Kenneth Knepper: Wildlife photography at its smelliest

Kenneth Knepper

With any luck, my 9-year-old son will have forgotten an adventure we shared trying to capture photographic images of wild ducks long before he is able to pass it on to his children.

At least, that’s my dream.

We began the day driving to a local hiking trail just outside of town.

With temperatures hovering just below freezing, we dressed appropriately — me in a camouflage jacket while my son chose a neon blue coat.

To people who happened to drive past, we must have looked like a boy and his pet tumbleweed wandering the trail.

Luckily, plenty of trees lining the path provided shelter from a howling north wind, although minutes later, we chose to stand in the middle of a creek with no tree within 20 feet, looking around for signs of arrowheads or wildlife.

It wasn’t long before we decided we were the only life — wild or otherwise — brave enough to be outside on such a cold day.

Along one creek bank, we passed a suspiciously lifeless perch apparently frozen to a fallen tree limb, which further illustrated the fact to me.

My son collected a pocket full of petrified wood, an intact clamshell and other obscure treasures, resulting in a set of waterlogged gloves he tried wiping on his jeans.

He was ready for the trip to be over, but I wanted to shoot a few photos first.

That was about the same moment we saw a pair of mallard ducks setting on a bank across the creek.

“Shhhh,” I said, crunching across several fallen leaves.

I dropped to my hands and knees and encouraged my son to follow.

Since his feet were nearly as wet as his gloves, he made strange, squishing noises as he scooted forward while I set controls on the camera.

From my vantage point, I could see only one duck, which seemed to be staring straight at me.

So much for trying to be quiet, I decided.

We moved behind a tree and both ducks watched us peek around the side.

“Dad,” my son announced in a voice loud enough to address people several sections away. “Dad.”

I tried to ignore him but finally decided to look, holding a finger over my mouth to stress the importance of being silent.

“Dad, they have dog poop bags over there,” he announced, pointing to a sign a few yards away.

I nodded, crawled a little bit farther and suddenly realized why the bags were centrally located.

My glove pressed into an aromatic clump lying just beneath a layer of leaves.

“Ugh,” I tried to whisper, not letting my son see what happened for fear of more noise — his laughter.

Meanwhile, the ducks had grown tired of our feeble attempts at stalking them and swam away.

“You have to be quiet when trying to get a good wildlife photo,” I advised, standing up.

“But Dad, there’s a bunch of other ducks right over there looking at us.”

Sure enough, four ducks stood along a bank, randomly quacking while watching our photography slapstick routine.

I walked within 10 feet of them and shot more photos.

“Dad, I don’t think you have to sneak up on ducks,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. “It’s like they’re used to people.

“… And, what is that smell?”

“I think you scared the ducks too much,” I replied.

It was too bad the answer didn’t explain why the odor followed us inside the vehicle.

But a story for future generations was born.

Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan. He can be contacted at