The Calm Before Spring by Todd Henson

The Calm Before Spring

It was the first week of April. We were transitioning from winter to spring. The day began cool, almost cold, but it slowly warmed to a more comfortable range. Most of the trees still lacked leaves, though that will have changed by now. To the right were a couple of weeping cherry trees in bloom. The rest of the cherry trees wouldn’t bloom for another week or so.

It was a fairly calm day. I liked the idea of creating an image with a reflection of the trees on the far shore of the lake. I decided to set up my tripod on the gazebo on the lake, pointing back towards the rest of the park. I put on a filter to slow down the shutter speed and smooth out the surface of the lake as much as possible. I wanted something simple and quiet to reflect the calm before spring.

I would very much like to return to this location and attempt additional exposures as the seasons change.

Filter Geekery

This was my first photograph with my new Singh-Ray I-Ray 690 Infrared filter. The 690 is not a pure infrared filter. It allows both infrared and near-infrared light to enter the camera. This gives a different look than the pure infrared filter (Singh-Ray I-Ray 830), and it requires far less time to create an exposure.

I look forward to experimenting more with the 690 filter and comparing its results to those of the 830. These sorts of filters can be a lot of fun.

Hooded Merganser Ducklings Leaving Their Nest Box by Todd Henson

A swallow flies by, watching two little Hooded Merganser ducklings in their nest box.

Sometimes when photographing or observing wildlife advanced planning is incredibly important. But other times pure chance, being at the right place at the right time, plays a much larger role. This post is about a recent experience where luck made all the difference.

We were visiting a local wetlands park, one I often frequent. I knew of a nesting box occupied by a Hooded Merganser, so I set up on the boardwalk facing that box and watched for quite some time. No activity at all. So I continued on, seeing what else the wetlands would show me this day.

I began photographing a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting through the brush when I starting hearing a strange sound, something I’d not heard before. I can’t really describe it, but it seemed to grow in volume and there appeared to be more than one source. I turned around and my eye happened to catch movement at the entrance to the nest box of the Hooded Merganser.

And what I saw was a waterfall of little puff balls falling from the nest box into the water below! The ducklings were leaving the box, and I just happened to be there to observe it. What were the odds I would be there at just that moment?

Here is a sequence of images showing one duckling jumping from the box to the water below. Click on the image to cycle through the sequence.

I wasn’t able to photograph the majority of the ducklings as they poured from the box, but I did manage to get my camera repositioned and moved in closer in time to capture a few of the chicks at the box entrance and jumping (or falling) to their siblings below.

Here is another sequence of images, this time of a duckling falling from the nest box. Click on the image to cycle through the sequence.

Just after the majority of ducklings had left the box the mother saw another female Hooded Merganser, apparently too close to the box. She attacked the other duck, making all kinds of noise, and driving the young ducklings in the opposite direction where they could hide in the brush.

Hooded Merganser ducklings just out of the box, swimming away from the fight between their mother and another duck.

When the mother had chased off the other duck she returned to gather her ducklings. They all huddled very closely together, likely to make them appear as one large bird instead of a number of small ones, hoping to fool any predators that might happen by. The group of merganser swam past an oblivious male Wood Duck and a turtle resting on a log before finally heading further out into the wetlands and beyond my view.

Mother reunites with her ducklings.

Hooded Merganser mother leading her ducklings through the brush.

I can hardly describe how thrilled I was to be there watching this sequence of events. I was so excited I likely introduced some extra shake into the camera which may have resulted in less than perfect focus. It was also a very overcast morning with some remaining fog that hadn’t quite dissipated. Because of this I boosted the ISO to 1600 to let me shoot at 1/640th of a second. Perhaps I should have boosted it a little more. I set my aperture to f/7.1. I didn’t want to stop down too much because that would drop the shutter speed, but I also wanted enough depth of field to keep the entire family of ducks together. I might have been able to open the aperture a little more than I did.

Hooded Merganser family swimming past an oblivious male Wood Duck (in the background).

Hooded Merganser Family sticking together and swimming further into the wetlands.

Overall I’m very pleased with having captured these images. I don’t consider them great photos, by any means, but I do consider them photos of a great experience. Have you ever been present when birds fledged the nest or left the nest box? What was the experience like for you?

They briefly broke up when passing behind a turtle basking on a log.

But they quickly came back together as a group before disappearing into the distance.

Lesson of the day

When you hear a new, unusual sound seek out its source. You never know what you may find.

European Starlings Nesting in a Cherry Tree by Todd Henson

European Starling outside its nest hole in a cherry tree.

Each spring birds seek out a location to build a nest. Some birds, including these European Starlings, will find a sheltered location in which to build the nest. In this case the starlings are using a hollow in a cherry tree sitting along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

This is a perfect location for these starlings to care for their next generation. The Tidal Basin is full of people this time of year, most coming to view the cherry blossoms. Having this many people around helps keep most potential predators away from their nest.

European Starling peeking out of its nesting hole in a cherry tree.

European Starlings are an introduced species to North America, though you might not realize it based on the numbers living throughout the continent. They are perfectly adapted to thrive in close proximity to people, and thrive they have.

European Starling emerging from its nesting hole in a cherry tree.

And yet, even though they are often considered a pest species, I still find starlings beautiful, especially during the spring. Click on the photos and look at the iridescent purples, greens, and blues as the sun reflects off their feathers, along with the wonderful speckled patterns over portions of their body.

European Starling gathering nesting material in a cherry tree.

Keep your eyes open when out hiking during spring. You may be fortunate enough to see a pair of birds, perhaps starlings, working on their nest. Keep your distance if you do. Don’t get too close, you don’t want to disturb the birds. But do enjoy the moment. It’s a wonderful experience watching birds during spring.

Related Books You Might Enjoy

The links to the books are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Mozart’s Starling

Mozart’s Starling is a wonderful book about starlings and about Mozart. It turns out Mozart kept a pet starling, and so the author, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, having heard this decided to take care of a starling herself, while also researching Mozart’s starling. I was fortunate to win a copy of this book through a goodreads giveaway. Check out my review of Mozart’s Starling.

Wings of Spring: Courtship, Nesting, and Fledging

Wings of Spring is a book for bird lovers. It is full of beautiful photographs of birds during spring, showing courtship behaviors, how birds nest, and how they care for their young. Photographer Tom Vezo has created images of birds from all over the world, and Chuck Hagner has written descriptions to go with each set of images. Take a look at my review of Wings of Spring.