This BC-based rare bird photographer knows what it’s like to return from the field empty-handed. And then there are days he finds just what he’s looking for
Story by Stephanie Hounsell
Photography by Glenn Bartley
As a photographer who specializes in rare and difficult-to-photograph birds, Glenn Bartley is constantly on the lookout for species that have managed to elude him. It’s part of the fun — and sometimes frustration — of the job.
And then, every so often, thanks to preparation and — more often than not — a healthy dose of luck, the BC-residing shutterbug hits the jackpot.
That was the case last summer, when Bartley found himself leading a bird photography tour in Churchill, MB, which happens to be one of two places to get great photos of the Smith’s longspur. “Every year I’ve been in Churchill I’ve looked for them and I’ve never seen one — never seen one, never heard one,” says Bartley, who photographs birds in North America and the tropical regions of Central and South America.
His lack of success came despite doing his homework, talking to the locals and checking all the places within Churchill the birds are known to frequent.
This was the year, he thought to himself one day in June, when he would photograph the little songbird. But as he searched the vast, windy tundra, ears tuned for the birdcall, it looked like he might turn up empty-handed once again. Having broken away from his tour group for a morning search, he ended up walking around for six long, cold hours. An ice fog had rolled in, covering everything in a frozen layer, and he had forgotten his long johns.
The bird was nowhere to be seen — or heard. “Not a peep,” Bartley recalls. “Nothing but a really cold and frustrated photographer!” He assumed he’d need to travel to the Yukon, the other top location to photograph the bird.
On the fourth day of the trip, Bartley was taking the people on his tour to find another bird. They were driving along a bumpy road, chatter and the radio filling the background, when he heard it. The Smith’s longspur. “I was quite proud of my birding ear, that I had never seen or heard a Smith’s longspur, and despite the country music and jibber-jabber of six clients and the thumping of my van, I was 99-percent sure that I heard one.”
After getting the group set up a short distance away, Bartley returned. And there it was.
He brought over the tour-goers, and they all got shots of the elusive bird. To add to the opportunity, they did it in a beautiful setting, Bartley says. Little purple flowers dotted the field amidst the tundra grasses, a picturesque background for the winged creature, which co-operated nicely and showed off its “perfect plumage,” Bartley says.
“It was the highlight of the tour — for me and the clients.”
To read more of Stephanie’s interview with Glenn Bartley please pick up the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of OPC or subscribe today!
To find out more about Glenn Bartley, visit www.glennbartley.com.