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Sharing winged magic

By on January 31, 2018 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

Green Heron at Commonwealth Lake Park, Beaverton, OR. “This pond was about 2 miles from our house in Portland,” said Bruce. “I walked the perimeter path almost daily when we lived in Portland.’

Color blind, but not blind to nature’s feathered beauty

By Jaana Hatton

When you marvel at the sharp, capture-the-moment bird photos of hobbyist photographer Bruce McCammon, you would never guess he is color-blind. Not in a million years.

His images are vivid and accurate. They are so perfect that the local Audubon chapter created a poster using 40 shots from Bruce’s portfolio.

“I don’t have to see the colors to identify birds,” Bruce explained. “There are other ways, such as looking at the plumage patterns, the shape of the beak, the size and shape of the bird.”

The journey from his first blurry photos to artistic images has taken decades.

Bruce recalls often seeing his mother with camera in hand, and following her footsteps, Bruce began to familiarize himself with photography in his mid-teens. It was an off-and-on hobby for him then: not on the top of the young man’s list of attractions.

Professionally, Bruce took the path of a wildland hydrologist until he retired 37 years later. He then plunged into wedding photography, something utterly contradictory to his quiet, introverted personality.

“I decided on wedding photography so I would learn to socialize better,” Bruce said.

Bruce’s first purposeful bird photography event took place on Feb. 2, 2004. He was visiting the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico with his friend, Steve Howes. Bruce’s intent was to learn how to take photos of moving objects.

What better opportunity could there be than to practice with birds in flight, with their wings fluttering and directions shifting unexpectedly?

“We got up early, at 4:30, to witness the snow geese and sandhill cranes take flight in the morning,” Bruce said. “It was cold, in the low 20s maybe.”

They waited and shivered, chatting with a few other people who were there in the sunrise hour anticipating the spectacle.

Without a warning, it happened. A roar rose from the lake and there were the snow geese, a cloud of them, passing just above the heads of the ground-bound observers while quickly moving onwards and upwards. Bruce recalls the experience as absolutely thrilling.

As soon as the geese had left there was more commotion in the brightening light of the morning. The sandhill cranes were ready for the “flyout.”

There were hundreds of them on the water. The four-feet tall cranes created momentum a few at a time and took flight.

Bruce took photos of the geese, the cranes and the scenery. He took dozens of them, but upon later inspection the enthusiastic photographer was disappointed. The images were not great. They were not even good, mostly. He had taken shots against the sun, the moving birds were blurry; many unfortunate mistakes showed on the photos.

Yet, he felt happy.

“It was amazing, with all those birds around and above you. The experience was spiritual. Both Steve and I felt the same way,” Bruce said. “On that morning, the bird photography bug latched on to me and has not let go since.”

With the bug hanging on to his side and the skills gained both with perseverance as well as trial and error, Bruce is becoming an educator — not by design, but by bird karma, you might say. He is the ambassador, the good saint of the winged world.

His private hobby has evolved into a larger process: the sharing of photography and bird knowledge with the community.

Bruce had no plans to be in the public limelight with his photos. However, enter Mark Oswood, the dynamo of the local Audubon chapter, and things can change.

Mark needed new posters for his “What’s That Bird” events, organized for schools to teach the students about birds in an outdoor setting.

Soon the word got around, and the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust wanted to meet Bruce, as did Patrick Bodell of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Wenatchee.

“I now have some plans for the approximately 100,000 photos I have on files,” Bruce said. “Besides the posters, I would like to create some field-guides; those quarter sheet books that so conveniently fit in your pocket for field trips.”

Bruce has also discovered that printing images on metal is a wonderful innovation. The prints come out sharp and the colors vibrant. What’s more, metal is durable. Such a print would be a treat for a bird lover.

Bruce is overcoming his private nature and thinking about lectures and other ways of sharing the good he has found in birding and nature. He would also like to make his bird images useful.

“As for the technical side of birding, there is always a challenge, the quest to be better. As for the mental part of the hobby, I find it energizing, yet calming,” Bruce said.

Jaana Hatton lives in East Wenatchee but can often be found roaming the hills or strolling by the river. She is enchanted by all things natural, having grown up a wild child in the woods in Finland.

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