Tight Formation

Tight Formation | Shooting Sportsman Magazine
Photo by Gary Kramer

In late March 2020 I made the trek from my home in California to the lakes, wetlands and potholes of South Dakota. The trip coincided with the spring migration of waterfowl from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds. I was taking images for my new book, Waterfowl of the World, and was hopeful the trip would yield opportunities to “shoot” up to a dozen species.

One day I found a pothole outside of Huron that was loaded with ducks. There were mallards, northern pintails, redheads and northern shovelers. It was a beehive of activity, with plenty of flight activity, including numerous courtship flights. Courtship flights involve a single hen being pursued by several drakes. These flights often include aerial acrobatics, with the eventual outcome being pair formation when the hen selects one of the drakes. I often zero in on this courtship activity, as the flights provide interesting images.

After the first hour I had several good images of redheads, mallards and pintails. Then I spotted a courtship flight of northern shovelers headed my way—a hen and four drakes. I pointed my 600mm lens at the approaching ducks, acquired focus and pressed the shutter button. It happened so fast that even though my camera can shoot 12 frames per second, I got only four photos. Reviewing the images later, I found three of them unusable, as I had cut most of the birds in half. However, one image of the four drakes was in focus—the hen not appearing, as she had been just outside the frame. I liked how the males were in tight formation and ultimately decided to include the shot as one of the 1,299 that appear in my book (which can be purchased on my website).


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