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Posts Tagged ‘Spatula clypeata’

I have recently started to see a lot of migratory ducks and geese in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Some of them probably are just passing through, but others will stay with us all winter. On a side note, it is duck hunting season and periodically my peaceful reverie is broken by the sound of shotguns going off from the blinds in the water, not far from the trails that I regularly follow.

One of the most distinctive ducks in our area is the Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) and I was delighted to spot several of them last Tuesday. Northern Shovelers have bills that are so large that they look almost cartoonish at times. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “The bill of the Northern Shoveler is big (about 2.5 inches (64 mm) long) and shaped like a shovel, but that odd-shaped bill also has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges that act like a colander, filtering out tiny crustaceans, seeds, and aquatic invertebrates from the water.”

If you look really closely at the first photo, you can see some of those comb-like projections in the shoveler’s mouth. Northern Shovelers often swim slowly forward with their heads down and their bills partially submerged. Periodically they raise their heads, as in the second image, to let the water drain out of their mouths—perhaps that is when they swallow whatever they managed to catch.

The final photo shows the shoveler’s head-down position. It looks like it may have caught something in its mouth, but I cannot really tell what it might be.

The Northern Shovelers in these photos are probably all female, though there is a chance they might be immature males. I am hoping that I will soon spot some mature males, which have large black bills, bright white chest, rusty sides, and green heads. In case you are really curious to see what a male Northern Shoveler looks like, check out my January 2017 posting entitled “Goofy grin.”

 

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The light was dim in the early morning hours this past Wednesday at Huntley Meadows Park, but I could detect some movement in the vegetation adjacent to the boardwalk that runs through the marshland. I watched and waited and eventually a male Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) swam slowly into view and I managed to capture some images of it. I love the reflections of both the duck and the vegetation in this shot.

After the fact, I discovered that I probably should have changed the setting of my camera to raise the shutter speed. Many of my shots were blurry, but somehow this one came out reasonably sharp, despite the fact that it was taken with a shutter speed of only 1/15 of a second with my lens zoomed out all of the way to 600mm. I am pretty sure that it helped that I was using a monopod.

This incident reminded me of the special challenges and rewards that come with shooting at dawn or dusk. There is often a lot of activity, but there is a constant struggle to capture that activity in the limited light that is available. When things come together, though, it is almost magical and is definitely worth the effort.

Northern Shoveler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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