Michelle Lamberson – October 2017

When I purchased my first DSLR (a Nikon D80) in 2006, with what I thought at the time was a pretty decent telephoto (18-200), I had no idea what was about to take over my free time. I was not a birder, though I had a mild interest in them and generally expected to be a “nature” photographer. I vaguely thought that it would wonderful to take pictures of the big birds – the raptors – I was seeing everywhere. I could not imagine why anyone would be interested in small birds.

October 14, 2007 and a trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary changed everything. Really, how can anyone resist a flock of snow geese? What were those tiny things flying in the bushes? There were so many birds I did not know, but I was keen to learn. The next year I purchased the full frame Nikon D700 and not long later my first prime telephoto (a 300 mm). My obsession with birds deepened. The diversity of subjects, movement and behavior intrigued me in a way I never expected.

A sitting raptor is majestic, but photographing a small bird catching an insect (in focus) is incredibly satisfying and wonderful. I like capturing birds in flight, doing unexpected things and sitting in unusual places. Photographing a rare bird (particularly when you don’t know it) is also rewarding.

The gear I use has varied over the years. I now own a range of lenses. My standard walk-around gear is a Nikon D500, equipped with the 300 mm f/4E PF ED VR lens with 1.4 extender. That combination is not only light enough to carry (no monopod needed), it also provides decent reach and shutter-speed.

The photographs below reflect my interests in photographing birds and the two main locations – the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan – that I have lived in BC. We are privileged to live in an amazing province, but what has been just as special to me has been the opportunity to interact with a warm, caring, generous community of birders. I have learned a lot about birds in the last ten years or so, from all of you. It’s an honour to be asked to be the “featured photographer” for BCFO.

NOTE: You can see more of Michelle’s work on her Flickr site here.

The Bald Eagle in this photograph is caught in mid lift-off from a tree on 72nd Avenue in Ladner. What I like about this photo, taken on my 50th birthday with my first prime lens (300 F4), is that it captures movement and stillness at the same time. It’s a bird caught between two states, in a somewhat unusual hover pose.

I love Ospreys, from the way they dive into the water, to the “big shake” after they emerge and their deft aerial maneuvers to avoid blackbirds, seagulls and eagles. This photograph, taken at Iona Regional Park in June 2013, captures one of their more interesting behaviours – how they rearrange their catch mid-flight.  The prey fish is a Brown Bullhead, an introduced species of  catfish that is common in eastern North America.

For many years I was convinced that Virginia Rails were a myth (much like snipe). This photograph captures this elusive bird boldly venturing on the alkali flat of Robert Lake (June, 2016, Kelowna) and sharing a shake with the world. I like the contrasts in this photo – the crystalline white of the flats contrasting with the brown tones of the Virginia Rail.

This Great Grey Owl graced Reifel with its presence in February 2015. It is a large bird, but when it is threatened, in this case by a falcon flying over, it expands its feathers and makes itself even bigger!

This Lucy’s Warbler, taken in Kelowna in November, 2016, is my accidental claim to fame in the rarity department. In late September 2016, I noticed a tiny bird flitting in the bushes and took several rapid-fire pictures, posting them several days later – to the surprise of many. It disappeared and re-emerged in November to the delight of many birders, who flocked from all over BC to see this unexpected Sonoran visitor. I selected this photo because it shows the difficult-to-see rufous patch on the rump, which is a critical field mark for this species.

I have a special love of Snow Geese and capturing a flock in flight is a never-ending fascination to me. This picture was taken in October 2013 at Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I like the pattern (Escher-like) and the reality of this photo (mud falling off of the birds). I can hear them when I look at this.

The American Dipper is a furtive bird of cold streams, extracting insect gold from running waters. This photo, taken in May 2014 at Hardy Falls Provincial Park (Peachland, BC), shows the bird in action. Bonus for me is the water behavior – another of my fascinations.

I have many photos of Short-Eared Owls from Boundary Bay – sitting, flying, interacting with harriers. Their cat-like screams when approached by other raptors and grumbling in the grass after a harrier steals their prey are entertaining. Until I took this photo in December 2012 at 72nd Street, I had never been threatened by one of them with a tiny hockey stick. Although it landed by me, I quickly withdrew.

I lived in Vancouver for many years and never saw a jaeger (another mythical bird, IMHO). I moved to the Okanagan, and in September 2016, one visited! I was fortunate to capture this beautiful Long-tailed Jaeger in flight as it showed off its signature feature.

Merlins are fierce raptors, but I had no idea until I saw this bird at Iona Regional Park in August 2013, that they ate insects. The large dragonflies we see at that time of year provide a nice protein popsicle! The full frame D800 was used for this shot – and cropped to just show the main meal.

The Common Nighthawk is a beautiful bird, with its number shrinking rapidly in BC. My humblest privilege in August of 2014, was to take this photograph on the Iona North Jetty, Richmond, BC. Look close, there are two birds in this photograph.

Anna’s Hummingbirds, and other hummingbirds are possibly my favorite bird to photograph – in flight or seated. This photograph was taken on the UBC Vancouver campus in May, 2010. I was late to a meeting and somewhat exasperated when I spotted the bird sitting on the tip of a conifer branch. He could not have picked a more perfect spot to make an impression. The purple of the seed cones and the greens of the pine needles showed off the bird’s colours perfectly. The clear backdrop produced a bokeh that photographers dream of. Time disappeared. Exasperation lifted. Magic..

NOTE:  Versions of Michelle’s striking image were selected by Nature Vancouver to grace the cover of the most recent edition of the Birders’ Guide to Vancouver, and also to appear on the cover of the April 2107 edition of the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B.