Readers’ wildlife photographs

Actually, we have a video today—from Tara Tanaka. Some of my favorite videos of hers are ones showing baby ducks plopping down into the water from high nesting boxes. In this case, it’s black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis). You can find Tara’s main video page here.

Beginning in mid-August of 2015, I was in my tiny blind, set up with 3 cameras and tripods before sunrise for 24 days in a row. I had completely misjudged the beginning of the pair’s approximately 32-day incubation period!

This video is a bit overdue, but I was inspired to edit and share it as I’ve been going out every morning for the last two weeks waiting for the baby Whistling ducks in another box to jump. I am especially excited to see “who” jumps out of this box, as there was a Hooded Merganser and at least one Wood Duck that appeared to also lay eggs in the box, but the Whistling Ducks ended up with possession.

Last summer was hot and steamy, and I was shooting almost directly into the sun. As the sun would come up and reach the vegetation in our nearly 100% humidity, there would be a 30-minute period that a haze would almost completely obscure the entrance to the box. On the day they jumped, it started to rain just as I got all of my gear in the blind. I was disappointed that “the day” might be ruined by rain, but as it turned out, the light had never been better.

We were in a severe drought by the time this late brood hatched, and the parents had to lead the babies across the dry swamp bottom to water, but they had some good cover provided by vegetation that had grown as the swamp dried. I lost them in the brush, but hopefully they were able to get the babies to water and keep them safe. I wish they were easier to tell apart – when we had over 30 arrive in April, I wondered if any of them had hatched here last year.

Tara added that her 4K videos on Vimeo can now be viewed in 4K, not just 1080 (HD).


  1. Posted June 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Awesome shot……

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Ducklings never disappoint when it comes to cuteness!

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      I agree – I always have a huge smile when they appear!!

  3. rickflick
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful images Tara. I’m curious how the chicks know to all take the plunge at the same time. When one or two dive out, do the others count up the remaining and notice a shrinking population? Are the moon and sun aligned in some special way? Or do the parents speak some secret code that gets all of them going at once?

    • John Harshman
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Almost certainly the last. I don’t know about whistling ducks specifically, but many other hole-nesting ducks (and ducks that aren’t hole-nesting too) have a call that tells their offspring “come here”. And if the only way to come here is to jump out of a tree, that’s what happens.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        Makes sense.

        • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          Hi Rick – the parents call them. Some how they teach them not to jump until they’re called. Hen Wood Ducks raise their ducklings on their own, and leave the box 2 or 3 times the morning that they jump (which is the day after they’ve hatched), and the babies never try to leave with her until she’s ready and calls them. With Whistling ducks the male makes a lot of trips to make sure everything is clear – both large, circling fly-arounds, and checking right below the box right before they jump. It’s quite amazing to watch.

  4. Stephen Barnard
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Very nice video.

    What’s that clicking noise in the audio?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Sounded like microphone static to me. Nothing more, unless Tara is indulging in a bit of steganography.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        I’ve made the mistake when recording video with my DSLR of leaving image stabilization on, which makes a very objectionable noise, but this doesn’t sound like that.

        • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          That’s the sound of rain on the roof of my blind, just inches above my shotgun mic. I spent about an hour watching audio-adjustment-specific training videos trying to figure out how to make it sound more like the rain that it is, w/o success. If you notice, it diminishes significantly part way into the video, and the rain did let up a bit.

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Do the boxes have an internal ledge of some sort, or are the chicks having to hop up from nest level to the hole?

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Our boxes have a piece of hardware cloth on the inside of the door (front panel) that helps them, however when I watched the babies from another box jump yesterday two of them seemed to get hung up momentarily, so we need to check the inside of that door.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 9, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        a piece of hardware cloth

        I don’t know that term. Heavy-duty cloth that claws/ talons can get an easy grip on – like sacking?

        • Posted June 9, 2016 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

          It’s made of heavy wire that’s woven like a window screen, but stiff and with ~ 1/2″ squares.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 10, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

            OK, I get the picture.
            “Window screen” is another term that is TTBOMK American only. I’d guess a 1mm or so mesh, though that wouldn’t keep out the Dreaded Highland Midge. Most places I’ve gone where insect protection is necessary, we use bed nets.

  6. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Super little film!
    I am keen to hear about the mix of chicks that emerge from the other box referred to, although if the event is similar to the one in this film it will require a very quick and keen set of eyes to spot if there are any hooded mergansers mixed in with the whistling ducks!
    The BBC is broadcasting its annual ‘Springwatch’ series at the moment with cameras set up at a variety of nest sites from golden eagle at the big end of the range down to wrens at the little end. One nest box they filmed was occupied by a mateless female Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) who neverthless has managed to rear a brood of four chicks. However, when the feather development of these chicks was sufficiently advanced to allow species determination it turned out that they were all Great Tit (Parus major) chicks!
    Clips of this may be available on-line.
    Cuckoos and Cowbirds are ‘professional’ brood parasites but it seems that it is not uncommon for mixed species broods to occur in many other species – I have, for example seen Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) chicks in Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) nests. In some instances these may be examples of opportunistic brood parasitism in others it may simply be the result of two females fighting over a nest hole and both laying eggs before one gains full possession as seems to be the case with Tara’s Whistling Duck-Hooded Merganser case.

    • John Harshman
      Posted June 8, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Many species of ducks are known to lay their eggs in other species’ nests (the technical term is “egg dumping”. There’s one species, black-headed duck, that does this exclusively. And of course conspecific egg dumping is common all over. In no case is this observed to affect the fitness of the dumpee.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 9, 2016 at 3:20 am | Permalink

        “Dumpee.” 😀

        Yes, and some songbirds do the same; I want to say I’ve heard of it in both Cardinals (intraspecifically) and certain warblers (interspecifically) among others. (But I’m too lazy to look it up.)

        It would seem to be a good strategy for insuring at least some of one pair’s offspring survive, even if their own nest is destroyed. I’m sure ornithologists have studied this in depth.

        True nest parasites, such as the cowbirds and some of the cuckoos (not our North American ones, BTW), have a severe negative effect on the hosts’ fitness.

        (I’ve also seen what seem to be two Wood Duck hens tending to what looks like two broods of chicks combined…though I’m not sure if perhaps one was an eclipse male instead.)

        • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

          We have one very special drake Wood Duck, I call him “the blue-headed drake,” as he is the only drake I’ve ever seen with a blue, not emerald green head. He stays on or below the box of his incubating hen for the whole incubation period, and he’s right there when the babies jump. (Most drakes swing by and take their hens to a morning and evening feeding, but they don’t stay with the box. A few days before the eggs hatch they’re gone.) If he’s not with them as they grow he’s nearby, sometime watching from a high vantage point. The last time I saw him I wondered what the difference in outcome would be between a single mom in Chicago with 10 kids, trying to raise them on her own, vs. a mom with a loving dad – who could fly – and watch over them everywhere they went.

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted June 9, 2016 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        “the technical term is “egg dumping””

        With respect to recent posts concerning the use of impenetrable jargon by post-modernists, one would have to say that, in contrast, ornithologists call a spade a spade when it comes to their professional vocabulary!

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Hi Jonathan,

      Fascinating info – thanks for sharing. Maybe you can post if you see it available on-line.

      Well, yesterday was the day! As I videoed and watched them jump, I almost jumped out of my seat when I saw #12 of 13 was a Wood Duck! When I watched the video, I realized that #1 was also a WD but I was so busy tweaking two cameras that I’d missed it. In addition to two digiscoping systems, I had a 50mm lens on a 3rd camera capturing the wide view. Just as #12 was sitting in the entrance pondering his jump, a Wood Duck hen that I wasn’t aware of swam by the box about 15′ away. I have to wonder if that the hen that I recorded on 5/23 desperately trying to get in the box, but who was violently rejected by the incubating Whistling Duck.

      We had a very scary fire ant invasion of the box the day before, and I was just certain that the hatching ducks were being eaten alive. The drake was on top of the box and loud banging suddenly caused him to look inquisitively at the box. We’d had a few ants on the box before, but when I panned down to the post I was horrified to see my suspicion confirmed: a thick, steady stream of fire ants making their way up. Some Velcro soaked with ant spray which was quickly and quietly wrapped around the post of the box stemmed the flow, and all 13 hatchlings looked fine with 6 unhatched (and not near hatching) eggs remaining in the box. All this to be included in an upcoming video!

  7. Posted June 8, 2016 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I admire your dedication and talent, Tara. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photography/videography and delightful descriptions with us.

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much SP! I am so fortunate to be able to see what I do, but recording and sharing it is a million times better! When I’m filming, it’s as if you are all there with me – hard to describe.

  8. Stephen Barnard
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    After spending two months digiscoping the eagles I can appreciate how much video Tara had to wade through where absolutely nothing happens. 🙂

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      I recorded 300GB of 4K on 3 cameras yesterday. That’s the onerous part!

  9. Diane G.
    Posted June 9, 2016 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    Ah, Tara, I can’t tell you how happy it made me to watch that! Fantastic vid! I thought the parental behavior was the most interesting of all. What a treat it was to enjoy this vicariously via your excellent videography skills!

    • Posted June 9, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much Diane – it is truly my pleasure – and your comment means so much!

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