Western Grebe parents with chick. All photos © Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson
This month we are spotlighting the gorgeous and evocative bird photography of Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson. Born in France and now living and working from her home in Irvine, California, Sandrine came to our attention a few years ago when she photographed and helped alert us to an American White Pelican with a severe bill injury. The bird’s rescue, care and ultimate release back to the wild, captured the public’s attention and garnered media coverage. The pelican was voted the bird patient of the year in 2018.
We asked Sandrine more about her discovery of this bird in need, and in her own words she told us this:
American White Pelican with injured bill.
“I often walk the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine which is five minutes away from my house and that day I spotted an American White Pelican walking on one of the trails. I immediately thought it was very odd because they always stay either in the water or on the islands pretty far from humans. I started taking pictures and noticed the bird had a badly deformed bill and a bloody wound at the neck. I first thought that the bird had been attacked by coyotes and I immediately contacted Trude Hurd at Audubon Sea and Sage but as the bird was flighted there was no way to capture it that day.
The Pelican was captured a few days later when it was weakened enough to get caught. I felt a special bond to this bird and was very grateful to the good people who helped along the way and of course to the great job International Bird Rescue did to rehabilitate this bird. A chain of solidarity really went in motion to save this pelican. A few weeks later I visited Bird Rescue’s [Los Angeles wildlife center] and witnessed and videotaped the bird’s last check-up before it was released, it was a real treat for me.”
Elegant Terns courting on the beach in Spring.
Question: You have so many fine photos, what are some of your favorite species to capture photographically?
Answer: My two favorite species to photograph are Elegant Terns and Burrowing Owls. Elegant Terns are courting on the beach every spring and their antics are simply fantastic. They have great ‘’hair-dos’’ when in breeding plumage, and a beautiful courting ceremony that includes dancing, fish offerings, strolling on the beach etc. They seem to have minds of their own and I often laugh at their bold attitudes.
Burrowing Owls: mom and chick.
Talking about bold attitudes, Burrowing Owls are also fantastic. Some people will think it is odd to believe birds have facial expressions. But Burrowing Owls really do have many different expressions and are a delight to photograph. Unfortunately they have almost completely disappeared from Orange County partly because of loss of habitat.
Q: How did you get your start in photography?
Foggy morning at the marsh: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Hooded Mergansers and Coots.
A: I started when I was in middle school with black and white photography when digital photography wasn’t even a thing! I learned the basics of photography and the work in a dark room. After many years of doing only family photos, I started again with a new camera (a Nikon D90 my husband gave me for my birthday) when I lived in Chile for two years and I wanted to capture the beauty of Chilean landscapes.
About 10 years ago when my son was in elementary school and he was really into nature, we started walking the neighborhood to spot animals. I had my camera with me and we would identify birds, lizards and insects once we were home. That’s how wildlife photography started for me. Since then I’ve been walking and photographing birds almost every single day and if I walk without my camera my eyes behave like a lens and I am always thinking about the shots I could take. Of course I almost always have my camera with me because you have to be ready, you never know what is going to pop just before your eyes.
Brown Pelican makes a landing.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your bird and nature photography in general?
A: When you start wildlife photography you don’t necessarily know the ethics of the field and the most important thing to learn according to me is how to be an ethical photographer. Wildlife is facing unprecedented threats (climate change, loss of habitat, pesticides, pollution, you name it) and you certainly don’t want to add to that by your bad behavior in the field. I see so many photographers acting like the only thing that matters is the shot, the animal is secondary. They trample habitat, harass birds, disclose locations of nests, bait animals to get better shots etc. I have learned to be respectful, to keep my distances and even to avoid going to a spot where I know the birds are going to be stressed by my presence.
Male Brandt’s Cormorant bringing nesting material to his mate
Q: We know great photography is more than big name brand equipment. But that being said, what lens could you not live without and why?
A: My first lens for wildlife photography was a Nikon 300mm f/4 and I took tens of thousands of pictures with it. It is a great lens and I still love it. I now have a 200-500mm Nikon and once you have tasted the reach this kind of lens can offer there is no going back! Wildlife photography means being able to capture beautiful and unique moments without disturbing the animals so long lenses are a must. I am looking forward to seeing how mirrorless cameras and the lenses that go with them are developing. The weight of my current camera (a Nikon D810) and lens are sometimes a hassle.
Q: If you could give beginning nature photographers just one (or two) bit of advice, what would it be?
A: Walk alone would be my number one advice! Wildlife photography with a group is really difficult, you talk, you get distracted, you miss the shot. Know your environment, know where the birds are (walk again and again to figure out the good spots) and wait. Birds have territories for example and you can surely find a given species in the same given area.
My second advice is ‘’do no harm’’, keep your distances and be respectful. We have a responsibility as photographers. Wildlife photography is a widely popular hobby in the United States, we have to leave animals their space.
Q: What bird photo projects are you working on in the future?
Snowy Plovers: Dad is taking care of three chicks – mom leaves just after the chicks hatch – and they are all under his wings for protection.
A: My new favorite subject is the Western Snowy Plover. This small shore bird nests on our beaches and is endangered – imagine nesting on Huntington Beach State Beach between April and July, the most popular beach of California! I am part of a group that surveys and tries to protect the Western Snowy Plovers of Orange County and there is so much to do. I am rewarded by photographing them and their chicks – they are the cutest you can find.
Q: Who are some of your favorite photographers?
A: The photography of Vincent Munier, a French wildlife photographer always blows my mind. He is able to capture amazing imagery of the arctic and the wildlife it withstands.
I am very impressed by the work of Britta Jaschinski a German photographer involved in documenting the exploitation of wildlife in the name of entertainment, greed or superstition. Her photography is very powerful and hopefully will help stop wildlife trade. Never has the saying ‘’a picture is worth 1000 words’’ been truer when you watch Britta’s photography.
I believe as photographers we have a huge voice for animals and it would be a shame to waste it on ‘’cute’’ shots only. We have something to say about endangered species, loss of habitat and animal exploitation. I am an active member of my local Audubon Sea and Sage chapter and want to get more and more involved in protection and conservation issues.
Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?
A: Enhanced? It has literally changed my life ! Most of my life revolves around nature, conservation, birds and photography. Being in nature is thrilling, like a boost of life I take each and every day. I am amazed by what I witness, the animals’ behaviors, the return of migratory birds, the rare bird making a few days stop in its long voyage to its breeding ground, the sunsets and the sunrises over the ocean or the mountains, everything excites me, I feel there is always something more to see, to understand and to share.
Sandrine’s web portfolios can be found here: