Dabbling in Duck-land
The shallow Maguri wetland near Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam is a lesser known destination but a haven of birds and aquatic beauties. It is still a virgin destination, connected with the Dibru River and surrounded by villages on three sides. Dhritiman Mukherjee shares his experience shooting in the wetland…
In my last visit to the Maguri, I encountered a variety of migratory ducks like the Gadwals, Northern Pintails, Eurasian Wigeons and Red crested pochards, an experience I treasure till date.
Being a popular fishing area with the locals, small boats were easy to manage.Over fifteen thousand birds inundated the wetland and the entire stretch was approachable in our boat.It was just the sight to get the adrenaline rushing for a photographer. I visualized close frames of beautiful ducks and got supremely excited.
But my excitement vanished within half an hour of embarking the boat. The ducks were just not allowing my boat to get close. They were flying away from one point to another, as I tried to approach them.Within an hour I realized, that this was not the way in which I could get the clicks I was hoping for.
I left the wetland without shooting a single image.I thought of an alternative. I planned to set up a hide in the wetland the following day.
It was not an easy task, as the hide had to be a floating system in the middle of the wetland. I used the trunks of banana trees to make the platform and used long grasses to make a temporary concealed shelter over the platform. Then,I left the hide empty for few days for the ducks to accept it as part of their environment.
After almost a week, I ventured into the hide. I made it a practice to spend the day in the hide from dawn to dusk. But this, idea too, turned to be a failure. Not completely though.
Very few birds of resident species like Common Coot, Little Grebe etc were coming close to my hide. Migratory ducks were also avoiding it. I got no significant shot from the hide but learnt about the movement pattern of the avians in the wetland.
I had observed that the ducks were keeping busy feeding in the relatively shallow area of the wetlands from early morning till around 11 am. After that they were going into resting mode, and there was very less movement. Around three in the afternoon, most of the ducks used fly to a particular corner of the wetland where the water was comparatively deep(approximately 5 to 6 feet) and was surrounded by the Water Hyacinths.
After a few days when I had a viral fever, I was resting beside the wetland in the afternoon contemplating my future course.At that very moment a huge flock of ducks flew to that specific corner of that wetland where they used to spend the evening as I mentioned earlier.Suddenly an idea struck my mind by observing their flying and landing pattern in the water. I saw the time in my cellphone; it was exactly 3 pm. Next day I reached the lake sharp at 1 pm. This time I could do no wrong!!
I zeroed down on a spot where there was a cluster of water hyacinths. And in that cluster I placed my tripod into the water; the depth of water was 4 to 5 feet. So I set the tripod at such a height, that only the head of the tripod was over the water,and I fixed my tele lens with the tripod.I made a wreath with the leaves of Water Hyacinths and tied around my head and went into the water, my body submerged and only my head surrounded with the leaves was outside.I tried to camouflage my camera system and myself as much as I could, with the help of those water hyacinths. When I was well set in the water, my boat left the place.
It was month of January, the land temperature was about 8 to 10 degree centigrade and the water was even colder. I was very excited but not sure about the success of this experiment, after spending one and half hours in the water I was shivering in cold.
Around 3 O clock the ducks started flying and it was one of my best experiences in the wilderness so far, thousands of ducks were flying over my head and were landing so close that I could touch if I wished. I could hear unknown sounds of the ducks, which they were making during landing, which actually we cannot hear from a distance. Loose feathers of the ducks were dropping on my head.It was an out of the world experience.Ducks were everywhere in front of my camera and I was getting them in perfect angle.
After a while I started clicking, but I was missing a wide-angle lens. I was shivering more and more as the weather became colder as it got close to sunset. The darkness was spreading its wings.
The leeches were all around my body; I was bleeding with their bites. At night the fever was high and I took a double dose of medicine to keep myself fit for the next day.
I carried another camera body with a 24 mm lens next day, but the problem was to manage that camera in the water along with the previous camera with tele lens,and the biggest problem was I had to keep one hand dry to operate the cameras.Again I thought of a solution and borrowed a rice-cooking bowl from the camp, which could float in the water. I put my 2nd camera in that bowl and the bowl was floating perfectly.
On the third day of my experiment I Could take some images of the ducks during landing from a different perspective with that 24 mm lens.
This story is about my learning process in the field and the execution with limited resource.
What followed was a severe skin infection which left me after a month and indelible images which chose to stay with me.