Ruddies and Ringnecks

March 18, 2018

A ruddy duck swims past my lens with another one lost in the background blur. Taken this morning at B.K. Leach Conservation Area.

The ruddy duck isn’t one of Missouri’s most beautiful species but I sure was happy to get an image of one this morning in very challenging light. This image of a non-breeding male was captured at 1/100 sec with my 500 mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter, wide open at f/5.6 with a +1 exposure compensation for the mirror-bright water under an overcast sunrise. If all that were not enough, the duck was obviously on the move. Needless to say, I was not too optimistic about the capture until I got a good look a few hours later on the LCD. So why was I so happy to get the ruddy duck? Because this was my first decent image of a tiny ruddy since I began photographing ducks in 2006!

It looks like the ruddy in the background was well on its way to adult breeding plumage so I wish their positions would have been reversed. Oh well — maybe I’ll get another chance in the next 10 years.

How about a story without an image? Yesterday, I was sitting in my favorite hide at Horseshoe Lake in Madison County, Illinois, when the strangest thing happened. I had been sitting in my turkey chair for almost four hours, waiting for a group of red-breasted mergansers to get into shooting range (they never did) when I heard a frantic call from a hen mallard. I looked up right as it received a glancing blow from an unidentified raptor with crazy flying skills! The mallard was part of a group of four and they all folded up and dropped out of the sky vertically, landing right in front of me with a huge kerplash! The hen looked stunned and the other three looked scared as well. They all just floated in front of me with a look that said, “What the hell just happened?” Well it wasn’t quite over because the predator made a fighter jet turn and swept right across them again on the water. Although they are dabbling ducks, the mallards appeared to be diving ducks during the second attack. As the raptor gained altitude, I managed to squeeze off a hail Mary and captured a going away image of menacing raptor.

Based on the raptor’s falcon-like flight characteristics, I compared the image to a merlin that I had captured a few weeks ago. Not only did the image not match up, but I also wondered why a little merlin, not much bigger than a kestrel, would have been going for a mallard. Next, I sent the image to my friend, Bill, and he quickly texted me back that it appeared to be a prairie falcon, based on my story and the limited input from the image. Bill’s identification all made sense and I considered the mystery solved. Unfortunately, the image isn’t up to snuff for Nature Frames. Oh, what an experience to watch those mallards fall out of the sky with no landing plan.

Getting back to B.K. Leach this morning, it was slim pickings in tough conditions, as I said before, but in addition to the ruddy duck image I was able to make some nice close-ups of a ringneck and his mate. My challenge was the lack of opportunity to increase my aperture setting for better depth of field so I could get a nice focus on the drake’s yellow eye. I compensated by focusing on several different areas around the head and neck in hopes of getting a few sharp images, all at an excruciatingly slow 1/125 to 1/200 second with 700 mm of lens. Of the 20 or so images the cooperative ringneck allowed, two revealed a sharp eye. Well, one sharp image is all this guy needs to consider his morning a success, so I was a happy camper, yet again.

A tight shot, almost full frame, of a cooperative ringneck.

Another tight shot, this time of the ringneck’s mate.

Whether duck hunting or photographing ducks, concealment is the key. In addition to cut-leaf camouflage, such as I use to cover my equipment, I highly recommend gathering any kind of natural materials you can around the site where you are hunting. Believe me — ducks are very wise to store-bought camo. Also, it goes without saying that I am usually in the water in camouflage neoprene waders.

I’ll be away from photography for the next two days but I should be back at it on Wednesday. I’m already wondering what wonders the wetlands hold for me. I’m looking forward to sharing those surprises with all of you.

Thanks for looking,


Update:  A review of the falcon image by a St. Louis bird expert revealed that the aerial attack was conducted by an immature peregrine falcon.

Loving all the emails at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Interested in a print?  Check out my gallery of favorites at:, then shoot me an email to discuss. Metal prints are surprisingly affordable.

Publication Note:  Watch for one of my images in the spring issue of Audubon magazine. How cool is that? Details later.

“America is beautiful. I vote to keep it that way.”




%d bloggers like this: