This is probably one of the hardest areas for me personally when it comes to wildlife photography. Waterfowl can be really frustrating subjects as they have the tendency to move a lot. When there is activity on the shoreline they will instantly b line away from said activity to somewhere safer. This is often why photographers go out in blinds or setup somewhere and wait a really long time. One piece of advice when it comes to waterfowl is to not chase the birds. Trying to outmaneuver any duck will just end up with you scaring the bird off completely. If you don’t have or want to use a blind then arrive early and wait patiently. It might seem like common sense and that’s because it is. Those lessons tend to work well with photography.
Now I know from personal experience that chasing the subject doesn’t work as this Harlequin Duck is a perfect example. It’s a little early for them to be nesting in the area but they serve my purpose. These guys brave the rapids of the fast moving rivers and often nest in Yellowstone. Trying to keep up with them is a challenge and not exactly safe. But spending time watching them and seeing where they go will keep you and them safe.
If there is one lesson that you never want to learn the hard way it’s to always have a camera with you. Now I’ve blogged a lot over the last couple of years about my adventures fly fishing but it wasn’t until this year that I’ve found more value to those adventures then just the fishing. A couple weeks back I found an amazing Dipper nest that produced some great results. This past weekend I was privileged to an another amazing opportunity when one of my friends discovered a Harlequin Duck.
The Harlequin Duck is a rare North American bird especially in the lower forty eight. While they are mostly seen on the west coast of Alaska and Canada they can also be seen on the east coast especially in Maine. In the Summer time when they are breeding they can be seen in Washington, parts of Oregon, Idaho, Montana and even Wyoming. They don’t get much further south then Yellowstone so finding one on the Upper Madison River was pretty darn special. Now this is truly a very beautiful duck and while in some ways he looks like a Wood Duck he is in fact very different. The big difference is that this bird is most often seen on mountainous rivers and streams which is really fast water! This particular male was going up these rapids, some of which were class 5. He was quite interesting to watch as he would spend more time hopping along the rocks then actually swimming.
When he did go swimming it was even more impressive to see him navigate the water. Harlequin’s nest on the ground by the river and feed off of the aquatic life underneath. Now I really wasn’t prepared to photograph birds that day but I’ve been bringing my D5 and 70-300VR with me when I go out just in case. I was using High Speed Crop for these images, and the others I can’t post here, but the real challenge was lighting. This is a dark blue bird which is hard to tell because of the overcast skies and dark rocky background. So it was basically a moving subject that was dark, against a dark background, with gloomy light. Not to mention I had to keep moving upstream because he did too. The solution to all this was to wait for the right background in which he pop out more against and then rip the shutter and dial in + on the exposure compensation. With the D5 it was no problem. Since this is a rare bird it is quite possible I won’t get to see him again but guaranteed I will be going back to look for him with a longer lens.