The realization that I had become a full blown birder was very unexpected. It became evident recently when I went looking through my photo files for some shots of buildings and discovered the majority of my files were centered around birds.
My artistic career began as a watercolour painter when wild life art was very popular. I did a little research and found out that many of the artists worked with stuffed animals alongside photographs.
Being keen to paint owls, I found a local taxidermist that allowed pictures to be taken of her specimens. She actually "rented" some of them out to artists for a fee. They seemed very sterile and I didn't end up painting any of them from the shots I took.
Then I found out about a wild life refuge close by that took in injured birds and animals. and was open to the public by donation. On my first visit they showed me some eagles and owls that were recuperating and allowed me to take all the pictures I wanted. It was great to see living birds up close and personal and know that they were going to be released back into the wild when they were fit.
One of my early paintings was done from one of the shots I took of a barred owl sitting on a branch in the rain. He was in a very large wire cage, due to the serious damage to one of his wings he would never be released. He was no longer noiseless when he flew making him unable to sneak up on his prey.
Now that I was hooked on the arts I wanted to learn more so I started taking classes and workshops. The local university offered some art courses so I took credit courses in design, sculpture and painting. My "artists eye" improved but what I didn't see was that my photography "eye" improved along with it. I entered juried fine art shows with photographs and paintings and both became award winners. Still I didn't take my photography as seriously as my painting.
The town where I live went through some tough economic times in the early 80s and it was decided that painting murals on the walls might revitalize it and improve tourism. In the early 90's I was fortunate enough to paint one which subsequently lead my position as Curator for the past 18 years.
As part of that job I spent many long hours repairing and repainting large murals. After a day on the "wall" more painting was the last thing I wanted to do so I would grab my camera and head out to the beach or a local park RV park. Birds seemed to be plentiful in both places and I liked catching them in their own habitat.
A co-worker introduced me to the Cowichan Valley Camera Club and encouraged me to join after he saw some of my photographs. As a long time camera club member in both local and international clubs I realized "nature" as a category is very large.
In order to compete in this section I was drawn into shooting more birds than any other wild creatures, except maybe bugs. Still I hadn't considered myself a particularly hard core birder even though I was gaining some recognition for my bird images.
As a Christmas present to myself in 2014 I wanted to go to Costa Rica. I looked around the internet and found the Portland Audubon Society was going there in February. I called right away only to find that the tour was full with a long waiting list! They did have another trip in April that still had a couple of spaces left but it was for Brazil and it was for BIRDERS!
For a couple of days I gave it some serious thought then decided I would ask if it would be a problem having a photographer along, not at all was the reply but not to bring too much gear as there wouldn't be enough room for it. When I arrived in Brazil to my surprise most of the "birders" had as much or more camera gear than I had. Has there been a shift - were birders becoming photographers?
I was able to take pictures of most of the exotic birds they found, the tour leaders set up scopes to look through for the long distance sightings. Fitting in was easy and I had a great time, had I "unexpectedly" become a birder? One of the guides used his cell phone to take pictures through his scope, they looked great. With the tremendous improvements in Cell phone cameras shooting with one has become the norm and lets everyone "play".
Finally, the discovery that my painting and photography have become one has been made, now I am as comfortable with a camera in my hand as with a paint brush! For more information, please contact Cim MacDonald
Where to buy “The Unexpected Birder” local:
9737 Chemainus Road
Chemainus, BC, Canada
1108 Government Street
Victoria BC V8W 1Y2
Unit #2, 93 Commercial St.
Volume One Bookstore
149 Kenneth Street
Duncan BC V9L 1N5
The Royal BC Museum
675 Belleville Street,
Victoria, BC V8W 9W2
The Coast Collective
#103 - 318 Wale Road,
Colwood, BC V9B 0J8
The Backyard Wildbird
6314 Metral Drive, Nanaimo,
B.C. V9T 2L8