Μενού Κλείσιμο

Peter Cavanagh Chose 100 of his Best Bird Photos for his Latest Book

Peter Cavanagh Chose 100 of his Best Bird Photos for his Latest Book

We’re streaming daily on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, and Spotify! You can also listen to it right here on The Phoblographer.

“The best part of producing a book is that it’s like a long train journey with a group of interesting people,” opines wildlife photographer Peter Cavanagh. He’s traveled to every continent to capture airborne birds for his latest book, ‘100 Flying Birds – Photographing the Mechanics of Flight’. Cavanagh previously served as the Principal Investigator for experiments on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. He was awarded NASA’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal, in 2015. A highly qualified professor and academician, Cavanagh’s book is a stunning scientific compilation of images of some of his favorite birds in the air.

Want to get your work featured? Here’s how to do it!

Beyond capturing some stationary flamingoes at a conservation reserve and the odd Laughing dove, my lenses really haven’t trained much on birds in the air. As with any fast-moving subject, there’s a lot of preparation (and often heartbreak) that goes behind capturing birds in their natural environment. More often than not, you have to wait for hours just to get a glimpse of them in a photogenic pose. But that’s when they’re settled on the ground. Cavanagh made it his mission to travel worldwide to photograph birds while they were airborne. It kicked in as an idea after he moved to the Pacific Northwest 12 years ago, and he has a firm background in anatomy and biomechanics to back it up. Coupled with his study of aerodynamics and a passion for the outdoors since he was a child, Cavanagh has taken over half a million photographs of birds to date. His new book features 100 selected birds from that massive collection of photos in an informative layout.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Peter Cavanagh

Peter Cavanagh told us:

In March 2021, I became an early adopter of the full-frame mirrorless Sony ILCE-1 Alpha 1 with two lenses: the SEL100400GM Sony G Master FE 100-400mm super-telephoto zoom lens and later the SEL600F40GM Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS. I also own the Sony SEL14TC and SEL20TC 1.4x and 2x Teleconverter Lenses. For support of the 600mm lens I have a Really Right Stuff (RRS) Versa Apex carbon fiber tripod, and a RRS ball head, and a RRS Series 3 tripod leveling base. My trusty Mk 1 Wimberly gimbal head also mounts easily on the leveling base with the quick release attachment mechanism. When I am in the field with the 100-400mm lens, I use a BlackRapid Curve Breathe Strap as a safety measure. I find myself constantly checking that the screw attachment is torqued well down – because on occasion, I have found it hanging by a few tenuous threads. For video work, I use an Atmos Ninja Inferno monitor/recorder attached to my tripod with a Wooden Camera Ultra Arm.

The Phoblographer: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography. What was the moment that made you decide you wanted to specialise on photographing birds in flight?

Peter Cavanagh: I grew up in the era of roll film photography and had an early start with a black and white darkroom in my home at age 10 or so. I remember fumbling in the darkness to transfer a roll of exposed film from the camera to the developing tank and the pungent odor of the dishes of print developer and fixer are still evocative. I recently came across a very unremarkable Agfacolor slide of a swan swimming that I entered into a competition at age 14.

But it was decades later that I began to think of photography more as art than documentation. The catalytic event that pointed me towards birds in flight was a winter visit to Skagit County in Washington. Tens of thousands of Snow Geese overwinter there and sometimes they rise together into the air from their foraging fields to make a cloud that can obscure the light. In addition to Snow Geese, there were attendant raptors ready to hunt down the sick and injured birds, and Short-eared Owls jousting with Northern Harriers over small mammal prey. This visit convinced me that photographing birds in flight was to be my mission.

Snow Geese

I have trained as an instrument-rated private pilot and that has given me an appreciation for, and an interest in, the aerodynamics of flight — many aspects of which are shared between planes and birds. In addition, my academic field is the biomechanics of motion (in humans) and that has given me a set of skills that are transferrable to understanding some aspects of flight mechanics.

I think there is a natural progression of photographic goals for the nature photographer. At first, simply recording an image of a particular species perching is enough to satisfy the initial curiosity. Next, one wants a picture of the bird that also shows its natural habitat. Then, the goal is an image of two birds together, then birds feeding, and eventually, it is a flight shot and the start of another progression of criteria. Flapping flight is such a unique specialization in the animal kingdom, shared only by bats and insects, that capturing flight images becomes an exercise in understanding and appreciating evolution.

The Phoblographer: What camera gear did you use for the images in this book.

Peter Cavanagh: My standby rig for many years was a Canon EOS-1DX Mk 1 together with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens. Most of the images in the book were collected with this combination. This is a heavy lift (~13 lb/5.9kg), which I often hand-held to the detriment of the integrity of my shoulder girdle. I did own a Gitzo tripod and a Mk 1 Wimberly gimbal head but preferred to hand-hold in order to try to keep a single focus point locked on to the flying bird, particularly in a cluttered environment when multi-point focus would lock on to something other than the bird. There is no doubt that I was too slow to adopt new technology and just kept using what seemed to work for me.

After the majority of the book was completed, my publisher asked me to add a chapter on songbirds. Any photographer who has tried to capture an image of a small bird flying off a perch knows that one is left with many images of an empty perch from which the bird flew away some time ago. Human reaction time is no match for the speed of a small bird’s departure. This need led me to the circular buffer that is one of the attractive features of the Olympus OM-D E- M1X. Called Pro Capture by Olympus, this feature allows a volatile buffer of up to 35 images to be continually filled and replaced while the shutter button is only half-pressed. Once the action happens, a full press of the shutter button results in the buffer images being transferred to the camera card while the shooting of additional images continues. Besides being my first experience with the mirrorless camera (and all the advantages that brings as far as preview of the actual exposure is concerned), the micro 4/3 format brought with it a huge reduction in weight and an astounding 7 stops of image stabilization. When the Olympus OM-D E-M1X body is paired with M.Zuiko ED 300mm f4.0 IS PRO and perhaps an M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter, the photographer has a full-frame equivalent 840 mm f/5.6 lens weighing just under 6 lb/2.7 kg that can be easily hand-held for flight shots. This is a dramatic development for a bird photographer.

After my initial excitement with Pro Capture, mirrorless previews, and low weight had subsided, I began to reckon with the relatively high ISO noise inherent in the micro 4/3 sensor. I am a high-ISO shooter because I want shutter speeds of at least 1/2500 sec, often in low light situations. I found that I routinely needed a heavy application of Topaz Labs deNoise AI to generate images that were printable in large format. So, my search continued.

In March 2021, I became an early adopter of the full-frame mirrorless Sony ILCE-1 Alpha 1 with two lenses: the SEL100400GM Sony G Master FE 100-400mm super-telephoto zoom lens and later the SEL600F40GM Sony FE 600 mm F4 GM OSS. I also own the Sony SEL14TC and SEL20TC 1.4x and 2x Teleconverter Lenses. For support of the 600mm lens I have a Really Right Stuff (RRS) Versa Apex carbon fiber tripod, and a RRS ball head, and a RRS Series 3 tripod leveling base. My trusty Mk 1 Wimberly gimbal head also mounts easily on the leveling base with the quick release attachment mechanism. When I am in the field with the 100-400mm lens, I use a BlackRapid Curve Breathe Strap as a safety measure. I find myself constantly checking that the screw attachment is torqued well down – because on occasion, I have found it hanging by a few tenuous threads. For video work, I use an Atmos Ninja Inferno monitor/recorder attached to my tripod with a Wooden Camera Ultra Arm.

My post-processing platform is a mid-2020 BTO 27″ iMac with Retina 5K Display, 3.6GHz 10-Core Intel Core i9, 32GB RAM, 8TB SSD, and AMD Radeon Pro 5500 XT 8GB graphics card. I have a 20TB LaCie Thunderbolt 5big external drive and two backup drives. These recently became full, so I added a LaCie bigDock 28TB drive and backup. I keep at least one current backup off-site. All my images are imported into Lightroom Classic organized by year and the date of the shoot.

I often start the workflow with a light pass through Topaz Labs DeNoise AI and return to Lightroom for the majority of my adjustments. Rarely, I move into Photoshop for some isolated specialized processing. The seamless nature of movement between these Apps is appealing. For an exceptionally large print or a demanding high-resolution application, I occasionally use Topaz Labs Gigapixel AI.

Red-crowned Cranes

The Phoblographer: Nearly 120 years after the first successful aircraft flight by the Wright Brothers, do a lot of modern aviation companies still study avian flight design and patterns to improve the design of their aircraft?

Peter Cavanagh: It is worth mentioning that the Wright Brothers themselves learned from bird flight mechanics to overcome a problem during their early unpowered biplane glider flights. One of the key design issues in the prototypes that preceded the 1903 Wright Flyer was providing the craft with the ability to roll (tip one wing down) without crashing when it was buffeted by winds. Wilber Wright wrote to a colleague that he had observed Turkey Vultures – a species that is a masterful glider – “warping” their wings to maintain stability. This observation led to a successful patent application and the implementation of wing warping on subsequent airplanes.

More recently there has been a flood of interest in applying the evolutionary successes of flying birds to drones and other unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs). There are several journals devoted entirely to “bioinspiration” – a branch of science and engineering that works to apply biological mechanisms in real-life problems. Some examples include the reduction of drag force on UAVs by copying the movement of secondary feathers on a bird’s wing; the design of lapping-wing micro air vehicles in order to achieve higher flight efficiency and manoeuvrability; teaching aerial robots to perch like birds to save energy; and learning how bird navigate through a cluttered environment so that robotic flight control can be improved.

Red-winged Blackbird

The Phoblographer: You’ve possibly photographed more than just a hundred different types. What factors weighed in when selecting these specific 100 birds for your book?

Peter Cavanagh: You are correct – in my archive of more than 600,000 images I have flight shots of many hundreds of different species of birds from around the world (there are a total of approximately 10,000 separate species of birds in the world). For the book, I needed to group the birds so that the reader would feel some semblance of organization, and this also gave me the opportunity to write a longer introduction for each group.

The categories I chose are as follows:

  • Eagles
  • Hummingbirds
  • Gulls and Terns
  • Small Waterbirds
  • Large Waterbirds
  • Ducks, Geese and Swans
  • Raptors
  • Condors and Corvids
  • Cranes
  • Songbirds
  • Favorites

Some of these groups (like the hummingbirds and cranes) have taxonomic relationships while others (such as favorites) are shots that I really wanted to showcase because they have special meaning to me. The latter group includes the mythical Wandering Albatross skimming the sub-Antarctic waters of the South Atlantic, an Atlantic Puffin with a bill full of fish in Scotland’s Treshnish Isles, and Rockhopper Penguins in the Falkland Islands (yes penguins!) demonstrating that they know how to catch some air.

Wandering Albatross

Of course, within each species, I also chose images that were both technically sound (sharp focus, good color and light) and also images that illustrated a feature of flight mechanics that I wanted to talk about. For example, because of a hyper-mobile shoulder joint, hummingbirds have the unique ability to generate lift on both forward and backward wing strokes. So, I chose an image of a Peruvian Racket-tail where the leading edge of the wing was clearly at the back of the wing. Japanese Red-crowned Cranes are very social birds and so the book shows three birds in a landing sequence almost touching wingtips

Peruvian Racket-tail

The Phoblographer: A split of a second to capture the image, but what was the preparation like for each of these images. Please take us through a few

Peter Cavanagh: All of my flight images are taken in continuous shooting mode, usually the Continuous Shooting Hi+ setting of the Sony Alpha 1 which gives approximately 30 full frame blackout-free images per second.

Let me discuss three broad categories of bird flight shots: open sky shots. take off images, and landing images:

When a bird is flying towards the photographer, the key to success is picking it up as early as possible – focusing often during the approach and panning as the bird moves. The autofocus settings need to be adjusted to be “sticky” on the bird even as it moves across varied backgrounds. I like to use the Zone Tracking autofocus setting on the Sony Alpha 1 which can often identify the bird and keep focus as it moves across the field of view. These kinds of shots are opportunistic, and given the speed with which the action occurs, composition if often accomplished during post-processing.

Take off shots can be carefully composed, but often require a great deal of patience to accomplish. I do not believe in scaring or disturbing birds to make them fly – a position endorsed by the North American Nature Photography Association’s position paper on Principles of Ethical Field Practices.

Bald Eagle

Consequently, I have spent many hours with my tripod-mounted camera waiting to get take-off flight shots. During the wait, the photographer’s entire attention needs to be given to the bird, watching for indicators of impending departure. It is so easy to spend two hours waiting and then miss the shot! Perhaps the next innovation in camera technology will be motion detection firmware that then triggers the shutter release. A remote shutter release is extremely useful to eliminate holding the shutter button on top of the camera halfway down for long periods. I have the Sony RMT-P1BT Wireless Remote Commander and the wired Sony RM-VPR1 Remote Commander with Multi-Terminal Cable as a backup.

Landing shots ideally require some advanced knowledge on the part of the photographer – and they often result in the most dramatic images. I have a dependable Bald Eagle tree close to my home where, during the winter, I can almost guarantee that one or more Bald Eagles will land in a period of 2-3 hours after sunrise. After determining the wind direction, I set up on the tripod with a long lens and often focus on the branch where I expect the bird to land. I don’t look at the screen or viewfinder but scan the skies for the approaching bird. If possible, I arrange my camera’s focal plane parallel to the wind direction, place the landing spot in an outer third of the field of view, and try to get a large area of uncluttered background in the remaining field. This allows me to extract multiple images more easily for a composited final image (see the accompanying multiple image landing sequences of a Bald Eagle and a Resplendent Quetzal.

Resplendent Quetzal

My transition to the Sony menu system was aided by friends and a Sony rep, so that I now at least know where to start looking for a particular function. After almost 6 months with this rig, I feel as though I have arrived at some kind of bird photographer’s nirvana. The bird AI function of the autofocus is quite remarkable: it latches on to the bird’s head and then the eye about 70% of the time. The tracking ability of the autofocus is so good that I sometime just shake my head when I see how many in-focus images I get from a particular flight encounter with a bird – even if my panning was slower than the birds speed across the sensor. What this allows me to do is choose a shot with the flight posture that I like – one that shows a particular feature of the wing flapping cycle that I am interested in. The 8640 x 5760 pixel sensor also allows for generous cropping. I can comfortably shoot at ISO 5000 without worrying about excessive luminance noise. This camera is so good for bird photography that I feel I am cheating to get good images compared to my old Canon 1DX. How did I manage with no AI and no focus tracking?

The Phoblographer: What were some disappointments that might have occurred during the making? Did you ever have to wait for hours to come back with no worthwhile images?

Peter Cavanagh: I have missed a lot of shots in my time, many of them in geographic locations that I may never visit again. A memorable miss occurred in the Falkland Islands where a Brown Skua was harassing a small group of Southern Rockhopper Penguins who were incubating eggs and protesting loudly. It was obvious that there was going to be an egg steal and I really wanted the shot of the skua at the moment of the snatch. Two factors led me to miss the shot: 1) the field was very crowded, and I did not hold focus on the bird. 2) I was taking simultaneous video on a second camera. Momentarily, my attention was deflected to the video camera, and I lost concentration on the bird. There is a lesson here about being too ambitious and ending up with nothing!

A bird I really want to photograph is a Harpy Eagle. Once in the Peruvian Amazon there was a young bird in the vicinity but the overstory was so dense that I could never get a clear shot – and a flight shot was out of the question. I have since learned of an accessible Harpy Eagle nest in Central America and intend to go there when possible to make up for this miss!

And yes, I have had numerous days of shooting without an image that I consider to be a keeper. My shooting days are typically targeted for a particular species, but it is sometimes necessary to give up on the target birds and shoot whatever is available. One thing I have learned during the pandemic is to look for beauty and interesting images close at hand.

Southern Rockhopper Penguins

The Phoblographer: Which ones have been the most challenging of the lot to photograph? What adjustments / changes did you have to do in order to capture these as compared to the others?

Peter Cavanagh:

Difficulty in acquiring a flight shot increases inversely with the size if the bird: images of huge lumbering birds that live in a wide-open habitat like the Goliath Heron are relatively easy to capture (although I had waited more than two and half hours for one of these herons to fly a few days earlier). Small birds inhabiting cluttered environments can be challenging to photograph. To capture the shot of the Red-winged Blackbird, I visited the same location ten times before I came away with the image that I wanted.

Goliath Heron

Another challenging shot in the book was of the Cedar Waxwing. Here is my account from the book of getting the shot:

The skeleton of a homesteader’s stone fireplace guards the entrance to Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island, Washington from behind the remnants of an old orchard. Fruit-weighted branches of apple and pear trees, decades since their last pruning, reach out in every direction like the quills of an agitated porcupine. One small tree, a Black Mulberry (Morus nigra), stands alone, embarrassed perhaps by its broken limbs and a peach-fuzz of foliage clinging to the remaining branches. But the tree’s forlorn anatomy makes it an ideal setting for photography of the sublime Cedar Waxwings that occasionally visit to dine on clusters of tiny red mulberries. The birds cannot hide deep in foliage — because there is none — and they are exposed as they dart between the near-naked limbs to pluck the small red beads of fruit.

I developed a close relationship with this tree during almost fifteen hours of shooting over five days as I worked to capture this image. As each session progressed, I moved in a circle around the tree (like children in the English nursery rhyme) to keep the sun on my back. Cedar Waxwings are not common summer birds in my neighborhood. The birds visited the tree on average about every ninety minutes and they rarely stayed for more than a minute. Intense concentration was needed while waiting and while shooting in order not to miss such fleeting opportunities. The male in this image was flying vertically upwards from one branch to another at the time of the shot, turning his masked head to the side, and just showing a glimpse of his yellow-tipped tail feathers that look as though they were dipped in a jar of paint.

100 Flying Birds by Peter Cavanagh

Cedar Waxwing

The Phoblographer: Have you had any incidents where the birds became aggressive towards you and your equipment? If yes, tell us about this please

Peter Cavanagh: I only photograph birds in the wild. I have photographed many thousands of birds and have never once been attacked. I think this is because I try not to act in a threatening manner – such as approaching a nest too closely, taking a position which blocks a bird’s potential escape, or bothering adults with chicks. A long lens really helps: with my maximum reach of 1200mm (600mm plus x2 teleconverter) I can be “in a bird’s face” from a considerable distance away.

Atlantic Puffin

The Phoblographer: Is there an image that when you looked at later, you found it to be unusual / surprising in this manner?

Peter Cavanagh: There are often surprises when I am back in the studio and view the images I have taken on a large monitor. One example comes from a few hours I spent recently with cliff swallows feeding over a wetland near my home on Lopez Island WA. Swallows and swifts are notoriously difficult to photograph because of their high flight speeds and rapid changes of direction. The rapid autofocusing of the Sony Alpha 1 has made this task somewhat easier, but I finished the evening with only a handful of keepers. One of them was quite unique; the bird had located a flying insect, had its mouth open and was navigating toward the imminent demise of its target. Both bird and insect were visible on the image.

Cliff Swallow

The Phoblographer: What was your biggest take back from the whole experience of making this book?

Peter Cavanagh: The best part of producing a book is that is like a long train journey with a group of interesting people. A photographer’s life is often one of solitude, but book production is a team sport. A seasoned publisher like Lionel Koffler at Firefly Books has a feel for the kind of titles he thinks will be successful and strong opinions about content — which usually turn out to be accurate. The interaction with a professional editor is a push and pull between an author who wants to preserve every word and every photograph and an individual with a necessarily more detached, dispassionate view of the manuscript. The sweep and expertise of a copy editor is vast: exposing errors and stylistic oddities that the author has seen and ignored many times: a better manuscript emerges from the process. The photo editor and designer add new layers of quality to the finished product. Once the book is in production, advertising and marketing specialists take center stage increasing the exposure of the yet unpublished book.

This process takes time during which the photographer forges ahead looking for new horizons and new challenges — and yet the book is frozen and immutable. I think I am taking better images now than I did when the curtain came down of further changes – and that is as it should be. My next book will show that progression.

I was on a shoot in Costa Rica in April 2021 during the week the book was to be put to bed. After seeing the image of the King Vulture. I pleaded with my editor Darcy Shea that it be included in the front material of the book. To my great delight, with the admonition “OK – but this is the very last change”, he acquiesced.

King Vulture

Keeping indexing current is a constant challenge. I rarely delete images – but this may change now that I am collecting several thousand 50MB images each session. The reason I keep so much is that even if an image in a sequence is out of focus or poorly framed, it may help me to understand the bird’s movement prior to the image I finally select as the best.

The Phoblographer: It’s not always just a fast shutter speed is it? Tell us some of your top tips for improving success rates for tracking and photographing fast moving birds.

Peter Cavanagh: Well, fast shutter speed is usually the initial imperative, and it brings with it both constraints and opportunities. It usually implies that one is shooting close to a wide-open aperture with a consequent very shallow depth of field. For example, when I am shooting a bird 100 feet away with my 600mm lens and an aperture of f/4, I have a depth of field of about 24 inches. A bird like the Japanese Red-crowned Crane has a wingspan of almost 100 inches so unless it is at right angles to the focal plane (parts of the image are going to be out of focus unless the aperture (and ISO) are increased. Narrow depths of fields do bring blurred backgrounds which bird photographers love — almost as much as they do the bokeh.

Japanese Red-crowned Crane

By aside from the camera settings, there are several factors to consider in successful flight shots. Where the photographer chooses to stand can make all the difference between a mediocre shot and a great shot. In the book, I say the following about choosing a location for shooting the Sandhill Crane:

The canvas on which a bird is portrayed has a major impact on the appeal of a photograph. In order for an image to transcend basic documentation of a bird’s characteristics, the photographer ideally needs to include elements of the environment that enhance a viewer’s experience — adding to the aesthetics or to the information content. A cloudless blue sky can convey the sense of the infinite space in which a migrating bird sails; a marsh or shoreline may indicate the habitat in which it forages; or a blur of layered background colors can contrast with the bird’s plumage and give the photograph the appearance of a watercolor painting. The most important tool in the photographer’s armamentarium for evaluating the range of possibilities at each shooting site are his or her feet. It is tempting to set up for the shot as soon as the bird is located — usually out of concern that it will fly away, and the opportunity will be over. Once a tripod is set up, it is easy to feel rooted and committed to a particular shot. But changing location, sometimes only by a small distance, can make all the difference between a good shot and a great one.

Hewing to this principle, I walked along the lake shore at Bosque del Apache as the stragglers of a flock of Sandhill Cranes made their morning departure. I already had enough shots of birds running in the water and of departing squadrons pictured against the nearby Magdalena Mountains. Walking upwind in the departure direction, I encountered a patch of vegetation that offered a promising backdrop. The wintering grasses smoldered with a reddish-brown hue —similar to the patches on the bird’s coverlet feathers. The leaves of a small bush echoed the yellow Cottonwoods that are so characteristic of the Rio Grande Valley in late fall. All that was now needed was a bird at the right altitude. After some minutes, this beautiful adult Sandhill Crane obliged and traversed my chosen canvas, its wings contrasting sharply with the vegetation. Keeping the bird low in the field of view emphasized his early post-liftoff flight path and allowed the lake and its far bank to add layers of color to the mise-en-scène.

100 Flying Birds by Peter Cavanagh

Sandhill Crane

Knowing the bird’s habits and habitat is also really important. How and when does it feed? Where does it like to roost? Where is the nest? Having the answers to these questions leads to better preparation and a better image.

The Phoblographer: We’re losing animal and bird species at an alarming rate to a number of man-made reasons. What are some of the things that photographers can do to spread the message of conservation?

Peter Cavanagh: This is an issue of great concern for me. I would like to shake people out of their complacency or denial of just how bad the situation really is. In the Epilogue of my book, I quote the astonishing fact that there are 3 billion less birds in North America today than there were only 50 years ago. This is a net loss of over 25% of the 1970 North American biomass of avifauna. The situation is much worse elsewhere: in Latin America and the Caribbean, a jaw-dropping 94% loss of animal biomass has been recorded.

In my book, I say this about the photographer’s role in reversing these trends:

In each of the stories in this book I have included the status of the birds as provided by the IUCN Red List at the time of writing. Twenty-four of the species portrayed are at least vulnerable and six are threatened, endangered or critically endangered. But — as the Living Planet Index emphasizes— that is not really the point: 44% of the birds photographed for this book whose status is known are in decline. The birds shown below are at various risk levels for extinction, but they all share the regrettable distinction of declining numbers.

While waiting impatiently for the next generation to usher in a more nature-friendly epoch, photographers can help accelerate awareness. We travel to places that most people only know from magazines or nature documentaries. We visit the great reservoirs of avian biomass such as the Pantanal in Brazil and the Amazonian regions of Peru that are most threatened by deforestation and climate-induced wildfires. It is my hope that by capturing and sharing the ethereal beauty of bird flight, I may have nudged some readers to take a more combative and evangelical stance on turning back the tide of the sixth extinction.

100 Flying Birds by Peter Cavanagh

Some popular press outlets such as the Guardian and the New York Times do a good job of publishing stories and images on animals that are endangered. But too many people still don’t care – or at least the threat and consequences have not pierced their consciousness. Images of endangered birds need to appear in the right places in the right format. I admire Joel Sartore’s book Birds of the Photo Ark both for its art and its mission.

In some other forum, I can imagine putting the population estimates in large font type on top of the image. This might be the needed attention-getter to force realization of the dire threat of species loss. For example, the current estimated population size for the Marvelous Spatuletail is between 250-999 mature individuals. It will be a stunning loss to the planet if this bird becomes extinct.

Marvelous Spatuletail

The Phoblographer: What are your expectations from the release of this book? How would you like it to be remembered in the years to come?

Peter Cavanagh: Every author hopes that their book will find readers who resonate with the topic – and I am no exception. I look forward to conversations with like-minded photographers and nature lovers.

I want readers to remember both the photographs and the stories – because they are both part of the experience that I want to share. Perhaps this book will encourage those who love and watch birds not to immediately continue their journey after they have spotted and identified a perching bird. Some time spent waiting for the bird to fly can result in a richly rewarding experience.

I intend this book to be a foundation on which I can build future flight photography projects, perhaps targeted to particular species or families. Birds that are rare and at risk are particularly interesting targets for me and I am looking for the right assignment at present. I love to travel to wild places and bring back images and stories to share.

I have had a book that explains the mechanics of bird flight to a lay audience on the back burner for many years and now may be the time to turn up the heat on that project. I am also working on a proposal for a book on the mathematics of bird flight – a truly nerdy enterprise!!! I am always ready to consider new projects related to bird flight. If you have one, reach out to me

All images by Peter Cavanagh. Used with permission. Visit his website and his Facebook and Instagram pages as well. You can also order a copy of his book on Amazon