Well, this duck hunt was unforeseen.
This is the continuation of the New Zealand Diary. Read the previous parts here:
During my stay at the Southland Fish&Game council, the unforeseen opportunity arose to attend a duck hunt. Given my curiosity and general interest in knowing where my food is coming from, I joined Erin and Cohen. Whereas they shot with real ammunition, I remained shooting stills and footage.
Erin, the wetland specialist, is of small stature and has a very positive charisma. Her face features distinct blue eyes which she squeezes when she laughs with her slim pointy mouth. The brown-blonde hair remains mostly tied back which gives a serious look.
Cohen the young field officer, has a sportive appearance and is of slim stature. The dark-haired guy with his trimmed beard appears full of energy and his narrow eyebrows give him a playful look.
Since I have begun fishing, I was curious on how it is to hunt animals such as deer, chamois or other game. Yet, when it came to go on a duck hunt, I felt unsettled and worried. Why should one hunt these plant-eating poor little creatures?
It was not until the following morning while talking to Cohen that my moral questions were settled: Firstly, some ducks are non-native to New Zealand. Secondly, without limiting the population by hunters, they would compete to much with other endemic birds, which are under distress from other predators anyway. Lastly, they pollute waterways with their excrements. This information gave me the peace of mind to support this undertaking. Still, I was glad it was not me who pulled the trigger.
In the dark, the two Toyota Hilux Fish&Game trucks ploughed through the muddy meadow. Erin, Cohen and I arrived at the artificial pond about 40 minutes outside of Invercargill. We put on Neoprene waders, camo wear, and walked the last bit to the pond. While preparing for the actual hunt, I realized how untrained my senses were for recognizing ducks. Whereas Cohen made out heaps of ducks approaching and flying by, I did not even hear them. Needless to say, I did not manage to get a flying duck at dawn in the frame. Erin and Cohen set out some decoys (duck imitations) and then went into position for the ducks to return.
Duck Hunt: Waiting Game
It reminded me of my military service: putting some colour in your face, get in place quickly and wait. Sitting in the same spot motionless was not the most suitable instance to shoot photographs. I did my best in varying focal length, subject, and orientation. Eventually, my creativity from one spot was truly exhausted. At the beginning, I sat next to Cohen, but it was Erin who pulled the trigger first. The ducks seemed to prefer her spot. After nothing had happened at Cohen’s place for a while, he decided to head back to the office, and I relocated to Erin. Even though she had fired a shot; the luck was on the duck’s side.
Given she needed some photographs for articles, we opted to do a different shooting. The pond was partly frozen, which made stunning reflections and the rising sun created an interesting backdrop. We took some close-ups, portraitures, as well as about 200 photographs of her throwing decoys. It was a lot of fun for both of us and she was very patient to throw them again and again until we both were happy with the result.
We started packing the decoys and gear to head back to the car. Not expecting any ducks to return while walking around the pond, both Erin and I left our gear at a depot. It was at that point, that some spoonbill ducks returned. Unfortunately, I did not have my zoom lens in reach anymore. Bugger.
Given that the wetland is located on farmland, we paid a visit to the owner called Malcom and his wife Margret. The old farmers invited us for tea and cookies, which we happily accepted. Malcolm showed us images and remnants of his past volunteering work for DOC (Department of Conservation). He told us about how they used to care for the Kakapo nests on a sanctuary island close to Stewart Island. Every time the bird left to forage, a volunteer had to put some warm material on a stick on the nest and wait for the bird to return.
At one point there were only 39 Kakapos left in the wild, but now the stocks slowly recover. Indeed, just when I returned to Switzerland the news arrived (even on the other side of the world!) that there are now 200 individuals, which is more than in the last 70 years existed. Malcoms storytelling was very captivating, and I could have listened to him for much longer.
Duck Hunt and the Anecdote
Returning with heaps of new impressions, I edited my favourite pictures until late into the night. The following day, Richard, who is the communication advisor of Fish&Game, was at the Southland council too. He is responsible for media related things such as images. I learnt heaps from him just by talking about photography, but what striked me the most while looking at his portfolio, was his ability to be at the right spot at the right time and capture moments that convey strong emotions by themselves.
To my question on how he had learnt photography, he told a short anecdote: On his very first assignment for a newspaper, his boss looked through the film roll he had just shot. He then exposed the entire film to sunlight (which destroys all images for my millennial readership) and sent him to do the same job better again. You can imagine that I was not aaas keen on showing him my images from the previous day anymore.
Yet, Fish&Game was looking for a shot for a Facebook post, because the duck season was about to close in some regions, so Richard had a look through my edits. To my astonishment, he chose not one, but even two pictures to be worth using. This was a very humbling experience and the icing on the cake of what was already a very memorable duck hunt.