Suffering in South Dakota: Duck photography gone awry

South Dakota Windshield_
One of the nicer days!

I’ve been back for about a week after what was supposed to be the ultimate spring waterfowl migration photography trip. Mother Nature had other plans and instead, my friend Alan Charnley and I were treated to below freezing temperatures, cloudy skies and a constant, strong northeast wind. We were armed with a 12-foot boat, 2 floating blinds, waders and 5 dozen decoys. We used none of the above.

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Snow Geese during one of many flight delays.

Most of the larger bodies of water were still covered in ice which I thought would be a huge advantage. Often, smaller sloughs and temporary wetlands are the first places to thaw, concentrating early migrants and making photography a bit easier. Many ducks were feeding in sheet water – melted snow puddles in corn and soybean fields. These areas have no cover that a photographer can hide in. We found a few wetlands with open water and many birds, but the weather became worse and many of these areas refroze.

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Northern Pintails are tough and are used to waiting out bad weather on the spring prairie.

I’ve never seen so many ducks and geese in my life! Driving through mile after mile of spiraling masses of snow, white-fronted, cackling and Canada Geese, mallards, pintails, wigeon and shovelers was incredible. Birds numbered in the millions around Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Many birds were desperate for food, and I saw some unique behavior in several species.

Redheads, northern shovelers and lesser scaup pick through cow manure for undigested food.

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A tiny fraction of the hordes of waterfowl in the Sand Lake area.

Bad weather didn’t stop the courtship flights of testosterone-fueled drake pintails and green-winged teal. As many as 12 drakes would pursue a hen, showing off their best aerobatics in a high speed chase.  I’ll never forget the awe-inspiring number of birds and the horrible weather. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Green-winged Teal_20130413-091727_DSC3458

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~ by David Stimac on April 19, 2013.

One Response to “Suffering in South Dakota: Duck photography gone awry”

  1. Yikes!

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