If you are looking for a great place to get up close & personal with a variety of ducks who aren’t camera shy, allow me to introduce you to Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, Oregon. It ranks fairly low when it comes to challenging birding locations, certainly, but you are guaranteed to find a variety of birds who are not the least bit bothered by human presence while you fidget with your camera. It’s a great place to experiment with settings you may be more hesitant to try in a place where your subjects are more inclined to hide from easy view.
The gardens themselves provide a variety of subject matter for your lens beyond just birds; a wonderful variety of flora draw your attention as you wander towards the ponds and Crystal Spring Lake. On a lovely November day such as the one where I most recently visited, the golds and reds of autumn are gorgeous. The pathways are well maintained and easily traversed, going right along the water’s edge. Tall trees provide a variety of both open sunshine (weather permitting) and shaded lighting. There are plenty of benches and convenient rock walls to settle upon as well, making it easy to stay still for an extended period while you focus on a particular subject or just wait for the right moment of inspiration.
Although mallards are one of the prominent species, don’t be concerned that you’ll find nothing more than these most common of pond ducks at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens; the lake is good sized for the suburban location, and spring fed. It draws a healthy variety of waterfowl, and you never know who may be stopping by.
In all of the locations I have photographed the colorful wood duck, this is by far the easiest in which to get a clear view of their bright plumage. These usually skittish little fowl get right into the mixed flocks coming quite close, in hopes someone has brought a bit of food. American coots and American wigeons are regularly found among the feathered visitors here. This trip also turned up a pair of lesser scaup, although they were less certain of humans and kept a fair distance.
On this particular day, the water was thick with flocks of cackling geese. These smaller geese share very similar markings with their larger and more common cousins, Canada geese. They tend to have less orderly flocks while in flight. Close observation shows not only are they smaller in overall size, they also have a proportionately smaller bill. I often describe them as appearing to be young Canada geese if they already had adult markings.
Also encountered on this outing were glaucous-winged gulls, double crested cormorants, great blue heron, buffleheads, American crow, yellow rumped warbler, black capped chickadee, pied-billed grebe, and a squadron of squirrels. There are also what I have affectionately dubbed “mutant ducks”, which are likely variants of domesticated mallards; their coloration varies greatly, as does their size.
Admission is free this time of year, although there is a fee from March 1st through Labor Day. It is of course lovely to visit in the spring & summer when the majority of the rhododendrons are in bloom. To learn more about Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, be sure to visit the City of Portland site or their Facebook page.