duck

On a Golden Pond by Todd Henson

On a Golden Pond - A male Long-tailed Duck in Northern Virginia on April 6, 2019.

What type of duck is that?” I thought as we watched this beautiful duck repeatedly diving below the surface of Lake Gardiner at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. I had never seen anything like it in the area. It had very distinctive coloration around its head, and it had a very long tail.

I didn’t have my long lens with me, but I did the best I could to capture photographs that would be good enough to identify the duck from field guides. On the way home I was able to identify it. We had seen a Long-tailed Duck, which is a sea duck, on a small lake in Northern Virginia. This was very unusual. I’d have to come back on the weekend with my longer lens and see if it was still there.

Thankfully, when I returned on Saturday the Long-tailed Duck was still at the park, and still diving in the same small lake. I spent almost the entire day circling the lake, watching and photographing this lone duck. Others had heard of it, drawing a small crowd at various times around the lake. But the people never seemed to bother the duck. It swam around the lake in circles, sometimes getting fairly close to the shore, always diving to the bottom, sometimes coming up with green plants hanging from its bill.

This particular photograph was created later in the afternoon, when the sun provided a nice glow to the duck, and reflections of a blooming tree on the opposite shore turned the water a beautiful golden color. I’d been watching this stretch of water, waiting and hoping the duck would swim through. Not only did it swim through the golden water, but it turned its gaze towards me, allowing me to capture this wonderful moment of a rare Long-tailed Duck spending a little time in a small lake outside its normal range, making at least one local birder and photographer very happy.

If you like this photograph you can purchase it at my online store. On a Golden Pond is available as wall art and on a variety of products.

Fine Art Prints by Todd Henson


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.


Red-breasted Merganser Summering in its Winter Range by Todd Henson

A male Red-breasted Merganser sitting on a log looking over its shoulder. Available for purchase.

Some birds can be found year round in a location. Others migrate between summer and winter ranges. And sometimes a bird, such as this male Red-breasted Merganser, can be found spending the summer in what is normally their winter range.

Male Red-breasted Merganser preening on a log.

Male Red-breasted Merganser resting on a log. Available for purchase.

Red-breasted Merganser typically migrate north during the summer to places like Canada and Alaska. But this male chose to stay in Northern Virginia, spending many mornings sleeping on a fallen log along the shore of a wildlife refuge. Perhaps this male was still too young to breed, so it stayed south where the fishing was good and the temperature warm.

Male Red-breasted Merganser facing the water.

Male Red-breasted Merganser swimming in the bay.

Whatever its reason for staying south, I enjoyed its company and the photographic opportunities it presented.