Duck Stamps



A peaceful alliance between the birder and hunter seems as improbable as the Biblical lion lying down with the lamb, but miracles do happen.  Just remember the stories of the vast flocks of Passenger Pigeons and Carolina Parakeets darkening the skies and their subsequent decimation by hunters.  Or recall the indiscriminate shooting of migratory birds-of-prey on Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania or the plume hunters of southern Florida.  On the Chesapeake Bay hunters used giant guns balanced precariously on small boats to harvest thousands of swimming waterfowl, often hundreds with a single shot.  During a recent trip to Italy I noticed the skittish nature of all the passerines, apparently due to the longterm hunting of these small birds for food.  But even with this history there has been a remarkable truce between birder and hunter in this country, benefitting both, as well as the birds.


The stamp and picture above by Arthur G. Anderson

In 1934 at the height of the Great Depression, when you’d think politicians would have had more pressing issues on their minds, FDR signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act.  This act, designed to preserve vital wetlands, required that each waterfowl hunter purchase a Federal Duck Stamp yearly.  Ninety-eight cents of every dollar raised by this program has gone into a conservation fund and has been used to purchase wetlands throughout the United States.  Since its inception some 900 million dollars has been raised to purchase 5.7 million acres of prime habitat.


by G. Mobley


Currently a Duck Stamp costs $25, a price gladly paid by hunters and waterfowl art and stamp collectors as well.  The first stamp was designed by “Ding” Darling, a name well-known by birders who have visited the famous hotspot on Sanibel Island, Florida.  He was a political cartoonist and also the director of The Bureau of Biologic Survey, the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  His first stamp depicted a Mallard pair landing on a pond.


by William C. Morris


Initially the stamps were designed by invited artists but since 1949 they have been chosen in a juried, open, and highly competitive contest.  The 2017 winner is a beautiful painting of flying Canada Geese by James Hautman of Chaska, Minnesota.  Amazingly this is James 5th duck stamp winner, tying him with his brother Joseph who also has 5 prior winners.  Another brother, Robert came in third this year and has also won two prior contests!  There’s duck stamps in those genes I’d say.  You can buy the stamp, a print of the original art, or a framed rendition of both at


by James Hautman, the 2017 winner

Birders receive “bird gifts” at the holidays and special occasions.  Recently at a retirement party my colleagues thoughtfully presented me with multiple interesting bird feeders and plenty of feed to stock them.  They also baked an amazing cake with frosting depicting a bird photo lifted from my blog.  Thanks for that; you know who you are.  Several years ago I received a call from a dear friend who was in a thrift shop in Arizona and ran across 6 framed duck stamps and prints from the 1980’s.  “Would you like them”, he queried.  “You bet”, was my quick reply.  I now have a beautiful gallery of stamps.


I’m not a hunter but sincerely appreciate the duck stamp program, an alliance of hunters, birders, artists, art and stamp collectors, and conservationists.  And the birds like it too.

Confessions Of An Amateur Bird Photographer


Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)


You and I have read all of the “right way” articles instructing us how to photograph birds, post-process the images, and store the files.  These have given me some valuable tips, maybe even from your blog, but in the end I must make my own way, experiment, and go with what works for me.  When this deviates from accepted practices there is some hesitation, or even embarrassment in mentioning it.  Despite this I’m offering my bird photography confessions; please don’t laugh or ridicule.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)            click on any photo to zoom

On the input side I’m pretty conventional and follow consensus.  Use good equipment, the best that budget allows, take a lot of pictures (a day of birding typically results in 500+ shots), use aperture priority trying to keep exposure times to 1/800 seconds and faster.  Get close and stay low for ground birds.  Frequently check and adjust brightness compensation as conditions change, and if anything slightly under expose the bird.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

Here comes confession #1, I don’t like RAW.  If I was a professional and trying to make a living with bird photography I would use RAW, but I’m not and I don’t.  The RAW files are simply too large and the post-processing too time consuming.  JPEG suits me just fine.  Remember, I have 500 photos to sort through when I get home, even before post-processing begins.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

A quick run through the 500 shots eliminates 400 due to motion, poor exposure, bad composition, or simply too many pictures of the same bird and pose; it’s easy to get carried away when the light and bird are perfect.  This brings me to confession #2, I do not use a sophisticated photo-processing program such as Photoshop or Light Room.  I’ve tried them and found that they are overkill for my needs.  The guiding principle here is KISS (keep it simple stupid).  Don’t laugh; I use Mac Photos 1.5.  It’s free and came with the computer.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

My post-processing goal is to take the remaining 100 shots and with reasonably little effort reduce that to 10 or 15 “keepers” suitable for long-term storage.  I crop most of my shots, stopping just before graininess becomes apparent and often realign the photo keeping the “rule of thirds” in mind.  A few quick tweaks to the exposure, brightness, and shadow controls and I’m done.  I almost never change tint and color.  If the shot doesn’t look great after these simple steps it goes into the trash.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

Confession #3 is my methods for file organization and storage.  For a while a used Light Room’s rather complicated system entering tags and species identifiers to facilitate sorting.  When newer versions forced me into the Cloud I left LR and looked for a simpler solution.  I’m a little paranoid about the Cloud and the Russians–what if Vladimir Putin steals my warbler pictures?  Mac Photos 1.5 suits me well with periodic back-ups to a second computer and also to a free-standing hard drive stored in a fire-proof safe.  By the way, Photos 1.5 even handles RAW images if you must.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

I’ve used multiple filing systems for bird photos and have switched to the scientific bird classifications.  In Photos I’ve created a separate album for each Order of birds, and a subfolder for each Family in the Order.  The Order names end with “…formes” and the Family names with “…idae”.  For instance a pelican photo is placed in a subfolder called Pelecanidae which is located in the folder called Pelecaniformes, and a nuthatch photo is placed in a subfolder named Sittidae which is in the folder Passeriformes.  This system has the value reenforcing my knowledge of bird classification as well as reminding me of the various birds’ anatomical and behavioral traits that place them into a specific Order and Family.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)

On a few occasions a photo may be placed into an additional album.  For instance, bird photos from a trip abroad are placed in a country-specific album in addition to the entry in the bird classification file.  I also have a separate album for interesting flight shots.  Lastly I name the photo by common name and genus and species while the camera attaches a number, date, and now with the Canon 7DII, a GPS location.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

So I confess to KISS, but am always open to suggestions and experimentation.  I apologize to the non-photography readers for the shop talk in this post but hope it triggers some conversation or comments from my fellow shutterbug friends.  It’s always fun to see how others handle their photos and files and is just another factor contributing to the many pleasure of this hobby.