birds in flight

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.


Don't Forget to Look UP When Photographing Birds by Todd Henson

Great Blue Heron flying away from the scene of the crime.

WARNING: This topic, though light-hearted, may not appeal to all viewers. But it does teach an important lesson if you photograph birds in the wild.

I love photographing birds, especially when I’m able to document birds in flight. But there is at least one potential downside to this activity, something that could ruin your day if you’re not careful to avoid it.

A Great Blue Heron. Such a beautiful bird. And yet... see the photo further below.

What am I talking about? Why is the title of this post, “Don’t Forget to Look UP When Photographing Birds?” Well, birds often defecate while in flight, or just before taking flight. And it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of this.

I feel sorry for any poor paddler in the river below this Great Blue Heron! Click on the image for a larger view. Go ahead, I dare you!

Thankfully, I’ve never been on the receiving end of a Great Blue Heron or Bald Eagle. As you can see in these photographs they can make quite a mess. But I have been hit by a Canada Goose flying overhead. It was so low I almost felt the air from its wings. Geese mostly eat plant matter so what I was hit with was fairly solid and didn’t make much of a mess. But birds that eat fish, animals or insects aren’t as easy to clean up from. I have been hit by a smaller song bird. Not fun.

So what’s my advice?

Don't stand too close when looking up at Bald Eagles! Not sure what you're seeing? Click on the image to see a larger version.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to determine the birds typical flight path, or places they commonly perch. You can’t plan everything, there’s always a chance one will fly over you, but being aware of where they may fly or perch at least gives you a chance of avoiding any bad encounters. If you see one heading your way just be aware of what might happen and be ready to move. The odds should be fairly low, but it does happen.
  • Learn the behavior of the birds you’re observing. Many birds, such as Bald Eagles and Osprey, will often defecate before taking flight. So be careful if you are observing a perched bird from down below, especially if it begins to left its tail feathers. They have more range than you might think!
  • Always wear a hat! Your clothes may still be a mess but at least it will help protect your head. When the goose let loose it hit my hat and backpack and mostly bounced off. No real harm done. When I was hit by the song bird I wasn’t wearing a hat. I had to clean off my hair, the side of my face, and my sunglasses. And all this in the middle of a busy city. Not my best day, but hey, “it” happens!
  • Always carry a towel or cloth of some kind with you, just in case you might need it. It’s not fun cleaning up this kind of mess without a cloth, trust me!
  • Bring some of that portable hand wash with you. Wiping it off is one thing, but getting yourself clean is nice, too.

Well, that’s it for today. I apologize for the somewhat unappealing topic, but it does happen and it’s best to plan ahead in case it ever happens to you. And worst case, if it does happen, you’ll have quite the story you never want to tell your friends about! 😀

Have fun out there. Enjoy photographing nature. And always remember: Look UP when photographing birds!!!

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Hooded Merganser Flying Low Over Water by Todd Henson

A male Hooded Merganser flying low over water.

In early Spring Hooded Mergansers  become more active in the wetlands, performing fascinating displays, and beginning their nesting. They, along with Wood Ducks, sometimes use nesting boxes placed in various locations throughout the wetlands.

I love photographing Hooded Mergansers while they are in the water, especially when they are performing courtship displays. They are quite impressive when they fully raise their crest, especially the male, with a bright white crest surrounded by black.

I also enjoy photographing them when in flight. Photographing birds in flight is always a challenge, especially with fast flying birds such as ducks. It takes lots of practice!

I was fortunate this day to watch and photograph as a Hooded Merganser pair took flight from the water. I missed most of the shots, but in this one I captured the male in focus. I wish I had framed the shot a little lower to include the entire reflection of the merganser, but I’m pleased to have captured it at all.

When visiting wetlands locations keep your eyes open for ducks or other wading birds. You may be given an opportunity to see (and practice photographing) birds in flight.



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