Waiting on the Elusive Wood Duck

The Photography of Laurie Drix

We all have a certain something we set our heart on; something that inspires us perhaps, or gives us a goal to strive for. Hopefully that something, in the end, brings us great joy. For me, the photographs here represent a personal achievement right along those lines.

I spent my childhood surrounded by woods, where I was taught to not pick wildflowers or kill spiders; or that a fawn wasn’t really abandoned by its doe. Irondequoit Bay was my backyard, Ellison Park was my front. The time spent in that Penfield neighborhood was enchanting.

About five years ago that dreamy being-one-with-nature world got even better, thanks to my first telephoto lens. Wildlife viewing distances became closer to my vision and, in turn, my heart. Thus, with my long lens in hand, I began a journey to be among the wood duck (Aix sponsa), the most elusive species I’ve set my camera’s sights on.

They live in woodland habitats near ponds, streams, marshes and swamps. The ducks roost in trees and nest in tree cavities; and forage for fruits, arthropods, seeds, nuts and sometimes grains from a farmer’s field.

The male, or drake, is considered North America’s most colorful waterfowl, with iridescent feathers in elegant patterns that span the spectrum of the rainbow. His stark red eyes are spellbinding.

But photographing them is difficult. Even a slight crinkle of leaves underfoot disturbs a wood duck. Unlike a cottontail rabbit that freezes if you happen upon it, the wood duck is gone in a split second with a flash of  astounding color.

I donned camouflage and hunkered down by a tree before dawn one day. I waited for the ducks to come down from their roosts and splendidly land in the water. I thought if I sat stone-still with my lens at the ready, they’d surely fly in.

Nope, they didn’t. I realized I needed a pop-up blind. Thank goodness I have Cabela’s on speed-dial.

After finding the ideal spot, I secured the blind and placed a chair inside, then left. I  wanted the ducks to get acclimated to the blind first, without the motion of my comings and goings.

I didn’t exactly camp out there, but for five years my vacuum collected dust (not in the correct way). Instead of cleaning, I greeted each spring with wood ducks on my mind. Spring is their nesting season and the drake is in his finest plumage.

I went to my blind prepared to stay for hours. It always astonished me how fast the time went by as I gazed at the pristine natural setting. I was waiting for just the right moment when this exceptionally beautiful duck would grace my lens, the day’s light playing on the water just so.

Last spring, it finally came. He leisurely swam about in front of me as the hen was on her eggs above in the trees.

It’s a privilege to be out there with my camera. A further reward is sharing my images with those who are not able to be in the woods as I am. I hope the photos inspire people to protect our wildlife and their habitats.

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Visit lauriedirkx.com to see more of her photography.