Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two ducks, gaudily beautiful

Last Saturday was the 13th annual Amish Bird Symposium in Adams County. As former co-organizer Roman Mast always joked: "What's an Amish Bird?"

I was able to make the scene, and hear several great talks. Several hundred birders attend, and the main attraction is great speakers. This year's cast featured Alexandra Forsythe, Mark Garland, Eric Ellis, and a triumvirate of great wildlife artists, DeVere Burt, John Agnew, and John Ruthven. The symposium is always in March. Put it on your calendar for next year.

The lure of signs of spring was strong for this winter-weary flatlander, so I stayed down there overnight and headed afield the following day.

While the weather was cold and rainy at times, there's no denying the first wildflowers their blooms. This is the tiny Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa, and it was coming on in force. I made this image when the temperature was 37 F. The little parsleys were pushing through the leaf litter in good numbers. Several other species of native wildflowers were also in bloom in the Ohio River counties. As were nonnative daffodils (which, quite sadly, would be recognized by FAR more people than gorgeous native flora like this Harbinger-of-spring).

As I made my way back north on State Route 104, which borders the mighty Scioto River, I noticed a small pack of Hooded Mergansers in a slackwater oxbow of the river. I wheeled back, found a good hiding hole, and waited for the birds to forget about my presence. They did, and eventually drifted near enough for some passable images.

A drake Hooded Merganser with hormones coursing through its body and hens to impress is a sight to behold. They flare that elegant black-trimmed white crest, which apparently impresses the ladies. Half a dozen drakes were strutting their stuff.

This spot turned out to be a real honey hole. I could see incoming fowl flying up the river long before they saw me, and thus was ready with the camera. As you may know, big rivers are essentially highways for birds, and all manner of species navigate along them. In short order I saw several species of ducks, Belted Kingfisher, two Bald Eagles, and more. A group of Green-winged Teal dropped into the oxbow, the males' musical albeit slightly raspy piping notes much reminiscent of spring peeper frogs.

At one point I heard the high-pitched squeals of a female Wood Duck, and glanced over to see this trio spring from the flooded bottomland woods. I trained my big lens on the fast-moving birds, and flubbed most shots. But this one is a keeper. The female is bookended by attentive drakes, both of whom are no doubt vying for her attention.

Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers look a lot alike in flight, if just seen as silhouettes. Both species are cavity-nesters with long tails, and the tail extends behind the wings about as far as the head and neck on the other side. But Wood Ducks typically hold their head and neck up, above parallel, and thus look somewhat wary and watchful in flight. Hooded Mergansers hold the head at or below parallel, and that habit coupled with their somewhat faster flight gives the birds more of a look of speedy purposefulness.

This image was grabbed with Canon's amazing 7D Mark II. If you're looking for a great bird camera, check into one of these. It was connected to the 500mm f/4 II lens with a 1.4x extender sandwiched between, and the whole rig was mounted on a tripod. Settings were f/6.3, ISO 500, 1/2000. The exposure compensation was +1.3 stops. Without exposing to the right, the birds would have come out looking like dark silhouettes. Upping the exposure also whitens the sky, which lends somewhat of a painterly feeling to the image.


1 comment:

Lepidoptera said...

The Bird Symposium was an enjoyable escape from the winter doldrums. The Adams Lake field trip produced two new birds for my Life List: the Ruddy and the Ring-Necked Ducks.