As It Happens6:09Canadian photographer captures extraordinary beauty of ordinary pigeons with award-winning shot
Liron Gertsman usually doesn’t bother taking pictures of pigeons.
But when he spotted a pair of them preening each other affectionately in White Rock, B.C. — their iridescent green and purple feathers shimmering in the sunlight — he was moved to take out his camera.
“I definitely overlooked pigeons for a while. But that changed when I captured this picture because I just saw them shining in a new light,” the Vancouver wildlife photographer told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.
“When you take a moment to appreciate a bird like that closely, there is so much subtle beauty to be enjoyed.”
Gertsman’s instinct to capture that tender moment has paid off. The image is the grand prize winner at the National Audubon Society’s annual photography awards, which honours Canadians and Americans whose work “highlights the beauty of birds and the joy of capturing them through photographs and videos.”
Gertsman — who often goes to great lengths to photograph rare and beautiful birds in far-flung places — says he’s honoured that such an effortless image took home the prize.
“These are rock pigeons. This is not some rare species that you need to travel the world to see. I mean, anyone really could have taken this image. And I think that’s what kind of makes it special,” he said.
The National Audubon Society’s Preeti Desai, one of the contest’s judges, agreed.
“I hope photos like this will lead to more appreciation for pigeons and other common birds we see daily,” Desai told Audubon Magazine.
While Gertsman captured his award-winning photo while out for a stroll close to home, his fellow Vancouverite Shane Kalyn had to go much farther to get his award-winning shot.
Kalyn won in the Audubon Photography Awards’ professional category for his image of a solitary Atlantic puffin perched on an algae-covered cliff in Iceland.
“This was actually the first Atlantic puffin I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kalyn told CBC.
He was visiting Iceland with his wife, he says, and they took a ferry to the Westman Islands, in the south of the country, so he could photograph some nesting seabirds.
He wasn’t expecting to find puffins there, he said, as their colony was located elsewhere. But his award-winning subject was one of the very first birds he spotted.
“Just by chance, [I] happened to see this one sitting in the most perfect spot,” he said. “He was just perched on this, like, beautiful lava cliff with blue wildflowers and colourful algae. It was super dark, kind of a gloomy morning, which made, like, the colours pop in the photo, I felt. So, yeah, I was pretty excited.”
Desai said the image “evokes a painting.”
“I love the soft, pastel colours and especially how they pop against the gray backdrop,” she said. “Another judge also pointed out that the upper rocks almost form a puffin head with a bill sticking out, and I love that.”
It may have been Kalyn’s first puffin, but it was certainly not his last. Later on the trip, he spent time photographing the little seabirds at a colony in Iceland.
His image of a male puffin holding a seagull feather in its beak — a gift for its mate — was a finalist at last week’s Big Picture Natural World Photography Awards.
Kalyn says he’s hoping to keep the “puffin fever” going with a trip to Canada’s east coast next summer.
“They’re a pretty charismatic little bird, right?” he said.
Gertsman also got an honourable mention in the professional category for his image of a northern hawk owl perched at the top of a snow-covered tree in Thompson-Nicola, B.C.
While his grand-prize-winning pigeon picture took zero planning, this one, he says, was “the exact opposite.”
“I covered tens of miles over a few days tracking down northern hawk owls … when I saw this bird just perched beautifully at the tip of this tree,” he said.
“It was the middle of winter. There was tons of snow on the ground, so I was snowshoeing around and the snow was so soft and so powdery that even with snowshoes on, I was sinking down to my knees at almost every step.”
But the effort is always worth it to showcase the beauty of birds, said Gertsman, adding that he’s pleased to see a real rise in birdwatching since the pandemic.
“I think the more people that are out there enjoying birds, the better hope we have for the future where we can protect birds and by protecting birds, protect the entire ecosystem that they rely on, and that, of course, we as humans rely on as well.”