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Winter Ducks in the Spillway of the
Deer Creek Dam, 2014



The winter of 2013-2014 has been one of the coldest ever in recent years for Ohio. Little open water throughout the state brought ducks to places where they could find both food and water. The spillway of the Deer Creek dam was always flowing and loaded with shad which were attractive to some diving ducks. While I have ben able to photograph some ducks here in the past, it has been years since I last had that opportunity. Central Ohio is a great place to watch the passage of thousands of waterfowl through the state each year at places such as the Deer Creek reservoir and wetlands, but that's with a spotting scope and not a camera. Waterfowl are heavily hunted here and too skittish to ever get close enough to without a blind for the most part. Once hunting season was well over by late January a few birds got accustomed to fishermen along the spillway of the dam and would come into camera range if I stayed low and still along the banks. The first bird to do so was a White-winged Scoter drake on January 28th. That was a cloudy day, but fortunately I had a few hours in the sunny late afternoon on the 29th to go back and refind the bird. The other birds in the area always took off while the scoter stayed, but in the late afternoon on the 29th a few came back including some Canvasbacks. Since camera details are the same for all these birds I won't post it beneath each photo. All of these were taken with a Canon 1D MarkIV and the Canon 800mm f5.6L IS lens with the 1.4x teleconverter.  While I occasionally took off the 1.4x and used the bare 800 when a few of the ducks made a close approach, all the photos below it turns out were with the 1.4x attached. I used ISO 500 for all of them with the lens usualy stopped down to f10 although a few were taken at f9 or f11.
 
 


White-winged Scoter drake
 


White-winged Scoter drake
 


White-winged Scoter drake
 


White-winged Scoter drake
 


Canvasback drake
 


The White-winged Scoter continued into February when it was joined by a Long-tailed Duck. While I see them annually in the reservoir, seeing them up close in Central Ohio is unusual. I paid a few visits to Deer Creek in early February when time and sunlight made it worthwhile. On some of the coldest days it was impossible to get sharp photos because the temperature difference between the air and water cause too much distortion in the light waves which become greatly magnified in a telephoto lens such as an 800mm. Most of the below photos were taken on Febrary 10th which, while cold, wasn't as bad as some of the others. That happened to be a good time to be there, since the lone Long-tailed Duck drake was joined by another along with 9 hens. The hens were a variety of ages, some well marked and colorful in the own right while some of the younger birds had little color on them. The next day only one drake and 4 hens were present and they stayed for a few more days.
 
 


Long-tailed Duck drake
 


Long-tailed Duck drake
 


Long-tailed Duck drake
 


Long-tailed Duck drake
 


Long-tailed Ducks
 


Long-tailed Duck hen
 


Long-tailed Duck hen
 


A visit to the spillway of the Deer Creek Dam of Feb. 19 was productive for Redheads. While I had seen some on previous visits earlier, the flock on the 19th was less alarmed by my presence sitting quietly at the edge of the water. I had a chance to photograph Redheads here once before in 2009 I believe, which was the last time I was ever able to get close to another duck in the spillway to photograph.  A few Greater Scaups were also in the spillway that day.  Away from Lake Erie in Ohio, Greaters can be uncommon and it is usually Lesser Scaup that are found, but I only saw Greaters in the spillway in late January and February.
 
 


Redhead drake
 


Redhead drake
 


Redhead hen
 


Greater Scaup drake
 


In late February there were a few days of thawing, but only a few. The flooded Deer Creek filled the dam and opened up a big section of the reservoir with open water. Countless thousands of diving and puddle ducks took advantage of the open water, but two Bufflehead drakes stayed in the spillway seemingly eating non-stop on the shad making me wonder if they could fly away even if they wanted to. Buffleheads are a notoriously difficult bird to get good photos of with their contrasting light and dark areas. It is very easy to blow out the whites on them leaving featureless bright areas. Processing photos of them can be time consuming to get the most out of what the RAW files may have. These birds were photographed on Feb. 26.
 
 


Bufflehead drake
 


Bufflehead drake
 


Bufflehead drake
 


March can be an exciting time to visit the Deer Creek area as the main passage of waterfowl moves through the state. The reservoir and the wetlands will hopefully finally thaw out for good, and who knows what else might stop in the spillway of the dam. For me a planned trip out of the state followed by an incredibly busy schedule when I return won't allow me to visit again for a while, but this winter it was nice having some unexpected photo opportunities at a place I visit often.