Art of Birding Challenges: Best of May

The May 2020 Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenges focused more explicitly on mindfulness and advocacy. Participants were encouraged to think more about their desired end results and how to achieve them. They were also challenged to enhance their photos with storytelling and advocacy, and to find other places online to extend their messages.

By Carole Garside

We started the May challenges looking for symmetrical patterns in nature. Carol Garside (New Zealand) found this delightful double-symmetric scene of two shags hanging their washing out to dry, reflected in the waters of Lake Hakanoa in Huntly. See more of her photos and read what she found out about symmetry in her blog.

By Tessa Barringer

Artist Tessa Barringer (New Zealand) blew us away with her entries in the Personality challenge. The extra credit part of this challenge was to use photos as inspiration for an artwork. Tessa says the entire focus of her art practice over the last 12 months has been trying to capture and communicate the personality of the birds that visit the bird table at her studio door. Pictured here is "Fight and Flight," featuring two sparring tauhou (waxeyes). You can see more of her amazing pastel artworks in her latest show 'The Angels at My Table' which can be viewed on-line at The Artist's Room Fine Art Gallery.

By Loralee Hyde

For Advocacy week, participants needed to start thinking about where else they could post their photos so they might make more of a difference. Loralee Hyde (New Zealand) was thrilled to see one of the world’s rarest shorebirds at Waikanae Estuary, just north of Wellington; a shore plover (tūturuatu). She explained that there are just 250 of these birds left in the world and they are critically endangered and went on to say “There’s quite a story about this particular bird at Waikanae. The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch is carrying out captive breeding of shore plovers. Juveniles are then released by the Department of Conservation on predator-free islands around New Zealand including Motuora, Waikawa, Rarotoka, Mana (a scientific reserve off the coast north of Wellington) and Motutapu to try and develop five self-sustaining populations. It seems this bird flew from Mana Island to the Waikanae Estuary – a distance of 2.5-3km. Unfortunately, now the bird is on the mainland it’s at risk of predation by introduced mammals such as cats and rats. Let’s hope this little bird (it’s just 20cm long) stays safe!”

Loralee shares her photos of endangered New Zealand’s flora and fauna on social media together with stories about why the species are at risk and snippets on their behaviour. This is to encourage interest in our wildlife and increase understanding of how we can contribute to conservation. She posted photos of this shore plover on the New Zealand Birders Facebook group page. As the bird was banded, she also emailed the Department of Conservation with photos and details of the sighting. Read more about her wildlife advocacy on her blog "Our glorious wildlife."

By Tessa Barringer

Tessa Barringer then doubled-down with a detailed and helpful description of how she incrementally improved on a photo of a korimako (bellbird) with patience and mindfulness of her settings and the light. She explains her thought-process as follows:

The first "before" photo was taken with my camera on full auto. The default settings clearly can't cope with a subject in shadow backlit by bright early morning sunshine. By shifting to aperture priority to give me enough depth of field to get the whole bird sharp (f7.1) and then over exposing by three stops, I can get the colour and detail on the subject but the background is pretty burnt out and I think perhaps the whole image is quite over-exposed. A better strategy was to wait for the sun, though that brought its own challenges with strong shadows. Then I had to wait for the bird to turn the right way to get detail on the face and the catch light in the eye to give him character.

By Carmen Therriault

We rounded out the month with photos and stories about our favourite critters. We were enchanted by Carmen Therriault's (Canada) saw-whet owl juveniles. She says "It's very hard to pick one favourite critter, but I'd have to say the Northern Saw-whet owl is my new favourite ... because an entire family with five owlets is living in my town! Prior to this, I did not know anything about this species and had never seen them. Apparently, these owls are very secretive, and it is very rare to see them. I feel so lucky to have seen all five of the owlets, but I have not yet spotted the parents. These owlets are only about 6-7" tall, doze in trees all day long, and hunt at night."

By Karen Miller

We also loved Karen Miller's (New Zealand) essay on the Kaimanawa horses for her favourite critter challenge. She writes: “As a child, when travelling through the Desert Road, I always kept my eyes peeled for the mythical Kaimanawa wild horses. I never did get to see them from the road but over the years I have been able to ride tamed ones belonging to friends. Last year I was able to cross off a bucket list adventure when I was lucky enough to go on the Kaimanawa Heritage Horses Wild Photo Tour for photographers. I finally got to see the horses untamed and running free on the army range. The herd numbers are watched and maintained by DOC and kept at a level of around 300. This is to help protect the ecosystem and to keep the horses at a healthy number so they don't have to struggle for feed. Each year the excess numbers are mustered and every attempt is made to find a good home for the horses. The group responsible for this is Kaimanawa Heritage Horses. They formed in 2003 and since then they have placed over 600 wild horses in new homes off the range. The society recognizes that the Kaimanawa horse is an important historic link to New Zealand's pioneer past. You can find more information on the breed and their fundraising efforts on their website. These days the tamed Kaimanawa has quite a following with special classes at horse shows as well as competing in all the different riding disciplines. The breed is very intelligent and adaptable and can make great quiet children's ponies. They are also very loyal. I definitely recommend going on this fundraising tour, which is held annually. Even if you aren't horse mad it is still an opportunity to get out in an area of New Zealand that is usually strictly out of bounds.”

Throughout June, our focus is on seeing the natural world in new ways. Feel free to jump right on in with our free challenges - it's never too late to join. Find out more at