As lakes, rivers and marshes begin to thaw in the coming weeks, ducks of many species will stream north into Minnesota.
Springtime presents the best waterfowl viewing of the year. The males are adorned in their vibrant breeding plumage, flashing iridescent greens, purples and blues. And they're more visible because they are absorbed in breeding activities.
One breeding ritual involves courtship flights.
During a courtship flight, male ducks — from a few to as many as 25 or more — will pursue a single hen. Each drake will attempt to outdo its counterparts to flatter the unpaired hen.
Most species of ducks engage in such flights. However, the puddle ducks (especially pintails, mallards, wigeons, gadwalls and green-winged teal) are much more energetic than the diving species (scaup, redheads, ringnecks and canvasbacks).
What does all this mean to a wildlife photographer or birder?
During the flights, ducks are much less wary. They're concerned more with the urge to propagate than their safety. Oftentimes, courting ducks will aimlessly meander over a marsh for 15 or more minutes.
To capture the photo on this page, I scouted western Minnesota farmland. The spring morning was particularly pleasant. The sky was cobalt blue, the wind calm. The time frame was the height of the spring duck migration, and most marshes teamed with waterfowl.
One particular marsh had what I wanted: A dry finger of land projected out from the shore. I watched as several courtship flights of various species flew back and forth over the point.
I threw on my camouflage clothing, slung camera and tripod over my shoulder, and hiked to the spot. I shot numerous images during the next hour, including my favorite, on this page.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.