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Reflections on the Cover Photo, September 2012 Birding Magazine

Here at Birding magazine, we are frequently asked about our cover images. ABA members want to know the story behind the photos and art that grace our covers. And not just the technical story (“What lens did you use?” or “How did you paint that?”). Rather, members tell us that they want to know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of the folks who generate our cover images.

With that thought in mind, we have asked photographer Larry Sansone to share a few words about his September Birding cover photo, as well as his broader thoughts on bird photography.

—Ted Floyd, Birding Editor


started my birding life list on New Years Day in 1960. Listing has been my passion as I traveled the across US, and in particular California. Later, as seeing new birds became more infrequent, photography kicked in. Keeping a list of bird photos has never been that important to me. If the images are not sharp or interesting, they are deleted (or in the case of film, thrown out). Images are more tangible for me than a tick on a checklist. I can go back to a photo from years ago and relive the experience of seeing that bird or animal.
“Birding and photography can sometimes create conflicts. Too many times photographers get carried away with their passion, which creates problems with the birding community. At the same time,
more birders are evolving into photographers as ‘digiscoping’ is becoming more popular. Where is the line between the two? I try to keep a low profile.
“Perhaps the most challenging subjects in bird photography are the pelagics. Most of the time, the birds are in flight and conditions can be marginal. I have found pelagic birding extremely rewarding, not only for the new birds one can find, but also returning with
images as a souvenir. This makes up for the long hours on a boat where conditions are sometimes unpleasant.
“It was long known that there were two populations of what was until recently considered to be the Xantus’s Murrelet. And many birders were aware of rumors of a possible split. I always make an effort to photograph recognizable subspecies of birds—such as what were formerly known as the scrippsi and hypoleucus subspecies of the Xantus’s Murrelet.
“This Scripps’s Murrelet was taken at the mouth of Ballona Creek next to Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles on August 11, 2011. This was a rare opportunity to photograph a murrelet from shore. The bird
was actively feeding along the channel and my task was to wait for it to dive.
While it was underwater I would quickly get ahead of the bird with my Canon 7D
camera, 600mm lens, and Gitzo tripod, scramble down the breakwater rocks to the
water’s edge and, hopefully, be in place before it resurfaced. Sometimes this
would work, as evidenced here.”

—Larry Sansone

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives with the ABA. Ted has written 200+ magazine articles and 5 books, including How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). He is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and has served on several nonprofit boards. Join Ted at The ABA Blog for his semimonthly spot, “How to Know the Birds,” celebrating common birds and the uncommonly interesting things they do.