Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
No matter how many years I’m at it, observing and photographing waterfowl never gets old. Waterfowl are always willing to provide plenty of surprises, and sometimes you don’t know what you’ve captured until you get back home to review your work. This month’s surprise came in the form of duck bands. A friend of mine owns a small, shallow pond that sits inside an oak woodland. It is one of my favorite places to observe wood ducks as they go about their daily lives. This year, the pond is a focal point for what I think are six pairs of nesting woodies. While sitting there and photographing the birds on May 10, a lone drake mallard came in and lit on the pond. After dabbling and preening for a bit, I could tell he was getting nervous and would soon leave. I waited, and when he took off, I tried for a couple of “launch shots”. When I got home and looked at the photos, I discovered that the drake had a band on his right leg. Surprise!
Later, when a drake wood duck jumped out of the water to perch on a snag, I noticed that he was also banded. Surprise! When one of the three hens present began foraging directly in front of my blind, I suddenly caught a bright glint from her right leg. I couldn’t believe it – she too was banded. [ I caught the same hen lounging on the shoreline with her mate the next day. During the entire morning of May 10, I observed a total of 8 or 9 wood ducks plus the single mallard for a total of around 10 birds. To have three of those ducks wearing bands – in the spring — was incredible. But wait; there’s more. While sorting through the photos back home, something didn’t seem quite right. Couldn’t figure out what it was. And then it suddenly came to me. The banded wood duck drake perched on the snag was wearing his jewelry on the left leg. Later that morning when I photographed what I thought was the same drake the band was suddenly on the right leg. Surprise!
So now, nearly half of the birds on the pond [4 out of 9 or 10] were banded. That ratio would be incredible near a late summer banding site, but to see it in the spring was just out of this world.
The fact that three of the birds were drakes that could have literally come from anywhere makes the encounter even more amazing. Like I said; observing waterfowl never grows old.