Over the course of my journey as a bird photographer, I have learnt most from these guys. I don’t think there is any other subject that has given me so much and lying down on the ground waiting for them to accept me is an experience that I will never get tired of.
I have learnt a lot of technical stuff trying to get the exposure right on Shoveler and Tufted Ducks. I have learnt a lot about in-flight while trying to capture these guys break-dancing their way down and most of all, I have learnt the value of spending time with your subject via these guys.
Staying in a city in India, it is not very easy to find a subject for practice and ducks really helped me there. We get a fair bit of population of ducks every winter and I have spent countless dawns and dusk with these guys. The thing with Duck-Photography is that if you get your basics about fieldcraft right, they give you ample opportunity. So for e.g. if you are careful in your approach towards them (good at crawling and crawling correctly), patient and know how to use foreground and background to add to the image rather than take from the image, you should be good. One thing that I would definitely like to mention about them is that even if they start going away from you a little bit don’t give up. Stay put there for a while and then inch closer if need be. Ducks do tend to come back pretty soon and you can then enjoy their company for as long as you want.
Most of the ducks that visit or reside in India can be categorized according to their feeding habits as follows
1. Dabbling Ducks – mostly sticking to the surface, these guys look for food close to the water surface. For e.g. the Shoveler, Northern-Pintail, Garganey etc.
2. Deep Diving Ducks – Ducks that dive deeper for food. For e.g. all the Pochards (Red-Crested, Tufted, Ferruginous) are deep diving ducks.
If you have ever seen a duck or rather just its rear half jutting out of the water, you have seen the dabbling kinds. They feed by putting their heads under water searching for pretty much anything edible close to the surface. Most dabbling ducks are very adept at eating on ground as well and are good walkers.
The deep-diving ducks on the other hand seldom exhibit this behavior. They are more inclined towards diving deeper to fetch their food. In fact, the diving ducks have their feet set slightly farther back and aren’t very good on land which is why it is very rare to find them on hard ground.
Another thing that seems more or less a generic rule to me is that the dabbling ducks seem to have a more conspicuous speculum (the wing patch) than the diving ones. Take a look at the Common Teal below, the Green Patch on the wing is what we are looking for.
Or for e.g. the Garganey has a darkish green patch. It is less evident while the bird sitting but with some experience and you will get the hang of it.
Ducks also come with a specially designed bill. They have some unique adaptations to ensure success. For e.g.
- A lot of ducks have a nail sort of thing at the tip of the bill which they can use to move food.
- They have rounded bills with soft edges for detection of food based on touch.
- They have special filter-feeders, called lamellae. These comb-like structures actually helping in keeping inedible material like mud etc. outside and trapping invertebrates. Filter feeders are absent in waterfowl that depend only on snails, fish etc. For e.g. the Merganser.
From a photography perspective, they are just a joy to watch and make images of. Their strict cleanliness routine makes sure that they give you some great opportunities to click some lovely moments while they go about cleaning themselves.
India has quite a few hot-spots for ducks and here are a few that I think are lovely for photography
Lovely for Pintails, Shoveler, Common Teal, Tufted Pochard, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon
Lovely for Brahminy Duck, Garganey, Shoveler, Common Teal
Great for Northern Pintails – esp. for action shots
A place that is brilliant for action photography and some of the ducks found there would be Northern Pintail, Red Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard and Gadwall
This place is for rarities. I have seen numerous images of hard to get species like the Common Shelduck, The Baikal Teal, The Smew, The Long-tailed duck etc. from this place, so if you are after hard to get species, this is one of the better places.
There are quite a lot of places that I might have missed out on but the ones that I have suggested should be good for a start at least.