My adventure started the day that I held a four week old Wood Duck in my hands. When I arrived at Brick Pond in Owego, NY that day in mid-August I spotted a young Wood Duck out in the middle of the water. At first I was excited to see the duck and that it appeared to be bathing. However, as I started to raise my camera I realized it was not bathing but was struggling to free itself from weeds that had caught its leg beneath the water. At that point all thoughts of photography left my mind; I returned my camera to my jeep and waded, butt deep, through the mucky, filthy pond water to try to help the duck.
I am happy to report that I was able to free the young Woodie. Once freed of its tether the duck swam away from me with haste and disappeared into the weeds. I didn’t take any photos that day, but the memory of that warm, vulnerable duck in my hands left me with a feeling of awe and sympathy toward its tenuous fight for survival.
It was a few weeks after that experience that I finally returned back to Brick Pond. I wanted to learn more about these ducks. Plus, I had never even seen a Wood Duck in breeding plumage. So I had decided to try to capture some of their beauty and behaviors with my camera. My first visits back to the pond were mostly futile as these ducks are extremely skittish and they nearly always saw me before I saw them. Even when I was able to discreetly observe them it was at such a great distance that my images left me wanting more.
I finally worked my way off the trail through thick brush to find a location where I could observe the Wood Ducks without them detecting my presence. I found a spot where I attached a camouflage cloth to a tree, poked my lens through a hole in the cloth, and waited. The first time I tried this there was no activity for nearly two hours. However, I waited, and I waited, and I waited.
Eventually, a couple of hen Wood Ducks swam out from a weeded part of the pond and stayed only briefly before returning into the thick weeds. Several minutes later two more hens came back out, followed by a drake, and once again they all returned back into the weeds. Another several minutes later and a group of more than 10 ducks, male and female, trickled out into the open areas of the pond. And they stayed! I watched and photographed while they swam around, acted out territorial disputes, hunted for food, ate, bathed, perched on logs, preened and eventually napped. Persistence had paid off and after that day I returned at every opportunity.
The pond has since frozen over and the Wood Ducks have left for the winter. But they will be back in the springtime and I hope to be right back in my blind to capture some more Wood Duck Adventures. In the meantime I will continue to share some of the highlights of my autumn adventures with these beautiful birds.