Plants & Animals

Green-Winged Teal

March is prime time for photographing waterfowl as they make their way northward across Missouri toward their breeding grounds in Canada and beyond. Bolder than usual, with hunting season in the rearview mirror, and dressed in their Sunday best, the colorful ducks of spring are more amenable to photography than ever. Last March, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of one of these stunning vernal travelers, a drake green-winged teal, as I meandered through St. Louis’ Forest Park in search of other critters.

The green-winged teal(Anas crecca) is a small duck with a pleasing pattern of rich colors. The drake boasts a chestnut-colored head with an ear patch of forest green, a vertical white stripe on each side of the breast, and an iridescent green patch on each wing. The female is mottled brown, but with the same green wing patches.

It was a female greenwing that first caught my eye that day in Forest Park. I almost passed her by as she loafed in a densely vegetated wetland. A closer inspection revealed a second hen, but I couldn’t find a drake anywhere in sight. It was a beautiful, warm day so I decided to plop down on the ground at the edge of the wetland and observe the tiny ducks for a while. Perhaps a drake would make an appearance later on. I found a comfortable spot and draped my tripod, lens, and camera over me in the usual fashion. Soon, I drifted into a nap under the warm sun and woke a few minutes later to see a fat drake standing on a log next to one of the hens. Bingo!

As the morning progressed, several joggers and bicyclists stopped to ask me what I was photographing. I responded, with an air of nonchalance, that I was just watching a couple of ducks. Little did they know I was capturing my best-ever images of an elusive waterfowl species, but I didn’t want to attract a crowd and disturb the little drake. A couple of hours into the shoot, the drake seemed to forget about my presence and proceeded with its daily routine of courting, feeding, and preening, sometimes drifting remarkably close to my position. As duck hunters often say, “I was in duck heaven.”

The green-winged teal, a bit smaller than its blue-winged cousin, is equally skilled in the aerobatics arena, perhaps more so, as reported by many a frustrated wingshooter. I’ve included an inset photo of a typically tight formation of greenwings that I captured over the wetlands of the Department of Conservation’s Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area. Note the iridescent green specula, so conspicuous in flight.

I finally pulled up from my comfortable spot in the grass and headed back to my truck. I returned a few days later to find the wetland devoid of greenwings or any other waterfowl. Only a few blackbirds sang from their favorite cattails along the lonely waterway. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky I’d been a few days earlier.

—Story and photographs by Danny Brown

We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/73 to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.