what I filmed was a group of birds, but that is the most reasonable explanation based on the available evidence. If someone can prove something different, I would be delighted.

 Still from 1967 Raynor Film with Scott II in foreground.

A description of the Red-Breasted Merganser, Mergus serratus (French - Harle huppe, German - Mittelsager)

This is a member of the British group of saw-billed ducks, together with the Goosander (- also found on Loch Ness) and Smew. The drake has a dark green head decorated with a double crest of long feathers hanging down the side. A broad white collar encircles the neck, and a white line runs down his nape to join his dark upper back. His lower back and flanks are streaked with grey. His wings are black and white, crossed with two black bars, and there is more white on his shoulders. He has a chestnut coloured breast and white underparts, rump and tail.

The duck had a brown head and neck, her back is greyish brown, and her underparts are white.

The drake's eclipse plumage resembles that of the duck, as do the young. The bills and legs are red, and the drake measures 23 inches or 580mm in length, with a wing-span of about 21 inches or 530mm.

It is a graceful and expert diver, catching its diet of fish from depths of up to 5 metres and staying under for up to two minutes, although 20 seconds is more normal. After eating its fish at the surface, it makes a great flapping of its wings, and drinks some water. It likes to feed in shallow water where it swims with its head submerged. The numerous chicks, clad in reddish-brown down, are tended by the duck alone, the drake does not remain in the area.

From personal experience I can inform you that when they are fishing in the shallows, and viewed from a passing boat at a distance of 50 metres, they can be almost invisible. The rippled water can have a light grey element from the reflected sky, and a dark brown element from the reflected shoreline, matching the colour of the birds to perfection.

As if to illustrate my point in the paragraph above, on 23rd April 2000  I saw a pair of mergansers near the Cobb Milepost, one mile south-west of Urquhart Castle. I was with George Edwards for the first cruise of his excellent new "Nessie Hunter", and was prepared for technical support, not photography. I only had my Olympus XA with its 35mm lens. I could clearly see the pair of birds, about one or two metres apart, swimming along the shoreline just 50 metres from the boat. I took my remaining four frames within about 15 seconds to illustrate the difficulty of spotting the female. Little did I realise how successful I would be. I have studied the frames for over an hour and still cannot see the female at all, yet I know it was there. They really can be "photo-invisible"!

Horizontal strips from the four frames, about 130k file size, are here. If you can find the duck, please let me know!

September 7th 2000
Here are a few stills from a video I took in late August 2000 along the desolate shoreline opposite the Alltsaigh Youth Hostel. Three mergansers were fishing and then decided my boat was too close, so set off running along the surface creating maximum disturbance. This seems to be a quite different activity from the semi-submerged "rush" filmed near the weir at the head of the River Ness, where the purpose was the pursuit of fish.
On a calm day the disturbance is visible well over one mile away, but even with top quality optics observers would be unlikely to see or photograph the birds either before or after the "run".

Copyright 2000 Dick Raynor

Copyright 2000 Dick Raynor

                     Still frame from digital video.  All photographs Copyright 2000 Dick Raynor

Sometimes it is best just to publish a picture, as no amount of argument will convince some people that birds can occasionally seem to have a head, neck and two humps in the finest monster tradition. Here, one chick is following closely while another is riding on mother's back. Cropped more closely it could be "Photo of the Year" (but don't try it, I know the Competition Judges...)

More merganser images