Saturday, April 26, 2014

Not a duck sandwich

Sometimes the first thing you notice when you meet a new bird is his ability to disappear right in front of your eyes; his camouflage, in other words. The Black-crowned Night herons at Reifel Island come to mind.  A birder who was at one time a regular visitor to Reifel Island wrote recently, "... a Black-crowned Night heron, a species I have ... never (seen) here in Canada." And yet, on every visit to Reifel he walked past their favourite daytime roosting spot by the entrance. As we did, for years, until someone pointed them out to us.

Or consider the bittern. I've never seen one. That I know of. Other people see them where I've just been; I probably thought they were broken snags.

But I never thought of the mallards in the context of camouflage techniques until today.

The females, of course, do wear sedate, mottled brown coats, well-suited for sitting on nests hidden in brown reeds and grasses. But those show-offs, the males?


Eye-catching purple head

Then today, I was struggling with our latest batch of mallard photos from Cougar Creek Park  Almost none of them "worked"; the birds were in plain sight, but could hardly be distinguished among the reflections and floating debris. Laurie walked into the room and saw one on the screen a few feet away, and said, "What's that? It looks like a sandwich." He had to walk over and squint at the screen to see the pair of mallards front and centre.

Mallards love small ponds overhung with trees, swaying and shimmying reflections, shallow water that exposes the gunk and sticks on the bottom, shady creeks where light patches dance between pools of darkness. And in these conditions, even a male in his breeding glory can disappear.

The sandwich photo, cropped, cleaned and lightened up considerably.

Female in "open" water, with debris and reflections. I lightened it up and increased the contrast after I cleaned up half the junk to show the duck.

Another female tangling up the reflected trees. More contrast and light added.

Reflected house and trees. No mallards. Just because I liked the colours. Mallard head colours.


  1. I have lucked on to spotting a Bittern only once, just using my eyes.

    Otherwise I have found them a small number of times by hearing their call and targeting in on the spot.
    Not an easy find that is for sure.

    I can count on one hand the total number of sightings.

  2. Thanks for mentioning me in your post. I actually do know about the BCNH in Reifel, and when I looked through my old posts, I actually have seen it before. Oops, but this was definitely only my second time though.

    The swaying and shimmying reflections are making me woozy. LOL.

  3. It's like a watercolour painting with the reflections on the water. We don't have mallards, but the local pair of Merganzers keep us entertained. - Margy


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