Photographer Heather Roskelley was taking a tour of the intercoastal bays of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge when three sub-adult Whooping Cranes appeared at eye-level next to the group's boat. The cranes were so close, so Roskelley seized the opportunity to capture the moment. Her photo, which won first place in BirdNote's 18th Birthday Photo Contest shows these Whooping Cranes in flight. Learn more about the story and meet Heather Roskelley below:
1. When was this photo taken?
This photo was taken on March 5, 2020 during my first trip to the Texas Gulf Coast. When I drove down to Rockport from Austin, Washington State was one of the few places shutting down due to COVID-19. During my trip, it was still questionable whether the rest of the country would follow suit. However, when I was heading back to Austin, I learned that South by Southwest was canceled and realized that Texas and other states might be shutting down, too. I felt extremely fortunate to have taken this wonderful trip just before all activity ceased, including travel.
2. Who were you with when you took the photo?
I traveled to the Central Gulf Coast on my own, but I was on a chartered boat with other people who wanted to see Whooping Cranes and other birds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Captain Tommy Moore’s knowledge of the refuge and the many birds and mammals that call it home is incredible. He knew where to take us.
3. Describe your feelings after capturing and experiencing this wonderful birding moment.
I was very surprised and excited that the cranes flew so close to us, and I felt so fortunate to have witnessed something that not many people get to see. Captain Tommy said it was a rare event. I just wanted to see a Whooping Crane on this trip, even if it was standing far away on a distant shore. I was lucky to see them not only close-up but flying. At the same time, I was worried that my photos of this moment wouldn’t be very good. As wildlife photographers know, one has a split second to take certain shots and there’s often a lot of shaking and movement going on!
4. Do you often photograph birds, and if you do, what do you enjoy most about bird photography?
If I have the time, I photograph birds and other animals several times a week. There are so many species of birds, and each one is interesting and beautiful. I find them to be both challenging and inspiring.
5. What advice would you give others who’d like to capture amazing bird photos like yours?
Go outside and photograph as much as possible. The more you’re out there, the more opportunities you’ll have to be in the right place at the right time. Also, learn about bird behavior. I think the best wildlife photographers really care and have knowledge about their subject. I feel a love and connection with each animal I photograph. With successful photos, this shows through.
6. What’s been your best birding experience so far?
Every birding experience is wonderful. But one of the best I’ve had was magical with both sight and sound. I drove to the Hayton Reserve (Skagit Wildlife Area – Fir Island Farm Reserve) in Washington State before dawn on the morning of the Spring Equinox in 2019. There was a full moon. At dawn, hundreds of Snow Geese and Trumpeter and Tundra Swans flew in from the bay to graze in the fields. The sight of all these beautiful white birds in the pink sky, some flying against the full moon, and the symphony of honking and whistling wings was extraordinary. I had tears in my eyes as they flew over me.
7. Please tell us what you enjoy most about BirdNote!
I’ve always loved the 2-minute BirdNote Daily segments. They’re so well-written and crafted, with a variety of sounds invoking the theater of the mind.
8. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
The older I get and the more photos I take, the more I appreciate the moments when I’m in the presence of a bird or other animal that is calm and peaceful and doesn’t mind that I’m there. For instance, I love photographing wild ducks during the winter at Mueller Lake Park in Austin. They know they are completely safe at this pond, so it’s a real pleasure to sit peacefully by the water and take close-ups of them. I feel so happy knowing that they feel comfortable around me. Most birds are stressed just by the act of noticing them, let alone pointing a camera lens at them. I would like to say to other photographers and birders to be as unobtrusive as possible and to put the animal first. If an animal is noticeably stressed by your presence, the photo isn’t worth it.
Learn more about Whooping Cranes on BirdNote Daily:
Wood Buffalo National Park - Birthplace of Whooping Cranes
A Fascination with Cranes, With George Archibald
Protecting the World's Cranes