We just returned from a few days with our friends Barbara and Jon in Medford, OR. We appreciate friends who will open their homes to us and who, when we takc advantage of their hospitality, greet us with open arms and a willingness to go with the flow. Our main motivation was to spend a some time with Barb and Jon. Secondary to that was the idea of getting out somewhere to enjoy the great outdoors. We had talked about going to the Klamath Basin to watch and photograph bald eagles and owls. Jon had called over and confirmed that the birds were there. We learned that it was to rain down low and that meant snow on top and a sketchy drive over the Cascades. Who needs it? We settled on the idea of going to Ashland to visit another friend who I had not seen in several years. I also knew that Lithia Pond was likely to have some wood ducks present and I wanted to see if I could get a decent image of one. A call to our friend Greg in Ashland confirmed lunch details and the fact that wood ducks would be around.
We headed straight to the upper duck pond at Lithia Park on arrival in Ashland. This was Barbara’s first outing with Bruce as a photographer and I’d encouraged her to be patient with me. Always agreeable, she complied with a smile. Leaving our gear in the car we walked down to see if any wood ducks were hanging out with the mallards. Yup, there they were. Jon and I headed back to the car and I set up the camera and tripod. We walked down to the pond only to see the ducks fly off the bank and into the water. I felt a bit of concern since I had hoped (and expected) that they would be more conditioned to people. Well, it turns out that they were. A few families with little kids showed up and the ducks swam toward them. I didn’t really see them feeding the ducks but I suspect that there may have been some bread offered while I was focusing on duck. My options were to sit still and hope that the birds would come back to me and accept my presence or to circle the pond with them and try for shots along the way. I opted for the latter plan initially and ended up the day by sitting in one place to shoot a group of wood ducks that were on the bank.
I wasn’t really interested in having mallards in the images so I tried to restrain myself from shooting unless I had a pretty clear shot of a wood duck. I’m sure it didn’t appear that I was restraining myself to my friends and Dianne… 5 frames a second will sound like wild abandon. I’m always amazed at how far away subjects are in the viewfinder.. even with a great lens like the 200-400 on the camera. I knew I’d be cropping to get final compositions but I was sure hoping that some of the wood ducks would be generous and get close to me. I put a 1.4 extender on but the images looked soft on the LCD so I removed it. I need to practice with that combination to maximize sharpness.
I moved around the pond and stopped only long enough to say good bye to the ladies who were walking back to town to visit some quilt and yarn shops. I’m glad they had the option to do that. Jon stayed with me and was popping images on his own camera using a “wicked sharp” Nikon lens. He also took several shots of me at play.
We continued to follow the ducks from one group of kids to another and shoot as opportunities came up.
Yes, I’d prefere that the bright shape of the mallard weren’t in the background but how was I to know that this male wood duck was going to stretch his wings right there? Finally a group of male and female wood ducks jumped up onto the bank and began preening and relaxing. I moved around to what seemed like a good vantage and got as close as I could. I tried shooting at narrower apertures to get more depth of field but that brought the background mallards and other distractions too much into play for my tastes. I opted to go back to f/4 or f/5.6 and accept that only one bird in the grouping would be in sharp focus…. and it really is amazing the detail you can see when viewed up close on a good monitor. I love this lens.
And finally, I got a few frames of a single male wood duck posing with a reasonably clean background. I remembered that I had my iPhone with me and that there is a bird ID application on it that has recorded bird calls. I dialed up “wood duck” and hit “play”. The birds certainly reacted. They became much more alert and stretched out their necks. They glanced around to see where the source of the sound was. They didn’t panic. They didn’t fly or show any real anxiety. They just looked attentive and curious. I suppose that I’ll get some comments suggesting that I was harassing the birds… my bad. I really don’t know that I was or wasn’t but it did cross my mind and if the birds had really seemed upset I would have not done it again. It’s not like I was playing the call of a bald eagle or other predator. Comments? Thoughts?
Jon kept telling me that I could continue as long as I wanted but I felt that I’d gotten enough for the time being and I knew that Greg and our wives were waiting for lunch. We called it morning and headed into town to find the group. A quiet lunch let us catch up with each other’s lives and laugh over a variety of organic, free range oysters and such. Gotta love Ashland and all its weirdness. Portland doesn’t have a lock on that quality. And let’s not forget Eugene. We stopped in there today for lunch with Deigh and a visit to the Sam Abell exhibit “Amazonia” at the campus art museum. The good times just kept coming.
When we arrived home we realized that that the time had just flown by. It was relaxing. It was fun. We enjoyed ourselves and thank our friends for making time to be available and willing to share their time with us.