Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 1, 2011

Bufflehead takes a dive

Filed under: behavior, Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch, light, technique — richditch @ 8:56 pm


I’ve found the Bufflehead to be a difficult photographic subject. They are a small diving duck. When feeding they are very active and don’t spend a lot of time on the surface. They like deeper water so they stay out from the shore, making it difficult to get a reasonable sized image. Finally, their stark black-and-white plumage can be difficult to expose properly.

I’ve been pleased that this solitary female has been hanging around in pond 6 at the Gilbert Water Ranch for over a month now, and at times the volume of eater in the pond has kept the bird cloe enough at times for some photo shooting.



To deal with the contrasty plumage I’ve worked in early morning or late afternoon when the light is softer and less contrasty. I’ve kept the tripod as low as possible for a geezer with arthritis that gets worse every year. And I’ve taken a lot of images to improve my chances of getting sharp properly exposed images.

From all this shooting and watching I’ve learned to read the signs of an imminent dive so I can get a variety of poses in the short time the Bufflehead is on the surface.

Bufflehead diving

Bufflehead diving

These images were taken on the afternoon of January 3, 2011 with a Nikon D200, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S lens plus TC20E 2x converter, Gitzo tripod, at ISO 400, aperture priority matrix metered.



  1. Spectacular photos!

    Comment by Robert Mortensen — February 1, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

  2. Rich-your post is offered with perfect timing as I’m in the second week of an online eCornell course entitled “Courtship and Rivalry in Birds,” and this week’s assignment deals with ducks; specifically mating ritual behavior.
    Although your image sequence pertains more towards feeding activity I found it quite interesting behaviorally and well presented photographically.

    Thanks for offering the post.

    Chuck Gangas

    Comment by Chuck Gangas — February 2, 2011 @ 6:13 am

  3. Very nice – and I know how difficult these are, I’ve not had great luck with mine!

    Comment by Paul — February 2, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  4. Rich, your time and observation have paid off. my attempts to capture diving ducks always look much more like the 3rd shot than the 2nd. I love that 2nd one.

    Comment by Brian Gatlin — February 2, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  5. I’ll second the difficulty of photographing bufflehead. Yours posted today are superb, though!

    Comment by Mike — February 3, 2011 @ 8:10 am

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