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Posts Tagged ‘ducks’

Most of the time I try to take detailed shots of the birds that I photograph, but somethings that simply is not possible. This past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the ducks all stayed in the deep water, far from the shore on which I was standing. As I gazed to my right and to my left searching for closer ducks, I became increasingly fascinated by the bare branches of the trees overhanging the water.

Even though I was shooting with a long telephoto lens, I decided to try to capture the landscape that was drawing me in. If you look closely at the two images below, you will see that I have included some distant ducks, but clearly they were not the focus of the photos. A wider lens might have capture the environment better, but would have risked drawing the viewers’ eyes away from the tree shapes. I don’t take landscape-style photos very often, but sometimes that is what the situation seems to call for and/or permits.

distant ducks

distant ducks

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I think that duck hunting season is finally over at Occoquan Bay. It has been somewhat jarring in recent weeks to have my photography expeditions to the wildlife refuge interrupted by volleys of shotgun fire, sometimes at rather close range. In addition to some fixed blinds in the water that look like tiny cabins on stilts, hunters also use small boats like the one featured in these two images. The two hunters in this boat were so close to the shore that I had to zoom out to about 250mm on my 150-600mm telephoto lens to be able to fit them into the frame.

duck hunting

duck hunting

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The sun was shining so brightly in Brussels one day last week that even the ducks looked to be wearing sunglasses. Although I can clearly see the eye in the white patch of feathers, my mind keeps getting tricked into thinking the eye must be hidden behind the dark lenses of the “sunglasses.”

I spotted these ducks in the same little pond adjacent to the botanical garden of Brussels where I saw the dragonflies that I wrote about in an earlier posting. These ducks sort of look like mallards, but the colors are really different, especially those of the black and white duck. Perhaps these are hybrids or domesticated ducks.

I’d welcome comments and thoughts about the identification of these ducks that were a welcome sight for me as I explored Brussels. I realize that I really miss nature and wildlife when I am in an urban setting.

duck in Brussels

Duck in Brussels

ducks in Brussels

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Every time that I see the outlandishly long bill and bright colors of a male Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), I can’t help but think that this is a cartoon duck, created by Walt Disney for a Technicolor movie. Of course, these ducks are real and the bills serve a useful function in helping them to strain the water for food.

The male shoveler is easier to spot, because of its more distinctive coloration, but I was happy to be able to get some shots of a female too as this couple moved in and out of the reeds in one of the ponds at my local marsh. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Northern Shoveler pairs are monogamous and remain together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species.

One of the interesting things that I noted is that the feathers on the male’s head are not the solid green that I am used to seeing. They seem mottled and I wonder if this is some kind of transitional plumage as breeding season approaches.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I don’t often see deer in the daylight at my local marshland park, so I was a bit surprised last week when a doe came running out of the cattails and began to pick her way thought the ducks that were foraging in the shallow water. She was immediately followed by a smaller doe, who was also running.

What was going on? What had spooked these two deer? I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. A small buck emerged and started chasing the other two deer through the water.

I don’t know if they were just playing or if the buck had amorous intentions, but it gave me the chance to get a few shots of what passes as “big game” for me.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s been months since I have seen any Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus), so I was thrilled when I spotted several pairs in the distance this past weekend, swimming around as shown in the second photo.

Unfortunately, they sensed my presence before I could get much closer and took to the air. Given the distance and the small size and speed of these ducks, I was surprised that I got a reasonably good shot of one of the males in flight. Hooded Mergansers always look a little cartoonish, but that effect is magnified when they are straining forward in flight. If you click on the first photo, you can get a better look at some of the details of the wings and some of the beautiful colors of this little duck.

The second photo was taken before the first and it gives you a general idea of the differences between the male and female of this colorful species of duck.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Green-winged Teals (Anas crecca) are very small ducks and they are really skittish, but I managed to capture a photo of these three (and a mallard) yesterday shortly after they took off from the water. When they are in the water, you get only the slightest hint of the green on the wings (see my post from last year to see one Green-winged Teals at rest), but when they are flying, it’s easy to see why the got their name.

I went back and forth in my mind about whether or not to crop out the female mallard. Most people are familiar with mallards, so they can see how small the teals are by comparing them in the photo to the mallard. In addition, I like contrast between the green in wings of the teals and the blue in the wings of the mallard. However, the mallard is a bit far away from the three teals and there is nothing of visual interest in the center area of the photo. So I cropped a bit more and created the second image that eliminates the mallard.

Which version of the image works best for you?

green_and_blue_ducks_blog

green_and_blue_ducks_B_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was going through some of my bird photos, I realized that a majority of them feature the male of the species. The males tend to be more loud and flashy, so I guess it’s not surprising that they draw my attention much of the time. The female often has a more delicate beauty and coloration, as is the case with this female Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) that I photographed recently.

I added an image of a male Ring-necked duck that I photographed the same day to allow you to make your own comparison and judgments. It may be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), especially the males, are probably the coolest-looking ducks, but in the past few months the only ones that I have seen have been flying away from me, generally from branches on which they were perched.

I was not really expecting that I would see any Wood Ducks on the ground when I approached a tiny pond earlier this week. However, I did notice a little movement at the water’s edge and had just focused on that area, when suddenly a pair of wood ducks took off. I snapped off a few shots, not really expecting that they would be in focus and was pleasantly surprised at the result

The ducks in this image ended up pretty much in focus, especially the male’s head, his most prominent and colorful feature. The wings have some motion blur, but it’s not too distracting.

I’d like to say that my focusing skills are getting better, but I know that this shot was primarily the result of luck. It doesn’t really matter that much how I got the shot—what matters more to me is that I like the result.

woodduck_flying_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you ever find yourself in such beautiful light that you are almost desperate to find a suitable subject? Saturday morning, for a brief period, the rays of the sun were producing wonderful light and incredible reflections in the water of my local marsh, reminding me of some of my favorite Monet paintings.

I looked all around and finally spied this male mallard duck and his mate and they became my models. They didn’t take instructions very well and wouldn’t stay still in one place for very long, but I was able to get some shots that I like.

mallard1_blogmallard2_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I have often wondered if birds actually used the nesting boxes scattered throughout my local marshland park and yesterday I got a definitive response when I saw two female Hooded Merganser ducks separately go into one of the boxes.

As I was looking across the beaver pond, one of my favorite spots for taking photos, a Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) couple flew by and landed in the water. They were out of the reach of my lens at that moment, but a fellow photographer alerted me to the fact that the couple had been using a nesting box that was somewhat closer to where I was standing.

I set up my tripod and trained my 135-400 telephoto lens on the nesting box and waited.  Eventually the couple swam behind a cattail patch and came into view near the box. Without warning, the female lifted off and flew straight into the box. It happened so fast that I was not able to get off a shot. A short while later, the male took off.

I continued to wait, confident that the female would eventually have to emerge through the hole in the nesting box. As I was watching and waiting, a bird landed on the roof of the nesting box, as you can see in the second photo. I did not immediately realize that it was another female Hooded Merganser, but I had the presence of mind to take some shots.

She seemed uncertain about whether or not she should go into the box and tried to peer into it, as you see in the first photo. Satisfying herself that everything was ok, she flew into the box, which by now was getting a little crowded. My photos of the entry were completely blurry.

I waited some more and eventually one of the females flew out and I managed to get the third shot. I was hoping that she would linger with her head sticking out of the box before she started flying, but that didn’t happen. I waited for about 45 minutes longer for the second female to exit the box and finally my patience gave out.

The incubation period for the eggs that the female presumably is laying in the box is about a month, so I will keep returning to this location, and with a little luck will be able to see some ducklings.

merganser2_blogmerganser1_blogmerganser3_blog

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Capturing images of ducks in flight has been a lot more difficult for me that photographing geese. Geese are larger, fly more slowly, and are more predictable than their skittish duck counterparts.

My camera also seems to have a problem grabbing the focus of these smaller birds when they are moving. Nonetheless, I still spring into action whenever ducks take to the air and occasionally I manage to get shots that are pretty much in focus. Here are a few such images of mallard ducks from this past Friday.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I stumbled upon a pair of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus) at Lake Cook, a tiny urban lake, shortly after I photographed a Belted Kingfisher this past weekend. As soon I spotted them, they also became aware of my presence and immediately took evasive action. In most cases in the past, that has meant that they started swimming away. This time they seemed to have decided that more decisive action was needed and they immediately took off.

Fortunately my camera was already in my hands and the settings were about the right ones for the situation. When I started photographing birds, one of the more experienced birders whom I met recommended keeping the camera set for burst mode and that’s where I keep it most of the time now. Occasionally that means I shoot off a few extra exposures unintentionally when my trigger finger is a little heavy, but sometimes it lets me get an exposure I might not have gotten otherwise. Now, let me be clear that my almost ancient Canon Rebel XT is not a professional DSLR, so burst mode means about three frames a second, which worked out this time.

I fired off a half-dozen frames as the two ducks, a male and a female, took off from the water and I am pretty pleased with the results. It looks like the ducks get a running start on the water before they take to the air. The photo of the male duck that I featured at the start is the second one in the chronological sequence, but I thought it was the most interesting in showing the little water “explosions” as the ducks skipped across the surface. The rest are pretty much self-explanatory. I especially like the way that the heads flatten out into more aerodynamic shapes as the ducks start flying and the reflections are pretty nice. A couple of the shots are cropped to show only the male duck, because his position happened to bemore interesting than that of the female in the image (no discrimination intended).

Takeoff2_blogTakeoff1_blogtakeoff3_blog Takeoff4_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I generally have had difficulties getting good photos of Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus), because of their size, speed, and skittishness. These little ducks also hang out in different bodies of water than the Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese that I regularly feature and the little streams where they can be found are pretty inaccessible and offer obstructed views of the water.

I did manage yesterday to finally get some decent photos of a Hooded Merganser couple together and separately. I ended up having to walk and down the banks of a stream repeatedly as the ducks changes directions every time they seemed to sense me (and eventually flew away) The first photo is probably my favorite, but I like all three of them.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This past weekend there was a thin layer of ice on many of the little ponds at my local marshland park. I thought the ice would deter the migrating ducks and geese from stopping in, but I was wrong. Perhaps they just needed a break from flying.

It seemed unusual enough that I took some photos of the ducks walking on the frozen water. The first two images are pretty straightforward, but I tried to be a little creative in framing the third image, as a female duck contemplates the vast expanse of the ice in front of her.

I even tried to capture a duck landing on the ice in the last photo. A female duck is making a soft landing as her male companion prepares to come in right behind her. It’s not really sharp, but it gives you the idea. I had previously thought that the ducks would aim to land in the water that had not yet frozen, but obviously the ducks know what they are doing.

I never know what I will find when I venture out into nature—it’s one of the reasons that I keep returning to the same places, in hopefeil expectation of new surprises.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) are the smallest of the North American ducks, according to duck.org (yes, that’s really the website), but I find them to be exceptionally beautiful. Their diminutive size and their predilection for congregating at the far reaches of the little pond where I have been photographing ducks have combined to make it really challenging to get good images of them.

Green-winged Teals are dabbling (rather than diving) ducks and they prefer shallow ponds to open water, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. As the weather has gotten colder, they may have migrated out of my area now, so I am posting some of the best shots I have of them. I had been holding off, hoping I might get some better photos. The photos at least give you an idea of the duck’s overall  appearance and the first photo shows you the green feathers responsible for the its name.

Male Green-winged Teal swimming

Male Green-winged Teal swimming

Green-winged Teal with bushes

Green-winged Teal with bushes

Pair of male Green-winged Teals

Pair of male Green-winged Teals

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This duck tale has a happy ending, as two Hooded Merganser duck couples paddle gently down the stream, but a potential crisis had been averted only moments before.

It began like this. Five Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), three males and two females, were swimming upstream. Two of the males were in the lead, while the other male seemed to be carrying on a conversation with one of the females. Their course had them in the partial shade, not far from one of the banks.

At the same time, four Hooded Merganser ducks (Lophodytes cucullatus), two males and two females, were headed downstream in perfect formation on a collision course with the Mallard ducks.

What would happen when the groups met? Would there be a confrontation? Would they exchange information about the attractions of the places they had just passed through? Who has the right-of-way in situations like this?

The signals were a bit ambiguous at the first encounter, as one of the male Mallards tried to have a conversation with one of the male Hooded Mergansers, who had turned away. All eyes were turned on the two representatives. Would they be able to negotiate an agreement? If a fight broke out, it was clear that the Mallards had an advantage in both size and numbers.

Who know what was said, but it appears that an agreement was reached and a possible confrontation was avoided. The ducks peacefully passed each other and continued on their separate ways.

The first photo showed the Hooded Merganser ducks after the encounter with the Mallards, so sequentially it should go here. Did you notice that the duck formation had changed and that the males were now in the lead? Was this a protective, chivalrous gesture on their part?

Of course, I may have completely misread this situation. Perhaps the male duck ego is less fragile than the human one and the two male ducks were simply asking each other for directions when they met in the middle of the stream.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you have aspirational shots, i.e. images that you really want to be able to take? This past weekend I took this shot of two ducks, a male and a female, coming in for a landing in the water, with reflections of the fall foliage in the water in the distance. This is the kind of shot I aspire to shoot, for both technical and artistic reasons. I didn’t manage to produce a great image during this first attempt this past weekend at a local suburban pond, but I gave  myself something to shoot for, a future goal. With practice and good fortune, I hope to be able to produce a better image. In the mean time, I’m happy with my initial effort at shooting synchronized duck dancing.

Duck pas de deux in the fall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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