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Behind the Lens: Green-winged Teal

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One cold Saturday morning I decided I would head out early to spend the day at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and try my luck at capturing images of the diverse waterfowl that call North Texas home.

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. I parked the truck and slowly crept to a familiar location where ducks tend to gather. To my dismay, the ponds and most of the shallow areas of the refuge had frozen over during the night. This was a game-changer. That’s what I get for not paying attention to the weather. Ugh! Change of plans.

I figured the ducks would be looking for shallow water to feed and dabble in. I eventually found a small unfrozen bend in one of the shallow creeks with plenty of cover and somewhat protected from the wind. Perfect! I set up with the sun rising behind me and the wind blowing from my left. When the ducks come in to feed, they should be flying in from my right and landing in front of me. Sounds logical, right? Wrong. Never think you have nature figured out, it will prove you wrong every time.

When the sun came up I could hear the snow geese flying high overhead and the deep quacking of a nearby mallard. The first flight of ducks should be coming soon. I saw about 50 hungry pintails flying low, off to my right. Here they come! Get ready. To my disbelief, they flew right over me and my itchy shutter button finger. They didn’t even look at my section of the creek. That’s okay, it’s just one flock, there should be many more on the way. Wrong again! For nearly four hours, sitting 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.

I was tired, cold, wet, and losing interest. I was thinking of packing it in. Then I heard it, WHOOSH, that unmistakable sound of a duck landing on water. You know the sound. Of course, it was behind me. I slowly turned my head to see a young Green-winged Teal fluffing his feathers after his landing.

Teals are very elusive ducks and a species I had never had the opportunity to photograph. Until now. I got ready. Slowly, as if he had no place else to be and no worries in the world, he swam toward me. I was afraid he would take off if he heard the sound of my camera ripping off a burst. So, I waited until he was right in front of me. It seemed to take forever. He casually zigzagged back and forth in the bright sunlight until he eventually was right where I wanted him.

I double-checked my settings and let off a quick burst. I looked up, expecting to see nothing but water and tail feathers. But, to my delight, the little teal was still there. He was completely oblivious to me and the sound of my camera.

Although I didn’t get any “Wow” images, I was lucky enough to get to spend about 20 minutes with my little friend. He eventually made his way around the bend and out of sight.

Have you ever noticed that things don’t always go as planned? I was expecting a hoard of ducks to photograph, instead, I got the opportunity to spend quality time with just one subject. Just one, small Green-winged Teal. He wasn’t even that good of a model. No wing-flaps. No preening. No nothing.

There have been many times when I had to force myself to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. This was one of these times. After taking a bunch of images, I just sat back and watched. The only thing I could hear was the weeds rustling in the wind. It was just me and a teal, enjoying the moment. I remember thinking to myself, this is what it’s all about. Nature at its finest. Although the day did not turn out as I hoped, I left feeling good. The images I captured are not fantastic, or amazing. But they are a reminder of when I was allowed to enjoy a precious few minutes with nature. If you’re a nature photographer or bird watcher, or if you just enjoy being outside, don’t forget to look up. Enjoy what is around you, soak it up. Always take advantage of the time you have in nature and the wildlife around you. Don’t forget, every moment you have with nature is a privilege. Don’t waste it!

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


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