Keeping the birds flying over NZ's landscapes
Not many blippers are up before dawn, hurling petrels off cliffs, but Karen Talbot, aka GingerNan, is quite often to be found doing unusual things with sick, injured or rehabilitated birds. The retired grandmother of nine, who lives in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, found herself volunteering at a new wildlife hospital a little over two years ago, putting her 40-odd years of experience as a radiographer to good use.
"I was blipping and I thought that, if nothing else, it was going to be a wonderful place to get some bird close-ups. I've always enjoyed watching birds and, in the past few years, photographing them – so I suppose you could say I had quite a selfish motive to begin with!"
But, as with so many things blippers do in the interests of getting a good shot or two, bird rescuing soon began to take over Karen's life. Followers of her journal are fascinated by the progress of the many rare avian patients that she helps care for at the centre. In fact, she's now become, as she puts it, 'the owl looker-afterer' and regularly takes recuperating owls home with her. "It's not unusual for me to be taking a shower with several pairs of big, round eyes watching me from the top of the shower cubicle!"
The owls may be a relatively recent development, but – apart from X-raying patients - was she always a photographer?
Photography opened a lot of doors
"Not really. I grew up taking snapshots and never being happy with them; I'd look at them and think 'Oh, why didn't I check what was in the background?' Then, a few years ago, I joined a photography evening class, where we had a brilliant teacher. Photography opened a lot of doors for me and I've made many lifelong friends through it, to the extent that we go away for photography weekends together."
The weekends, for which Karen is often the group leader, take her out into the rugged high country of the South Island - her enduring passion.
"My real love is the landscapes, the big, open spaces. I spend a lot of time down in the Maniatoto. I've got special locations in my mind that we'll go to, but of course it's always weather dependent. You'll wake up in the morning and see what it's doing outside, because the light – and the season – play a vital role in how your subject is going to look.
Know the best time of day for your location
"It's always the combination of the location, the subject and knowing what time of day will work best at a particular place. It's useless to turn up at an abandoned cottage and find that the interesting side, with the broken windows, is in deep shadow. And you can pretty much forget about shooting landscapes in the middle of a sunny day, especially in New Zealand – there's just far too much light!"
Lakes and mountains are not the only target of Karen's lens. Closer to home, there are the birds, of the fit and healthy variety, that form part of the landscapes she loves. Local wetlands provide plenty of subject matter and, when not tempting sick gulls with sardine smoothies at the wildlife hospital, she often ventures out to watch, and capture, what's happening on the water.
"The Crested Grebe is my favourite, I think, but over the years I've managed to get a wide variety. I'll just drive out to the estuary and see what's there – kingfishers, shags, stilts." This interest led her to treat herself to a really good lens – a Canon 600mm – which she says has been a great investment.
"For wildlife photography, you really have to have a good quality telephoto lens. That, and a great deal of patience; any wildlife photographer will tell you that.
With the birds in the hospital, it's completely different – one quick photo, often on my phone, to capture the scenario. You can't be messing around with injured animals trying to get the perfect shot."
Ultimately, it's returning birds that have been nursed back to health to their natural environment that gives her the greatest pleasure. "There's nothing like seeing a bird soar away on strong wings. It makes your heart sing."
'The blip community kept me going'
And why blip? Well, as with most blippers, her introduction to the site came through friends who were blipping, back in 2012. Recently retired, Karen liked the challenge of posting a daily photo. As those were the pre-bird hospital days, she started out blipping day-to-day finds – wild birds, her grandchildren, the garden. But then, six months after joining blip, she set out on what was to be a landscape photographer's dream journey. It was to radically alter the way she thought about blip.
"We had six weeks, starting in China, going through Mongolia and on to St Petersburg. From there we planned to travel through Norway by train, up to Tromsø, and fly to Reykjavik, finishing with – hopefully – the Northern Lights. To begin with, I didn't reveal where I was going. I blipped the suitcase I was packing, and all my winter gear. People wanted to know where I was off to, and I just said 'wait and see.'
"I had all these blippers 'with' me on the trip. One day, I posted a pic taken from the Trans-Siberian Express in the snow as we went around a curve. However, the next day's blip was of my feet in a hospital bed. I hadn't been feeling a hundred percent on the train; it was absolutely freezing, and I ended up being hospitalised. Then I was airlifted from Ulaanbaatar to a hospital in Korea. I convinced my travelling companion to go on alone, as there was no point in us both missing out. It was so disappointing; I was absolutely shattered.
"But the blip community kept me going. No-one in the hospital in Seoul spoke English, so just being able to log into blip and read all the funny and supportive comments kept me sane. I ended up posting photos of hospital loos, drip stands and things like that. One day I got so fed up that I broke the rules slightly and blipped a photo of the Mongolian ger we'd stayed in. If the blip community hadn't rallied round me at that point, I don’t know what I'd have done. I realised it was a really special group of people."
Nowadays, blip is very much part of Karen's day. If it's got to around 4pm and she hasn't got a blip, she steps outside. "You'll always find something outside – unless it's pouring with rain. You'll find things you would never have noticed if you hadn't been looking for a blip… it's not what you photograph, it's how you do it. My Red Tonkinese cat also provides good emergency blips, too.
"Photography has become quite a central thing in my life – I like the words of Wynn Bullock - The urge to create, the urge to photograph, comes in part from the deep desire to live with more integrity; to live more in peace with the world, and possibly to help others do the same. I have that quote as a tagline on my emails. I suppose you could say that marks me out as a photographer."
Remarks collected by Tanya (aka TMLHereAndThere). I’m so pleased that Tanya has agreed to be a regular contributor to the community blog! Don’t be surprised if she reaches out to you to be featured on our upcoming profiles series.
If you think a blipper should be profiled, please drop us a note at 'firstname.lastname@example.org' with their name, journal name and the reason why you think they are interesting. We already have a long list of suggestions, so please be patient with us! Thanks!