When I saw a male Mandarin Duck one cold morning two months ago, I was happy enough with some of the 1,348 photos I took that day that I didn’t need any more. Instead, the reason why I went back there yesterday morning was that I wanted to show my friend Marveen one of the world’s more colorful and beautiful birds.
I found it for her on Clear Creek as it flows through Prospect Park in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Marveen told me that she had never seen a Mandarin Duck before. We saw in on a cold, sunny day right after the heaviest snowstorm of the season when almost all of the lakes here are frozen solid, so the birds fly to creeks that are free of ice.
But I found the Mandarin for me too. No matter how often I have seen and photographed a beautiful bird or landscape, every time is different. Sometimes the situation can be better. In fact, I told the students in my nature photography seminar a couple of weeks ago about my experience of photographing the Mandarin in December and mentioned that almost all of the conditions were right. The one exception, I said, was that I was up on the bank looking down at it. All bird and animal photography is better when the subject and the photographer are at the same level.
Yesterday I had no exceptions. For some of my images the Mandarin was on a section of the creek where we could get close by walking down to the very edge of the bank and kneel. It didn’t matter that I had to kneel in wet snow. As one of my mentors says, “Don’t worry about dirty clothes; that’s what the laundry is for.”
Even better, the Mandarin fearlessly swam much closer than ever before. It came so close that I had to turn off the focus limiter on my camera’s 100-400mm lens. I usually limit its focus range to 6.5m (21 feet) to infinity because it finds focus quicker that way. When it’s turned off, I can focus on a subject as close as 1.8m (6 feet).
The result was that both Marveen and I got photos we like. This is my favorite from yesterday.
Click on the picture above to enlarge
Yesterday, I took only 255 photos of this beautiful bird. That was enough.