• David Cutts

A Successful Failure

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Greetings from the crazy-weather-land of Dallas! After temps lower than recorded in Alaska, I was looking forward to the promise of a warmer weekend. I decided I would head out early Saturday to spend the day at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge to capture images of the diverse waterfowl that call Texas home for the winter.

When I arrived at the refuge just before sun up, the temperature was a nice crisp 26 degrees and the wind was blowing 10 to 15 MPH. To my dismay I discovered the ponds and most the shallow areas of Lake Texoma had frozen over during the night. This was a game changer. I should have paid closer attention to the lows instead of focusing on the sunny highs for the day.

Believing ducks and other waterfowl would be looking for shallow water to feed in, I found a small unfrozen bend in one of the shallow creeks with plenty of cover. I set up camp. Sun rising behind me, wind from the left. When the ducks come in to feed, they would be coming in from my right and landing just in front of me. Sounds logical, right? I guess the ducks didn’t have their thinking caps on because I couldn’t have been more wrong. When the sun came up I could hear the snow geese flying high overhead and the deep “quacking” of a nearby mallard. Excited, I knew the first flight of ducks would soon be coming in with the sun shining on their beautiful plumage. About 100 hungry pintails got up to my left and to my disbelief, flew right over me and my itchy shutter button finger. Not one single duck gave my section of the creek a second look. “That’s Okay, it’s just one group, there should be many more on the way”. Wrong again. Nearly four hours on the cold, wet ground, I watched flock after flock of mallards, pintails, shovelers and teals as they flew over me and headed to the deeper, unfrozen center of the lake.

Thankfully, there was plenty of other activity to keep me sitting in the mud. From the other side of the bend, a mating pair of coots came into sight. The night had been so cold; the water had frozen on their backs. About an hour later I was graced by a Belted Kingfisher, when she perched on a small branch across from me. I was able to capture my first decent images of this beautiful, very elusive bird. Mid-morning I had a small group of Chickadees come and collect seeds from the leafless bush I was sitting under. Although they where to close to shoot they provided me with some much appreciated entertainment.

Then it happened. I heard that unmistakable sound of a duck landing behind me. I slowly turned my head to see a young Green-winged Teal coming my way. Another very elusive bird and one I have never had the opportunity to photograph. Slowly, as if he had no place else to be and no worries in the world, he swam right to me. I was afraid he would take off as soon as I started snapping. He didn’t. He zigzagged back and forth in the bright sun light until he eventually disappeared around the bend.

So things didn’t go as planned. Instead, by patiently sitting in the cold mud, I was able to capture two species for the very first time with my Canon 7D. Here are a few images from my successful failure of a day. I hope you enjoy!

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Until next time, keep the sun behind you and the birds in view


My first successful image of a Belted Kingfisher.

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