Patience and the wood duck

I’ve been trying to photograph some wood ducks (Aix sponsa) for quite some time.  Plenty of them live at the lake.  It’s simply been an issue of timing.  When I’ve seen them, it’s usually been at a distance.  So I’ve approached as quietly as possible only to have them slowly move away at the same time.  The end result?  No pictures.

Until last week.

My usual morning walk had been uneventful for the most part.  I’d seen plenty of wildlife as I enjoyed the fruit of spring’s approach, and I’d even seen a handful of critters I’d not seen before.  Nevertheless, I roamed somewhat aimlessly and tried to lose myself in the moment.

Walking along the banks of one of the larger creeks, I finally arrived at the confluence where these sources feed the lake.  That’s where I spied a pair of wood ducks swimming lazily out from behind the brush and into the open water.

Unfortunately, they were too far away for me to get a respectable picture.  So I followed.  In hindsight, I should have stood my ground.

Their little legs pushed them in a wide arc away from the creeks and along the shore.  I raced on foot near the water’s edge trying to get ahead of them—perhaps even to get out to my favorite pier where they might pass close enough for me to capture and image or two.

But they beat me to it, passed under it before I got there, and were showing me their backs as I faced into the sun trying to take at least one shot.  That’s when I noticed their meandering continued taking them closer to the shore.

So I headed off the pier in another attempt to intercept them.

By the time I was on land, they had already come ashore and were looping back around the pier.  It seemed they were making one large circle covering both land and sea.

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) (176_7618)

With the female leading the way, her white mascara glinting in the early sun, the male spoke so softly that I struggled to hear him.  His voice is surprisingly hushed, a whisper compared to most of his cousins.  And it seemed terribly obvious to me that she was in charge, at least when it came to whatever mission they were on, for he brought up the rear as she rushed headlong toward…well, toward whatever she was after.

Two wood ducks (Aix sponsa) and an American coot (Fulica americana) (176_7620)

Some American coots (Fulica americana) likewise milled about the area.  Ms. Duck didn’t let them interfere with her activities, and Mr. Duck simply kept up and kept talking.

I walked alongside them at a distance that kept them from seeing me as a threat.  In fact, I think the female’s single-mindedness and the male’s rushing to keep up meant I had little to worry about in that regard.  The excursion afforded me a good opportunity to keep snapping photos while I enjoyed the sight of these beautiful creatures.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) (176_7623)

There was a moment when I thought I might have scared them off.  You see, we were walking back in the direction where I had first seen them and given chase.  I couldn’t contain my own laughter as we walked by the end of the pier where I had run breathlessly in hot pursuit.  Seeing it pass by in the opposite direction immediately made me wonder why I hadn’t just stood my ground and waited for them to come back to me.  Ah, hindsight…

Male and female wood ducks (Aix sponsa) (176_7639)

Once they reached the other side of the pier in a position so near to where the chase started that I could see my own fresh footprints, they completed their loop and waddled back into the shallows.  I stood and watched as they carried their small bodies into the water and began swimming toward the center of the lake.

Wood ducks (Aix sponsa) swimming out toward open water (176_7613)

Okay, perhaps wood ducks aren’t the smartest folks.  I still can’t for the life of me imagine what purpose was served by their loop around the pier.  They wound up where they started—in the water.  I blame her since she was obviously in charge of the expedition.  If his constant yammering indicates anything, he also blamed her for the meaningless jaunt.

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