Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 19, 2012

Ducking Around

Filed under: Birds, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 7:55 pm
Northern Pintail preening

Northern Pintail preening

I’ll be the first to admit that ducks are seldom my first choice of subject for my avian photos, and it has been that way since I started in photography in New Jersey where ducks were a lot more common than they are here in Phoenix. But there are advantages to duck photography in the desert: a lot of species spend the winter here and can become tolerant of human activity in close quarters in the many small ponds and lakes scattered throughout the urban landscape.

The Northern Pintail above was taken at the Gilbert Water Ranch on February 10, 2012 in late morning. I like the way the wings mimic the position of the tail. Pintails can be tricky to expose properly, with large expanses of white feathers that blow out easily. In this case I used the spot meter with -2/3rds stop compensation to end up with an exposure of 1/1250th second at f/8 with ISO 400.

Ring-necked Duck female

Ring-necked Duck female

Male Ring-necked Ducks have some of the same exposure problems as pintails, but I can avoid that be concentrating on the females as in this image, taken February 7, 2012 at the Gilbert Water Ranch. I like to use the reflections on the water to add interest to my compositions – here I like how the swirls on the water harmonize with the colors of the duck. I was set up on a floating walkway on the freshwater pond so I kept the ISO higher at 800 to give a shutter speed of 1/100th second at f/8.

Mallard in the rushes

Mallard in the rushes

Mallards are so commonplace and widely distributed that it is easy to take them for granted and ignore their beauty. In this shot, also from the Gilbert Water Ranch, I’ve tried for an intimate view and used the setting to show more habitat. Taken January 20, 2012, at ISO 800, 1/200th second at f/8.

Mallard on the railing

Mallard on the railing

The final image is another Mallard, also taken at the Gilbert Water Ranch on the same floating bridge and date as the Ring-necked Duck above. The duck is standing on the railing of the bridge which gave me an opportunity to showcase the orange legs and feet. ISO 800, 1/1000th second at f/7.1. All images taken with Nikon D300, 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor lens with TC20E III (2x) on Gitzo 1325 tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head and Sidekick.



  1. Just love your photos! I recently moved to AZ, and heard of the Black Bellied Whistling duck having been seen in Phoenix. I read your blog about it a few years back. Have you seen any recently?? I’d love to know of any spots to start looking. I’ll be following your blog now! It’s super! Thanks for the great photos!


    Comment by Lisa Rensch — February 22, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  2. Lisa,

    I’m sorry to report that Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are hard to come by around Phoenix these days. That wasn’t the case when we moved here in 1994 – then I was able to find them regularly in Chandler near Price and Queen Creek Roads. But lately they show up at places like the Gilbert Water Ranch perhaps once or twice a year and only as single birds or at most just a couple.

    In 2011 there was one at Veterans Oasis Park for a short while (I talk about VOP on my web site so check there for more info on the location).

    They also are seen at times (usually first thing in the morning) on the west side of Phoenix at the Tres Rios facility (near Baseline Road and 91st Avenue).

    The best advice I can give is to join the AZ/NM birding list where you’ll get to read any reports of them in the area.

    Comment by richditch — February 22, 2012 @ 10:51 am

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