Monday, January 17, 2011

Introducing the coolest duck feather ever - and my new feather photo website

I think the first time I ever plucked a wild duck, I admired the beauty in the pile of feathers at my feet. Maybe it was something about how the beams of light hit them on the garage floor. Or the fact that the individual feathers that comprise our image of a duck can be so surprising when we view them in isolation.

But it wasn't until this duck season that I really began to study duck feathers, and boy was I in for a surprise. Amidst all the beauty on the plucking-room floor, there lay this discovery:

Yes, folks, it's true. This photo is not a fake. Drake gadwalls have smiley face feathers.Read more...
Backing up a little bit: When the 2010-11 season began, one of my students came to school wearing beautiful feather earrings. I asked where she got them, and she said her mother made them. I told her I get lots of beautiful feathers all the time during duck season and asked if she'd like some. Yes!

Then when I blogged about the new partnership back in November, my mom read the post and asked if she could have prints of the photos I used because she wanted to frame them.

Thus was born a new project: gallery-quality duck feather photography.

My work has just begun: I've completed thirteen photos from six species: gadwall, greenwing teal, mallard, pintail (including some nice hen feathers), ruddy and spoonie.

However, there are some obvious holes, like no pin tail-feather for the drake pintail, and no shot of the classic scalloped feathers from the drake gadwall's shoulder. I've photographed them, but want to re-do them.

And the much-maligned drake spoonie has a lot of stunning feathers that I haven't gotten to yet (though I did get my perfect specimen yesterday at Delevan - possibly the first time I've ever been jubilant at shooting a spoonie).

Good lord, I have fourteen boxes of duck feathers stacked up in our den, just waiting to be scrutinized and photographed. You wouldn't believe how long a single shooting session takes.

But my photo gallery is up and running: You can now peruse photos and buy prints online at It's a great opportunity to purchase hunting-related art that you could hang in any workplace without offending those folks who are queasy about hunting.

If you're interested in purchasing the smiley-face photo, just select the Gadwall gallery on my site, or click here to go directly to that photo. (And don't worry about that ugly ole "© Holly A. Heyser" splashed across the image - I have to do that online to prevent copyright infringement; your print will be nice and clean.)

It's important to note that I went with SmugMug because I had purchased a photo through that company by dynamite waterfowl photographer Fred Greenslade of Delta Waterfowl. I was really impressed with the quality of printing and the incredibly sturdy packaging that ensured photos would not be damaged in transit.

SmugMug also allows me to make a little money for the creative work that I do - believe me, blogging and doing food photography for Boyfriend is not terribly lucrative. To that end, dear readers, I'd be grateful if you could spread the word about the fun smiley-face photo and my new online gallery among all the duck hunters/admirers you know.

So, back to that gaddie photo: If you don't believe the photo is real, go get yourself a drake gadwall before the season ends and check it out for yourself. While the quality of smiley face varies from bird to bird - some of the feathers I've collected have garish jack-o-lantern-style smiles with big wicked eyes - every drake gadwall I've plucked has these smiley feathers.

Here's where you look - on the breast, in the transition from brown feathers to white feathers:

I don't know if I'll ever be able to top that smiley-face photo. But I'm really enjoying the process. The ducks I have admired for all my time as a hunter become more beautiful and amazing to me with every feather I photograph.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


NorCal Cazadora said...

P.S. Hey Sacramento-area readers, I'll be donating a signed print of the smiley-face photo to be auctioned off at the March Cal Waterfowl Guns and Hoses fundraising dinner. For information on that dinner, check this calendar later (it's currently got information for dinners only through February).

Hunt Like You're Hungry said...


That is amazing. I was memorized by the feathers on my Black Duck but never thought to look that closely. Absolutely beautiful. Once I'm done here, I'll check out your site- DU loves pintails.

Beautiful stuff!


Ps. Know of any good taxidermists?

Ian Nance said...

well now you'll have me looking through feathers. Pretty neat, haven't noticed that!!

NorCal Cazadora said...

HLYH - I know of a GREAT taxidermist in Stockton, California, but I'm guessing that's a hike from you!

Ian, thanks! Plucking is a lot more fun when you start looking more closely. But it REALLY slows you down!

Josh said...

Holly, those are beautiful.

I'm willing to hand over some flies for you to photograph, too, using some of your feathers. I've been to the smugmug site, and do you some beautiful work. I'll try to make some worthy of your skill.

SimplyOutdoors said...

That is definitely one gorgeous photograph. It's awesome that you're capturing nature and all of it's splendid, natural beauty.

Love it!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Josh, I'd love to photograph your flies!

And Simply: Thank you! It's been fun. I know straight-up wildlife photography is out of my league, in terms of being able to afford good lenses and have time to dedicate to it. But photographing feathers fits nicely into my routine - I use the same set that I use for Hank's food photos. It's super fun - my first photo project I've done just for me.

kmurray said...

Those feathers are just awesome Holly and so are your pictures.

It never ceases to amaze me the beauty that nature hold when we just take time to look.

Thanks for sharing these, wow!

Marian Love Phillips said...

What a clever idea Holly - Beauty is all around us if we only take the time to really look! I love your feather photos! Nice!

PS: Love the smiley face feathers! Each feather has it's own uniqueness! :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Kari and Marian!

Albert Quackenbush said...

Holly, beautiful shot of those feathers and what a novel idea! What a way to turn a chore into something interesting and, quite possibly, profitable. <-- If you are like me, you probably don't worry so much about the profitable part (taking the photos is so much fun). That really is a great shot. I am going to head over and check out your other work. Looking forward to seeing what you have! Cheers!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks! And sadly, you're right. In fact, I spend far too little time trying to make money for the work I do. I'm a terrible entrepreneur. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.

Albert A Rasch said...


As usual I am at your service. Check for an email...

Best regards,
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
Scouting for Hog, Chronicles Style!

Dave Proulx said...


Love your feather photos. I visited the picture gallery and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Since we rarely see gadwall in Ct, the drake gadwall's feather pattern was unknown to me. I can identify them in flight, but had no real knowledge of the subtleties of feathering on drakes.

Well, as luck would have it, my son took a drake gadwall yesterday, the last day of our coastal season. Sure enough, we found the smiley face pattern on the breast feathers.

Since it was very cold here yesterday, (15 degrees) we never would have taken time to observe the feather pattern before cleaning that bird, if I hadn't just read the post.

Thanks for the tip.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Dave, thank you so much! And I'm glad you got to see the real thing after reading about it here.

kmurray said...


I just wanted everyone to know that late Sunday night (1/23/11)I ordered one of Holly's Gadwall photos from SmugMug. I received it today (1/26/11) via USPS and it was amazing.

The photo was all that I thought it would be- crisp, clear, and full of smiles, but I was really impressed at how well it is packaged.

The outer package was made of heavy duty cardboard. I'd like to say "crush proof" but I don't want you to think it's a challenge. I'm sure you could crush it with a tank if you tried but my point is that it was very sturdy.

Inside, the photo is in a sealed plastic protective pouch, and that pouch is shrink wrapped to a piece of cardboard with some sort of a pad in between. Very protected and well taken care of.

Overall, I'm very impressed with the whole process/product and just wanted to put it out here so that you know!

Best Wishes,

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Kari! You described perfectly why I was impressed with the photo I bought through Smugmug last summer.

And thanks again for buying! You were my first sale :-).