Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Swarming northward from their winter resorts; tens of thousands of lesser scaup [bluebill] ducks are currently making their way through Iowa. Ever since I was introduced to the species during the 1960s, I have loved watching and, of course, hunting bluebills. With this spring’s flight at its peak, I grabbed my camera and a big bag of diver decoys, and headed for the cattails. The sun was out and the wind was up; a great combination for getting a variety of shots. I had a great morning and for the moment at least, it was easy to forget that while other waterfowl species are holding their own, scaup numbers continue to show an alarming decline.
During the past several springs, Iowa has served as the focal for scientific investigations regarding the decline. The scientific community’s continent-wide scaup project [which concludes this year] has been coordinated by LSU’s, Dr. Alan Afton. A true giant of scientific research, the iconic Dr. Afton is retiring this year. From northern Canada to the Mississippi Delta, Al will be missed by all who had the privilege to briefly rub shoulders with this waterfowl legend.
While reviewing the results of my “spring scaup shoot” I suddenly came upon the first photo below. It shows a scaup drake coming in for a hard landing. As if he weren’t awesome enough already, the handsome drake is also sporting a leg band. Banded divers are an extremely rare commodity around here and I can’t imagine the odds of digitally “capturing” that band a split second before touchdown! It’s an attractive piece of lifetime jewelry; most likely acquired through the coordinated efforts of the impeccable Dr. Afton.