Sunday, March 21, 2010

Et tu, Wood Duck?

Wood ducks are perching ducks that nest in trees over water. They reportedly nest readily in nesting boxes provided for them over water, though I've never seen a Wood duck in residence. They are usually set up when ponds are frozen over as it's easy to get out onto the pond surface on the ice. A box was placed on Center Pond this winter. I think it looks really stupid. It's tilted for one thing, and constructed of new wood, it's a conspicuous man-made element stuck into the middle of the pond. I suppose I'll get used to it, eventually. When the boxes are placed too closely together, multiple hens will lay as many as 40 eggs all in one nest. They do not incubate. It's a phenomenon called "nest dumping." There are lots of Wood duck boxes scattered around Phippsburg. The day the baby ducks hatch they leap from the mouth of the nest to the water below unaided by the mother that does no more than call encouragement. The ducklings can fall as far as 290 feet without injury. Now that's a leap of faith! That's why they usually nest over water; it makes a softer landing. In Maine, Wood ducks are migratory. They pair bond in January before they get here. By the time we see them, they are already hooked up.

I took these photographs on March 15th on Oak Grove Avenue in Bath. The ducks were perched over the same cemetery pond where I took the recent Mallard butt shots. The 'pond' is just a wet scrap of swampy land, not really a pond at all. A toddler could wade it without incident. For little more than a mosquito breeding hole, it hosts an amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife. I went by it when I was on my way to meet with my tax preparer. It was raining. That made it difficult to photograph the ducks as it was very dark and dismal, a good day for taxes but not a good day to photograph birds. I had never seen Wood ducks before and so I was nearly trembling. Or, my trembling may have had to do with the taxes. Either way, the photographs are not good, which was very dissapointing to me. I so wanted to share really good Wood duck photographs. I went back five times in two days trying for them again, but for not. To have seen them and only be able to get crumby photos was almost worse than never having seen them at all. I love photography beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but sometimes that thing I love betrays me. I am haunted by Wood duck dreams and will not be quite content ever again until they day I can get some good shots of them. You just wait.
March 15th is "The Ides Of March," the day that Marcus Junius Brutus supposedly killed Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.  "Et tu, Brute?" may be one of the most famous three words in the English language and epitomizes the concept of betrayal. As the story goes (historians contest this), and as William Shakespear's play went, that's what Caesar exclaimed to Brutus when he realized Brutus had betrayed him. Caesar was regarded as a mentor by Brutus and they were good buddies - Rome's own "homies." When Caesar came into power in Rome, he got a little carried away with himself and his power. Rather than wanting the Roman senate to rule, he thought he should be the boss all by himself. He even compared himself to the gods, for gods' sake! He thought of himself as an emperor with a big 'E',and had the ego to match.  Though Brutus loved him, he loved Rome and freedom more. The day came when the senate attacked old Julius and when they did, Brutus gave him up in an act of betrayal to save Rome. "Even you, Brutus," were The Big J.'s dying words.
When my camera and my skills as a photographer fail me in a moment like when I saw these Wood ducks, I feel betrayed, too. It's my own little Shakespearean tragedy.  

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  1. The Wood ducks are so beautiful they look too perfect, as if they were decoys! You are too hard on yourself. Your love for photography is exhibited in your work.

  2. I've a longtime friend who has raised waterfowl from eggs for probably 30 years now. If those ducks don't get out of the box with a fall, their insides don't function. She figured out that dropping the little ones, once they had reached their proper stage of fluff/feathers, would work and it did. Gravity! She was working with Ruddy Ducks at the time.
    Any 'new wood box' is hardly going to look new in a year - patience!.

  3. Oh, I know, that box will turn a silvery-gray. But, in the mean time............

  4. Not to be too picky, but I have to question whether "et tu Brute" are really the most famous three words in the English language. But then I wondered...what the hell language is that anyway? Italian? No way. Latin? Only catholics speak that and we know the Romans weren't those. Anti-catholic maybe. Roman? Is there a Roman language?

    Otherwise I loved your piece on Woodies segueing into Romans. And the "Big J's dying words" reminded me of a drink we had as a kid. The Orange Julius.


    (I liked your woodie shot. That drake was seriously checking you out.)

  5. Ya, ya, I should have said "Even you, Brutus" were the three most famous words in the English language. I'm just thankful that someone out there was paying enough attention to catch that. My daughter briefly worked at the Orange Julius bar at the Maine Mall. I guess I should have asked her before I posted that.......

  6. I came across this quote long ago and incorporated it into my photography goals.

    "…achieving the perfect picture is down to a mixture of skill, vision, originality, knowledge of nature and luck."

    Therein lies the challenge.

    I think we can all attest to misses and not every photograph will be a home run. There are a lot of foul balls!

  7. Re the wood ducks: they may not meet your criteria for a good photo, but they seem pretty good to me. Of course I'm not the expert you and someone who lives with me are. I like these ducks you;re focusing on--very colorful and dignified.

  8. Gee, I would be so happy if I had taken those wood duck shots!!! I love
    wood ducks, and you were so lucky to see them. They are handsome, and
    also seem more intelligent than other birds. I remember seeing one in
    Michigan where we used to walk, and the bird was very interested in ME.
    He kept looking at me with such intelligence,cocking his head, turning
    the tables. He was a people-watcher.

  9. HI, I loved your wood duck story & photos. their colors & patterns amaze me. we get them here on the river once in awhile & I think they nest in a cove downriver from us. did they fly or call? they have a "sqeal" not a "quack".

  10. There were two Woodies, a male and a female. I couldn't get good shots of the female as she was 'way out on a limb' on the branch with her mate. Figures, she'd be out there! They were vocalizing heavily and I did notice that is was an amusing little squealing noise- quite precious actually.

  11. "Most ball games are lost, not won."