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Write Now: Biology Led Bird Photographer, Author To Appreciate Avian Wildlife

You could say author and bird photographer Marc Parnell travels light.

And he prefers it that way.

“I am a minimalist when it comes to gear, only taking a Panasonic FZ80 (a bridge camera with 60x optical zoom) with a separate telephoto lens. This camera has acceptable image stabilization, even without use of a tripod. This enables me to travel lightly, cover lots of territory, and focus on the birds,” Parnell said. For image processing he uses Adobe Lightroom.

Also he likes to take pictures in Western New York, Western Pennsylvania, and Northeastern Ohio.

Parnell, a student on temporary leave from his studies at Case Western Reserve University, recently released his work on local bird life, titled “Birds of Greater Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo.”

Parnell is a Cleveland-based author of 41 North American birding field guides, which will all be released by Naturalist & Traveler Press in the coming weeks. “As a proud local and former Jamestown resident, the first of these is titled ‘Birds of Greater Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo,’ and will include exclusive information on the many species found in our local area,” Parnell added.

According to the publisher’s website, birdingpro.com, the series of books is unique for its inclusion of several novel features:

¯ A monthly “birding forecast,” which gives the probabilities of spotting each species throughout the entire calendar year

¯ A detailed bird feeding guide for every species likely to visit backyard feeders

¯ Hundreds of fun facts and answers to common FAQs

¯ Extended sections on behavior, diet, habitat, and much more for every species

Parnell always has been interested in biology, and the great outdoors. “I couldn’t find complete, basic information for each species in the many field guides that I had been using for years, and decided to take matters into my own hands. I’ve never been averse to hard work, and have relished the many years that I have spent studying our lively feathered friends,” Parnell said.

“When observing birds from afar, it can often be difficult to see the details which make many species so beautiful. A well-photographed bird spotlights this detail and allows for a much deeper appreciation of the avian wildlife that surrounds us,” he added.

The author noted there are a few key factors when setting up shots including having the sun at one’s back which provides optimal lighting across the immediate viewing area; and a well-timed execution of burst mode allows for split-second capture of birds while singing, diving, capturing prey or harvesting food sources, and while engaging in other daily behaviors.

“In addition, I look for birds that are in a representative and instructive setting (e.g., a Mourning Dove on a telephone line or tree branch, rather than on the pavement of a sidewalk). This maximizes the learning outcome for readers when they are first learning about each species,” Parenell said.

His favorite birds to shoot tend to depend on availability and seasonality. “The other day, I took several great photographs of an adult bald eagle at Pymatuning State Park, near Conneaut, Pa. I also found a leucistic (mostly white) Mallard in Presque Isle State Park last weekend. I try to focus on which birds are most seasonally prevalent, based on migration and behavioral patterns. This is why I provide month-by-month birding forecasts for each species in my field guides: allowing other birders to appreciate every species as we move through the seasons,” he added.

His preferred locations to photograph include the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve in Ohio, and Presque Isle State Park, near Erie, Pa., during migratory periods, as well as the Dunkirk Harbor during winter.

After photographing so many birds, he never knows if he has gotten the best shot.

“I try not to make snap judgments in the field, as some photographs may end up looking better on a large display. After uploading all of the photos to my phone, I filter through any captures with excessive blur, undesirable poses, or inconsistent lighting, and set aside a subgroup for final editing on my computer. The best photographs often produce a deep, visceral response, and that very satisfaction is what keeps the nature photographer returning to the field: time and time again,” the author said.

And he has also ended up with pictures of another bird while trying to photograph another. “One May, there was a particularly severe storm that grounded a number of migrating birds: resulting in abnormally large flocks of many species. I set out to investigate a report of several hundred Indigo Buntings that had settled in a small grove of trees, which manifested themselves as a cerulean blanket which spectacularly — and almost entirely — covered the springtime branches. However, I also happened to observe a blue jay that was vertically perched on the bark of a tree, attempting to retrieve a cached seed that it had previously set aside. This chance encounter (of a species that is fairly common year-round, no less) ended up producing the photograph of the day,” he added.

For more information on Parnell and more of his books, visit birdingpro.com.

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