Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Photographers in Focus

November 5, 2019

Photographers in Focus: Rory Merry

Margo Pellegrino rescues a cormorant suffering from Domoic Acid poisoning at Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove, CA. Later the stricken bird was picked up by the Monterey SPCA and transferred to our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center.

In this latest Photographers in Focus feature, we are delighted to highlight photographer Rory Merry from Pacific Grove, California. Rory’s work came to our attention after we saw his dramatic photo of a Margo Pellegrino, who was visiting the area from New Jersey, as she waded into the Monterey Bay surf to rescue a stricken cormorant.

Born in Ireland, Rory is a professional photographer and world traveler and has been capturing people, wildlife, and events for nearly 60 years. He is represented by the Zuma Press photo agency.

We hope you enjoy all his photographs of the extraordinary beauty of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and its wildlife inhabitants.

Question: The photo of the women rescuing the cormorant is pretty amazing. What’s the story behind that image?

Answer: I was taking my usual morning walk along the coast by Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove, when I noticed five or six people off of the path on a rock outcrop looking down at the rocks below. As I got closer, I saw a woman climbing over the rocks.

Margo Pellegrino waded into ocean at Asilomar State Beach to rescue a sick cormorant infected with Domoic Acid.

I thought to myself that it was another collector. “Oh no, not another collector.” Then I saw something splashing in the water some distance from the shore. I could not make out what was going on with the naked eye, so I looked through my camera’s 300mm lens. At first I thought it was a cormorant and a sea otter fighting it out.

In the meantime, this woman was climbing out over the rocks and then into the cold water up to her waist. She kept going out further and further until she finally reached the splashing. By then I realized that the woman (Margo Pellegrino) was on her way to rescue a cormorant that was in serious distress suffering from Domoic Acid poisoning.

She was pretty far out and well above her waist in the cold water of the Northern California Coast. She was wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Meanwhile the cormorant was floundering around. She finally reached the cormorant, grabbed the bird and started to make her way back to shore. She chose a different route back to shore. It looked like to me like a passageway between rocks where I feared she would run into deep water. All the time I was taking images not in continuous sequential shooting mode, but one frame at a time as I saw the story unfold.

The cormorant was later transferred to Bird Rescue where it unfortunately had to be humanely euthanized because of its severe neurotoxin poisoning.

Suddenly she was in deeper water, hence the splash in the photo. I got it. Of course, she could not use her hands for balance because she was holding to the cormorant. She was actually hugging the bird for dear life. She never let go of the cormorant and finally reached shallower waters. The total sequence is made up of 59 frames. In frames 40 to 51, Margo is actually smiling. No doubt because she realizes she has actually saved the cormorant and herself included. Mind you, she is still up to her waist in water in frame 40.

See: Monterey Herald story: Woman saves cormorant with domoic acid poisoning at Asilomar State Beach

The images were shot with a Nikon D800E with 300mm AF 300mm f/4 ED. Sadly, it’s not a Vibration Reduction (VR) lens. I processed the RAW images in Nikon Capture NX2 with no manipulation and no color enhancement; just processing as per the World Press Photo Competition Rules.

Normally, I would shoot with a Nikon D4s and a Nikon 300 mm 2.8 VR. However, I had decided to sell my 2.8 to pay for my last photo adventure. I was not actually shooting anything that required a 300mm anyway. Due to being evicted from my apartment in Berkeley, I came to live in my house in Pacific Grove. Walking along the shoreline every day, I realized I really needed at least a 300mm to shoot wildlife. I found just such a lens on Ebay for $145. The seller said it had dust and fungus. It also had an aperture ring issue, which I repaired with dental floss.

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) dance across the sand.

Q: How did you get your start in photography?

A: My father was a magazine publisher and thought all the photographers could not take a decent photograph, so he bought himself a Rolleiflex TLR Zeiss Tessar 1:3.5/75. This was in Ireland. I was ten years old. He bought me Kodak Brownie, which is a basic box camera made of thick, leatherette-covered cardboard introduced in 1911 by Eastman Kodak. The camera shot film 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 size negatives.

This was great as my father also bought me a photo printing set for my birthday. It was a simple set with a frame for holding the negative and photo paper to make a contact print the size of the negative. This is the same as the processes used today for printing digital negatives on photographic paper to make silver gelatin prints.

In 1958 when we went to Belgium to the Brussels World’s Fair where I photographed a model of the Sputnik space capsule in the Russian pavilion. I eventually got my father’s Rolleiflex and just kept on photographing. My first professional photo was published in 1969.

Short-billed Dowitcher’s (Limnodromus griseus) in flight.

Q: What’s are some of the challenges you face in your bird and nature photography in general?

A: I like to shoot without a tripod whether it is birds in nature, portraits or whatever, so holding the camera steady (or cellphone for that matter) is always an issue AND really the most important part of photographic technique. All camera manufacturers including Nikon, Sony, and Cannon have spent millions of dollars perfecting some form of Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to reduce camera shake. Nobody wants a blurred photograph, at least not too often.

I also shoot on manual mode, so forgetting to change my setting from one scene to the next is an issue.

Getting close to my subject without disturbing the creature in nature photography is always difficult. Whatever I do, I don’t want to disturb the creature or bird. It is fine if the bird is conscious of my presence, but that’s it. I shoot what is see as I come across the situation. I walk. I don’t sit in a blind hide out waiting for the shot. I go about my daily life and shoot whatever interests me. Obviously, I do cover situations where my presence is preplanned, but with birds or nature photography it is all up to the birds.

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: Well, that is a good question all right. The issue of being close enough to your subject is always critical no matter if it birds, bees or humans. You really need a minimum of a 300mm lens for bird or any nature photography. Sometimes I use a 1.7 Teleconverter with a 300mm lens this make the lens 510mm. However, a 1.7x teleconverter will lose 1 1⁄2 stops of light making the effective wide aperture f/4.5, which is not bad for a well-lit subject. To be honest, I have shot bees with a 105mm macro f2.8 and even a 14-24mm f2.8. I am always experimenting.

The eyes of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

Q: If you could give beginning nature photographers just one (or two) bit of advice, what would it be?

A: Don’t disturb the birds or animals you photograph. Since I shoot in the open, the birds do see me, but I keep my distance. A lot of my shots are action, so the birds will be flying by keeping an eye on me. Don’t be fooled. The wildlife has its eye on you.

Always carry your camera, keep the camera steady, the lens cap off and the lens hood on the correct way. One day you will get the shot of a lifetime.

Q: What bird photo projects are you working on in the future?

A: I am always trying to get shots of birds in flight, hence no tripod. I like nature in action. One shot I am after is from a boat. You know the way the pelicans and cormorants fly along just above the waves. The pelicans use the updraft from the waves to save their energy. Well, I want to be right there with them as they come towards me, pass by and glide away. The pelicans fly so close to the waves that their outer most feather sometimes touch the water. I got that shot once from the beach, but the image was not crystal sharp. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Q: Who is one of your favorite photographers?

A: Richard Avedon

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: When I walk along the Pacific Ocean in Monterey Bay during the mornings, I see the most beautiful sights on the planet. I see pelicans and cormorants flying in formation, vultures circling around waiting for breakfast, deer grazing, gulls fighting over pieces of food, Snowy Plovers dancing in unison in and out of the surf, rabbits hopping along, deer mice peeping out of their homes, egrets standing on kelp half a mile out in the ocean, Sea Otters lounging around in the kelp, and Sea Lions popping their heads out of the ocean for a quick look around and take a breath of fresh ocean air. I hear the sound of the waves crashing in the rocks.

Black Oystercatcher foraging for food.

When one looks at all this going on around you, all of one’s troubles go away. The images fill one’s mind like the feathers at the end of a pelicans’ wings for precise flying. Sea lions can see above and below water. Cormorants can see above and under water too. They can fly, swim and walk on land. Nature doing what nature does.

When I pick up my camera and put it to my eye, I only see the images in the viewfinder. No thoughts in my mind. I am in the present and experience a Zen clarity of mind. No mind. Just like nature itself.

When on live in the city, which I did for 40 years, one does not see nature. One is divorced from it.

I have always loved nature of that there is no doubt, but now that I see nature in the wild every day, I am adamant about preserving and protecting it.

I am featured here because of my photographs of a cormorant rescue. To be that close to a wild bird was an honor. When I process my images, I get to see them big and in detail on my computer screen in every detail: eyes, claws and individual feathers. When I see the creature again, all of sudden I am flying with the Pelicans gliding along with the flock up and over the waves, flapping my wings, zipping along at 35 miles per hour and skimming over the ocean with my friends, the cormorants. I talk to the sparrows as they fly around the sand dunes of Asilomar State Beach, “How are you this morning, Mr. Sparrow?” I am a part of nature.

Graceful beauty of two California Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in flight.

California Brown Pelican skims the water in Monterey Bay.

Deer forage for food at water’s edge at Monterey Bay.

All photos © Rory Merry

September 28, 2018

Photographers in Focus: Alan Murphy

Common Loon with chick at Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. All photos © Alan Murphy

We stumbled upon Alan Murphy’s gorgeous bird photos by accident this month while looking online at Common Loon [Gavia immer] images. September is that special month when we celebrate a group of waterbirds that excels at beauty and wonderful parenting skills. What attracted us to Murphy’s photos is that he captures these waterbirds with such grace.

Murphy is an award-winning photographer based in Houston. Besides spending time creating top notch bird photos, this photographer leads several bird photography workshops. Check them out here

We asked Murphy to tell us more about his passion for capturing images of our avian friends:

Question: Your photos of loons are striking. How do you get such intimate portraits of these beautiful birds?

Answer: I have been leading loon photography workshops in British Columbia for the past 7 years. We take small groups out to photograph 3 or 4 nesting pairs. The birds are used to us and allow us to spend time watching and documenting their behavior. I built a low profile platform pontoon boat that you can lay down to photograph the loons from a low perspective. Our camera lenses are only a few inches above water level giving that very intimate look. Each year we get to see and photograph eggs hatching, the chick’s first swim and first feeding. As the adult loons dive to catch their food, their chicks remain on the surface leaving them vulnerable to eagles and other predators. Many times they would bring the chicks over to our boat knowing they would be safe. It is truly a spiritual experience to spend time with these beautiful birds.

Common Loon adult interaction with chick at Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

Q: How did you get into wildlife photography?

A: As a young boy growing up in England and Ireland, bird watching was my hobby. I loved spending time in the woods and had a keen interest in the birds. When I moved to the United States in the 80’s, I was a little overwhelmed with the number of species that looked similar. As an example, in England we have one wren, where in the States we have nine species of wren. To speed up the challenge of identification on the many species, I borrowed a camera and small zoom lens. I would have prints made from the slide film and then try to ID the birds from the prints with my bird book next to them. It didn’t take long to see I needed a bigger lens and find ways to get closer. I read books on how to find and approach wildlife and also on how to be a better photographer. I discovered that I loved the challenge of the technical camera stuff, the challenge of getting closer and most of all, I found photographing birds to be the most intimate bird watching there is. I was hooked.

Sunrise: Loon on the lake at Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

Q: What’s are some of the challenges you face in your bird photography?

A: My personal photography goal is to photograph as many of the species that breed in North America. There are over 740 species. It has taken me 30 years to photograph just over 600 and will probably take the rest of my life to reach 700.  It takes time, networking, money and luck. There’s also a sense of urgency as so many species are getting close to extinction and may not be here in 20-30 years. In the 30 years I have been photographing migrating birds on the Upper Texas Coast, I have seen a decline in bird numbers. The technology in camera gear is getting better each year and equipment is getting lighter, but our subjects are declining and the places to find then are shrinking. To help with this challenge, I try to use my photography to help in conservation in any way I can.

The feathers of a Common Murre at Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

Q: What camera system do you prefer? Favorite lens for wildlife photography?

A: I work with Nikon equipment and have been for over 25 years. Since my main subject is birds, I use the Nikon 600 f4 lens for most of my perched work. For birds in flight I use the Nikon 300 f2.8 lens, sometimes with the 1.4 teleconverter.

Unlike photographing large African mammals for example, birds are small and a long telephoto lens is a necessity. It can be expensive entering in this hobby or profession, but once you have your gear, your set for years. (Well, until the next and greatest camera comes out!)

Q: What tips or suggestions for photographers do you have to edit and catalog their work?

A: I was a photographer when film changed to digital. There was a steep learning curve and not a lot of info for those of us on the forefront of digital. I made a lot of mistakes when it came to organizing my work. Today, there is so much info on the internet, that you can find a lot of feedback on almost anything.  What I found works best for me was to create folders for every species of bird in North America. I have one set of folders that store all my RAW files (over 750 folders) and one set of folders that store all my processed TIFFs. I also have a set of species folders that store smaller JPEGs that are used for my website, newsletters, Facebook etc. The RAWs are stored using the embedded camera file number. The TIFFs are stored using the embedded camera file number, plus the species name. I don’t use keywords like date, sex, location etc, but if I were also cataloging mammals, landscape, macro etc, I would probably do that in order to find things easier. If I need a bird photo, I just go to the species folder.

Editing for me has changed over time. When I first started out, I kept everything. Now, it has to be as good or better than what I already have for me to keep it.

Q: What bird photo projects will you be working on in the future?

A: I have a few things in the works. This winter I will be trying to improve on a photo project that I have been doing to capture a Belted Kingfisher diving into the water. The image I am after is right as the bill touches the water.

I am building a system to where I have a camera and wide angle lens hidden in a fake rock. I will bring this to the Iceland workshop next year so participants can get up close and personal wide-angle images of Puffins. The camera has a WiFi device that can be operated from your phone up to 100 feet away.

Pacific Loon

Q: Who are some of your favorite wildlife photographers?

A: Since I’m a bird photographer, all these people specialize in birds and have all inspired me.

Jacob Spendelow

Matthew Studebaker

Connor Stefanison

Jess Findlay

Robert Royce

Greg Downing

Brian Small

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: As a young boy, I found great solace and peace looking and studying birds in the forests. Now as an adult, I get to not only do this for a living, but I get to share it with many others. To be around other like minded people and to share the wonders of nature, to contribute to conservation, and to travel to amazing places, I surely have the best job in the world.

More of Murphy’s favorite bird photos can be seen here: http://www.alanmurphyphotography.com/favorites.htm

Cinnamon Teal



Brown Pelican

Least Sandpiper


January 31, 2018

Photographers in Focus: Patricia Ware

Elegant Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its mouth at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CA.

Our photographer of note this time around is Patricia Ware from Manhattan Beach, CA. Patricia captures striking bird life images in and around Southern California. In her interview that follows, she shares some great tips on using her photographic equipment to the highest degree and reminds us that even after arising early to find these beautiful photos, post-production and thoughtful backup plans keep her sanity intact.

Photo of Mandarin Duck by Patricia Ware

Mandarin Duck photographed at the Los Angeles Arboretum, California.

Question: Your work is striking. How did you manage to capture that image of the Elegant Tern?

Answer: Thank you, I am so pleased you enjoy my work.

When the Terns are diving for fish, I try to capture them when they emerge from the water. To get sharp shots of fast-moving birds like Terns, you need to first put the correct settings in your camera. When I took this shot, I was using a Canon 1D mark iv, so I will describe the settings I use for my Canon cameras; however, similar settings are found for other camera models.

• Autofocus: Use AI Servo Autofocus. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. This algorithm determines the speed and the direction of fast-moving subjects when their focusing distance keeps changing. AI Servo Autofocus allows me to better track fast flying birds.

• Drive Mode: Set it to high-speed continuous shooting. On my Canon 1D mark iv, I was able to get 10 shots per second. When the action is at its greatest, clicking 10 shots per second gives me more opportunities to capture the action at its peak.

• Autofocus Point: Use the center autofocus for birds in flight. If I am shooting against a varied background such as trees or bushes, I will use the center autofocus point and aim for the center of the bird. If I know I will be shooting against a plain background such as a blue sky, I will use the center autofocus point plus surrounding AF point expansion.

• AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity: Set to SLOW. Setting the tracking sensitivity to slow allows me to refocus on the bird in flight more quickly when the camera locks its focus on the background rather than on the bird.

The Tern photo was taken from the bridge in the early morning at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, CA. I waited until I saw a Tern dive and aimed as it surfaced. I didn’t realize it had two fish in its mouth until I uploaded my photos to my computer. Stopping a moment in time allows you to see even more than you did when you took the shot.

Photo of Black-necked Stilt by Patricia Ware

Black-necked Stilt walks along wetlands in Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa del Rey, California.

Q: How did you get into wildlife photography?

A: In 2008, I purchased a Canon 40D which came with a 28-135mm zoom lens. My husband and I were rowing in the Back Bay in Newport Beach, California when I spotted an Osprey in the distance. My husband said I could zoom in on the bird to make it larger and he proceeded to show me how. I was blown away that I could make something so small and far away appear close and large in camera. At that moment I was hooked.

Perusing the internet to learn more about birds and Ospreys in particular, I stumbled across one of the most widely recognized bird photographers, Artie Morris. I read his blog and purchased one of his guides to bird photography. I loved his work and wanted to emulate him.

But first I needed to learn how to use my newly purchased camera. So I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on beginning photography and Photoshop. It was exactly what I needed. The class gave weekly assignments to improve our skills. And over the next three months I learned the basics of photography and Photoshop.

I am still learning. I often watch online videos and read blogs about photography and Photoshop in order to improve my skills.

Photo of Snowy Egrets by Patricia Ware

Snowy Egret chaseing off another along the shoreline at Playa del Rey, California

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your bird photography?

A: Getting up early (5:00 am) and driving the freeways are my biggest challenges. You need to be where the birds are and the morning light is wonderful.

I often wear black so I can hide in the shadows and then I stay in place until the birds to come to me. I love being in nature, so waiting for the birds is a joy rather than a challenge. It gives me time to enjoy the beauty surrounding me: the wonderful views of nature, the smell of the wet grasses, the birds singing in the trees or the quiet stillness.

Photo of young Egyptian Geese by Patricia Ware

Q: What camera system do you prefer? Favorite lens for wildlife photography?

A: I love taking shots of birds in flight, so I recently upgraded to a Canon’s 1DX ii. It’s great for action with its fast frame rate of 14 FPS with full tracking autofocus. The autofocus is excellent even with an extender. Additionally, I am able to take shots with a high ISO and still get wonderful image quality

When I use a tripod, my favorite lens is my 600mm. But more often I am hand-holding, and my lens of choice is a Canon 400 DO ii. Its autofocus is fast and it’s sharp with both the Canon 1.4X III and 2x III EF extenders. With one of these extenders, I have either a 560mm f/5.6 or an 800mm f/8 reach.

Because it is relatively light, I can walk for over a mile with the 400 DO ii. And because of its compact size I can take it out in our 22’ dory when we go to the Back Bay in Newport Beach, CA. Additionally, I can fit it in a carry-on when I take a flight so it makes a wonderful travel lens too.

Photo of a Allen’s Hummingbird by Patricia Ware

Male Allen’s Hummingbird photo capture in Ware’s backyard.

Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions for photographers to edit and catalog their work?

A: Good photographs, that’s what it’s all about. Once I take them, I want to keep only the best and get rid of the rest. So I need to judge: Is the subject too small in the frame? Is it out of focus? Are the whites blown out and is there enough detail in the shadows? These are a few of the things that I evaluate.

However, even if a shot is technically flawless, I may not choose to keep it if it doesn’t speak to me. It needs to say, “This is a perfect moment in time.” Like when the Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its beak or when this juvenile Peregrine lands in the ice plant after one of his initial flights.

Or my photo needs to tell me a story such as this one showing shows how one Snowy Egret aggressively chases off another from its territory.

Or the photo needs to evoke a feeling or an emotion. This shot elicited confidence showing a Black-necked Stilt holding her head high while taking a big stride.

Whatever the criterion I use to make these judgments, I need to be able to preview the image at 100%. And I need to do this quickly with little wait time so I can move on to the next shot. Even though I can preview my images in Lightroom, it’s WAY too slow. I need something much faster, and Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits meets that need. Photo Mechanic is a super-fast image browser that speeds up my workflow. This software saves me serious time in my first-pass review to cull for rejected photos. It loads quickly so I can immediately see the photo in high resolution. I can check whether the eye is in perfect focus or use any other criterion to decide if the shot is worth keeping.

Not only must I decide which photos to keep, but I also need to decide where to store my photos. When I started out taking photos, I would store them on external hard drives. This was an easy solution that worked quite well until one day one when one of my hard drives failed. I had a sickening realization that I had messed up. I tried everything to get it back. I even took it to a person specializing in hard drive recovery and he was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I was able to recover my photos by attaching the hard drive to a different computer, but I learned my lesson. I now store my photos in multiple places.

I first copy my camera memory card a 2 TB portable external hard drive. I do my first pass at selecting and then make a second copy of the keepers to a 16 TB RAID external hard drive. Once the smaller hard drive is full, I move it into a file cabinet in our detached garage and replace it with a new hard drive.

Additionally, I pay for online backup using Backblaze, which automatically backups all my files on one computer as well as my portable and my RAID external hard drives. Presently, I have over 8 terabytes in their cloud.

Some people are turned off by the initial predicted upload time by Backblaze. However, it took me much less time. Of course, I have everything set for speed: I leave my computer on day and night, I have FiOS, which has blazing fast upload speeds, and in the Backblaze settings, I turn off automatic throttle and manually set it to use the most Internet bandwidth available. Backblaze is simple to use and it keeps my folder structure the same as it is on my computer. In fact, I’ve used it for several years now and during this time, my computer crashed. I easily restored my files on my new computer.

Along with Backblaze, I upload my photos to the Amazon Cloud, whose price is included with my prime membership. This gives me added security, but for me, it’s not as easy to retrieve photos as Backblaze. I also store and organize my high-resolution jpegs on Flickr. However, I primarily use Flickr for its social network. On Flickr I can view, interact, and learn in a huge community of professional and amateur photographers. And finally, my last storage site is on Zenfolio, which is my personal website to showcase my photos.

To some, these multiple places to store my photos may seem like overkill, but I certainly have peace of mind.

Photo of Clark's Grebe swims carrying chick on its back by Patricia Ware

Clark’s Grebe swims carrying chick on its back.

Q: Why birds?

A: Birds are beautiful animals and they are everywhere. When my son was in third grade, he was assigned to do a report on local birds. So I took him to a local pond to observe the birds. The variety of birds there opened my eyes. I had never really looked before. As we researched the birds we saw, my son and I learned so much about the wildlife in our area. I then put up a feeder in my yard where I could make even closer observations and eventually take photographs.

Photo of Elegant Tern in midair ballet by Patricia Ware

Elegant Tern twists and shakes water from his body at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.

Q: Who are some of your favorite wildlife photographers?

A: My favorite wildlife photographers are among the contacts on Flickr I have made on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/): Sindri Skúlason, Philip Dunn, Eric Gofreed, Salah Baazizi, Gerda and Willie van Schalkwyk. I can follow their work on a daily basis and spend time identifying what I like about their shots. I can then try to imitate what I like about their work and because we comment on each other’s work and know each other, I can email them if I need to learn more.

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: Pure joy is being in the quiet of nature and connecting with it. I love nature. Photographing nature, especially animals in the wild, is my way of protecting our planet and sharing its beauty.

Photo of Reddish Egret by Patricia Ware

Reddish Egret appears to be walking on water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.

All photos © Patricia Ware


December 7, 2017

Photographers in Focus: Ingrid Taylar

Mama: Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

We would like to welcome you back – after a hiatus – to the Photographers in Focus feature. It’s International Bird Rescue’s tribute to wildlife photographers who inspire our passion for aquatic bird rehabilitation.

This time around, we are pleased to showcase the work of Ingrid Taylar, a San Francisco Bay Area nature photographer. We hope you enjoy her work as much as we do.

Question: How did you get into wildlife photography?

Answer: I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember, and my interest in photography began early as well. My parents bought me my first camera in grade school, a Kodak Instamatic to document our lives overseas. I made earnest efforts in photography and was thrilled to get my first SLR at 18. But those early skills were inconsistent because I never had a lot of money for film and developing.

Brandt’s Cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) nesting in Monterey, California.

I got my first digital SLR while volunteering at Lindsay Wildlife in the Bay Area. The hospital experience helped me understand more intimately the challenges wild animals face — and that understanding grew into a passion for their protection and conservation. The telephoto lens gave me a way to connect, observe, and document while minimizing my intrusion.

Stretch: Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

I’m grateful I was exposed to the ethical framework and mentorship of a wildlife rehab setting before I became serious about nature photography. I learned at the outset to put the welfare of the animal above the image. We all face ethical decisions in the field: How close do we move in? Are we disturbing or endangering the animal? Are we interfering with their feeding or rest? I know that any choice I make for the sake of a photograph can potentially change an outcome for that animal. So, although I make mistakes or miscalculations like anyone else, the modalities of care I learned in the wildlife hospital are at the foundation of my field practice.

Q: Your photo of the Stilts is simply amazing. How did you come to capture this beautiful image?

A: Thank you. I shot it at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. I didn’t actually expect to have a salvageable image from that day because the light was challenging. So, I was looking to capture the basis of something artistic and ethereal in nature, rather than a straight-forward documentary photo.

I didn’t see the chick at first. S/he appeared in my periphery as I was snapping silhouettes of the adult birds and their reflections. It was one of those serendipitous and lovely moments that occur sometimes in the stillness. I took a few shots before a heron passed overhead and the parents hustled the chick under safe cover. I walked away at that point.

I’m very careful about photographing baby birds and will avoid it if my presence might cause stress or draw unwanted attention to the babies. I know it’s hard enough for parents to protect their chicks from daily hazards without the distraction of a photographer.

For the final image, I developed it in post-processing to bring out more of the ethereal quality. The original frame was a tad under-exposed, so I intentionally over-exposed it, and added a low-opacity vignette to accentuate the lightness.

Ruckus: Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula) nesting in a parking lot tree in Huntington Beach, California.

Q: What camera do you use? What is your favorite lens for wildlife photography?

A: I shoot with Olympus gear. I photographed for years with an Olympus E-3 DSLR, then switched to the first OMD E-M1 “micro four thirds” camera when it came off the line. The E-M1 is mirrorless technology, and the smaller size and lighter weight of the Oly gear suits my shooting style, which usually involves walking or hiking or being en route from one place to another. I also had a long-standing, unrequited love for the Olympus OM film system, so I was finally able to replace that nostalgia with a digital model. My favorite wildlife lens is my newest, the Olympus 300mm f/4 (2x crop factor). [I have no commercial affiliation with Olympus.]

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

A: The biggest challenge for me is dealing with some of the disregard I witness in the field. I see more harassment than I wish I did, especially of birds, and it takes an effort to retain equanimity in those situations. It’s easy to get upset. When I do need to intervene, I try to find a portal through which I can educate at the same time. A lot of people simply don’t know how to interact (or not interact) with wild animals, and then all it takes is a nudge in the right direction. A camera with a wildlife lens tends to attract conversation and questions, so I take advantage of that opportunity to share my own appreciation for these animals. Sometimes it works. At other times it can be an exercise in exasperation.

Mixed shorebird flock at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland, California.

Q: Why birds?

A: I love photographing animals in general, and I tend not to discriminate, but birds are natural subjects because of how regularly their lives intertwine with ours, existing above and within our paradigm. They are accessible to us in urban, rural and wilderness settings. Seeing them up close through the telephoto — the eyes, the subtle expressions, the details of their feathers, their social interactions — I am awed by that gift every single time.

I’m particularly fond of the more common species, the ones frequently overlooked. I have a soft spot for pigeons, for instance, having rescued a couple of racing pigeons years ago. One of my favorite photo shoots was documenting a small group of Glaucous-winged Gulls nesting on a downtown Seattle rooftop. The gulls were ubiquitous in the area, but I always refer to these species as “gateway birds.” They are often the first wild birds that city dwellers or children encounter, the first birds they start to care about, and sometimes, the first they ever rescue or bring to a wildlife hospital. They were for me. I see these species as liaisons and emissaries of sorts, bridging the chasm between the urban and the wild.

Q: Who are some of your favorite wildlife photographers?

A: My earliest ideas of craft came from photos that helped me understand visual storytelling: documentary and war images like those of Robert Capa and Margaret Bourke-White, and, of course, the pages of National Geographic with iconic shots like the van Lawick photos of Jane Goodall interacting with chimpanzees. Photojournalism, in particular, had a huge impact on me, and it’s probably why I’m in nature photography, I’m so drawn to the grittier urban or industrial juxtapositions.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) during a feeding frenzy at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California.

In terms of creativity and composition, two well-known nature photographers whose images were formative for me were Frans Lanting and Art Wolfe. I draw inspiration and hope from conservation photographers like Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen (among others) who bring critical attention to ecological issues through their work.

It’s also encouraging to see so many more female photographers influencing the profession, and two women whose images I’ve come to know and love through our mutual interest in wildlife ethics are Melissa Groo and Mia McPherson. I am constantly motivated by the care they show for their subjects, and the high ethical standards they promote in the field.

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: It’s made me more patient and more present in the moment. It’s helped me become more conscious of how my own everyday choices affect other species. Several years ago, my husband and I were lucky enough to take an orca photography excursion with an experienced naturalist. The conversation veered toward how difficult it was to find a mattress or sofa that didn’t contain environmentally damaging chemicals which then pollute marine mammal habitats. I think once you become aware and care, that type of concern informs your decisions, even in tangential ways. At the same time, I’m not exemplary in this regard. If anything, it’s made me more conflicted to be cognizant of my own, unavoidable impact as a human.

My aim as a photographer, outside of the personal fulfillment it brings, is to help offset some of that impact through advocacy, by promoting an appreciation for the diverse lives around us. If someone notices the beauty of a bird because of a photograph they see, if they treat a wild animal with more kindness and respect because of a story we tell, or if they care more about their environment because of how we portray it, that to me is the highest reward. Although I have my moments of cynicism and despair, I still hold out hope that person by person, we can transition to a world where compassionate coexistence is the norm.

It’s difficult to overstate just how much I’ve learned from other animals. They have an innate ability to move with the flow, to transcend hardship, to tune into the rhythms and natural cycles that are often overrun by our city lights and soundscapes. I’m still amazed at how specialized and perfect they are in their individual niches. Watching wild animals navigate their existence is a lesson in both the humility and grandeur of our short time on this earth. I’m working to be worthy of the knowledge I’ve gained through them.

Stop Trashing My Ocean: Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) with empty chip bag.

All photos © Ingrid Taylar


August 9, 2014

Photographers in Focus: Karen Schuenemann

Black-crowned Night Heron, all images © Karen Schuenemann, KarenSchuenemann.com

Karen-S-Photographer-in-FocusOf all the images we’ve seen of the Black-crowned Night Heron this summer — and there have been many — this photo of a solitary juvenile bird by photographer Karen Schuenemann is one of our favorites.

Our latest featured photographer, Schuenemann is an avid birder and photographer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives and works as a retail manager.

Her off-duty pursuits? “My personal mission is capturing the urban wildlife in Southern California,” Schuenemann says. “It often amazes me how wildlife survives squeezed in between construction, roads and people. I have spent many hours watching Peregrine Falcons nest on the cliffs of San Pedro. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the parents catch their food and return to feed the youngsters. To observe the youngsters grow and take their first flight has been truly breathtaking.”

To celebrate one of the nation’s most biodiverse regions for birds (L.A. – who knew?) we asked Schuenemann to share some of her favorite shots.

Great Blue Heron, Karen Schuenemann
Schuenemann: This is a landscape on a misty morning at Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA. Photographed: Great Blue Heron.

Black Skimmers,  Karen Schuenemann
These Black Skimmers were foraging in the early evening at Bolsa Chica Wetlands. The calm waters allow prey to rise towards the surface and the Skimmers’ long lower mandibles allow them to locate the fish by touch and quickly shut their mouths and have their meal.

Burrowing Owl, Karen Schuenemann
Photographed near Chino, CA: I recently encountered several Burrowing Owls that live right next to the road in a dirt patch separating a power plant and a park!

Snowy Egret, Karen Schuenemann
Taken at Bolsa Chica Wetlands, this Great Egret was captured at sunrise.
Reddish Egret, Karen Schuenemann
An uncommon sighting at Bolsa Chica Wetlands, I watched this Reddish Egret perform its unusual feeding behavior before it flew over the pond.

Peregrine Falcon, Karen Schuenemann
Taken on the cliffs of the Palos Verdes peninsula, this young Peregrine Falcon had just fledged and was practicing its flying skills.
Forsters Terns, Karen Schuenemann
Upon return of the female, these juvenile Forster’s Terns rejoiced with loud calls and jumping towards the mother at Bolsa Chica, attempting to get the meal that she brought back.

Tree Swallows, Karen Schuenemann
Bird boxes set up at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary allow Tree Swallows to build their nests. Many possible nesting sites are destroyed in the forestry process of removing dead trees. Tree Swallows are common in open fields as well as marshes.

Double-crested Cormorant, Karen Schuenemann
Double-crested Cormorant: Taken at El Dorado Regional Park in Long Beach, CA, this cormorant emerged suddenly with its catch of the day.

This Brown Pelican was plunge diving and I captured the image before it brought its pouch out of the water. 

Snowy Egret 2, Karen Schuenemann
Great Egret at Bolsa Chica Wetlands, I entitled this image “Circle of Life.”  Since the population was decimated in the late 1800s and subsequently protected, the species is increasing. However, without habitats such as the Bolsa Chica Wetlands restoration, we wouldn’t have the population on the rise.


If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail us with your submission.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles, Yeray Seminario of Spain,  Graham McGeorge of Florida and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

March 19, 2014

Photographers in Focus: Sara Silver

Mom and Little One
Mom and little one, Shollenberger Park. All images © Sara Silver


We first spotted photographer Sara Silver’s work when purusing photos of egrets raised by International Bird Rescue that have been released at Laguna de Santa Rosa in Northern California. Every year, colonies of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons have made the towering eucalyptus trees on a narrow median in Santa Rosa, CA into their rookeries.

Sadly, many of their young fall from the nests. Were it not for a network of volunteers and bird organizations monitoring the site, those that survive the fall would almost certainly be killed by traffic. These releases are always a testament to the resolve of local bird lovers and the resiliency of these young animals. We’re proud to work with such organizations as the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa.

We recently asked Silver to share some of her favorite avian shots, her methods and her favorite birding spots.

Photographic beginnings and early haunts 

Silver: My interest in photography began about 10 years ago with a simple digital camera. Now I spend as much of my free time out of doors with my camera (and dog) as I can. It was easy to get hooked.

Here in Northern California I am surrounded by natural beauty — wetlands, mountains, rolling hills, sandy beaches and rocky coastline. It is a relatively easy drive to the waterfalls and majesty of the northwest as well as the deserts in the southwest. I soon found the areas I enjoyed exploring were full of birds, and I quickly discovered that birds were not easy to photograph well. Next thing I knew I was taking a lot of bird pictures!

Black-crowned Night Heron

California Quail

Ladies man, Black-necked Stilt

Snow Geese at Grey Lodge Wildlife Refuge

I was challenged and started visiting some of the local bird hangouts – notably Shollenberger Park in Petaluma, Bodega Bay, and especially a particular group of trees not 2 minutes from my home — a nesting spot I call “The Egret Trees” for lack of a better phrase.

The Egret Trees

The Egret Trees in Santa Rosa are a grouping of mature trees in a residential neighborhood that serves as a rookery for Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets as well as Black-crowned Night Herons. and has for many years. I discovered that it is a wonderful place to observe nesting behaviors and a perfect place to practice bird photography. Over the years, I have spent many enjoyable hours photographing birds in flight, nest building, parenting and sibling rivalry, bird-style.

Light as a feather

Reluctant Cattle Egret, Laguna de Santa Rosa, release of rehabilitated birds

This past year I had decided not to go to The Egret Trees as often anymore, after witnessing a couple of incidents which really upset me. One occurred in the natural course of an egrets/heron’s life, but one was the result of people failing to coexist with the seasonal “invasion” of birds. Suddenly it became too hard to spend time there. I just couldn’t do it.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I was invited to attend a bird release — these birds had been saved from an early demise, and nursed back to health, many from the very rookery where I had spent so much time. It was an awesome and positive experience.

Although it may be awhile before I return to the rookery, I have since been given a more hopeful outlook, thanks to the Bird Rescue Center, which rescues, treats and rehabs injured or “homeless” birds in Sonoma County and gives them a fresh start.

If you have the opportunity to observe a release of rehabilitated birds, go and feel good as the feathers fly and the birds make their way out for a second chance. I volunteer my services whenever asked, and hope to offer more in the future.

Duck portrait

Advice for the novice

If you take the time and make the effort to observe birds, it really does become less difficult to photograph them. It’s never going to be easy. but it is always going to be worthwhile. I think a photograph of a bird soaring through the air is a beautiful thing, but capturing the spirit of a bird is harder. My favorite example of this spirit is something I call that “Crazy Egret Sunset Dance”; if you’ve seen this behavior, you know exactly what I mean. The moves are part Boogaloo and part Bolero with wing flapping thrown in.

Favorite bird? It would be hard to pick just one. I love the silly ones, like Oystercatchers and egrets. Perhaps “all of them” is most true. Or maybe the answer is whichever bird is in my viewfinder at the moment.

Gull in Flight, Corte Madera Marsh

More on Sara Silver

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarasilver/

Website: http://sarasilver.com

A show of my work (my first) will be this summer at My Daughter the Framer inside of Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa. I hope you get a chance to stop by. For more information, email me.

Prints – I am a fine art printmaker. For print information, email me.

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail us with your submission.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles, Yeray Seminario of Spain,  Graham McGeorge of Florida and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

October 17, 2013

Photographers in Focus: Bill Steinkamp

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Baby American Coot at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles center. All photos © Bill Steinkamp.

Here at International Bird Rescue, we’re very fortunate to have a deep bench of bird lovers who also happen to be great photographers.

One of these team members is Bill Steinkamp, who photographs birds in care weekly at our Los Angeles center in the San Pedro neighborhood. His work can be seen regularly on our blog and Facebook page as well as Bill’s own Facebook page and Flickr page.

This year, he’s photographed a natural oil seep event in February that resulted in many oiled Common Murres transported to our L.A. center in need of stabilizing, washing and further rehabilitation prior to release. He’s also photographed several interesting patients, from the colorful baby coot seen above to a Blue-footed Booby found injured and wandering in South L.A.

We asked Bill to choose some of his favorite photos, both from the center and in the wild. Here are his selections and the back story of each:Egret, Snowy IMG_4930-L
Steinkamp: I photographed this Snowy Egret on a bird walk at Ballona Wetlands. It was one of the first photographs I saved when I first started birding photography.

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This is a Brandt’s Cormorant in care at the center in October.

Heron, Black-Crowned Night-L
I think Black-crowned Night Herons have mysterious and intriguing eyes.
Hawk, Cooper's-L
I really love this shot of a Cooper’s Hawk. I always try and get a precise eye shot in my bird photos. This was photographed in my backyard in Redondo Beach.

Grebe, Eared-L
This is an Eared Grebe at International Bird Rescue being rehabbed. They are much smaller than I thought and so colorful.

Pelican, Brown IMG_1566-L
I have hundreds of pelican photos, but I especially liked this one because of the splashing water.

Oyster Catcher-L
These Oystercatchers have stunning beak and eye color. Photographed at Ballona Creek in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Swallow, Barn Angry IMG_2258-L
Angry birds, anyone? These Barn Swallows are very hard to photograph. Another good example of using high-speed continuous shooting.

Release of Pelican V50, a victim of human cruelty released 14 months after it was found with its primary and secondary feathers clipped.


If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail us.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Kim Taylor of Washington, D.C., Yeray Seminario of Spain, Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

July 23, 2013

Photographers in Focus: Graham McGeorge

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio). 2013 National Geographic Traveler Contest Merit Winner. All images © Graham McGeorge.


Of the dozens of avian entries in this year’s National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest, perhaps the most striking to date is this portrait of an Eastern Screech Owl in glorious camouflage by Graham McGeorge, a self-described “plumber with a passion for photography” from Jacksonville, Fla.

In the off-hours, McGeorge has had some rather stunning editorial success, with his photographs appearing in the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, the Washington Post, BBC Wildlife Magazine and other outlets.

McGeorge’s favorite spots to photograph wildlife are Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado; his go-to cameras are the Canon EOS-1D Mark III and Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II.

And his advice for the novice photographer: “Ignore the rules. Think outside the box and develop your own style.”

McGeorge sent us some of his favorite avian photos shown below. His wildlife photographic repertoire is quite extensive: Visit his website for more great shots.

Eastern Screech Owlets

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)



Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)

Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)

Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis)


If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail us.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Kim Taylor of Washington, D.C., Yeray Seminario of Spain, Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

May 30, 2013

Photographers in Focus: Kim Taylor

Tree Swallow, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va. All images
© Kim Taylor.

Twitter has proved to be quite the matchmaker for our Photographers in Focus series. We recently came across the work of new follower Kim-Taylor@ktaylorphotos, aka Kim Taylor, who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and has an eye for the tranquil moments of bird photography, whether on the water or in the sky.

This Mallard Duckling and dragonfly shot (below) is an instant classic. Other subjects, whether a Tree Swallow soaring above, a Green Heron stalking at water’s edge or the droplets spilling off an American Wigeon’s bill, capture that simultaneous moment of joy and tremendous excitement upon seeing a bird in the wild.

The Ospreys in the Washington area are a particular favorite for Taylor: she’s been following one pair for several years now.

Taylor, who recently caught up with us to chat about her photographs, has offered these images as prints for sale with proceeds benefiting International Bird Rescue! Click here to find out more at Kim’s photography website.

Mallard Duckling and dragonfly, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va. 

Favorite spots

Taylor: While I work and live in a city/suburban area, where wildlife and many bird species are plentiful, I love going to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (in Maryland) and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (in Delaware). Both Blackwater and Bombay Hook are about a two-and-a-half hour’s drive from Washington, D.C. Both offer amazing opportunities to capture wildlife during the year and are great spots during migration in the spring and fall. Many different species of birds winter here or pass through this region.

Equipment of choice

I use a Nikon D3 and D800. My go-to lens is the Nikkor 600MM f4. Other options: 300mm f2.8, 60mm 2.8,50mm 1.8, and 14-28 Gf2.8. My bread-and-butter lens is the 600mm, as I use it for sports photography too.

greenheron_ktaylor copy
Green Heron, Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, Va.

Snowy Egret, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Smyrna, Del.

Thoughts on motion

Photographing birds in flight takes practice, practice and more practice. I also think becoming one with your camera is essential. While you are watching a bird, the larger your lens, the more you must pay attention to being steady, while following the bird in your viewfinder. All while thinking, Do I adjust my shutter speed? My F-stop? Being one with your camera means knowing by glance at your meter which adjustments to make on the fly for +/- shutter speed and/or F-stop (I am speaking toward shooting on manual settings).

Starting out, you will miss shots — we all did and still do — but missing shots teaches you that the next time conditions are similar, what settings to start with and what to improve from there. Basically, shooting without having to think about what your camera is doing, and instead think about what the bird is doing or going to do. Knowing bird behavior is critical. Knowing by watching will allow you to be ready for that wingbeat shot, say, after a duck or goose preens. Birds will tell you what they are going to do if you just listen and watch.

American Wigeon, Choptank River, Cambridge, Md.

Photographic perseverance

Standing in half-frozen water waiting for Canada Geese to take flight is difficult. Also going out in really hot and humid weather, even in the early parts of the day, is difficult. But if I know a Prothonotary Warbler is hanging around a certain spot at a park, deep in the thicket on a hot, humid day … I am there.

Belted Kingfisher_ktaylor
Belted Kingfisher, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

Mallard Drake, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

Memorable shots

That’s a tough question. I have several that fit that description for different reasons. I see some amazing Osprey photos this time of year. There are photos of Osprey emerging from water with fish that are just stunning! (Yes, those extra hard shots are on my list this year.)

Any photo featuring a bird is inspiration. I think of birds as miracles with wings.

Female Osprey, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

Horned Grebe, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

Injured wildlife

Sadly, I have seen injured birds, but gratefully not many. I do try to get help for an injured bird; as you all know, sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve also taken a basic wildlife rescue and rehabilitation class. I carry basic rescue tools (boxes, something to cover the bird’s eyes) and my handy list of rehabbers in the area on my phone. Ironically, two weeks before my rescue class, I rescued a pigeon in a parking lot. It was unable to fly, so I scooped it up and took it to an animal hospital near me.

Barn Swallow, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

A note to the novice

Photographing birds and wildlife takes lots of patience! By nature, I am not a patient person, but give me my camera, let me walk out into wilderness, and I can wait all day for “the shot” if need be. Which is what I have done many times. Unlike other types of photography, you can’t just show up at a spot and expect birds to be waiting for you, the same way you would shooting a street scene downtown at rush hour. I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t. Yes, there are those lucky times — you show up, get your shots and move on — but that is not the norm.

Taking a photo of a duck sitting on water looks easy, but in reality that duck is moving. Taking a photo of a duckling nipping at a dragonfly looks easy, but in reality there were two frames. Two frames — that’s it. To get the photograph, you have to go out there and wait for it and be prepared to take what Mother Nature gives you. So pack lots of patience and learn the behavior of the wildlife you want to photograph, and be prepared to wait, wait and wait some more.

Northern Pintail, Belle Haven Park and Marina, Alexandria, Va.

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail us.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Yeray Seminario of Spain, Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles, Matt Bryant of Florida, Robyn Carter of New Zealand and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

April 12, 2013

Photographers in Focus: Yeray Seminario

Yeray Seminario, PiF-02
A Black-backed Jackal and a Rüppell’s Vulture fight for the right to feed on a dead buffalo near Lake Nakuru, Kenya. All images © Yeray Seminario.

Yeray-SeminarioAdmit it: Your pulse has gone up a few notches.

Viewing this Rüppell’s Vulture looming large as it defends its carrion find from a jackal (one dwarfed by comparison), can provoke a physiological response. And if that’s not a hallmark of exemplary wildlife photography, we don’t know what is.

Your skeptic’s brain may have also kicked in: Is this photoshopped? Is this bird the stuff of myths? The answer to both questions is No. Rüppell’s Vultures were prominently featured using bird’s-eye cameras in director John Downing’s recent documentary Winged Planet. Listed as an endangered species by the IUCN in part due to habitat loss, this spectacular scavenger has a wingspan of up to 8.5 feet and can soar at the altitudes of a private jet.

The photographer behind this shot is Yeray Seminario, our April Photographer in Focus. Seminario, a wildlife veterinarian who interned with International Bird Rescue in 2007 and lives in Tarifa, Spain, recently spent some time with us to share some of his favorite photos from the global field.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-10
Seminario: The impressive scenery of the abandoned palaces in India is a great background for this critically endangered Long-billed Vulture.

Camera-worthy countries

Seminario: Every country has its distinctive flavor, a particular light that gets reflected in the pictures you take. To me, I find them all enjoyable, but in terms of pure wildlife, Kenya is probably the one that provides more opportunities to capture images of birds and mammals interacting in an open, natural environment.

There are some other characteristics of a country that can inspire you in different ways and make you feel at ease when taking pictures. India and Nepal are probably the second best to me after Kenya, as I feel more “in tune” there. Also, I live in a great place for birding and photography! In Tarifa (the southernmost tip of Spain and Europe) there are always good numbers of raptors around that make it a really exciting place to live if you are into birds and photography.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-05
One of the highlights for any bird lover in a trip to the great country of Senegal is the Egyptian Plover.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-07
After almost four years working with the Orange-breasted Falcon in Belize, I got to see them pretty close.

Images that inspire

It is the work of others that inspires me most! I try to think about the technical aspects of the shot, and how the photographer captures the essence of the moment. That said, I am quite happy with the series of pictures that I have of the Orange-breasted Falcon, a species I worked with for almost four years. Some of the locations where I observed them are quite remote and difficult to access, with rain, heat and insects.

Looking at those pictures brings me back to those real wild places where I enjoyed an intimate relation with nature. I hope some of my pictures will help spark an interest in other people to visit some of these places, learn more about these birds and be aware of the conservation issues they face.

You can see some of my pictures on Whitehawk and on my personal website, Light as Feathers.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-06
Deserts don’t hold a high number of species, but those that survive such harsh conditions are quite charismatic, like these Trumpeter Finches drinking in a small puddle in Morocco.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-12
Short-eared Owl, Tarifa, Spain

Camera of choice

I use a Canon 7D most of the time, which I found to be an improvement from my previous 50D. I have a modest array of lenses, including the 300mm f/4 with a 1.4X converter, which I use to take pictures of birds and other wildlife. Of course, I would love to have a 400mm or 500mm to have more reach, but I’m quite happy with my equipment, as I can take it with me in a backpack just about anywhere, whether to a high peak in the Himalayas or a sand dune in the Sahara Desert, which I imagine would be more difficult with a heavier lens.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-03
This young leopard almost jumped into the middle of the road while driving in Kenya. It stayed for a minute and came back into the bush. To see one of these magnificent animals is always a privilege, and to be just a few meters away from such a beauty feels exhilarating.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-01
Lake Naivasha, Kenya is home to several species of birds, including this Greater Flamingo. This spectacular freshwater lake is being threatened by an extensive flower industry. These huge gardens provide colorful flowers to Northern Europe while draining the lake in the process.

Photographic challenges

I find it very challenging to shoot in the rainforest, where quite often there’s very little light. I’m now trying to improve my skills using a flash in poor light conditions, which I find not easy to control to get the desired results. Of course, when birds are in flight, especially if they are fast and small, like swifts, makes it quite difficult to frame the bird and get a sharp shot.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-04
Western Banded Snake Eagle seen in the Gambia River, Senegal

Yeray Seminario, PiF-09
Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Panama

Animal rescue

As you are in the field taking pictures and observing birds most of the time, you find the most diverse injuries in a wide variety of species. Sometimes you can reach them and take them to the nearest rescue center, sometimes not. One of the most incredible things I can remember right now was a Black Stork that had no beak at all! She was flying with a small flock of Black Storks on their way to Africa, but I can’t imagine she could have survived long.

Yeray Seminario, PiF-08
Orange-breasted Falcon in flight, Belize

For the beginner

My advice to a novice photographer would be to just get out there and take as many pictures as possible. Find a subject you like and experiment with different apertures, settings, times of day and different ways to frame the same shot. I think this is the best way to learn. Reading books about photography, of any kind, helps a lot too. Actually, I should follow this advice more often!

Yeray Seminario, PiF-11
Northern Gannet in Tarifa, Spain, one of the best places in the world to enjoy bird migration


If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles, Matt Bryant of Florida, Robyn Carter of New Zealand and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

Hat tip to Julie Skoglund for nominating Yeray for this installment.

We welcome people from all countries to come and learn at one of our rehabilitation programs. For information on our International Internship Program, click here.

February 4, 2013

Photographers in Focus: Jackie Wollner

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Flammulated Owl nestling, all images © Jackie Wollner. jackiewollner.com

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A self-portrait of Wollner with a piglet

On International Bird Rescue’s Facebook page, there are some photos we post to our loyal following that become instant viral hits, viewed and shared by thousands. The images that resonate are usually either of young and delicate birds (orphaned Pied-billed Grebe chicks, for instance) or of a species looking the camera squarely in the eye with haunting eyes (a Laysan Albatross recently released by our Los Angeles team off the Pacific Coast).

The latest such image to strike a chord meets both criteria: a Flammulated Owl nestling, photographed by Jackie Wollner of Los Angeles. Even at full size, this owl, which lives in old-growth forests of the West, weighs little more than a golf ball. “This is why I miss wildlife rehabilitation… I loved that job,” one Facebook commenter wrote upon seeing the nestling.

Wollner has volunteered as wildlife rehabber (she was trained by our own Dr. Rebecca Duerr) and is an avid photographer of many species International Bird Rescue cares for year round. Here are some of her favorite shots and the stories behind them.

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Black-crowned Night Heron, Morro Bay, Calif. Wollner: This shot was taken in heavy mist and low light. I don’t think it would have been as interesting in bright sunlight.

Photographic orgins

Wollner: I got started with birds as a child because my mother is an animal lover. We spent a lot of time observing the creatures that surrounded us where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Some years ago I helped rescue a House Sparrow, and I was hooked. Eventually I volunteered as a wildlife rehabber and was trained by International Bird Rescue’s own Dr. Rebecca Duerr when she was animal care director at another facility that cared for a lot of songbirds.

Regarding photography, I should point out that if it isn’t already clear from my shots, I am an amateur photographer. But I have always appreciated photography. I tell my friends, “I want to see all your vacation snaps” and I mean it. I first started playing around with film photography in college. When digital cameras became available, I really dove in. I grew exponentially as a photographer when I could shoot without the care of wasting film, chemicals or money. Plus the feedback was instant.

So: Birds + Photography = Happy Happy Joy Joy

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Black Oystercatcher, Marina Del Rey, Calif.

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American Crow in rehab care. Adult crows appear to have almost black eyes. This photo was taken in front of a window. The bright light coming over the bird’s shoulder illuminated its eye in an unusual way.

Camera of choice

I have a Canon 1D Mark IIn. It’s big and heavy and never fails to prompt observations from (non-photographer) strangers that my camera is big and heavy. Even the name is big and heavy. Canon really ought to give some thought to its nomenclature.

When shooting birds in the field, I most commonly use the 100-400mm zoom. I’d love to have the 500 or 600 prime, but then I’d have to sell my car.

But what I really want to say about camera choice is that it doesn’t matter a lot. I have no opinion about Canon vs. Nikon. Both are awesome. I’ve seen excellent photos taken with point-and-shoots and even camera phones. It’s kind of a running joke among photographers that people say “That’s a great photo … What camera do you have?” The key is to have a good working knowledge of the equipment you do have, its possibilities and limitations. Also, you need a connection with the subject and an ability to edit your own shots. Editing is the most underrated, under-discussed topic in photography, in my opinion. When I say editing, I don’t mean photoshopping, I mean the ability, and moreover the willingness, to look at the 150 shots you took of an oystercatcher and pick just one or two to show people. It’s while I’m editing that I may refer photography as my “onerous hobby,” but I can’t overstate the importance of it.

When I edit, I first throw out everything with technical flaws, i.e. exposure, focus, etc. Sadly, this is still a lot of shots in my case. Then I look for the shot that communicates the most. Does it tell a story? Above all, is it emotional in some way? I have an engineering/science background, and I know the problems of anthropomorphizing. But as someone who is passionate about conservation, getting the public to care is the first step. People have to feel something before they act to preserve it.

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Hatchling House Finch in rehab care

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Galapagos Hawk, juvenile. Espanola Island

Two memorable shots

Like all the creatures in the Galapagos, this hawk had no fear of humans. It was perched on a pole near a beach on Espanola Island. The light was incredible — a bright, soft overcast. And that bird kept staring right at me, or at my camera, which was even better. Then it started stretching. The result was an unusual asymmetrical pose with that fantastic, direct eye contact. I took that shot with an early point-and-shoot camera, by the way. It was 2001 and digital SLRs didn’t exist yet.

Another favorite is the shot of the nestling House Finch stretching to its fullest and begging for food (above). It’s a favorite because I have cared for a lot of baby finches and my heart always leaps a little when I look at it. That was taken with a more current point-and-shoot camera.

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House Finch fledgling in my front yard. I love the way it is looking up at the sky. It fledged the next morning.

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Sanderlings at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Calif. Sanderlings are usually running in and out of the surf. But every now and then they pause for very brief “micro naps.”

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Snowy Egret with catch, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Calif. White birds in bright sunlight are challenging to expose properly. I usually set exposure compensation to -2/3 stop or thereabouts. Newer cameras with smarter sensors may do a better job without adjustment.

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Snowy Plover, Malibu State Beach, Calif. This was taken on an overcast misty morning. It’s challenging to shoot fast moving subjects in lower light. But I actually prefer soft overcast like this to bright sunlight.

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Another Snowy Plover at Malibu State Beach. These birds are listed as threatened. I find them so delicate and charming. The deep tire tracks illustrate the challenge they face from loss of habitat.

Species of note

I have a particular fondness for corvids, especially crows and ravens. I’m not goth, or into Brandon Lee, or a witch, or anything like that. I just think they are the smartest, coolest creatures on two wings. I’ve worked with them in rehab settings, and I think every corvid rehabber will tell you this — when you look at them, there is definitely some “one” looking back. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they figure so prominently in mythology.

In the field, if I’m surrounded by a variety of shorebirds, I usually find myself photo-stalking the oystercatchers. Those eyes are like egg yolks! They have those big garish red-orange bills. And their legs are the pale pink color of the tights I wore in ballet class as a child. Snowy Plovers are also a favorite photo subject. There is something so gentle and fragile about them.

Ultimately I love all birds. I get all mushy emotional just thinking about all the birdy lives I’ve lost and saved. For me, bird rehab is a crushing and extraordinarily rewarding avocation.

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Whimbrel, Malibu State Beach, Calif. This shot was taken in late afternoon “golden hour” light. It was low tide which is a double bonus. Shorebirds are active at low tide and the exposed rock and algae bring a lot of rich color to the shot.


If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this regular feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Matt Bryant of Florida, Robyn Carter of New Zealand and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

October 9, 2012

Photographers in Focus: Jeff Robinson

Jeff Robinson with a curious Crimson Rosella

Where would we be without our volunteers?

The answer wouldn’t be a pretty one. Every day, we depend on many supporters who fold laundry, wash dishes, handle birds and feed the flocks. And they also help us to document our work so that we can show it to the world.

Jeff Robinson helps us do that in a big way. He’s an excellent wildlife photographer and videographer who has an eye for detail — most notably the careful steps we take to rehabilitate aquatic birds and release them back into the wild. Here’s his backstory and a sampling of his work:

How did you get started in bird photography?

Robinson: In 2003, I went on an African safari with family and friends. I was eager to take pictures of the classic African mammals. The mammals were indeed fascinating, but I was even more intrigued by the Malachite Kingfishers. Other African birds range from eagles to Cape Sugarbirds, with penguins and many others in between. After my first trip, I was so excited that I returned to Africa within a few months. It changed my life.

For six years I photographed in Africa twice a year, and I started posting my pictures online. Then it dawned on me that there are other birds on other continents. There are even birds in North America! We are fortunate to have many colorful birds, from buntings to Wood Ducks. So I turned my camera to these birds.

Malachite Kingfisher

What led you to volunteer at International Bird Rescue?

Photography led me to watching and identifying birds. Most birdwatchers come across sick or injured birds, and I was no exception. I took a course on how to rescue birds safely and effectively. At the course, I met some wonderful people who rehabilitated birds, and I was soon doing volunteer rehabilitation work myself.

African Fish Eagle

What’s the best part of volunteering?

I am inspired by colleagues who are dedicated to the welfare and treatment of every bird. The effort, thought and time they devote to the birds is just amazing. It is a privilege to work with them, and it is a privilege to be so close to the birds and see every detail of their plumage. Of course, I have photographed many of the species we help. By rehabilitating the birds, you realize how different a Cattle Egret feels and behaves compared to a cormorant. I should also mention that releasing the birds is absolutely one of life’s most thrilling experiences.

African Penguins 

Cape Sugarbird

What about videography?

I tried to take photographs of bird releases but it was difficult to capture a release in a still photo. It often happens so fast. So I changed to taking video. You never know exactly how a bird will behave during release, and that is part of the fun.

A video compendium of International Bird Rescue releases

What are your plans for the future?

I will continue to do volunteer rehab work and take videos of releases. I have started to compile a library of videos of the birds we have in rehab. I have also started to document case studies of some birds — for example, a Brown Pelican lost near Yosemite National Park or a California Gull entangled in a plastic bag (see video below).  I hope the videos will be useful in the future to show to our visitors or other interested parties.

A plastic bag-entangled California Gull treated and released

An American Avocet at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center

For more of Jeff’s bird videos, visit youtube.com/photorobinson.

All images and video copyright Jeff Robinson. All rights reserved.

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this monthly feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.

Recent Photographers in Focus:

Matt Bryant

Marie Travers

Christopher Taylor

Want to volunteer with us? Find out more information on our volunteer program here.

September 14, 2012

Photographers in Focus: Marie Travers

Northern Fulmar

Welcome to International Bird Rescue’s latest edition of Photographers in Focus, our tribute to the wildlife photographers who further inspire our passion for bird rehabilitation.

If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve seen the work of Marie Travers, Assistant Center Manager of International Bird Rescue’s Bay Area wildlife care center. We tend to post her photographs mid-afternoon, sometimes when we’re in need of inspiration.

And she delivers. Travers’ images — many of birds recuperating from injury, bobbing around in pelagic pools, slumbering in an aviary or incubator — are at once sensitive and wonderfully raw. She even finds humor on occasion: Try resisting a smirk when seeing the bravado of American Bittern chicks or Green Herons mugging for the camera.

The spirit of our tagline, “Every Bird Matters,” resonates in each of Marie’s photos. Here’s her story.

Travers at International Bird Rescue’s Bay Area Center

Where she began

Travers: I started as a volunteer with International Bird Rescue in 2001, and instantly fell in love with aquatic birds and the work. Weeks before volunteering with Bird Rescue, I had never really heard of wildlife rehabilitation. Five months after I started volunteering, I quit my job of six years and dove into it. Working with aquatic birds has been one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I feel lucky to be in the company of such amazing birds, and the truly incredible people who care for them. I have learned so much and have had so many amazing adventures with Bird Rescue.

Killdeer chick


Black-crowned Night Heron chick

Camera of choice

I have a Nikon D5000, and also use my iPhone that I always have on me. I have a LifeProof case for my phone that I’ve been experimenting with and used to make some underwater video of Pied-billed Grebe chicks this summer. I am so grateful for digital cameras and technology. So far, I have taken over 20,000 photos at Bird Rescue, many of them blurry shots of birds moving. I wouldn’t be afforded the opportunities for second shots if I had to pay for processing.

Brown Pelicans at International Bird Rescue’s Bay Area Center


Brown Booby

A memorable shot

I was at the beach one morning with my husband and my dog, and my husband pointed to a distant, tiny bird in the waves and asked, “Is that a Red-necked Phalarope?” I think I spent a few seconds with my jaw open in shock that my husband, previously not a big bird nerd, was able to identify this awesome, small bird. She was so fierce in the face of waves 10 times her height. I really love the photo of the Phalarope surfing on top of the wave.

Red-necked Phalarope

What inspires

As a species, I think Brown Pelicans are the most interesting to photograph. They have so many different looks, such expressive eyes, and are stunningly beautiful. I am also drawn to photos featuring our patients and the hands of their caregivers. I feel like these shots really capture the relationship between us.

Brown Pelican

Captive photography

It goes without saying that photographing birds at the center is exponentially easier than in the wild, and I often feel that I’m being given an unfair advantage. Outside of the center, being at the right place at the right time is key. Carrying camera gear with you can be a burden, but so often worth it when you get to see something incredible by chance. A few months ago I went out to photograph some Ruddy Ducklings that I had seen earlier in the day and was met by an Osprey plunge diving instead.  It was incredible, and of course, the ducklings were nowhere to be seen.

Eared Grebe


American Bittern chicks

Photographic refuge

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding area is a breathtaking place to visit in the winter with all of the migratory ducks and geese. I also regularly visit the San Francisco Bay coast in search of cool birds. In the spring and summer, the egret rookery on Bayfarm Island in Alameda is bustling with loud, beautiful birds and tiny chicks in nests. Bird Rescue has released some Snowy Egrets near there that have gone on to start their own families in the colony, so it’s especially exciting to see them.

Common Murre adult and chick

A parting thought

It is such a privilege to be able to provide a tiny portal into the work of Bird Rescue by sharing photos of our patients. So many of the birds have incredible stories, and recover against all odds. It’s easy to become discouraged by the part that humans play in their reasons for coming to the hospital, and I feel lucky every day to try to help them in some small way. Part of the reason that I take photos at work is in the hope that if more people see the birds and learn their stories, they will be more able to see the connection between us, and feel compelled to act on their behalf. It is not easy being a bird these days, and there is a lot we can do to help.

White-tailed Kite

We look forward to featuring Marie’s future work on this blog, as well as the work of many other wonderful photographers who give their time and creative energy to aquatic birds in need at International Bird Rescue.

All images copyright 2012 Marie Travers. All rights reserved.

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this monthly feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Matt Bryant of Florida, Robyn Carter of New Zealand and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

August 21, 2012

Photographers in Focus: Matt Bryant, Shorebird Lover

Welcome to International Bird Rescue’s latest edition of Photographers in Focus, our tribute to the wildlife photographers who further inspire our passion for bird rehabilitation.


You needn’t be Mattias Klum to score a terrific seabird photograph. At International Bird Rescue, we’re often as drawn to hobby shots by amateurs who love some of the many species we often rehabilitate as we are to the work of today’s hottest wildlife photographers.

While recently perusing Flickr, we came across some beautiful frames by Matt Bryant (pictured above, with son, Jordan), a Florida native who works for Liberty Mutual Insurance and has a lifelong passion for shorebirds, from the Marbled Godwit to the endangered Piping Plover.

But one species is a particular muse for Bryant: the Black Skimmer, the largest of three Skimmer species. American ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy, as Audubon notes, once described the Black Skimmer as “unworldly…aerial beagles hot on the scent of aerial rabbits.”

Bryant also raves. “There is nothing else like them in the world,” he says of Skimmers on Indian Shores near St. Petersburg, Fla. “They fly so gracefully and with great speed. It’s so much fun watching them skim across the water. They’re the only bird on the planet with a longer lower mandible, as they drag it in the water zig-zagging back and forth for fish.”

Bryant recently took a few minutes out of his day to tell us more about his passion for our small ocean beach companions (as well as magnificent waterfowl):

Willet, Sunset Beach, Fla.

Have you always been interested in shorebirds? What draws you to them?

Shorebirds have always been interesting to me but not until recently have I discovered how fragile they can be. When I was younger, I never realized harm could be caused when chasing a flock of birds making them fly. Now I find myself yelling at others not to do so and educating my own children to have respect for the wildlife. The beach belongs to them, and I’m just borrowing it. I’m drawn to the athleticism of these animals — it’s truly amazing how they can target a fish and pinpoint its direction, then make adjustments within milliseconds to catch it.

Black-Necked Stilt, Florida

What camera do you use?

I shoot with a Nikon. I’m thankful my wife bought me my first DLSR camera, which has allowed me to reconnect with nature in a way I never have before. We are each others’ eyes and ears when out birding.

Black Skimmer, Indian Shores, Fla.

What’s your favorite shot of all time?

My favorite is of the newly hatched Black Skimmer babies. We missed them the year before, and seeing them mere hours after hatching was like seeing a famous celebrity. They’re so tiny as they wobble along waiting for fish to eat. My favorite scene was when the parent brought a fish too big to eat, then took the fish, mashed it up a bit, and made it easier to consume. I still am trying to figure out where he put it, because the fish looked bigger than the baby Skimmer.

Wood Duck, Florida

Have you ever seen injured birds while photographing?  Thankfully I haven’t seen too many. I did see a Willet with a bad leg that looked like the circulation was cut off from fishing line. I got a quick glimpse as another Willet shared some food, then both flew off in the distance. Most of the locations we explore have bird sanctuaries nearby in the event we come across an injured bird.

Sandwich Tern, Florida

Why is wildlife photography important to you? 

As a kid, I could always be found exploring the woods for any kind of wildlife I could find. Now that I have added 500mm to my eyesight, I have discovered a world of beauty I never could have imagined, and it surrounds you everywhere. My own backyard has provided some fantastic shots of wildlife, and I’m a short drive away from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Once you open your eyes and pay attention, the world around you changes. I’ve seen Bald Eagles in the middle of the city, or the Mockingbird that turned out to be a Cedar Waxwing, or a Wilson’s Plover that turned out to be a Piping Plover, currently the sixth most endangered bird in America. If my photos help open up people’s eyes to the beauty that surrounds them, maybe they would think twice before chasing a group of Plovers or Terns, or leaving trash on the beach.

Semi-palmated Plover, Florida

All images copyright 2012 Matt Bryant. All rights reserved.  

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this monthly feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.

And check out some of our previous featured photographers, including Robyn Carter of New Zealand and Christopher Taylor of Venice, Calif.

July 1, 2012

Photographers in Focus: Christopher Taylor

Welcome to International Bird Rescue’s latest edition of Photographers in Focus, our tribute to the wildlife photographers who further inspire our passion for bird rehabilitation.

In his 1922 memoir The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a survivor of the harrowing British Terra Nova Expedition, wrote of Antarctica’s icy brutality and eccentric wildlife in a travelogue unrivaled to this day. (If you’ve never read it, add it to your literature bucket list.)

And in seeing Los Angeles-based photographer Christopher Taylor’s images of Adélie Penguins, we were reminded of Cherry-Garrard’s observation of this species a century ago: They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tail-coats and white shirt-fronts — and rather portly withal.

The founder of an Internet marketing firm in Santa Monica, Taylor recalls his own close encounter with Adélies during a trip to Paulet Island, located at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. “These guys were pretty curious, as you can see from the photo,” he says. “I ended up in the middle of a penguin highway. Imagine 100 of these guys running toward you. Most of them have never even seen a human before, so they’re not really sure how to react.”

Flightless Cormorant, Galápagos Islands

We’re drawn to Taylor’s work for its intimacy and sheer breadth: Take a look at the dizzying number of species he’s photographed. He’s traveled the globe, returning with fantastic images of endangered Sandpipers from Thailand, Flightless Cormorants from the Galápagos and Snowy Owls on Alaska’s North Slope.

But we also appreciate Taylor’s commitment to documenting birds in his own backyard — namely the Ballona Wetlands of Los Angeles. Those who have jogged, walked or biked through this 600-acre area in West L.A. may be surprised by its diversity of wildlife.

Unfortunately, many birds who call this area home (or who have stopped over as they migrate elsewhere on the planet) fall victim to the ills of urban encroachment. “I’ve encountered injured Western Grebes, oiled Pacific and Common Loons, and countless Gulls and Grebes, that are all tangled up in fishing line,” Taylor says. Taylor has routinely called Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue for help in collecting injured birds, who often in turn are transported to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center for care.

We recently caught up with Taylor to learn some behind-the-scenes details of his fantastic shots.

Snowy Owl, Barrow, Alaska

How’d you get into wildlife photography?

My father was an avid birder and photographer, so I grew up with it from a very young age. I would travel to Texas, Alaska and all around the country with him photographing birds. I have always been really into the outdoors, so it was a hobby that I easily picked up. I didn’t start photographing birds until I was in my mid 20’s though. I kind of fell out of birding for a while during my teenage and college years but got back into it again when I bought my first DSLR camera. I spent a day photographing at Ballona and I was hooked all over again.

Ivory Gull, Pismo Beach, Calif.

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper, Ballona Creek, Los Angeles

Speaking of which, what’s been your greatest find while photographing at Ballona?

I think the most remarkable bird that I found and photographed was a Buff-Breasted Sandpiper. These guys breed in the high Arctic of northern Canada and Alaska, and typically migrate through the Central U.S. to and from their wintering grounds in South America. I was quite shocked to find one at Ballona Creek!

What cameras do you use?

I shoot with all Canon. I suppose it’s because my dad has always shot Canon and he was a CPS (Canon Professional) member so he was able to take my camera bodies and lenses in for cleaning and repair at no charge.

What region or country has posed the greatest challenge in your work?

I think Thailand was pretty difficult. When I first started, I would go with tour groups, but I prefer to do everything solo now. I don’t like being restricted to an itinerary and having to compromise with 10-plus other people in the group or vehicle. Being a photographer, I prefer to “stake out” areas for hours, if not the entire day. That said, I planned the Thailand trip myself. I had originally chartered an individual to take me out to specific locations, but he flaked on me when I arrived in Bangkok.

Spoon-Billed Sandpiper, Thailand

My top priority was the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper, so as soon as I got to the hotel, I rented a vehicle and drove to one of the prime locations to find them. The traffic, communication and signs all being in Thai proved to be quite challenging. I managed to get to the spot only to find hundreds of acres of water and salt pannes where the birds could be — usually only one or two birds among hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. It took me most of the day, but I finally found three of them. They were huddled together with a group of 1,000+ Red-Necked Stints, Broad-Billed Sandpipers, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, and Great Knots. I crawled on my belly through mud over 200 yards to get close enough to photograph them without scaring them. If I spooked one or two birds, the entire flock would have been gone in an instant. I was pretty stoked. I found my primary target bird within 24 hours of being in Thailand.

Check out more of Taylor’s work via his website, and follow him on Twitter! More information on print purchasing can be found here.

Adélie Penguins, Paulet Island, Antarctica. All images and video © Copyright 2006-2012 Christopher Taylor. All rights reserved.  

Adelie Penguins, Antarctica from Christopher Taylor on Vimeo.

If you would like to be considered as a featured wildlife photographer for International Bird Rescue, or would like to recommend a photographer for this monthly feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.