I’m no Marlin Perkins! ~ Photographing and Painting Waterfowl

When I was first learning to paint in oil, one of my early interests was seeing the Federal and State Duck Stamp paintings that were chosen from the hundreds of entries to the highly competitive annual competitions.  The coveted first, second and third place prices for the artists meant instant national recognition.  I always thought how cool it would be to have my painting of a duck on a stamp, limited edition prints made, and bragging rights for having won a national competition.

Well, over the years I’ve painted a few wood ducks, Canadian geese, mallards etc…but recently I have become somewhat obsessed with visiting our nearby marshland in search of waterfowl and the perfect picture.  Here I am, listening for a distant “quack”, ready and loaded with my little Cannon Powershot camera. :-)   I was pretending to be Marlin Perkins from Wild Kingdom, sneaking up on the wild and endangered gooney bird when Jen took my picture.  Normally, I would have my much larger Cannon Digital Rebel SLR camera and zoom lens with me, but on regular walks the tiny camera can come in handy.


So far, my latest passion has produced somewhat limited success. I missed what would have been a great shot of a couple of golden eye ducks (identification is speculation on my part) because of my rustling of leaves from trying to get too close to photograph them.  Same goes for what would have been a lovely shot of a great blue heron along the shore of the James River with a distant pink sky in the background.  A couple of large hawks and osprey have buzzed over me but when I went to shoot, my camera was in the OFF mode!

I’m beginning to realize that I need to plant myself at what appears to be the perfect spot, and sit and wait for them to appear.  On a couple of outings, Jen has joined me and between the two of us traipsing through the woods and talking, the birds see a couple of rookies coming a mile away.  The other day after all the birds had disappeared she surprised me by producing a loud and quite authentic sounding bird call!  I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but I’m sure the bird hunters that we heard off in the distance were quite perplexed as to the never-before heard bird call.  :-)

I think the hunters have ruined it for us nature lovers.  The birds are too spooked, although, that is what makes a good photograph all that much more of a prize.   

I’ve taken a few artsy shots of geese and wetlands.  Here are a few photos that are close to what I’m looking for. I’ve already started on a painting of a goose in flight, from what I believe is one of my best photographs.  I’ve got another canvas drawn out of a distant great blue heron, standing poised in an interesting marsh formation.  As you can tell, I’ve decided to add paintings of waterfowl to my American Landscape portfolio.


Branching out from photographing our local marshland, I plan on taking photography trips, in the near future, to the nearby Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland.  Chincoteague and Assateague Islands provide some of the best waterfowl wetlands in the world.  The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge are also located on the Eastern Shore and are popular migratory stops for all kinds of interesting birdlife.  

It’s exciting to me to have such tremendous resources so close by.  I’m not planning on entering any Duck Stamp competitions. If my birdlife paintings are popular I will be happy.  The experience from beginning to end; the nature hunt, the photography and the painting, I assume is somewhat like what a hunter must feel, with the only difference being a happy ending for the ducks in my case.  They won’t be stuffed and mounted or put on a dinner plate, but rather their likeness painted in oil for posterity.  

My early artistic interest in birdlife has fortunately been rekindled.  Whether it is the surf and sanderlings, wood ducks on a pond, or a couple of geese resting in the marsh, this photographer/painter is looking for you!