Winner 2017 Audubon Photography Awards - Varied Thrush

I’m thrilled and honored to announce that my Varied Thrush photo is one of the winners of the 2017 Audubon Photography Awards.

The photos of four photographers were recognized and selected from over 5,500 photo entrants across the United States and Canada.  Categories are Grand Prize, Professional, Amateur, and Youth.  My photo won the Amateur Category.  There are four Honorable Mentions recognized in each category as well.

I wrote about this bird in a previous blog post on February 15, 2017.  The Varied Thrush is one of my favorite songbirds because it is a beautifully colored bird with a haunting song found primarily in the Pacific Northwest.  I took the photo in one of the loveliest places in the Puget Sound – Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle.

You can view the Varied Thrush photo in my Songbirds Gallery.  As with all of my gallery images, it is available for purchase as a fine art giclée print produced with archival inks on fine art paper.  Simply click on the Purchase Print link and you will be taken through an easy purchase and checkout process.

An Exquisite Bird

Recently, on a rare perfect spring day in Seattle, I visited Washington Park Arboretum.  The camellias, cherry trees, and magnolias were all in peak bloom, so there was a profusion of pink and white blossoms everywhere.  As an intrepid bird photographer, I was hoping that one of the Townsend’s Warblers I spied in the conifers would oblige and pose among these beautiful blooms.  It was not to be.

From a vista above the lower gardens, however, I looked down to Azalea Way and saw a beautiful dancer being photographed among the cherry trees.  I quickly made my way down the hill.

Dressed in sapphire blue with long, thick braids and swirling against a backdrop of pink trees, she looked like something out of a fairy tale.  I couldn’t help myself – I had to photograph her.

I’m not as comfortable photographing people, but I managed to get some nice shots – especially since the sky was hazy and created a natural softbox effect – perfect for people and flowers.

I found out afterwards that she is an Armenian professional dancer with her own studio in Kirkland.  Karina Melikyan is the founder and director of Karin Kirkland School of Dance.  She was being photographed in honor of receiving the gift of a dance from a respected choreographer. 

Karina asked me to send her some of my photos.  I told her I’m really just a bird photographer, but that she is “an exquisite bird.”

It is Easter, and there is an interesting connection.  I learned that Armenia was the first country to officially recognize Christianity back in 301 AD.  Karina was raised by a Muslim mother in Christian Armenia, so she said in an email that it “made her grow tolerant and respectful of other religions and cultures.”  She has taught Armenian dance in Syria, and she danced Russian-style ballet professionally back in Armenia.

There is so much beauty in the world.  One never knows when they will happen upon it.

Armenian dancer Karina Melikyan in Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum.

Armenian dancer Karina Melikyan in Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum.

The Varied Thrush and Twin Peaks

I recently read that the old TV series Twin Peaks will be revived in 2017 on Showtime with most of the original cast members from 1990 and 1991.  This cult TV show put the Pacific Northwest on the map as a place of mystery, weirdness, lots of trees, and pie.  (The site of the Double-R Diner is Twede’s Café in North Bend – where you can still get a slice of cherry pie and “a damn fine cup of coffee.”)  The maestro of strange and co-creator of both the old and new series – David Lynch – will again be directing. 

What does Twin Peaks have to do with the Varied Thrush?  When I looked at the opening credits of the old series on YouTube, there it was – a bird found primarily in the forests of the Pacific Northwest up through British Columbia and Alaska.  It’s a shy bird – not like its cousin the American Robin – and not one that is commonly seen.  Whoever created the intro must have known something about birds and specifically selected one that could almost be considered emblematic of the Pacific Northwest and our moist and mossy coniferous forests.

Varied Thrushes breed in the dense, mature forests of the Pacific Northwest, but in fall and winter many move into our residential areas, gardens, and parks.  I always look forward to seeing them in October.  I think robins are beautiful birds, but the male Varied Thrush is even more striking with its orange and blue-gray coloration, accented with a black eye mask and “V” on its breast.

One of my favorite places to photograph them is a grove of mountain ashes (Sorbus) in Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum.  The Sorbus collection includes trees from as far away as China with berries of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white.  I’ve learned that when the berries and leaves are at their peak coloration in November, the birds aren’t interested.  Mid-December through early January seems to be when the berries are perfectly fermented and ripe for eating.  Three thrushes – Varied Thrush, American Robin, and Hermit Thrush – can sometimes be found in the grove if one of the resident Cooper’s Hawks doesn’t scare them away.

Varied Thrushes can be difficult to photograph close-up because of their shyness.  Most of the time they seem to prefer the tops of trees or hidden on the back branches.  On this day, I was able to photograph one at eye-level.  He was enjoying the beautiful white berries of Sorbus forrestii, a mountain ash from China.

Most of the mountain ash berries are probably gone now, and with them, opportunities to witness one of the scenes of winter that I love so much in the Pacific Northwest.

Varied Thrush and the mountain ash  Sorbus forrestii .

Varied Thrush and the mountain ash Sorbus forrestii.


On a day filled with much rancor and noise, November 8, 2016, I quietly launched my new website.  It felt good to be doing this, a positive action that might send a little more beauty and love into the world.

My hope is that in a world fraught with division, we can agree that the Earth is important to us all. 

Clean, flowing rivers and streams; unpolluted oceans; pristine lands where harmony and natural order prevail. 

And respect and dignity given to all human and nonhuman inhabitants.

For in Chief Seattle’s words, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”

With my website I send out love and peace to all inhabitants of Earth.  

A long-eared Owl takes flight.

A long-eared Owl takes flight.

Cinnamon Bear

Frozen Lake is a popular stopping point for many hikers on the Sunrise side of Mount Rainier.  I was talking with some fellow hikers at this spot in mid-July when a bear suddenly appeared over the rise.  She caused quite a stir as she walked calmly near us, unperturbed by the humans gawking and taking cell phone pictures of her.

She was a bear with a purpose, striding along the Wonderland Trail at a fast clip.

I followed her, breaking into a jog at times to keep up.  I kept my distance, and if I would have sensed irritation on her part, I would not have followed.  But she didn’t seem to care.

I noticed two hikers coming up the trail.  They did the correct thing and moved off, shouting “bear!” repeatedly and loudly.  Cinnamon Bear moved off the trail but hardly skipped a beat with her long strides.

She finally went off trail over snow, so I stopped the pursuit.

I found out a few weeks later from a ranger that she’s a regular visitor.  She’s a Black Bear with reddish-brown fur, which is called a cinnamon bear.  I love this term.  Prior to my encounter, I thought this only described a gummy candy in the shape of a bear.  Cinnamon Bear had cubs in past years, but not this year.  It sounds like an every-other-year situation when it comes to young.

I learned another thing – bears like to use our hiking trails.  So if you’re alone and not sure if a bear might be around, sing or make noise or wear a bear bell so they know you’re coming.  Black Bears are usually not hostile, but you don’t want to surprise a mother with cubs. 

I hope to see Cinnamon Bear with new cubs next year.  I’ll keep my distance, however, and I probably won’t be following her.

Cinnamon Bear on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier

Cinnamon Bear on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier