Every Bird Matters
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Photographers in Focus

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.

January 8, 2012

Photographers in Focus – Remembering Jon Hrusa

A special, in memoriam edition of Photographers in Focus, our tribute to the wildlife photographers who further inspire our passion for bird rehabilitation.

Penguin Release – Jon Hrusa

Oiled Penguin – Jon Hrusa

Good photographs depict a story or event in one frame, often with no words, just visual inspiration. Capturing the feeling and emotion of an event in a timeless photograph is truly an art form, accomplished by an artist toting a camera. Over the years, many famous photographers have captured International Bird Rescue’s work in brilliant form. One of these was Jon Hrusa who recently passed away after 25 years of telling stories through imagery.

We met Jon in 2000 when International Bird Rescue was mobilized by IFAW for a collaborative response to the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa. We had about 20,000 oiled penguins in care and it was impossible for us to capture all of our work on film — we were just too busy.

IFAW brought Jon in to take photographs that would eventually grace the pages of a book entitled SPILL: The story of the world’s worst coastal bird disaster. Jon’s photographs truly captured the unique aspects of this historic event, during which we were able to release about 95% of the birds, back into the wild — an effort that helped save the African Penguin population from the risk of extinction.

Please join us in remembering Jon’s incredible work. You can read a remembrance in the Johannesburg Times here: Obituary: Jon Hrusa: passionate photographer

Jon Hrusa will be sorely missed.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

Penguins Released – Jon Hrusa


June 13, 2011

Photographers in Focus – Robyn Carter

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

Robyn Carter

Robyn Carter first caught our attention on the web a few months ago for her almost portrait-like shots of a kingfisher and a rehabilitated New Zealand gannet — equally striking in color and in black-and-white.

A resident of Marlborough, New Zealand, Carter has wide-ranging interests in wildlife photography — anything from a possum to a South Island weka. She exhibits a tremendous love of nature and animal diversity; that she is hearing impaired may help explain such sensitivity. “I am profoundly deaf, but have a cochlear implant,” she writes. “I use my eyes to hear (lipread), and have no doubt that because of my increased reliance of vision to ‘hear’, that this allows me to see what others often miss.”

We recently caught up with Carter to learn some behind-the-scenes details on her fantastic shots.

Andrew Harmon
Board of Directors
International Bird Rescue

1) How did you get into wildlife photography?

Accidentally really. My first camera was a Canon EOS 500 film, and I just happened to take a really good photo of a NZ fantail. It got so much admiration from all and sundry that from then on my love was wildlife. Not being able to travel very much, a lot of it is at wildlife parks and zoos, and animal rescue centres.

Australasian Gannet - Robyn Carter

2) Your photo of the gannet is simply amazing. Where did you shoot it?

The Gannet was actually rescued off a boat the morning I visited the Bird Lady of Auckland. Sylvia Durrant devotes her time and energy to rescuing and rehabilitating birds. I was up there taking photos of various baby birds when she suddenly flings open a box, grabs this huge gannet out, wrests its beak open and says to me “here – grab that fish and stick it down its throat!” So camera got put down, huge fish in hand, and shoved down bird’s throat. Not a usual morning for me in any shape or form!! I then picked up my camera fishy hands and all, and took 3 photos of the bird before the lid went back down again. This was the only one that turned out!

3) What camera do you use?

Kingfisher - Robyn Carter

I use the Canon 7D which I’ve now had for a year. I chose this for the 1.6 cropping factor (gets me closer to wildlife), and for its fast shutter speed so I can try and get birds in flight. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck yet with the birds in flight but I keep trying!

4) What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

I like to take photos with minimalistic yet natural backgrounds so the focus of the wildlife is the main attraction, and not competing with anything else. This is actually quite difficult to do because nature is so complex and in the wild, an animal or a bird is not often totally in the open. Even in wildlife parks or zoos, there are often cages that distract, or man made things in the way. Getting them close up and in focus is also challenging as most wildlife tends to move about, and you can’t direct them to where you would like them to be! You just have to bide your time and be as patient as possible!

Black Swan at Lake Rotoiti - Robyn Carter

5) Why birds?

I was born with a hearing loss and later lost all my hearing. For a long, long time I couldn’t even hear a bird at all. I was given a cochlear implant about 15 year ago, and the sound of birdsong just thrilled me. I then became interested in being able to recognise each song and bird, and it seemed to just go along with my photography. I love their colour and shape, and the challenge of bird photography because they’re often not easy subjects, being flighty, fast and generally not very obliging at the best of times! But every now and then all the elements line up perfectly and you can achieve the wow factor.


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