Birdwatching With The Ultimate Bird Lady

Birds can be quite underrated animals. We see pictures of adorable cats, dogs and pandas everywhere we look, but somehow pretty birds are always someone’s second choice, which is a real shame because there are some really spectacular birds out there! Luckily, photographer Melissa Groo is here to remind us of the fact that birds are some of the most beautiful creatures in the world who come in all imaginable shapes, colors and sizes and enchant us with their delicate, complex songs. 

Best known for her bird photography, Melissa Groo’s Instagram feed contains perfectly captured cute, funny and surprising moments from the lives of many unique birds, often shot in soft hues and low contrast. If birds aren’t your cup of tea after all, Groo also posts some of her stunning images of mammals. 

The photographer has traveled far and wide to take some of the best shots she possibly could. Her photos are sharp, vibrant, and they always tell a story. For example, many of her pictures show two birds engaged in some interaction. Mother and son, father and daughter, siblings or long-lost lovers, it’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely cute and amusing.  

Enjoy her work below! 

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"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark." ~Rabindranath Tagore Red-winged Blackbird on a frosty morning last week. I've been trying to get this kind of shot for years. Or at least thinking about it. Just never had the time or opportunity til this year, as I am traveling less than I have in recent years, this spring. Photographing a Red-winged Blackbird with his condensed breath visible is a common goal for bird photographers. But as with most hoped-for shots, planning and pre-visualization is critical. I knew I needed first of all, a good spot for Red-winged Blackbirds recently returned and fervently staking out their territory, occupying high perches at dawn, to sing from. I knew I needed the position of the birds to be between me and the sun (backlit). And that I wanted a dark background, not sky. I needed a clear sky on the horizon right at sunrise (mighty rare here in central NY!), so I would indeed have a sliver of direct sun, and a temperature in the 20’s or low 30’s. I also needed all these things to line up with my schedule! Given these conditions, I would get up about 45 minutes before sunrise, to dress, get coffee, and drive a few miles to this spot to be in place in time (before actual sunrise time). I think a lot of people don't realize the work and the forethought that goes into many images of wildlife. Especially completely natural images, that is, when the subject is not lured in any way by sound or food or other set-up. I would park along the road, such that my driver's window was facing the marsh, turn my car off, and wait for light to just barely limn (rim light) the couple of blackbirds I could see. Sometimes I would have to reposition my car to line up with the bird. I did this project on two mornings and got several shots I was pretty happy with. This one might be my favorite. Photographed with my Nikon D850; 600mm; 1.4 teleconverter. ISO 1600. 1/1000. f/5.6. I'll be talking about previsualization as a useful tool in the bird photography course I'm working on this year with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It will be released online in early 2020.

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Smithsonian Magazine's new issue (Oct) features a story on Snowy Owls and the research of Denver Holt and the Owl Research Institute. Earlier this summer, I traveled twice to Utqiagvik, Alaska, high above the Arctic circle and the northernmost point in the U.S., to shoot the story. I hope you'll consider picking up a copy. Snowy Owl populations have dropped precipitously over the last decade or so, they have recently been uplisted to "Vulnerable" status on the IUCN Red List, and they are facing considerable challenges due to climate change (principally as it affects their main prey source, lemmings). They are also losing ground to development in this, their last nesting stronghold in the U.S. Please follow along with Smithsonian's Instagram account @smithsonianmagazine, as I will be doing a takeover starting this Friday, the 28th, through next Thursday, Oct 4, and sharing many more photos and stories. This is a male leaving the female at the nest after he has just delivered a lemming. I photographed them from a blind and they were seemingly undisturbed by my presence there. I worked closely with Denver who has studied and protected them on this nesting territory for 27 years and every precaution was taken to ensure their safety. This couple successfully fledged three chicks. It was one of only 4 nests this year, in the 100 square mile study area that two decades ago hosted as many as 58 nests.

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