Wildfowl at Cambridge MD

February 20, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

En route back from a birding weekend along the Eastern shore, I stopped at Cambridge, MD. Mike Parr, DC birder and Vice President at ABC, had mentioned that you can get close views of several species of duck: Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, and so on. And he wasn't joking. They come REALLY close, especially since some photographers already present had drawn the birds in with corn.

Sadly, I was on a very tight timeline, and only had 20 minutes to rattle off a few shots. With a frenzy of fast moving ducks getting the "isolated shot" certainly proved challenging. When you're so close to a mixed flock, shots can rapidly become very busy.

Canvasback and Lesser Scaup, Cambridge MDCanvasback and Lesser Scaup, Cambridge MDMartin V. Sneary D700

Canvasback and Lesser Scaup: Nikon D700, 200-400mm at 400mm ISO640, F/8, 1/1600; LR, PS and Nik filters

With more time I would expect to pick out isolated individuals, but on this trip a number of my best shots have benefited from a quick application of the clone stamp to remove distracting birds from the background corners. The image below has had part of a female Canvasback removed from the back right.

Canvasback, Cambridge MDCanvasback, Cambridge MDMartin V. Sneary D700

Canvasback: Nikon D700, 200-400mm at 400mm ISO800, F/8, 1/2000; LR, PS and Nik filters

But sometimes birds in the background add an interesting dimension. The three Lesser Scaup below, evenly spaced, were captured quite by chance!

Lesser Scaup, Cambridge MDLesser Scaup, Cambridge MDMartin V. Sneary D700

Lesser Scaup: Nikon D700, 200-400mm at 400mm ISO800, F/8, 1/2000; LR, PS and Nik filters

All shots were manually metered to ensure spot-on exposure. Squeezing every ounce of dynamic range from the sensor and pushing exposure to the right certainly was required, as the birds' plumage features extend from bright white to black. The ambient light falling on the subject was constant, so once the correct exposure was dialled-in I could concentrate on catching the action. The birds were darting around and would quickly change direction - ensuring the subject was framed correctly presented additional challenges. To help with framing I was using an off-centre focus square, and naturally aiming for the eyes - using centre point would either have me wasting space in front of the subject (if I focused on the eyes), or would have focus centred on the body rather than the eyes. One other tip is to focus your attention on one thing at a time - one type of shot. For example, drake Canvsaback portrait - pick an individual and follow him around. You can even identify where the light is best - swimming to the left or right, and restrict your shot selection further.

American Wigeon, Cambridge MDAmerican Wigeon, Cambridge MDMartin V. Sneary D700

American Wigeon: Nikon D700, 200-400mm at 400mm ISO800, F/8, 1/2000; LR, PS and Nik filters

I didn't always get the framing spot on (note the clipped wings on the American Wigeon above), but in the short time window I managed some nice images. Next time I'll be aiming for cleaner portraits, to get a little lower and to get shots of incoming birds. I'll certainly be heading back to Cambridge, but since the birds will be heading north very soon it may have to wait until next winter.


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