There are times when a favorite photograph is the result of someone else, not the photographer.
It was 6:30 a.m., and Ruth and I were leaving Lincoln for Armstrong Station, Ontario, to visit the Brodhagen family. Dusty now operates Bear Creek Outfitters, an archery bear hunting camp, but his parents, Rob and Sandy, still have an active role. I’ve hunted with the Brodhagens for 13 years, and the reason for the trip was to show Ruth the area.
We first had to pick up some dry ice for the cooler, and Holmes Lake was on the way to the grocery store. As we approached the lake, Ruth suggested we drive through the park to check out any birds that might be on the water or in the trees. We pulled into a parking spot, and there was an excited Steve Kruse, a Lincoln birder.
“You just missed seeing a mandarin drake,” Steve said. “He flew down the lake. But maybe he’ll come back. He likes this part of the lake.”
Male mandarin and wood ducks are two of the most beautiful ducks in God’s creation. Mandarins are natives of the Far East — China, Japan, Korea and southeast Russia. Wood ducks are North America’s entry in the waterfowl beauty contest. Although they normally are a world apart, mandarin and wood ducks are related. Both have claws on their webbed feet to help them climb into hollow tree nests or to cling onto logs or branches.
Because of their beauty, mandarins have been imported into countries around the world. Some, however, have escaped captivity and exist in the wild. There are small populations in California and North Carolina. Although mandarins prefer to keep their distance from other duck species, they do associate with wood ducks — their North American cousins.
Ruth and I spent an unfruitful hour waiting for the mandarin drake to return, and I finally told Steve we had to get on the road. “Just a minute,” he said. “I’ll run up to the next cove and see if he’s there.” I never expected Steve’s search to be successful, so we returned to the truck, and I began to stow my camera gear.
Then I saw Steve frantically waving us his way. We hopped into the truck and pulled up next to him.
“He’s here,” Steve said, flashing a huge grin. “And he’s with a drake wood duck and two wood duck hens.” I was stunned. I had never seen a mandarin duck. Now the two world-class beauties were together on a log, along with two hens and several red-eared sliding turtles.
My camera was fairly smoking as I snapped photos as fast as I could. The mandarin left the log at times and took solitary swims. He was as beautiful in the water as he was on the log. But I would have never had the opportunity for those shots if Ruth hadn’t insisted on driving through the park and if Steve hadn’t persisted in his search for the mandarin.