Outdoors Magazine

Outstanding Spring Weekend – Wood Ducks & Wild Turkeys

By Stabone @stabone


Spring has finally arrived in northern Virginia. The Daffodils, Forsythia, and various trees are blooming, and most other plants are budding and showing signs of growth. It is a great time to be outdoors after months of hibernating indoors to escape one of the coldest winters on record. Taking advantage of the warmer weather, I went with a friend and photography partner, Ernie Sears, to Huntley Meadows Park on Friday and Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area on Sunday.


At Huntley Meadows, our goal was to photograph Wood Ducks. Huntley Meadows is a 1,500 acre park consisting of wetlands and forests and is well known as a prime birding location. It is also known for Wood Ducks, having many nesting boxes located in the wetland areas. I was successful photographing Wood Ducks there last year, and at this time of year, the Wood Ducks are seeking tree cavities and nesting boxes.


Ernie and I arrived at Huntley Meadows shortly after sunrise and went first to the location where we photographed the Wood Ducks last year. We waited for over an hour at that location with little wildlife activity and no Wood Ducks. We spent the next hour searching other areas of the park and saw a variety of waterfowl and other birds, but no Wood Ducks. About two hours later, and back at our starting location, Ernie spotted a drake Wood Duck that came out from behind some reeds to look for its mate.


Woods Ducks, although very colorful, seem to be masters at hiding and blending into their environment. They are also very wary of people and typically do not stay clearly visible for long, which was the case with this Wood Duck. As soon as it located its mate, the two ducks quickly moved out of sight. The drake was in open water long enough for us to get some excellent shots, but the female was always partially hidden before they disappeared. We both photographed the Wood Duck with our Nikon D800s and 600mm lenses.


I was hoping to see and photograph Wood Ducks in the nearby trees, like the above and below images from last year at Huntley Meadows, but we only saw the drake Wood Duck and its mate on the water and only for a few minutes.


The article I wrote last year, containing the above and more Wood Duck images is at:  http://stevetaboneblog.com/2013/03/17/wood-ducks-at-huntley-meadows/

Wild Turkeys at Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area


On Sunday, Ernie and I met at Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area early in the morning to look for turkeys to photograph. We both have seen small groups of Wild Turkeys at Merrimac, but had received recent reports of sightings of large flocks. Therefore, we had high expectations and were equipped with our Nikon 80-400s with TC14 teleconverters on our Nikon D800s with Nikon SB910 Speedlights and Better Beamers. That was the only camera gear we carried, traveling light and prepared to walk the Merrimac’s 300 acres if that is what it was going to take to find the turkeys.


We walked areas of Merrimac that I had not been to before. We hiked for well over an hour without seeing much wildlife and not hearing or seeing any turkeys, when we spotted a flock of Wild Turkeys in an adjacent farm, but very close to Merrimac. Quietly, we moved close to a barbed wire fence separating Merrimac from the private farm. The turkeys were about 100 yards away. As we moved toward the fence, I began photographing, knowing that when the turkeys spotted us, they would run or fly away. I managed to get off a couple of halfway decent images of them under a tree before they spotted us and began running through the fence and back to Merrimac. There were 30 turkeys, more than I had seen together before.


After the turkeys ran out of sight, we hiked in the direction where they were heading. As we approached an open field, I spotted a turkey in the tree line, and at about the same time, the turkeys spotted us. All 30 turkeys immediately began flying out of the wooded area and across the open field and over the trees on the other side. They flew out two or three at a time. It all happened within seconds. I was not prepared for their flight out of the woods, but I managed to get a couple of halfway decent images. They are not “keeper” shots, as we refer to quality images, but they help to tell the story. Regardless of the quality of the images, the experience was exciting and memorable, seeing 30 very large birds with at least 6 foot wing spans flying nearby.


I will get back to Merrimac again soon to photograph the turkeys and hopefully return with some keepers. Below is an image of a Wild Turkey I photographed in the Smokies last summer to give you a closer view.


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