Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Inspired by Michael Stephen Wills' post on wild ducks, I ventured to Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge, capturing these elegant Wood Ducks.

After I read Michael Stephen Wills’s post on wild ducks, I remembered photographing some in the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge early in May.

It was very early in the morning. With bleary eyes and brimming anticipation, I stood on the observation platform, clutching my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR. I heard some noisy splashing in the far corner of the swamp. I didn’t know what was happening. Peering through the viewfinder, I zoomed to 600m, and voilà, there they were—ducks. But what kind? "Is this a mallard or a duck? Is there even a difference?" My knowledge of ducks was about as extensive as a duck's knowledge of cameras.

Fortunately, Merlin ID has a Photo ID feature and an excellent database of birds. Photo ID offered a short list of possible matches. With a few quick taps, I identified the bird as the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), not to be confused with its cartoonish cousin, Daffy. Unlike Daffy Duck, Wood Ducks have a crested heads, a thin neck, and a long, broad tail. Their silhouette shows a skinny neck, long body, thick tail, and short wings.

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) · Friday 5 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Unlike Daffy Duck, known for his dramatic flair, Wood Ducks possess crested heads, slender necks, and long, broad tails. Their silhouette might remind you of an elegant dinner guest—skinny neck, long body, and short wings—except for the thick tail.

You may not be able to see it from the photographs, but males have glossy green heads adorned with white stripes, chestnut breasts, and buffy sides. They'll look dark overall in low or harsh light with paler sides. On the other hand, the females sport a grey-brown dress with a white-speckled breast. Regrettably, no females for my camera that day.

With a fondness for wet locales with trees or extensive cattails, Wood Ducks thrive in wooded swamps like the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. They stick to wet areas with trees or extensive cattails. It's a lifestyle choice, really, one that sets them apart from their Looney Toon counterpart.

Mystical Morning Adventure at Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge

I visited the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge to capture some bird photographs.

I visited the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge two days after my first adventure to capture more bird photographs. I decided to go early in the morning, hoping that this would increase my chances of spotting more subjects. If I was fortunate enough, I could photograph a warbler.

As I went up the platform, fog engulfed the swamp, making it hard to see. It was a chilly morning, and I could feel the dampness, but I was excited. Despite the fog, I could hear the sounds of the birds chirping and singing in the distance. The misty air gave the refuge a mystical and ethereal quality.

As I continued waiting, I saw various birds but could not identify many of them. The refuge was alive with activity, and I felt grateful to witness the beauty of nature up close. The fog cleared as the sun rose higher, revealing the swamp.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) sitting in a tree · Friday 5 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 180 sec, ISO 500 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

I am unsure, but the bird sitting among the bright green leaves in the small tree is a Song Sparrow. Even at 600mm (900mm full frame equivalent), I could not fill the frame with the bird. I looked it up and learned that the Song Sparrow, scientifically known as Melospiza melodia, is a small passerine (perching) bird that belongs to the family Passerellidae. It is a widespread and well-known bird species found throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada to Mexico and parts of Central America.

The Song Sparrow is known for its melodious and varied song, a delightful mixture of trills, buzzes, and sweet notes. Each male Song Sparrow has its unique song, which they use primarily for territorial defence and attracting mates during the breeding season. The song can vary regionally, allowing for localised dialects within the species.

Song Sparrows have plump and rounded bodies with a length of about 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 centimetres). Their rich brown feathers, streaks, and darker patterns provide effective camouflage within their natural habitats. The bird's features include a greyish-white breast with a prominent dark spot in the centre, a distinctive facial pattern with brown stripes extending from the eye, and a short, conical bill.

These sparrows are highly adaptable and can be found in many habitats, including fields, meadows, marshes, brushy areas, and even suburban gardens. They are particularly fond of areas near water, such as streams and wetlands. Song Sparrows are omnivorous, with their diet consisting of seeds, berries, insects, and small invertebrates.

During the breeding season, male Song Sparrows establish territories and engage in elaborate courtship displays to attract females. The males perch on prominent branches or shrubs, singing their distinctive songs while engaging in visual displays like fluttering wings and raised tail feathers.

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) · Friday 5 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

I spotted ducks splashing in the water in the swamp's far right corner. I swung my XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR around to photograph them, only noticing the wood ducks sitting on the fallen tree trunk after clicking the shutter a few times. I later learned that wood ducks, scientifically known as Aix sponsa, are strikingly waterfowl in North America. They are medium-sized ducks known for their vibrant and intricate plumage, making them one of the most visually appealing species of ducks. The male Wood Duck boasts an elaborate combination of colours, with a glossy green crest on its head, a white patch around its neck, chestnut sides, and intricate patterns on its wings. In contrast, the female Wood Duck is more subtly coloured, featuring greyish-brown plumage with delicate patterns.

Wood Ducks are highly adapted to nesting in tree cavities near water bodies such as wetlands, ponds, and wooded swamps. They are exceptional tree climbers, using their sharp claws to grip onto branches and tree trunks. This unique behaviour sets them apart from most other duck species. Wood Ducks are primarily herbivorous, feeding on various plant matter, including seeds, fruits, leaves, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. They are known to forage in shallow waters, often dabbling or submerging their heads to search for food.

Conservation efforts have played a crucial role in recovering Wood Duck populations, as they were once greatly threatened due to habitat loss and overhunting.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Friday 5 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR
Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Friday 5 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR at 600 mm at f/8.0

I waited about 90 minutes before calling it quits on the day's expedition. I had hoped to see some warbler, but it may still be too early. I’ll return later in May.