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Urban Ducks

On a recent trip to the Bay Area a place that is affectionately known to me as Hell, I was required to spend a couple of extra days, so instead of spending money on a motel room I stayed with a fellow Veteran and friend Richard. Richard is what I call an Urban Commando in addition to spending time at the cabin here on the Island he owns and lives in a RV within the Redwood City area. In exchange for night watchman duties at a friends business he is allowed to hook his RV to the stores power source and spend the night in the parking lot, sorta like a mini Wal-Mart set up. Now what all this has to do with Urban Ducks? …well… nothing, it’s just a lead in as to how I ended up at Bay Front Refuge.

The business Richard stays at is located on the frontage road that parallels Highway 101 in the Redwood City area. It is mostly an industrial area consisting of business warehouses and trailer parks. About a mile from the place Richard stays is the entrance to Bay Front Park Wetlands Refuge. The Refuge located at the eastern end of Marsh Rd. is one of the many wetlands access points on the Peninsula that borders the Pacific Ocean and the western shores of the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Bay is the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas and it’s waters and wetlands are home to a wide range of fish and wildlife

The wetlands that encompass the San Francisco Bay and it’s Delta system are on the Pacific Flyway which means the Bay is either home to or visited annually by millions of migrating waterfowl. Geese, puddle ducks and divers alike congregate to feed on the

Drake Canvasback with a Drake Greenwing Teal

wide variety of plant life, invertebrate and mollusks. Most of these wetland refuges are free and open to the public with certain site specific regulations posted at each one. Bay Front Park is one of these Refuges and is one of the easiest refuges to access. Bay Front Park is a popular location for photographers, bird watchers, hikers, cyclists and people to walk their dogs (on leash). Duck hunters cannot hunt on this refuge but as this duck hunter will attest just looking and photographing ducks as

A hiker and her dog on an early morning hike in the mist

opposed to shooting them can be just as rewarding. While many of these shore access Refuges are No Hunting Refuges there are many hunting spots on the Bay that are accessible by boat, just make sure you check the DFG regulations for areas set aside for waterfowl hunting, you can go to (www.dfg.gov/) for most of the info you need. If your going to hunt make sure you have an up to date tide table and a good navigational  chart, I prefer the FISH-n-MAP CO. ones that most sporting goods stores sell, they are semi waterproof don’t tear and include GPS points as well as channel markers and depth contours. They also make a map for pretty much every body of water that you may have the occasion to visit. I have several that I keep in a plastic bag in the gear bag that carry with me on all of my excursions. I would also strongly recommend a portable VHS radio (marine radio) and a depth finder, preferably one that supports a Navionics chip, I use an older Lowrance LC X-15 MT it works perfect and seems to handle the abuse that duck hunting has to offer. If you extra cash to burn get a Navionics app for your iPhone, but I wouldn’t recommend using one as your sole means of navigation (battery issues) or bringing one out there without some type of waterproof case or container.  I also carry a compass everywhere I go, electronics are great but they have been known to fail, a simple reading when you leave the harbor can save you a day of drifting aimlessly in the fog.  Disclaimer:If you have never been out on the waters of San Francisco Bay I would recommend a couple of day trips to get yourself acclimated.

Flock of Migrating Waterfowl Mallards and Canadian Geese

Things can go to hell in a hand basket real fast out there so be safe, pay attention, make sure someone knows when and where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.  With some basic safety precautions and the use of common sense you should have a great day….. Oh and I almost forgot always bring a fishing pole! During the winter months the South Bay can offer some great Sturgeon action… more on that later.

Flaps Down.. Drake Mallard coming in for a landing.

As a duck hunter that does not get around as well as I once did and cannot eat as many ducks as I shoot I have taken up photography. It doesn’t matter to me if I shoot them with a camera or shoot them with a gun the bottom line is I love ducks, I love to watch

Benny waiting for the next move.

them, I love to listen to them, and I love to call them, I love to shoot them with a camera or gun and I love to eat them, most of all I love to watch the excitement and enthusiasm of my Dog Benny as he crashes through tulle’s, mud, brush, whatever on his way to retrieve a downed bird.  He misses nothing, he is in tune with everything that moves and is on full alert long before we get to our destination. He knows the shotgun or camera usually means a trip to the marsh and some kind of action.

Benny doin what Benny does

As a consumer of Ducks certain species in my view flat out taste better. I prefer Teal, Widgeon and Canvasbacks, with White Fronted Geese (Specks) topping that list. For eats they are my favorites and are fine table fare. One favorite way to cook them  is on one of those portable rotisseries like the George Foreman or the Ronco, there are several models out there. I like to rub em down with Pappy’s and cook em for about 30 minutes or less and serve em up with brown or wild rice… mmmmm good!

Drake Greenwing Teal

As a photographer I love places like Bay Front refuge because as most photographers will attest trying to shoot photos of ducks in the wild is not an easy proposition. At most of the locations that wild ducks frequent you need to treat a camera shoot the same you would approach a hunt. Wild ducks are extremely wary especially during the winter months duck season in particular, they have been chased, called and shot at from Alaska to Mexico. You need to camo up build a blind and if you want flight shots it helps to set decoys and use a duck call. Don’t use the latter if you don’t know how you’ll just spook em. Seems like a big hassle just to photograph but for me its worth it.

Northern Shoveler aka; Spoonie with a Drake and a Hen Widgeon

Too get a clear photograph of a Greenwing Teal burning the tulle tops or resting with its mate on a tuft of grass, or to have the opportunity to photograph the most regal and one of the rarest of ducks the Canvasback, as it leisurely swims among the wide variety of other ducks that inhabit the area is a treat and a great source of excitement for me. I get the same pleasure capturing a sweet action photo that I do when I call a flock to decoy. At Bay Front you don’t need a blind you don’t need to camo up on any given day you can expect to see Mallards, Gadwall, Widgeon, Teal, Northern Shovelers aka; Spoonies and Canvasbacks (Cans) there is also a decent

Hen and Drake Gadwall

population of Canada Geese that inhabit the area. The beauty of the Bay Front Refuge is all of this can be seen by taking a short walk or if you’re too lazy or its too cold and rainy (welcome conditions for most duck hunters)  you can still get some photo ops from the comfort of your vehicle. The view is not limited to the abundant waterfowl that live and migrate to these wetlands the sunrise and sunset’s can be stunning and there is also a wide variety of shorebirds and raptors that live and thrive

Canadian Honkers in the early morning fog at Bay Front

on these urban refuges. Photo ops abound…..

So if life is getting you down and your fat dog is sitting there staring at you while you sit on the couch watching the boob and eating chips and dip get up grab the leash put on your hiking boots and take a stroll through miles of trails that wind through the Bay Area’s wetlands. If your like me with a couple of gimpy knees break out the bike and by all means if you have a camera bring it. I use a Nikon D90 with a older Nikkor 80-200mm lens, and I do bring a 1.8 50mm prime in case there is a beautiful sunrise or sunset that I can’t resist. If all you have is a iPhone or cell phone camera that will do, I have actually gotten some beautiful shots with my iPhone. So till the next time….. Happy shooting

The King of Ducks.. Duck Royality 2 fine Drake Canvasbacks and a Drake Teal

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