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Mr. Bubbles

Ruddy Duck is one of those species that I see fairly often in a typical year, but rarely see well.  They usually come through my neck of the woods in their duller plumage, and usually like to congregate out in big reservoirs out of nice photo range.  When I do see birds in their high color they still seem to always be distant, wary, or both.  

I had a nice change of fortune with Ruddies a few weeks ago at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Rio Grande County, Colorado. I was heading home on 20 May on the long drive from Cortez, where the Colorado Field Ornithologists held a fantastic annual convention in Four Corners country.  To break up the drive I spent a few hours on the excellent wildlife tour loop at the refuge.  Lots of elements came together that morning- plenty of nearby birds accustomed to seeing vehicles creeping along, good light from behind, and low wind.  I shot from inside my vehicle, resting my Nikon D7100 / 200-400 f/4 VR + 1.4X / Rode VideoMic Pro on a bean bag to shoot.  I even remembered to turn off my VR on all but one clip (at least I got rid of most of the whirring using the equalizer in iMovie.)  Anyway, I'm still getting the hang of the video game but thought I'd share this little movie.

I really enjoyed seeing these birds doing their bubbling display.  It is surprisingly quiet- even when a male came close in the sounds were faint compared to other marsh vocalizations.  The seeming low volume along with the vigor of the display has me wondering if there is a inaudible (to us) component that other males and/or females can key in on by feeling the sound waves underwater, somewhat like elephants' low-frequency communication.  Whatever the case, it was a pretty sweet display to finally observe up close!  I also got a kick out of the harried alpha male in the first two clips, constantly trying to fend off a half-dozen of so other suitors.  The best part was how another male snuck in to court the hen while he was attempting an underwater takedown on a different interloper.  See what else you pick up on vocally in the clip- there are plenty of other birds to tease out…