Hooded Merganser In Our Midst
Inside the Outdoors, May 27
, 2011

Word has it that outdoorsmen have been seeking medical help to remove ticks from their person especially around the head and neck area. It seems that these small arachnids are attaching themselves to people when they bend over to pick mushrooms in the woods, for example.

According to the www.orkin.com website, “There are approximately 850 known tick species, which can be classified as soft tick and hard tick. Soft ticks are most commonly found in caves or nests. They feed on bats, birds and ground-nesting animals. They encounter humans in campsites and caves. Hard ticks feed upon the blood of mammals, including humans, wildlife and domestic animals.”

It went on to say that “Both tick types bite hosts and suck their blood. Hard ticks pass from one stage of development to another, following each blood meal. One of the most common tick species is the America dog tick. These ticks feed on small mammals during their early development stages but more often transfer to human hosts. They are vectors of the causes of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. They also cause tick paralysis.”

The one species that we hear most about is the deer tick. It is also known as the blacklegged tick. “These are known to be vectors of Lyme disease.”

There is a difference, however, between the two species. The website states, “Although the deer tick is also commonly known as the blacklegged deer tick, deer ticks prefer to feed on the blood of white tailed deer, while western blacklegged ticks tend to choose Columbian black-tailed deer as their hosts.” Thus discussion will be based primarily on the deer tick.

Classified as a hard tick, it feeds on three hosts through its life. “The host drops off the host after feeds, then finds a new host for the next meal,” it said. “Deer ticks are found in wooded areas and prefer to feed upon blood of white-tailed deer.” Here is something of which to pay particular attention. “These ticks wait on leaves and grass blades lining paths frequented by their hosts of choice, and will attach themselves to any passing host they find. They also prefer wet busy areas. As a result, humans often become accidental hosts of deer ticks, as well.”

So what does one do when bitten by a deer tick? Here again, referring to a website (www.update.com), “The proper way to remove a tick is to us a set of fine tweezers and grip the tick as close to the skin as is possible. Do not use a smoldering match or cigarette, nail polish, petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline), liquid soap, or kerosene because they may irritate the tick and cause it to behave like a syringe, injecting bodily fluids into the wound.”

When using the tweezers, grasp firmly on the tick and “pull backwards gently applying steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist. Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body the tick, since its bodily fluids may contain infection-causing organisms. After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands thoroughly with soap and water. If any mouth parts of the tick remain in the skin, these should be left along; they will be expelled on their own. Attempts to remove these parts may result in significant skin trauma.”

Seeking out mushrooms in wooded areas may be challenging and rewarding, but if one finds he has picked up something more than he came for, such as a tick, it is best to seek medical help from professionals who deal with these problems on a regular basis. Medical facilities are encountering patients regularly during this time of the year for tick removal. It may be wise to seek help at hospital emergency rooms or businesses set up to treat patients as walk-ins. It is very important to seek out help from professionals in as much as they can advise patients concerning Lyme Disease. “Before a clinician is consulted, the person bitten should observe the area of the bite for expanding redness, which would suggest the characteristic rash of Lyme Disease, usually a salmon color although rarely, it can be an intense red.”

As recommended before, seek out professional medical help. One can get the best treatment and peace of mind

Pig Iron, as it is called, lies right behind Legion Keener Park in Latrobe, a stone’s throw from Loyalhanna Creek. Since its waters are stagnant, one usually sees stillness in forms of mirror-reflective waters in some areas and algae-covered surfaces in others. Since many walker use Creekside Path, few stop to admire the nothingness this location presents – unless one is looking for forms of nature that just may be springing to life in this location.

Such was the case, when I decided to wander down to the stream to not only to attempt at doing some fishing in the high waters, but also stop, look and listen, to see what creatures would be out doing their dance in between the raindrops of one doleful, overcast Sunday afternoon.

It didn’t bother me that the path was full of puddles and the grass, soggy and wet, from the day of non-stop rains. One goal was to search out wildlife. The fishing angle was a bonus.

No sooner did I get to Pig Iron did I notice a spectacle I had never seen before in these parts of the woods – a female hooded merganser protecting her young. In the many years of passing by this circular compound, had I ever seen this bird in the wilds, particularly here. I said to myself, this would be this week’s story.

According to the Ducks Unlimited website, “The hooded merganser is the smallest of the three merganser species occurring in North America. Male hooded mergansers have a large white crest surround by black. The top of the head, neck and back are all black, and the chest, breast and belly are white. Wavy black lines can be seen on the tawny sides and flanks. The hindback, rump and tail are dark brown. The long, narrow, serrated bill is black. The iris is bright yellow and the legs and feet are yellow.”

As noted before, the mate, a female, is what I noticed at Pig Iron. It can be described as “having a gray-brown head and neck with reddish-brown crest. Gray pervades their neck, check, sides and flanks, and brownish-black dominates their back, rum and tail. The upper bill is black-edged with orange and the lower bill is yellow. The legs and feet are greenish in color and the iris is brown.”

The area is perfect for breeding. “Hooded mergansers prefer forested wetlands systems, where they nest in tree cavities and lay an average of nine to eleven eggs.” I counted possibly seven young.

I found this interesting. “Of the three species of mergansers occurring in North America, the hooded merganser is the only one restricted to the continent. Forested wetlands, brackish estuaries and tidal creeks are preferred wintering habitats. Hooded mergansers winter along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, mainly from southeastern Alaska to northern Baja California, and New England to Florida and west to northern Mexico. The majority of wintering hooded mergansers occur in the Mississippi Flyway.”

What surprised me were the facts that these fowl exist on small fish, crayfish and other crustaceans including aquatic insects. I was told over the years that, because of its stagnation, fish cannot live in that compound. But I can well see other aquatic species thriving there as well.

I don’t doubt that God brings wildlife to me at certain intervals so I am attracted to His creations.


Talked a young lad walking down the street carrying a fishing pole. He was heading to the Loyalhanna Creek, he told me, down near Opco where a junction of Creekside Trail begins. The 15 year-old Greater Latrobe High School youth was enthusiastic. He told me he had caught a number of trout and bass in that locale. His biggest fish, he said, was a 14-inch rainbow trout. I can understand why he was returning to that spot!

Anglers, don’t forget, Monday, May 30, Memorial Day, is fish-for-free day, one of two days of the year where fishermen don’t need licenses. The other is Monday, Sept. 5, Labor Day. Drag out the fishing rods, folks, and head to your favorite waters. Make this day one worth remembering!

Have a good week. Go out and seek nature at its best. Rain or shine, there is much to be discovered and its right outside your backdoor. If you want to venture farther, Legion Keener Park, including Pig Iron and beyond has much to offer. Admire, take pictures if you want, but don’t harm or pick the flowers. Leave nature there for others to enjoy.

- Paul J. Volkmann
You can contact me by email