Don't Overlook Common Species: Mallard Duck by Todd Henson

A lone mallard swimming in the wetlands.

Where I live, and in most of the country, mallards are the most common species of duck. You can see them year round at just about any large enough body of water. When a species is this common it can be easy to overlook. After all, you see it every day. Isn’t it more exciting to go looking for those less common species?

A pair of male mallards. Click on the image to see a larger view, then look closely at the left mallard. It has closed its nictitating membrane over its eye. The mallard to the right has its eyes wide open.

I understand that kind of pull, the desire to find something new, or at least something you don’t see every day. I enjoy that, too. But don’t let that pull blind you to the very common and beautiful species all around you. Mallards may be common, but they are still a beautiful bird, one that’s fascinating to watch and to photograph.

A trio of mallards. The two on the left are males, the one on the right is female. Notice how the head of the far left bird looks darker because of the different angle of light. If it turned into the light its head would look a brighter green.

When the light hits them just right the male’s green head feathers light up. It’s a beautiful metallic green separated from their reddish brown chest by a white stripe. When the light fades a bit the head looks much darker, a deep dark green, almost black.

The backside of a displaying male mallard. This view lets you see their colorful wing stripes.

Mallards also have very colorful wing stripes. When they fly, or display in the water, you can see this blue/purple stripe of color surrounded by black and white stripes. The less colorful females also have these wing stripes, though it’s more difficult to see in these photos.

A male mallard taking flight.

And, of course, we shouldn’t overlook their bright orange feet, something we don’t see as often if we view them while they’re swimming through the water. But once they step out of the water or take flight, those orange feet really stand out.

A male and female mallard taking flight.

Next time you find yourself out photographing birds, be sure to keep your eyes open for those common species. They can also make for great photographic subjects.

Great Blue Heron Strutting Its Stuff In The Wetlands by Todd Henson

Great Blue Heron strutting its stuff, reflected in the wetlands.

Great Blue Herons are beautiful birds that feed and live around water. On this particular day the wetlands were full of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, all keeping close watch below the surface for their next meal, but also watching one another. These birds can be somewhat territorial and will try to chase off any that approach too close, though that didn’t occur in this case.

This heron had just caught and swallowed a fish and was now lifting its head and looking around, letting gravity help with the fish. I like the look of its plumage at the base of its long neck, the feathers spreading out towards the water. Some of these feathers can also be seen on its back, though not quite as striking in this photograph.

I’d been watching and photographing this heron for about 15 minutes before creating this image. I also captured images of it catching and eating the fish. But the heron was facing away from the camera at that time and the images just didn’t come out as well as this one, when it was almost parallel to the camera, or actually leaning just slightly towards the camera. The sun was behind my back, which helped light up the heron in this position.

In the end, I spent 3 hours at the park this day, which is not at all unusual. The light is softer first thing in the morning, and the animals are usually more active early. But there is often still activity to watch and photograph throughout the morning. There have been days when I spent 6 to 7 hours at the park. It’s so easy to lose track of time when watching these fantastic birds.

Reflections in the Wetlands by Todd Henson

Reflections in the Wetlands. Click on the image for a larger view.

When I visit wetlands parks I am most often looking for wildlife to photograph. But these sorts of locations can provide much more subject matter than wildlife alone.

The photograph above does, in fact, contain wildlife. If you look closely there is a Great Blue Heron near the center of the far shore. And a number of ducks are hidden in various locations. But I don’t consider the wildlife the subject of the photograph. For me, the photograph is all about the reflections and the patterns they create.

I was photographing several species of duck far closer to my location, using my 200-400mm lens. As I looked around the wetlands I noticed the beautiful pattern in the reflections along the far shore. This was mid-March in Virginia and all the trees were bare, a little too early to begin growing leaves. So the reflections formed fascinating lines and patterns, lighter where the sun shone on a tree trunk, darker on the shaded side and between the trees. There was a small amount of movement to the water that added a slight shimmer further from shore.

I turned my camera towards the far shore and looked for a focal length that would capture what I was seeing. This particular photograph ended up at 280mm. I framed the image to focus mostly on the reflections but also capture some of the trees being reflected. I did intentionally include the Great Blue Heron. I figured it was a nice addition, though it is standing behind a pole in the water.

I thought about creating a symmetrical composition, including the same amount of each island on either side of the image. But instead I opted for a bit less symmetry, showing the entirely of the island on the right and giving the heron more room since it was facing in that direction.

This image was created at a fast shutter speed (1/1250 sec) because that’s what I’d been using with the ducks. I would have been curious to create versions of this image with slower shutter speeds, perhaps several seconds or more, to smooth out the water and possibly create more clear reflections. I don’t know if I would have preferred that version, but would like to have seen them both. However, slower shutter speeds are not as easy with the longer lens. If I’d had a 70-200mm with me I could have used that along with a neutral density filter, if needed, to slow the shutter speed down. Perhaps next time.

Next time you find yourself in a wetlands park take a look at the wetlands, itself. Are there any interesting compositions, any reflections, patterns, or colors that could make a nice image? Let me know what you find in the comments below.