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Happy New Year!!

WOW 2022!

The end of the year (2021) is a complete blur to me. Where the hell did December go?

Today is January 5th, it's 640 a.m. and I am sitting at my computer drinking coffee while processing photographs I made yesterday.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous winter day here in southern California! Mild temperatures, calm and crystal clear skies. I got so pumped up on my morning walk. After on and off rain for nearly two weeks it felt good to be outdoors for an extended period. So good in fact I decided on the spur of the moment to take advantage by heading over to one of my favorite duck ponds (Irvine Regional Park.) I'd like to share a few of the photographs I made while there.

Mallard Hen_3368

This is the first photograph of 2022 that I have processed. When I arrived at the park the ducks were not very active. There were a few ducks on the water, but none in the area I wanted to work. Most were roosting on the slope on the far side of the lake. I settled in and began my wait. As luck would have it I had a little helper on this morning. An energetic little Fox Squirrel. It was playing about 15 yards to the right of where the majority of the ducks were napping. It quickly climbed 3 or 4 feet up the side of a sycamore tree made an abrupt u-turn then came down the tree head first, hit the forest floor, scampered out into the winter brown grass and fallen leaves, made another u-turn, sprinted back to the sycamore to begin another climb. I watched the squirrel execute this playful routine three times before other things caught my attention.

Then without warning all of the napping ducks burst into simultaneous flight. The sound of 50 to 100 pairs of wings frantically pulling skyward coupled with the distress call associated with immediate danger is amazing and something you will never forget if you are fortunate enough to experience such a thing. As the panic stricken cloud of ducks approached I saw a streak of brown racing across the slope on the far side of the lake. It was the squirrel! I have no idea as to what possessed it to run right through his sleeping neighbors, but honestly, I was grateful it did.

Now, like rag dolls failing at gymnastics the ducks began to cannonball into the lake. No grace. No glory. Probably hoping no one was watching. Probably happy to be safe out on the water. As I watched I couldn't help but smile. Now, I had work to do.

I really liked the clean debris free water and soft pretty light that was on this corner of the lake. I waited a few minutes before this beautiful Mallard hen came by. I like the simplicity of this image and the nice reflection of her face and eye.

Close Encounter_3870

A few minutes later after the ducks started settling down the mood transitioned from panic to play. The ducks began to parade about the lake in what I felt to be a celebration. This duck came so close to me that if I wanted to I could have reached out and touched it.

Wood Duck Vocalizing_3578

I moved to a new spot that put me under the shade of a sycamore tree and next to a couple of large rocks that would help conceal me from any ducks approaching from my right. There were several ducks out in front of me. Mostly Mallards, but to my joy there were several wood ducks, both lone males and a few pairs as well.

A different kind of tension arrived. There were now two hawks in nearby trees. One to my left and one to my right and slightly behind me. I could not see them. They were calling back and forth to each other. The one on the left seemed to initiate the calls and the one on the right seemed to be responding to the initial call. Very cool! That is of course you are on a hawks menu like all the ducks in front of me are. The ducks heard the hawks call(s) as well (maybe even seen them too.)

I think this Wood Duck was sending out a warning to the group.

Wood Duck Pair_3935

The hawks left. Things seemed to once again settle down. The late morning sun felt wonderful. Lots of ducks were now on the water. After I spotted this pair of Wood Ducks I lowered my tripod so that it was just above water level. I followed them as they moved about taking a occasional shot. I got lucky and they turned left and began to swim straight towards me! I got even luckier when they both looked straight at me at the same time!!

Mandarin Drake_3683

There are far fewer Mandarins here at Irvine Regional Park than any other duck species. They also appear to be the shiest or most skittish of all the duck species present. So, it's always a joy when you get an opportunity to photograph these absolutely beautiful birds. This guy was very animated. Rising on its haunches, extending its neck and head feathers. Here, I caught him just after full extension as he returned to a more normal sitting position while sticking his bill into the lake (blowing bubbles or taking a drink.) Looking closer, I just noticed that the water does look a lot like bourbon. That might explain a few things.

More soon.

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