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Posts Tagged ‘duck’

There is something really special about the moment when the darkness of the night finally gives way to the early light of the dawn and the sky is tinged with delicate shades of pink and orange. The silence is broken by the sounds of awakening birds as their day begins.

It’s not an optimal time for wildlife photography—there is simply not enough light to reveal all of the colors and the details of the subjects. Recently, though, I managed to capture a sense of the dawn in this image of a duck ascending into the air, heading for an unknown destination.

Early bird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was observing some mallard ducks paddling around the shallow waters of a former beaver pond yesterday, I noticed one much smaller duck in their midst that looked out of place—it was a male Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca). The little duck was acting just like the mallards, foraging for food in the water and occasionally on land as well. Had the Green-winged Teal been adopted by this group of mallards or was he merely lost and separated from his own group?

I couldn’t help but notice that most of the mallards were paired off, but the Green-winged Teal seemed to be all alone. He’s going to have to act quickly if he wants to find a sweetheart before Valentine’s Day later this week.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I was a college student in the 1970’s a cheap sparkling wine known as “Cold Duck” was really popular (along with Zapple, Annie Greensprings, and Boone’s Farm). Do they still produce those wines?

The title of this posting, however, refers to a bird that I observed on the ice this past weekend, not to a retro beverage.

I was struck by the contrast between the vivid colors of the male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) and the drab gray and white of the frozen pond. The duck seemed to be getting into a yoga-like pose, with one foot flat on the ice and the pointed toe of the other foot providing additional stability. Wait a minute, do ducks have toes?

I also couldn’t help but notice that ducks look a lot more graceful when swimming or flying—walking looks like it would be awkward for a duck. I suspect that no composer will every produce a ballet entitled “Duck Pond,” which would scarcely provide any competition for “Swan Lake.”

In the first few days of February, our temperatures have soared over the freezing mark, but there has been little melting on the surface of the pond and I did not detect any quacks in the ice.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The weathermen thought the snowstorm that is now dumping a lot of snow on the Northeast would skirt around us, but they were wrong—I ended up shoveling a couple of inches of the white stuff yesterday evening and this morning. So, I decided to post this photo of a male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) that I took on New Year’s Day, in honor of all of the shovelers in the north that will be busy today.

I remember well the first time I saw a Northern Shoveler last winter. At first I thought it was a Mallard, but then I got a look at the elongated bill, which still seems cartoonish to me. In this image, I really like the way that you can see the shape of the duck’s bill in the reflection in the water.

Our storm started out with rain and then turned to snow and everything is now frozen solid. With strong gusts of wind and a current temperature of 18 degrees (about minus 8 C), I may stick close to home today, but hope to get some shots of the snow.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do seagulls hunt ducks? That’s a crazy question, but that was the first thing that came to mind when a Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) started aggressively chasing a Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) with what appeared to be hostile intent.

I was walking along Cameron Run, a tributary of the Potomac River, when the scene started to unfold in front of me. The gull flew toward the dusk with its legs extended, like it was trying to snatch the duck out of the water. The duck immediately started bounding across the water (as you can see in the third photos) in an effort to escape the gull, but did not take to the air. When the duck got close to the bank of the stream, the gull turned away and left the duck in peace.

Was this merely a cranky gull or maybe a bully? Was it a territoriality thing? All I know is that it provided me a fascinating moment as I treated to a brief interaction between these two very different species of birds.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever watched ducks taking off from the water? Some of them seem to rise up almost straight out of the water, while others, like this Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), like to get a running start, bouncing across the surface of the water.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Orchestral conductors tend to be flamboyant characters and that is exactly what came to mind when I first say this image  of a female Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) with fully outstretched wings. She seems to be conducting an unseen duck orchestra creating what some might call music and other would characterize as a quackonophy.

dancing_duck_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The wind was kicking up yesterday on the Potomac River, making it difficult for the ducks there, like this Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). I watched as the small ducks got drenched repeatedly as they sought to ride the waves.

At least it wasn’t raining and the temperatures have not yet dropped below the freezing levels, even at night.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I haven’t seen many migrating ducks yet at my local marsh, so I traveled to the Potomac River this weekend, because I had heard from a birder that there were numerous ducks there. There were lots of Mallards, some Northern Shovelers (I think), and this cool-looking duck with a distinctive white patch on its cheek that I could not identify initially. After I returned home, it didn’t take long to figure out that this as a Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), a species that I had never seen before.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Migrating birds are starting to arrive in my area, including a few Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris) that I observed last week in a man-made pond in a nearby suburban housing area. The water in my local marsh tends to be too shallow for these diving ducks, but this pond seems to suit them pretty well.

The ducks tend to stay near the center of the pond, which makes them a little challenging to photograph. These shots were taken from a distance, but they let you see some of the beautiful details of the male Ring-necked duck, including the pattern on his bill and his beautiful golden eyes.

If I have the good luck that I had last year, I look forward to seeing and photographing another half-dozen species of ducks in the coming months.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The last month or so I have been keeping an eye on a couple of female Hooded Merganser ducks that are using a nesting box at my local marshland park. One of my fellow photographers has already posted a photo of one of them, surrounded by a dozen or so cute little ducklings, so I may have missed one of the moments that I was hoping to catch.

A little earlier this month, though, I had a special moment with one of them, when I arrived at the park early in the morning, just after the sun had risen. The small female duck was more out in the open than usual, though she was still pretty far away. Initially she seemed to be taking a bath, as she stuck her head under water and would shake a little. Eventually she climbed out of the water onto a log and began to groom herself.

The light at that moment from the back and the side made the spiky reddish-blond hair on her head glow and also created a nice reflection in the water. She seemed unhurried and unafraid as she basked in the beautiful early morning light.

For at least a moment, the two of us were freed from the cares of our everyday lives.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This male Hooded Merganser duck (Lophodytes cucullatus) flew away when his mate entered the nesting box (as shown in my posting yesterday), but I was able to get these shots when he was swimming around beforehand.

I am also including a shot from earlier this month when a male was displaying for a female. He would periodically throw back his head back and make the strangest sound, almost like a frog. The sound is so unusual that you may enjoy checking it out at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, where you should click on the button that says “Male display.”

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s a little ironic that I took these photos of a Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), some of my best duck photos, in a man-made pond in my neighborhood, rather than in a more natural setting. I have never seen any Ring-necked Ducks at my marshland park—perhaps the water is not deep enough for these diving ducks—but found them in a very suburban setting.

The light was bright on the day when I watched some of these ducks diving and resurfacing every couple of minutes. The glare was pretty intense on some of my initial photos and I didn’t like the way they turned out.

However, there is a walking trail all of the way around the pond, so I went off in search of a better lighting situation.  When I reached an area of open shade, I encountered this duck near the shore. Unlike his fellow ducks, he seemed to be relaxing and was remarkably cooperative in letting me take his portrait.

If you are like most people, you may wonder why this duck is not called a ring-billed duck, because there doesn’t seem to be any ring around his neck. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the bird’s name refers to the hard-to-see chestnut collar on its black neck, which apparently jumped out to the nineteenth century biologists that described the species using dead specimens.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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After endless gray winter days, the beauty of a sunny day seemed magnified and the vivid colors of this mallard duck looked even brighter. I love the shade of blue of the feathers that show through when the ducks are in flight, especially when they are taking off and landing.

mallard_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was cold and windy on Friday, but the sun was shining, permitting me to take this portrait of a resting male mallard. The subject is ordinary, but the lighting was wonderful and the bright colors of his head and bill really pop, including in his reflection in the brown waters of the beaver pond. I even managed to capture a little catch light in his eye.

It’s exciting to take photos of extraordinary subjects, but most often I am content to try to reveal some of the beauty in the ordinary things that I encounter every day.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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One thing that I have learned since I started watching birds is that birds seem to enjoy the company of other species of birds. In the past, for example, I might have assumed that a flock of birds was made up of a single species—now I know better. As a result, I’ve started to pay more attention to the individual birds in a group and determine if there are some that look “different.”

That was the case last weekend, when I was looking at a group of mallard ducks from a pretty good distance. One of them had a streak of bright white, which seemed unusual for a mallard. Clueless to what kind he might be, I took some photos, following my usual practice of “shoot first and ask questions later.” Returning home and doing a little research, I discovered that my mystery duck is a male Northern Pintail Duck (Anas acuta), a new species to me.

My first photo permits you to compare him with a mallard and it’s pretty obvious why he stood out. I like the way that he hold his long white neck upright in almost a military posture.

The second shot was my attempt to capture him in flight when he took off. My view was obscured a bit as I shot from a distance and the focus was not great, but I at least managed to catch him in flight. This is the kind of shot I aspire to shoot, so you’re getting to see my practice shots as I try to master the techniques of capturing photos of birds in flight.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was out shooting today, I was happy to encounter Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) a couple of times, They are the coolest-looking ducks in my opinion (although Wood Ducks are in the running too). It’s a real challenge to get good shots of them, because they are small, fast, and skittish. I would love to find myself in a position like Phil Lanoue, a fellow blogger and incredible photographer, who recently photographed a Hooded Merganser duck coming in for a landing next to him (check out his blog posting).

I’m still going through my photos, but this one jumped out at me. It shows two duck couples swimming in formation. What is unusual is that one of the pairs appears to me a male Mallard and a female Merganser. Oh, I know that some of you are thinking that such a relationship could never work, but true love always finds a way.

I can only imagine what their children will look like.

Mixed couple

Mixed couple (click for higher resolution view)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Earlier this week I managed to photograph this male Mallard Duck as he secretly practiced the ancient art of Zen levitation. Note his closed eyes and relaxed concentration as his body is gently lifted out of the water. With sufficient practice, Zen master ducks can take off and land in this position,  like a helicopter or a Harrier jet.

Zen levitation

Zen levitation

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The subject of this photo, a male Mallard duck, is very common. He’s not doing anything strange or unusual. The environment, the beaver pond at my local marsh, is not particularly exotic.

Somehow, though, I feel a sense of comfort and peace in the very ordinariness of this simple composition and in its soothing color palette. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, it’s good to slow down and regain some inner peace (even if it’s necessary at other times to paddle hard beneath the surface).

In the words of a song that I heard yesterday on the radio, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

mallard

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Most of the mallard ducks that I encountered today were busily foraging for food. One female mallard, however, had found a prime location on a mossy log in the pond opposite the beaver lodge and spent a lot of time preening her feathers.

It may have been my imagination, but she seemed to realize that she had an audience and began posing for me. Periodically she would even glance coyly in my direction (or so it seemed) to confirm that I was still watching her. As for the male mallards that would swim by from time to time—she ignored them completely.

Shy duck

Shy duck

Looking back

Looking back

Ready for my profile shot

Ready for my profile shot

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This morning I am in the mood for simplicity, so I am posting a single photo of a male Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight. I like the geometric shapes in the image and how the light illuminates one wing, while keeping the other in the shadows. There is some color, but it doesn’t overwhelm the eyes. The photo is a simple one of a common subject—sometimes I need to slow down and see the beauty in simple things.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw this duck and his mate this week, I thought it was just another mallard couple. As I studied the male, though, I couldn’t help but notice his elongated black bill—it’s as plain as the nose on its face (wait a minute, duck don’t have noses). The female’s bill was similar in shape, but was orange in color. Not only are they long, their bills also seemed wider at the tip than at their bases, causing the ducks to look almost cartoonish.

Northern Shoveler

Using the duck’s distinctive bill as a search term, it was easy for me to discover that this duck is called a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). Sometimes I am baffled by the names of species, but this time the reasoning behind the name was pretty obvious. Like the mallard, the Northern Shoveler is considered to be a “babbling duck.” It forages by swimming along with its bill lowered into the water, straining out small crustaceans and other invertebrates, and generally does not tip its head and upper body forward into the water, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Foraging Northern Shoveler

The Cornell Lab also notes that Northern Shoveler couple are monogamous and “remain together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species.” Longer than other dabbling duck species? It makes me wonder about the divorce rate among dabbling ducks. Does “dabbling” refer to their mating habits as well as to their feeding habits? Do they stay together for the sake of the ducklings?

Northern Shoveler Couple

Speaking of ducklings, the Cornell Lab, which I highly recommend as a source of information about birds, includes the following bizarre and disgusting, yet strangely interesting factoid about this duck species, “When flushed off the nest, a female Northern Shoveler often defecates on its eggs, apparently to deter predators.” What a strange reaction.  With humans, flushing almost occurs after defecation, not before.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have been watching migratory birds recently and observed that mallard ducks feed mainly by tipping forward and placing their fringed-edged bills in the water, straining out plants, seeds, and other material. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology categorizes mallards as “dabbling ducks” versus  “diving ducks” that go deep underwater to forage for food.

One mallard, though, used a different technique. Instead of dipping his head forward, he flattened himself out and placed his bill almost parallel to the water. He then slowly and systematically paddled back and forth with his beak in the water or just above it, continuously straining and restraining the surface of the water. (Did he require a restraining order?) As the photo shows, there was a lot of plant material available for him to gather. His female partner used the same technique, though I was not able to get a clear shot of her doing so.

Straining mallard

I observed another mallard straining in a different way. Along with his female companion, he was perched on a tiny piece of land. I must have startled him a little when I walked by, because he slipped into the water. Realizing he had nothing to fear from me, he tried to regain his spot. It required several vigorous attempts for him to climb out of the water and I managed to capture him straining to do so. I love the contrast between the determined look on his face and the impassive expression on the female’s face.

Mallard straining to regain his spot

Strain or strain? It’s so amazing that words can have so many different meanings—it strains the imagination.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I photographed a lot of ducks last weekend and have already posted photos of Mallard and Hooded Merganser. As I was going over my photos, I realized that I had a third kind of duck, though I was not immediately sure about its identity. Fortunately they have very distinctively colored bills and yellow eyes, so I was able to identify them as Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris). As I watched them, I noticed too that they are diving ducks, rather than the dabbling ducks that I am more used to seeing. I don’t know how long they can hold their breath, but it seemed like they stayed underwater a long time.

The light was a bit harsh when I took these photos, but hopefully they are clear enough for you to see and appreciate the beauty of this duck, a type that I had never before encountered.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked ducks in early November

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I came across some ducks this afternoon while walking around a man-made pond in my suburban neighborhood and decided to take a few shots.

This is my favorite photo. I think is a juvenile male mallard duck (corrections are welcome) on the basis of some quick internet searching. I am particularly struck by the expression on his face and in his eyes as well as by the beautiful, iridescent blue feathers on his tail.

He definitely seems shy, or perhaps he is merely being coy, being an inexperienced young drake.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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