I was out driving along the East Gloucester coast last week and ran into a group of birders visiting Gloucester from New Jersey. Mind you, I used to be a high powered birder and a bird photographer, so I know about the green grass on both sides of the fence. They were excited to see our winter birds and asked me if I saw the Ivory Gull that was all the rage, (nope), the King Eider down by the Elks Club, (nope), the Thick Billed Muir seem inside the harbor (nope, that would be a l-o-n-g shot.)
I was very pleased to see these people up here birding and was happy to have a chat with them. They showed me the Black Guillemonts in their scope and a Red-necked Grebe that was about ¼ mile out. The grebe was a Massachusetts bird for me and the Black Guillemont was the second time I’ve seen them. I was tickled pink to have them come all the way to Cape Ann to see my Eiders. I just didn’t have the heart to tell them I was off to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time…Shoot Gadwall. Would they have understood? Maybe.
I had spent three hours at Eastern Point the day before shooting Gadwall and I was about to spend another three hours that day. Why? Because it gives me a sense of purpose to go sit on a rock and just watch ducks.
But why Gadwall, Steve, you’ve been birding since Moses was in the third grade? Well, look at how beautiful these ducks are. How could I not spend six hours of my life sitting on a rock admiring them?
Later that morning, I did happen by the Elks Club again. That is when I photographed the Great Black-backed gull by the surf. I was looking out over the ocean with my spotting scope and saw the weirdest juvenile Common Eider I've ever seen. Opening my bird book, which I rarely bring with me any more, it was indeed a King Eider. You see, I still get excited.
B and I had to run an errand in Ipswich. I spotted some Cedar Waxwings out of the corner of my eye at a tree nursery as we entered town. I was tempted to make a U-turn and get some shots but we needed to run the errand.
Sitting at the wheel, breaking out into a cold sweat and getting the shakes, I kept focus on our target. When we finished, we needed to take a side trip to Manchester by the Sea, the nursery was on the way.
I told B that I thought I saw some waxwings and she said that she could go into the nursery and look around while I did a photo shoot. But when we arrived, the waxwings were gone. Another case of “you snooze, you looze”. I looked at the tree where they I thought I saw them, it was an ornamental cherry with lots of fruit.
We went in the nursery and looked around. When we come out, they had returned, just as I hoped they would. The problem becomes, which of the 20 shots do I post?
Yesterday morning, I decided to go grocery shopping early in the morning. It was Monday, which means that Tuesday, we needed a $10.00 bottle of wine for our $10.00 Tuesday posts. But the packie didn’t open until 9:00. I usually don’t worry when the packies open in the morning because I’m working! I had a half hour to kill, so I went over to Bass Rocks by Good Harbor Beach and ran into a raft of ducks. There were about fifteen Mallards, four American Black ducks and one Gadwall.
There are differences and similarities to ducks. Being able to tell the difference between the females can be important. With the Mallard and American Black Duck, it isn’t just distinguishing the females of the species, it is distinguishing the whole species.
They have brown mottled bodies, brown heads with black eye stripes. The have similar feeding and flocking behaviors. The American Black Duck can easily be passed up as just additional Mallard hens.
In this first photo, we can start to see the difference between the Mallard Hen and the two American Black Ducks. The Mallard is lighter, has much more white in the tips of the feathers and has an orange colored bill.
The Black Ducks are much darker, have less white in the feather tips and less white in the tail feathers. The forward Black duck has an olive green bill, designating it as female and the trailing Black Duck’s bill is more yellow, making him the drake.
We see the brown head with the black eye stripe. In flight, the Mallard has blue secondary feathers, but they are barred with white. Again we can see the body is more buff.
With the black duck, we see the brown head with the black eye stripe. In flight, the Black duck has blue secondary feathers, but lacks the white banding. The underside is also white.
This may also be seen when the female is displaying here blue marks when on land or floating.
The last bit of importance is that they do interbreed. As a word of encouragement, I witnessed two Mallard pairs courting and mating while doing this shoot. Spring is coming, I promise.
Post script: If you check Kim’s post today, the third picture down shows an American Black Duck photo with the wing bar exposed while floating. You can compare it with the picture above to see that when the ducks are floating or on land, you can still use the wing bars as a field mark.
This is more of a documentation of a life bird for me than an “Ooooo-ahhhh” post. I was shooting Annisquam Light on last Tuesday morning. I’ve been on lay-off for the last week and will be on lay-off this week also. So while we all are waiting for the economy to be resuscitated, I’m shooting to keep my sanity.
I arrived at Annisqam when the tide was out. I saw some little geese out on the beach and to my delight, I had never seen these geese before. I was able to get within 50 yard to these geese. There seemed to be okay. As you can see, one is preening. There was another small flock down the beach about 150 yards away and they spooked and the geese I was working with flew off.
I worked this flock for about 10 minutes and got 6 shots off. Annisquam beach is a favorite beach for people to walk their dogs, and a couple of minutes later, a couple of dogs came and the geese would have left anyway. But it was thrilling to see a life bird.
The two dogs were very friendly and came to say hello. Since I'm a guest in this neighborhood and it is a public beach, I'm totally fine with friendly dogs saying hello. In fact, they can add interest. One shot that I really, really wanted last summer was a man and his dog sitting on the rocks by the light watching the sun set. The man felt that he was ruining my shot and moved. Oh well!
For those that sat through my video from yesterday, this is Annisquam Light when the tide is half way out. The beach has great sand and give the photographer many angles to shoot.
This video below is a bit of an experiment. Folks ask me quite often how I do what I do. I thought it may be good fun to give you a chance to come along and see the sites. I’m not the world’s best landscape photographer, I get out of the house way to late for that. The best light is early, early in the morning and I’m not an early, early, early riser.
Friday was cold with a bitter wind blowing out of the west. We had a sleet and snow storm the night before which left two inches of snow. I left the house at 8:30 in the morning and headed out to do a photo shoot at Annisquam Light, here in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
For this photo shoot, I didn’t have an agenda other than seeing what was out in the universe that morning. In such cases, it is best to go out with the attitude that you’re going to have fun even though there was a cold bitter wind.
The section of audio that was lost to the wind at Annisquam Light is “So examining the, the landscape here a little bit, I think I can take a shot of both the lighthouse and the bridge, and the keeper’s house here with the rocks in the foreground. It may look more like a seven-ten split or a goal post shot when I get back and it will probably hit the garbage can but we’re going to try it anyway.”
The section of audio on Dogbar Breakwater that is lost in the wind is, "So here we are, we’re up on the breakwater and there are waves coming in. And salt water’s really hard on the gear. The wind’s blowing. And ya know, most of the time I come out on this thing, I get vertigo. Ya got the ocean pitching on one side, calm on the other and I just go ‘wooooh’. Let’s get out on here, find a spot that isn’t too salt spray and where I won’t get knocked on my butt [into] the water…we’re going to take a couple quick shots and get out of here."
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