Only a narrow barrier of reeds separated the fairly busy road from the rain-swelled pool of water bordered by railroad tracks on the backside.
On any other day, this pool of water would be ignored and driven past without a second look. But on this day, something caught my eye and I promptly turned around at the next available safe place to do so. I drove past the water again, this time more slowly, and realized that what had caught my eye was a small group of male wood ducks.
So I did what any nature-obsessed photographer would do and turned around yet again to get a better look at the beautiful ducks. It doesn’t get any better than a male wood duck in breeding plumage. That is arguable, of course, but you better come with something good if you are going to dispute that.
There was enough of a shoulder to safely pull over by the pool of water. The reeds proved to be a big challenge as they were so thick that an unobstructed view of the ducks was impossible. So I tried to make the most of the situation and use the reeds as a photographic element to the photo. The tan stalks were so thick that the only way to capture a wood duck between them was if the bird were pointed directly at or away from me. A profile was not possible as at least part of the duck would be obscured by the reeds in the foreground.
As luck would have it, the very first shot I took turned out to be my best one. One of the wood ducks was curious enough to see what was near the road, and it looked right at me. I adjusted my truck ever so slightly to frame the bird between two reeds. The photo may never make a glossy magazine, but in my opinion anyway, it is a pretty good representation of what I saw that day.
More rain over the next couple of days will keep that pool of water filled and hopefully keep the wood ducks there for a while. It won’t be long before the pool starts to dry up and the wood ducks move on to a more suitable breeding habitat.
Seeing the wood ducks in a most unexpected place was a pleasant surprise that day. Migrating waterfowl, while usually attracted to large bodies of water, will often settle in a small, even temporary, body of water for a day or two.
It reminded me of an evening long ago when I was driving west on Route 101 approaching Keene. A puddle that had been bloated by recent rains was now large enough to hold some ducks and sure enough, a pair of common mergansers happily rested in the puddle.
There is a shopping mall in Danbury, Conn., that is edged by a stream and small pond around the backside of the building. Mallards, Canada geese and swans call it their home year-round. In fall and spring, however, when the water is a bit higher, unexpected visitors may show up. Over the years, I have seen pied-billed grebe, common mergansers, hooded mergansers and even a pintail drake. If you want to see ducks during migration, your best bet is to visit a large body of water. But do not count out smaller bodies of water as they are often temporary refuge for waterfowl. In other words, be prepared to expect the unexpected. Just like always in birdwatching.