"Leap of Faith"
Bufflehead chicks make a leap of faith and follow mom from their nest cavity to the lakeshore, about 40’ down and 100’ away. Photographed on a small lake in western Montana. ("Leap" note cards available here.)
Behind the lens.
"Leap of Faith" is one of our most popular photographs. People walking through art shows suddenly stop, point at the photo, and laugh out loud. What better "gift" can we give total strangers than the gift of laughter? I like to believe that people who hang this photograph in their home will get a chuckle every day, no matter what else happens to them that day.
We were walking our dogs on a favorite trail when Tracy first spotted the hen peeking out of the nest cavity, about 40' up in a twisted larch snag. Tracy took the dogs home, and I returned with my camera and set up my tripod as far away as I could with my largest telephoto lens -- and waited.
Bufflehead chicks feed themselves, so as soon as all of the eggs hatch, mom must lead them from the nest to the lake. While I hid nearby, mom kept looking out of the hole every few minutes for a couple of hours. Finally, she dropped straight down to the bottom of the tree and then sat there silently for several more minutes. When she let out one soft "cluck," the chicks suddenly made their first appearance in the hole and immediately started jumping down -- one, two and three at a time -- to join mom. There were seven chicks all together, and it took less than 30 seconds for all of them to leave their nest and "fly" down to mom. Actually, their feet are bigger than their wings, and it's more of a controlled crash than a first flight. Once regrouped at the base of the tree, mom led her family on a 100-yard hike through the brush and fallen trees to reach the safety of the lake.
All's well that ends well.