I am a wildlife photographer living in Campbell River, British Columbia, with a primary interest in mammals and birds living in British Columbia, the Alberta Rockies, the Arctic and England.
In 1983, my partner Laura and I purchased a house in North Burnaby, half way between Simon Fraser University where I was on the faculty of the School of Criminology and downtown Vancouver where Laura worked. The house looked out over Burrard Inlet to the North Shore Mountains, an area that was mostly terra incognita for us. I first visited the Conservation Area at Maplewood Flats in 1996, shortly after its inauguration. Visible from the front room of our home in North Burnaby and just a ten-minute drive away, it was a paradise for someone who had bird-watched since his childhood. I had also been interested in photography as a kid, but had not pursued that interest during my adult life, other than holiday snapshots. One day at Maplewood, a Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker foraging on opposite sides of the same rotting tree stump rekindled that interest: if only I'd had a camera lens powerful enough to capture that moment.
As I had just turned 50, I celebrated by purchasing a Canon 35 mm film camera body and 300 mm telephoto lens. I returned to Maplewood searching for bird-photo opportunities.
In January 2001, the local birding community was abuzz with news of a Northern Pygmy-Owl frequenting Maplewood. Now equipped with a quality telephoto lens, each time I saw the miniature hunter s/he was in dense undergrowth far from the trail. Then, one cold morning just three weeks after I had purchased the camera, there was the owl just above the trail, close enough to create a record shot. I took a frame and then moved two steps closer. Another frame and I managed two more steps. A few more steps and the owl, a round and benign-looking puffball, filled the frame. Forever watchful, the owl struck a series of poses surveying the forest floor hoping for an unsuspecting mouse or vole to appear.
After half an hour, the owl became agitated. Her head movements accelerated as she shifted uneasily on her perch. That is when I first noticed the flock of chickadees and kinglets descending angrily. What happened next changed my life, as it cemented my interest in nature photography forever. It was the impetus for creating a photo archive of Maplewood Conservation Area wildlife.
From a cute tiny puffball, the owl morphed into a miniature horned devil. Fortunately, despite my surprise, I remembered to press the camera's shutter release. Unable to believe my luck, I named the owl "Serendipity."
This encounter occurred back in the day when one did not have the instant gratification of a digital camera display. I had to finish the roll of film and then make a couple of trips to a professional film-developing lab in Downtown Vancouver, first to drop off the film and then, a couple of days later, to pick up the results. On this occasion, finishing the film was easy enough as the owl stayed put, allowing me to take several rolls of colour film (I did not know enough yet about photography to shoot slides rather than film). I visited the photo-developing lab the next day. When I picked up the prints, there they were in sharp relief: a dozen frame-filling images of the shape-shifting pygmy-owl.
Suspecting that I had witnessed something unusual, I took a set of prints to Maplewood to give to Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia, the steward of the site. That was the day I first met WBT Co-founder Patricia M. Banning Lover. Patricia was greeting visitors in the office at the entrance to the Conservation Area. While the puffball owl was impressive, the devil owl was surreal, and something Patricia had not witnessed. When she contacted one of British Columbia's most senior ornithologists, Ian McTaggart-Cowan (a Senior Author of The Birds of British Columbia), we realized that no one we knew of had photographed a pygmy owl behaving this way. Could WBT have a copy of the devil owl photo for the North Shore News, she asked? Of course, I responded, thrilled by the prospect of having one of my photos published barely four weeks after purchasing my first telephoto lens. On January 31st, 2001, the devil owl appeared in the North Shore News.
The next time I met Patricia at Maplewood she asked whether I had other photographs of Maplewood wildlife for publication, as WBT was planning a series of articles by naturalist Al Grass on the monthly Nature Walks he was conducting at Maplewood accompanied by a photo of Maplewood's wildlife. With an archive of wildlife images to draw from, we could include the most eye-catching to promote local interest in Maplewood.
I said I would be delighted.
To facilitate image capture, WBT gave me permission to venture off the trails to obtain images that would otherwise be out of reach, such as the denizens of the Park Street Marsh at a time when there were plans to create unmonitored access to the inter-tidal area adjacent to the marsh along the Western border of the conservation area. In return for this access, I would provide images for WBT's use. Once I set about this project, I realized that a 300 mm lens would not generally provide sufficient magnification for the likes of sparrows, warblers and other passerines. Within a month and at Laura's behest ("buy the lens you really need," she said, "you only live once") a 500 mm lens joined the 300.
My images accompanied Al's North Shore News Maplewood Nature Walk articles until 2015 when Laura and I relocated to Campbell River. What ended up being a 14-year project resulted in a portfolio of 109 bird-species.WBT has used these photos for many other WBT purposes, particularly at AGMs and the series of talks that Patricia and I gave around the Lower Mainland of BC to various organizations.
In 2004, I encountered Ed Dubois and Ken Atkinson at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Both of them were carrying 500 mm telephoto lenses mounted on tripods. Both were members of Lion's Gate Camera Club in Vancouver. To get feedback on the quality of my images, they encouraged me to join. I have been a member of LGCC ever since.
Membership of LGCC introduced me to several other accomplished photographers and the benefit of hearing the judges of intra-club competitions critically analyzing club members' images. Among those accomplished photographers was Murray O'Neill, who introduced me to grizzly bear photography. What a treat it was to encounter my first grizzly on a trip with Murray to the Bella Coola Valley. My initial feeling of awe quickly turned to fear as I watched my first grizzly round a bend in the Atnarco and wade straight towards us.
To my relief, when she saw us, the bear crossed the river and headed through the deep grass on the outside of the meander on which Murray and I were standing, our 500 and 600 mm lenses mounted on tripods ready for action. The bear was at just the right distance for some frame filling action shots.
On a subsequent trip to Jasper, Murray introduced me to John Marriott, a professional nature photographer based in Canmore. John was just starting his wildlife tour company and I was anxious to sign up. By way of reconnaissance for one of John's first tours, we made two trips to Broughton Archipelago in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, I joined John and five other photographers for a tour to the Ice Floe Edge in Baffin Bay to photograph Arctic scenery during the midnight Sun along with sea birds, Polar Bears, Narwhal and other and cetaceans. Then, in the fall, I joined John's tour to Chilko Lake to photograph Grizzlies feasting on bright red spawning Sockeye Salmon. We followed that visual feast with a trip to Jasper in February 2013 to photograph wolves. At that point I decided to retire from my criminology career at SFU — the career that paid for tripods, camera bodies and lenses — in order to pursue wild life photography full time.
Just as I was retiring in January 2015, my doctor told me I have stage-4 colon cancer. That setback effectively ended my touring days for the time being. However, now that we live in Campbell River, our 19 foot Campion Explorer 542 is moored at the gateway to the Discovery Islands, a World-class wildlife-viewing destination for Orca, Humpback Whales, dolphin, porpoises, Black Bears, Grizzlies and numerous seabirds, both residents and migrants, along the Pacific flyway.
I plan to turn that archive into a coffee-table book tentatively entitled Wildlife of the Salish Sea: Images and Reflections.
With an archive of tens of thousands of wildlife photos, it is difficult to figure out the best way to introduce them. What follows is a gallery of approximately 200 art cards as an indication of the kinds of images in the archive. The cards measure 8.5 inches by 5.5, with a print area of 7.5x4.25 and .75-inch white-border.