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.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge

Located in Princeton, the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is a 350-acre natural area that is an essential habitat for various wildlife species.

During my job search, I understand the importance of taking breaks and getting fresh air to maintain focus and motivation. This morning, I worked on job applications and updated my resume. I searched online for the best places to photograph birds in Princeton. The Birding Hot Spots in Mercer County page on the Princeton Township tourism website offered many suggestions. After some consideration, I settled on the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge. Although I had visited the refuge before on a birding field trip with the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, I never got "around to it". Like the crew racing at Carnegie Lake, I finally decided to have my "round 2 it".

After firing off another job application, I packed my X-T3, XF27mmF2.8 R WR, XF16-55mF2.8 R LM WR, and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR lenses and drove to the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge
Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge · Wednesday 3 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Located in Princeton, the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge is a 350-acre natural area that is an essential habitat for various wildlife species. The refuge was established in 1970 and is named after Charles H. Rogers, a local conservationist who was instrumental in preserving the area. The Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge provides wildlife viewing and quiet walks among marshes and riverine forests along Stony Brook.

The refuge features diverse habitats, including wetlands, forests, and meadows, that provide a home for many bird species, such as woodpeckers, owls, warblers and songbirds. The refuge also offers educational programs and events for visitors of all ages, such as guided nature walks, birding workshops, and wildlife photography classes.

According to the Tips for Photographing Birds website, the best time for bird photography is early morning, just after sunrise, or late evening, before sunset. It was already past 1 PM, so I didn't have high expectations.

The air felt cold, and the slight breeze forced me to wear my spring coat. I grabbed my gear and walked to the observation deck just behind the trees near the parking area. Photographing small birds can be rewarding but is a challenging experience for wildlife photographers. I saw a red-winged blackbird but struggled to use the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR. The lens is heavy, and my out-of-shape arms quickly tired. A tripod or monopod would help me keep my camera steady and avoid blurry shots.

I was ready to give up when I heard a bird call behind me. I turned to see a Grey Catbird "posing" in a nearby tree. The bird sat long enough for me to capture a sharp, in-focus image. This bird has a slate-grey colouration with a black cap and tail. Its bill is black and slightly curved, while its eyes are a bright reddish-brown.

From what I read in the Princeton Institute Woods & Charles Rogers Wildlife Refuge bird database, the GGrey Catbird's vocalisations are unique. It has a wide range of songs and calls, including a cat-like "mew" sound, which is how it got its name. It is also known for mimicking the songs of other bird species and the sounds of insects, frogs, and other animals.

Grey Catbirds can be found in various habitats, including wooded areas, shrublands, and suburban gardens. They feed on various foods, including insects, berries, and fruits. These birds are also known to be attracted to habitats with dense vegetation, where they can build their nests and raise their young.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) · Wednesday 3 May 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Taking pictures of little birds can be a real test of patience and time. You have to wait for them to come close and keep an eye on them as they move about in their natural surroundings. But even then, they may sit on the spot on a tree branch right behind a left or another branch. It's frustration.

Even though I was willing to stay there for a long time and be on the lookout for any unexpected photo opportunities, it was getting late, and I needed to go pick up Bhavna from work. I plan to come earlier in the morning. Maybe I'll get lucky.