In Search of Ducks!

by Kevin Shank | Jul 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Floating waterfowl blind on woods pond
Floating waterfowl blind. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

Oh no, I thought, I didn’t put the flippers on my boots. I will have to wade back to the shore.
After some awkward minutes trying to figure out flippers—how to secure them to wading boots, walk with them, and maneuver them through the tiny leg openings in “the boat”—I was back in the water. A few feet from shore my feet could no longer touch the bottom. I was off…or was I?

Ten minutes later I was still only ten feet out. This was not going well at all! If my flippers couldn’t touch the bottom, I couldn’t go.

A Wood Duck hen landed not far away. The light was low this cloudy morning, and capturing a good photo of her was not to be. Soon she left. Would more come?

The camo netting was not hanging as low as it should be. But I could not change that. It was snagged on a T-fitting of the PVC frame I had temporarily stuck together earlier that morning. I could not stand up in the water to reach it, so I’d just have to be really cautious if/when ducks were close.

When Nathan Leinbach began posting photos of waterfowl he was getting from the floating blind he had made, my interest was piqued. It jogged my memory. Perhaps thirty-five or so years ago, I think I learned a floating blind allows a photographer to approach waterfowl more easily. But I had long forgotten that.

My mind quickly went to the secluded pond six or eight miles down the road which Wood Ducks frequent. Hmmm…

“You still haven’t sent me any Wood Duck pictures! What’s up?” Anthony asked.

“I glued foam together for the blind, and it said I need to let it cure seven days. I’m not supposed to use it until Wednesday next week.”

“Cut that drying time in half and get out there. One of these days they will be gone, and then it will be too late. They won’t be back.”

And so it was. My friend prodded me Saturday evening—my first voyage would be at dawn on Monday.

With a series of calls, a whir of wings, and a splash of water, a half-dozen or so Wood Ducks landed and began swimming around the pond. Soon, though, I saw them sitting on the logs protruding from the water. Anthony had told me they like to perch there, and he was right.

I should have brought the 400 mm f/2.8 lens. The low light of the cloudy day made the 600mm f/6.3 lens I was using way too slow. Even though the birds were distant, I shot repeatedly and reviewed the results, trying to decide what shutter speed was adequate, yet slow as I could go. I wanted the ISO to be as low as possible, but a low ISO couldn’t happen. I had to settle for 6400-10,000 ISO.

These are horrible numbers, but the mirrorless Canon R5 body is more forgiving in that regard than the mirrored bodies I have used in the past. So, these high ISO numbers would have to do.

Several more groups of Wood Ducks landed over the next while. I had no idea this little pond tucked in the trees was such a great opportunity.

The going was slow. It had been two hours, and I was still only fifty yards from my launch site. I was grabbing “security” shots as I slowly made my way toward the ducks, lest they suddenly fly.

And then it happened. I took a picture, and the camera froze up. I could not get it to let me take any more photos.

Some of you may remember my waterfowl story several years ago when I ran out of space on my memory card. That was not the case this time. Neither was the battery dead. The camera just quit cooperating. Just as I was starting to get within reasonable range of the birds, I was done! (Later I learned I could reset it by removing the battery.)

As I backtracked to leave, the boat unwillingly headed to shore by thick multiflora rose bushes. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the rig to go where I wanted it to go.

I’ll spare you the grief. Let’s just say that somewhere in here I learned going backward, utilizing the shape of the raft’s V-nose, was the way to navigate. It was probably intended to be used that way. I was just being a slow learner….

And for those of you who have been there—have donned flippers on your feet for the first time and tried to navigate around obstacles—you know what this was like. Go ahead and have a good laugh.

“So how did it go,” Anthony asked?

“I had a whole host of problems, starting at 4:00 a.m. with about three hours of sleep.”

“Did you get any photos of…”

“I said I had a lot of problems…for one, my camera quit working. But that was just the last of many problems. But, I’ll send you some photos after a while of what I did get, such as it was.”

Back at home in the editing mode, I wondered which photo(s) to tweak to send Anthony. This one preening? That one swimming? And then I had an idea.

There was no quality feather detail due to the high ISO I was forced to use, coupled with the low light and distance. What I could not pick up in quality, I would replace with quantity.

Soon I was searching for the “right” photo that would have most of the ducks on the log in sharp focus over the eye. None were perfect, but several stood out as a cut above the rest.

I began with a base photo, then did a bit of cutting, pasting, and blending. With a bit of work, several of the ducks with soft focus on their eyes were traded out with better birds from a neighboring shot. My changing of the focal points during the shooting was paying off.

Then still another thought occurred. If I can’t fix it (lousy ISO), feature it (lots of birds). Why not blend two groupings of birds together into one panorama?

“I’ve never seen so many Wood Ducks on that log at one time. You’ve seen something there that I have never seen,” Anthony exclaimed after seeing the photo I sent him.

Wood Ducks on logs in pond
Wood Ducks. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

The weather was still cloudy Tuesday—even misting—when Cheryl launched out mid-morning. Upon our arrival, all the ducks left the pond. It was a sizable number of birds, but probably not as many as the previous day. Would they return?

An hour and a half later, we were beginning to have our doubts. But then several arrived. Cheryl shot some beautiful portraits. The gorgeous golden lighting Nathan Leinbach enjoyed (see last month’s lesson) was not to be had, but still she/we were miles ahead of anything we have done previously. The feather detail was beautiful.

After spending several hours on the water, Cheryl traded out with Adrian. We had been told the evenings could be good too…

Several hours later Adrian had yet to photograph a duck. He would get first crack in the morning.

Yesterday was Wednesday. It was day seven since the foam boards were glued together, and the first day I was “supposed” to be using the blind.

Adrian slipped the blind into the water at 5:30 a.m. Just how would it go? Our hopes were high.

An hour later, though, our hopes were beginning to sink. He had seen a few ducks arrive/leave, but no photos. When I sent a note asking if he had gotten any decent photos yet, he was going to say no. But that is when he saw the answer coming. Mrs. Wood Duck was swimming toward him, and in tow were two cute little ducklings! They swam past twenty or thirty feet away.

Cheryl is back out today, Thursday, as I write this. Out my window I hear birds singing. Yes, birds. The children could tell me what is twittering, but I can’t identify so many by ear. Oh yes, I hear a Mourning Dove, a cardinal, a towhee, a titmouse, and a robin. Cheryl will likely have heard twenty species when she gets in off the water—maybe thirty.

But where are the ducks? Cheryl saw one land in a tree and make a few calls, but soon it left. Are they gone now? I wonder.

Wait! I just heard a Wood Duck!

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