Monday, January 23, 2012

Short Walk on a Long Pier: The Long-tailed Duck

On the drive up to the house where we stayed we passed through East Tawas.  U.S. 23 passes very near Tawas Bay here, and we noticed a number of waterfowl dotting the surface. I thought it might be a good place to come back to, so after we left the park we drove back to town and stopped at the East Tawas State Dock.  This is quite an impressive structure, able to dock over 100 boats and offering electric, gas, showers and pump-out services.

Photo courtesy Michigan DNR

There was a lot more ice around the pier than there had been the day before, but as we approached the dock we could see some waterfowl out in the bay. I guessed they were mergansers, but then I noticed a much larger bird closer to shore, diving just beyond the thin ice.  I moved to the railing and waited for it to surface.

I wasn't sure what it was, and for that I was excited, since it probably meant it was not a bird I'd seen before.  When it dove again I walked farther down the pier.  Once again it broke the surface, but dove quickly.  As it dove I caught a glimpse of its tail and I knew what we'd spotted.

A Long-tailed Duck!!

Such a pretty thing, it is not all that common here in Michigan, at least inland.  Sibley's shows its winter range to include the Great Lakes, but it tends to frequent the ocean coasts.  I remembered the conversations of some of the birders I was with at the festival in Tawas last year--one of these birds had been spotted (at great distance) at the Foote Dam Pond on the Au Sable River, and there was much excitement about it.  This is a bird that breeds in the Arctic, and to have one in Michigan in May caused quiet a stir.

We watched it dive, its tail feather last to submerge, and wondered at an animal so suited to a life in frigid waters.


Another "life list" bird, great payment for birding on such a chilly afternoon!

I didn't post many images of this bird because not that many came out very well.  That is entirely my fault, and I learned a good lesson here about shooting wildlife.  I rarely shoot with the camera in full auto mode, knowing the camera isn't going to think like I do.  But that means I actually have to think and pay attention to what is happening. When shooting moving objects with a long lens, shutter speed is of the utmost importance.  A fast shutter speed is needed to stop the motion of the animal you're trying to photograph, and helps stop the effects of camera movement as well.

I have always been more of a landscape photographer, where depth of field is more important than stopping movement, so I have always shot in aperture priority mode (I set the aperture, which determines depth of field, and the camera picks the corresponding shutter speed).  But what happened with the Long-tailed Duck is that the aperture setting I had chosen forced the camera to pick a shutter speed much too slow to stop any movement (usually around 1/40th of a second).  I wasn't paying any attention, too excited about the duck to pay attention to what the camera was doing.  There are other factors that contributed to the blurry photos, but this is the main one.  So from now on, the camera that has the long lens will always be in shutter priority mode, and I will try not to let my excitement ruin my pictures!!

Next:  Common Redpolls by the pier.

1 comment:

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