Wondrous Wood Ducks

Image: Wood duck, Tempe, AZ. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 440 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 500, hand-held.

At the end of last year, I heard rumblings on social media of a wood duck pair visiting the Phoenix area. I was unfamiliar with this duck, but after a quick google search and seeing photos of them on Facebook, I knew I had to go see this beauty in person. I went out one afternoon with a friend to a local park where this pair was temporarily residing in a small pond. We waited a long time and then walked around the pond, finally spotting the male and female hiding under some overgrown shrubbery and trees. Not wanting to disturb them, we waited some more. Finally, the couple came out of the shelter for a quick tour around the pond and we were ready! The image above is what came from the waiting game. It was well worth it.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 380 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

On the way to San Diego to photograph pelicans, we had heard that there were some wood duck sightings at Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve. After our brief encounter with the pair in Arizona, we didn’t hesitate on this trip to make a detour to the lakes to capture more images of these colorful ducks. I have since learned that their distribution is along the California coast year around and in the eastern United States, migrating north and south depending on the season. That’s why it was such a rare treat to see them in Arizona!

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/8.0, 1/500 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

Because of habitat loss and their beautiful feathers, they were once in decline, but recent conservation efforts have improved their population numbers. They like to nest in the cavities of trees along water so many parks and refuges provide nest boxes near water to encourage further nesting behavior.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

It took a little time to find the right lake at the Recreation Center with the wood ducks, but when we found the flock, we counted up to 9 wood ducks! In the late afternoon, the light was great and I worked on various shots of them. I wanted the male coming at me with his red eyes highlighted against the dark green feathers of his head, as shown above.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 450 mm, f/6.3, 1/400 sec, ISO 2000, hand-held.

As the sun went down, the light changed and softened. We slowly approached the edge of the lake so the ducks would get accustomed to our presence and continue swimming around. The reflections of various trees and shrubs across the other side of the narrow waterway allowed for beautiful colors in the water reflections.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/500 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

For some images, I chose to have a busy background full of colors from the water reflections to complement the variety in the duck’s feathers. For other images, I chose a more muted water reflection to highlight the duck’s beauty.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 460 mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 1600, hand-held.

When the ducks slowed their swimming and went into a relaxed float, I was able to go for a headshot with a nice reflection and the sun behind us.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

A photo shoot of the wood ducks would not have been complete without a little bit of scenery to give a sense of place for their habitat. The light was just right as this male swam through the lighted part of the lake with the reflections of the trees and shrubbery high in the image.

Image: Wood duck, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, San Diego, CA. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 500 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

You can view these images individually and more in my portfolio located here.

As I process more images, I will continue to post more adventures. Stay tuned…

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

20 thoughts on “Wondrous Wood Ducks”

  1. Wow! The ducks are spectacular! Your photos are, too. Love the reflections. You have great talent, Amy. Thank you for sharing and thanks for taking care to not scare the creatures in your pursuit to capture images. We both know photographers who insist on getting their shots no matter the cost to wildlife. Your kindness shows.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i had never seen this type of duck before. Very pretty! I like how you chose the different water reflection backgrounds for these shots. Nice touch!

    Liked by 1 person

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