They Call It Emiquon

Well hello there, long time no read eh?  Admittedly the content has been a little slow around LifeIntrigued as of late.  Contrary to what you might be thinking, nothing terrible has happened to me nor have I turned slacker and abandoned this 5 year journey.  It was noted that there were zero calls to the police to see if I’d been run over by zombies and one comment on a post demanding content soon or they were going to come break my fingers (that last part might be a slight hyperbole, but the anger was dripping off every letter).  The truth surrounding the delay is the huge amount of pre-work that had to go into the remaining posts planned for this month.  I have been staring at a huge hill of photo backlogs that is resulting from not getting through our photo outings quick enough.  There is no easy answer to this problem other than committing to completing the post processing and getting them out on the Smugmug site… and there is no better time than the present.  So, be prepared to be hit with a lot of bird pictures and I mean hit hard.  You will be swimming in feathers before this series is done and we’re expecting at least one or two emails begging for mercy before the end of this.

Hey, what do you know, this post is about …. you got it a BIRD.  To be more exact a duck.

I have an extra affinity towards this specific duck which I’ll get to in a bit (you can probably guess).  First a little background on this particular set of pictures.  Friends of the blog know we hang out in Banner Marsh (in Banner IL) a lot taking in all the wonderful birds that call that place home or a stop off on their seasonal migrations.  There is actually another location we have been making a point to drop in as of late.  We call it Birder’s Paradise, but others call it Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.  It is actually in Havana IL which is about 35 or so minutes South of us.  Why do we  call it B.P.? .. because you get to experience a wide range of water fowl (along with a number of shore and traditional land birds from the convenience of your car should you choose or by walking along their well constructed boardwalks and observation decks.

Back in March we made a late day run down to the flooded lowlands and see what was hanging about.  After shooting a number of birds we began our exit from the refuge when something odd in the water caught our interest.

The coloring led us to our first assumption that it was your basic Mallard – we have a lot of those around us so we are very familiar with that particular bird.  The green head was a check, but the black bill coupled with the inverted coloring on the body had me scratching my head.  For those not familiar with the Mallard, basically flip the white and the brown and slap some yellow paint on the bill and you are almost staring at a one.   Almost is the optimal word here.  The golden yellow eye is definitely not a trait of the Mallard and well…

hit the jump to read the rest of this post!

that beak is NOTHING like a Mallard… and now you know why I can easily relate to this particular duck.. we share  a common attribute…. black pupils (hah).   By the time we got a few pictures of this new bird to our collection the sun had dipped below the treeline.  This was making pictures difficult and thus time to leave.  On the way back I pulled up the trusty Android birding app from Audubon and went about the identification process.  It took awhile, but soon I was staring at reference shot for

The Northern Shoveler.

There was definite excitement in the air since this would be a new addition to my birding list.  To top it off, it really isn’t listed as being native to the geographic area or even in their migration path (well in at least one of my references – a couple of others had it in the migratory path).  This was a great find and now hoping I was able to get a decent picture in the tin.

Once home I took a gander at the shots to see the results.  There were a few of them that would suffice, but the poor lighting and sub-par execution left a lot of them less than tack sharp.  My thrill of adding a new sighting to the list was slightly dampened by the results of the shoot.  The next day Linda offered up heading out from work early and giving it another go.  They may not be sticking around very long, but surely they would be there one more day wouldn’t they?  That answer is a definitive YES.  We grabbed our gear and headed out there.  The wind was in full gust, but the light was significantly better.  Linda would creep up to the shoreline in the SUV allowing me to keep most of the Beast protected inside the vehicle and essentially only the end of the barrel exposed to the wind.  This is one of my favorite shots from the day – I call it “Stop looking at my lady’s tail-feathers”

There was an interesting side story to this outing.  First of all, we took the poodles with us.  Very fitting based on the fact this breed was originally bred as water fowl retrievers.  Secondly, the parking spaces are painted perpendicular to the shoreline.  Now, you may be asking yourself “What is so special about those points?”  The answer is we thought those specifics were going to lead to us getting a ticket or reprimanded by the DNR officer patrolling the refuge at the time we were there.  To help me out, Linda was keeping my side of the vehicle facing the water (a perfect role for this year’s U.B.).  Based on the point above, this put us parked the wrong way across the parking spaces but since only one other vehicle could be seen in the entire refuge we didn’t give much of a concern.  That is, until I noticed the DNR vehicle circling the other vehicle which was sitting off by the boat ramp (some distance away).  Keeping one eye on the squad car we stayed where we were and continued taking pictures.  Then the DNR dude began a slow trek towards us prompting a recommendation we move to a more remote section of Emiquon.  While leaving the area we noticed a sign indicating pets were not allowed in the refuge… Ugh.  Eventually we made it to the other side trying not to draw attention to ourselves (and the dogs).   Once again Linda parked advantageous for me but not in implied rules based on the lines.  A few pictures later I see the car coming towards us and this time there was no escaping.  He pulls up right alongside our vehicle and gets out and walks to the vehicle.  Here it comes, another lecture (yes, another one and we will not be discussing the others here).  Bracing for the inevitable stern talking to I greeted the officer and was about to inquire as to the visit when he says “Have you seen anyone out on the water?”  Turns out he was concerned about the other vehicle having an empty boat trailer and the high winds (this body of water is restricted to battery power only).  I checked the horizon with the Beast to see if there were any signs of boaters but there was only acres of choppy water.  The officer had called the boater’s cell phone without answer and if needed, wanted to start a rescue effort before the sun went down.  We said we’d keep a look out and he got back in his car and continued his search.  We felt pretty bad, here was an individual focusing on helping someone and we were busy ridiculing him for coming to harass us.  That will teach us to jump to conclusions.

Imagine if you will looking through the Beast with a teleconverter and trying to A) find one of these birds in flight and B) get the settings right to actually get a decent shot at all.  That is one of the definite advantages of our other 80-200 glass – light and fast to find and focus.  I gave up that advantage for the reach!

Not bad eh?  This is where I can photopostembelish and state I purpose kept the wing tips fuzzy to give the sense of motion.  And now my other favorite shot from the set.  The male was actually in the process of landing.  Landing gear down, brace for impact.  Obviously he is showing off for the females.

I actually scored a number of BiFs (Birds in Flight) on that outing and a few of them actually came out pretty decent.  The following two examples resulted in a synchronized composition.    They would give any Blue Angel routine a run for their money.

Executing flaps down maneuver on my command.

On my signal we will execute a graceful right arc with a wing tip wave to the audience.

Nicely done boys, let’s bring ’em home.  I’m going to pat myself on the back here and remind you how hard it is to get these types of shot at 400mm*1.4 teleconverter distance – hand held by the way.  Enough gloating, it’s time to provide some details about these Shovelers.  Turns out they like to swim in circles with their shovels .. err beaks in the water to bring the food to the surface (which gets strained through their beaks).  Various pairs were doing this while we there.  At the time I had no idea what they were doing and figured it was some form of mating ritual.

They are considered relatively quite and confirming this I didn’t hear one sound out of them the entire time we were photographing them.  They average about 19″ long with a wingspan of 30″  so slightly smaller than the Mallard which tend to run about 3″ longer (same WS).  Their large snoot is considered highly praised among the water fowl species and often times you can see those with boring and inferior beaks dipping them in seaweed to give the appearance they are as cool as the shovelers.  When the real shovelers see this mimic behavior (a cheap attempt to win the ladies over), they often respond with the traditional “Kiss My Ass” pose.

Whew, I’m finally through the second post of the month.  It took me until the 23rd, but hopefully the post production work was worth it (although it is hard to compare since you will NEVER see the untouched versions .. and the bad ones get the ol’ delete key – you have to love the digital age!

I hope you enjoyed today’s new bird to the blog.  If you want to witness these beautiful creatures for yourselves, make plans to drop by Havana – you will not be disappointed if you are a fellow admirer of the feather.

Sorry again for the long delay.. how about a teaser for the next post…

2 thoughts on “They Call It Emiquon”

  1. Nice–thanks. The synchronized wing tip photo is astonishing. It had me looking close to see if they were different birds! I’ve never seen these ducks before, but now I know what to look out for.

    As for the police, after receiving two $25 parking tickets and a speeding ticket in a single day last Thursday, I’m a bit sour at the moment.



  2. Holy crap $50 in parking tickets? what did you do, park across the lines (hehehe) – the speeding ticket doesn’t surprise me – you have obviously already been profiled based on your previous pullover for having your brights on. The Chicago police must be aware that you have a brother that is pro-NRA. Speaking of that I think I’ll step outside and do a little target practice.


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