Broken Ice, Blown Waders and Bold Buffleheads

A hen bufflehead, closely flanked by her mate, cruise past my icy setup in Franklin County this morning.

This is the time of year when a variety of waterfowl can be found on wetlands if one is willing to break ice and sit in the cold. Breaking ice to open water isn’t too complicated, as duck hunters will attest. You simply walk across the ice in chest waders, breaking through knee-deep water (hopefully) with each step until you get to a patch of open water that might or might not hold waterfowl. I was doing just that last week when I blew out a wader boot after spending 30 minutes breaking a trail to an elevated ridge where I could set up my turkey chair. I knew my goose was cooked when I felt the ice cold water filling my left boot through a gash from an ice shard. I was so close to the spot of high ground out in the wetland, I decided to forge on with my plan. I thought the water in my boot might warm up a bit, once I was on dry ground. After all it was a balmy 22 degrees.

My plan worked great, for about 20 minutes. After that I could feel the chill moving in on my tootsies. As I watched a gorgeous drake merganser approach from the middle of the lake, I could barely move my toes so it was decision time. I really wanted that merganser shot and I knew that the walk back to my 4Runner wouldn’t be too bad because I could retrace my steps through the ice I’d already broken. On the other hand, it might be an hour before the merganser made it to the perimeter of my shooting zone.

Eventually, the decision was made for me as the merganser drifted off to another location on the wetland. By that time, my foot was sending me signals that I loosely interpreted as, “Hey dummie, it’s time to abandon this operation!” I started back to my vehicle with an awkward gait but it wasn’t long before my semi-aquatic foot regained feeling and all was well. I would eventually return to the scene of the crime with a new set of waders.

It took about a week to get a new pair of neoprene waders from Cabela’s, send them back, and then get a second pair that fit better. This morning would be their first test.

I was out the door by 4:45 A.M. and breaking ice to the same location well before sunrise. I made it to the same high spot and settled in to my turkey chair about five meters from the point where the ice ended and open water began. Perfect!

It was dead calm, about 18 degrees, with the sunrise at my back as always. The wetland was mostly quiet with only a few geese on the far side. It wasn’t long before I started falling asleep, cozy and warm at least for the time being. After an hour, my feet were getting a little chilly in the waders, which had 800 grams of Thinsulate instead of the 1200 grams I was used to. After another 30 minutes, I was getting chilly all over and also a little bored due to the lack of action. It just wasn’t going to be a ducky day!

I began to shiver more and more as the morning progressed but decided to give it another 15 minutes. About that time I heard a little splash that revealed a drake bufflehead straight out from my location at the very edge of the ice. It was so close, I had to fumble for the minimum focus switch on my 500 mm lens so I could dial in the little fella. Next, a hen popped up in the same spot! Both must have swum underwater to my location from a dive far off to my right and emerged right in front of my hide. Sweet!

If you look closely, you can see the icy edge of the pool at the bottom of the featured image. The buffleheads couldn’t have been closer without climbing up on the ice.

Another look at the drake as he eyed my location with typical waterfowlian curiosity.

The pair must have hung around for five minutes before continuing south along the ice edge. By the time it was all over, I had forgotten about being cold. As a matter of fact, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside from the wonderful encounter.

A final image of the drake bufflehead, one of North America’s tiniest waterfowl.

After the buffleheads moved on, the warm, winter sun became a little too bright for pleasing wildlife photography so I started packing up my gear. I followed my ice trail back to dry land, this time in waders that were warm and dry. I felt so good that I stopped for a chocolate long john on the way home. I even got one for Joyce. Life is filled with simple pleasures if you’re not afraid to look for them.

Happy Naturing,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com


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



5 comments on “Broken Ice, Blown Waders and Bold Buffleheads”

  1. Oh wow Danny, what an adventure. Really enjoyed reading this, as I look ahead to the thaw and the waterfowl numbers that are increasing. Chest waders are a game changer when used correctly.

  2. Simple pleasures are the best kind!

  3. Thank you for the detailed description of just how much goes into each shot that we see so effortlessly! People say, “But digital photography is so cheap!” I wish they knew the cost in terms of camera equipment, support equipment, time and effort!

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