A good bit of the learning at the annual NatureVisions photo expo in Virginia takes place in a classroom or auditorium, where a talented and respected photographer gives a PowerPoint about, say, photographing landscapes or wildlife, or about Photoshop or Lightroom techniques. But another feature of the weekend that’s especially appealing is the chance to do some actual shooting. Last year I signed up for a session where we photographed birds of prey; this year I signed up for that session plus a new one: a chance to photograph parrots.
The parrots were provided by a rescue operation called Ruffled Feathers Parrot Sanctuary, which is based in Hanover, Pa.—actually in the North Hanover Mall. (Kinda funny to imagine a parrot sanctuary located between, say, a Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Burlington Coat Factory, but that’s where they are.) One of the rescue’s co-founders, Gil Stern, and an assistant brought in a colorful collection of macaws, cockatoos, conures, and other parrots for us. It was great fun to be able to photograph them up close against a dark-curtained background, as if they were models posing in a studio for us.
Here, for example, is a yellow-naped Amazon (or perhaps a double-yellow-naped? Gil patiently told me their species names over and over, but some things just didn’t stick).
And here’s a bird that Gil said was a hawkbill parrot; I can’t find any info about it online*, so I’m wondering if it also goes by another name?
You may notice the unusual catchlight in its eye: It’s the reflection of the fluorescent lights in the indoor area where we were shooting. Completely artificial, but it does harmonize with the bird’s stripes, wouldn’t you agree?
I kept asking Gil, “Am I too close?” and he repeatedly said, “No—get as close as you want.” So I was able to get an extreme closeup of a beautiful bird called a Catalina macaw—a hybrid of a scarlet macaw and a blue-and-gold macaw:
Finally, here are two birds that Gil says have lived together for a long time: a hyacinth macaw and a military macaw:
The birds we were photographing had once been pets in various homes, and all had pretty lousy histories: Gil told us tales of neglect, poor nutrition, abuse, and abandonment at the hands of their former owners. Gil clearly has gained the birds’ trust, and in fact would frequently ask if any of us wanted to hold one of the birds. I got to have the hyacinth macaw perch on my forearm for a while, and later a Catalina macaw as well, and it was about the coolest thing ever.
I’m not sure what I liked the most: The chance to do such intimate photography of wild creatures, the opportunity to see what good work Ruffled Feathers is doing, or the privilege of just being in the presence of such magnificent birds.
*Update: I poked around online some more and solved the mystery of the third photo above. It’s a hawk-headed parrot (I’m thinking I mis-heard what Gil told me). Also known as a red-fan parrot or chieftain parrot. Scientific name Deroptyus accipitrinus, for what it’s worth. What a beautiful bird.