Avian Potpourri – Three Species, Five Images

A duck, a hawk and a heron.

Typical of potpourri there’s not much of a unifying theme here except each of my subjects has feathers in common and all five images illustrate something of interest (for me at least).


1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Since I’ve been spending more time at a local pond I’ve been getting more practice with birds in flight recently and Mallards have been one of my primary subjects. This one was photographed four days ago as he came in for a landing on the water. I like the photo for a variety of reasons including its image quality, the landing pose, good eye contact with catch light and the warm, late afternoon light hitting the duck at a pleasing angle.

But more than anything else I like the timing. I caught the Mallard at the precise moment his feet touched the water but before we have even a hint of spray being kicked up behind him. For that reason it almost looks like he’s standing on the water with his wings spread. I’ve always enjoyed little incongruities like that in my images. I wouldn’t want them in all of my photos but I tend to get a kick out of them when they occur.



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Five days ago at Farmington Bay WMA Northern Harriers were unusually scarce so even though this one was perched far away in the frosty vegetation I watched it through my lens anyway. Even if it took off I had little chance of getting decent flight shots because the hawk was facing away from me but with harriers you just never know so I sat on the bird and waited.

Harriers have very long wing spans for their size. Their average weight is only about 15 oz. but their wings span a distance of 43″ tip to tip! It’s one thing to realize those numbers on an academic level but something else altogether…



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

to have it demonstrated in a freeze-frame photo.

When this bird took off it extended its wings vertically to the limit. I’ve literally photographed thousands of harriers over the years but every time I see this image I’m incredulous at the length of those narrow wings. In this instance it doesn’t even bother me (much) that its face and eyes are obscured by the frosty stem.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

And that impressive wingspan was still evident in the next frame of the burst as the harrier lowered its wings for lift and pushed off from its perch (at least we can see the face and eye this time).


Yesterday and last night we finally had a storm roll in but I’m afraid it didn’t bring much snow or real cold to the valleys (as I type this at 5 AM it’s still above freezing at 33° F.). But two years ago tomorrow conditions were different.


1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

By then it had been cold for long enough that the ice at Farmington was extensive and relatively thick so the Great Blue Herons that stick around for the winter had to either hunt voles in the frozen meadows or find holes in the ice to fish through. Both can be fun to photograph.

This heron had found two small adjacent holes in the ice it was fishing through and on this strike its head narrowly missed the far edge of the ice (there’s more than one reason their aim has to be precise).

This situation always reminds me of the well-known ice fishermen in states like Michigan and Montana, the difference being that those folks mostly do it for fun but these birds fish for their very survival.




34 comments to Avian Potpourri – Three Species, Five Images

  • Mary K

    Ron, I don’t know if you are a fan of explore.org, but when I got a link to these Montana owls, I thought of you! https://explore.org/livecams/owl-research-institute/long-eared-owl-cam

  • Jean Haley

    Loved all of the pics.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Potpourri is right!! Such an interesting assortment of species. I remember ice fishing in Minnesota where we drove onto the ice and sat in a house, changing positions when one hip got too hot and the other cold. It was a lot of fun!!!
    Enjoyed the mallard especially – walking on water!!
    Thank you, Ron

  • April Olson

    Very lovely trio. Sounds like you had 2 other readers that had the same first thought I had about the three birds walking into the bar.
    My break is almost over, school starts Monday. It has been a obysmal winter break this year between the lack of birds and snow, the dense inversions and fog. I could not get out to ride, hike or walk much the inversion really kicked in my asthma. We got mostly rain our of this last storm, January and rain?

  • Love the pot-pourri you gave us.
    I have been scrolling up and down, up and down.
    And how I would love some chill. Including snow. We are breaking heat records here. Which makes me a sad, soggy and grumpy mess.

  • Gail Rich

    Love the long tail, too. Do those beautiful long wings require it?

  • Ann

    I thought this was going to be a joke. A duck, hawk and a heron go into a bar. . .

  • LS Clemens

    I second Wally Jones’ comments above!

  • Beautiful photo of male mallard coming in for a landing…they are such beautiful birds, anyway….glad they are so “common”….

  • We are still in the throes of a very, very cold snap—record setting cold….I worry about birds and other wild critters in weather like this…and there’s more to come. I marvel at the length of those wings and ache for the desperation of the Great Blue….Mother Nature is one mean bitch!!!

  • Once again, Professor Dudley, you have succeeded in combining lessons about aerodynamics,animal behavior, biology, bird watching,patience,photographic technique, the importance of practice and weather all in one highly readable post!
    Thank you for sharing it all.

  • Laura Culley

    Here we go again! “Oh what a beautiful morning. Oh what a beautiful day!” What an outstanding group of images! Yes, I love the mallard who’s just about to ski across the water! Just LOVE these little slices of time captured by photography.
    And the Harrier! Yeah, WOW! There is a pair of Harriers zooming around here every day, along with the pair of redtails who are looking for a new place to set up housekeeping other than the man-made platform along the highway. Mariah hates it when they perch on the pole next to the neighbor’s house next to the next-door neighbor’s place. She lets out a bloodcurdling scream and crouches in her battle-ready pose. “Not in MY hemisphere!” she says. I’m watching for sticks to start showing up. It’s almost that time.
    And oh how I feel sorry for that heron! Life is tough in The Great Out There, but I’m constantly impressed by the various survival techniques to get through the day. And that’s a constant reminder of how weak we are in the survival department. Imagine for a moment if we were to be unplugged. That’s a scary thought.

    • “Imagine for a moment if we were to be unplugged”

      That happened to me when the power went out last week, Laura. It put a real dent in my life for several days for a variety of reasons (largely related to loss of sleep). Thank you.

      • Laura Culley

        Yep, I know that feeling. Hurricane Alicia unplugged me for 13 days in 1986 while living in Houston. It was a real eye-opener for me and I’ve never forgotten that!

  • Dick Harlow

    OK, just learned that herons can fish through the ice. WOW! Was he/she successful?
    Because of those long wings one can see why Harriers can coast so low over a field when they hunt.
    Great shots, Ron, thanks for sharing!

  • Marty K

    A duck, a hawk, and a heron walk into a bar… 😉 Sorry, after reading your first sentence, I couldn’t resist. Tee hee.

    These are definitely eye-catching shots, Ron. Wow-and-a-half! The mallard is especially gorgeous with the late-afternoon light on him. I know you’re not big on “butt shots,” but ( 😉 ) I like seeing the tail position and the push off from those strong talons. And any time you want to include a GBH, I’m a happy gal.

    • Ha, you and my good friend Sue Southam (also a retired teacher) think alike, Marty. This was her comment on Facebook:

      “OK, makes me think of a joke set-up: “A duck, a hawk, and a heron walk into a bar. . “

  • Joel H

    Great series, Ron! A random sequence can be quite engaging…casinos rely on this!

  • Judy Gusick

    WOW! The mallard does look like it’standing on water, the wing length on the harrier is amazing and the great blue really “right on” 🙂 Fun for sure! Chinook with wind on here…………….

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