Nature photographer focuses on hard-to-see birds, plants

From deep in the trees comes the voice of a bird. Even without looking up from his fishing, George Kirsch can identify it by the sound.

However, when he goes out looking for birds, plants and wildlife, he does his homework beforehand and keeps his eyes open, camera at the ready.

Kirsch, of Soldotna, said he’s always been interested in wildlife watching, but in recent years, he’s combined it with a growing love for photography.

“Bird photography is kind of what I’ve specialized in for the last seven or eight years,” he said. “I started off doing flowers and plants and all that. But I’ve kind of gone from subject to subject.”

A number of his photographs now hang on the walls of the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai, depicting some of the rarely seen birds and plants of the Kenai Peninsula. The show, which opened Aug. 3, will be on display through the end of the month.

Originally from Montana, Kirsch spent his career as a wildlife biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. During that time, he said he spent a lot of time observing big game animals in the state’s various parks, but these days he is more interested in birds and plants. Particularly, he said he focuses on what he calls “rare things” — not necessarily endangered, but hard to see or rarely seen.

He said he’ll often spend significant time researching a subject before going out looking for it, and other times, he’ll notice something new while he and his wife are out for one of their regular hikes. He’s photographed birds in various regions of Alaska as well as in other areas of the Lower 48 during visits there.

Sometimes spotting a good subject is as simple as keeping eyes open for what may be common somewhere in the world but is rare somewhere else. One recent discovery was a rattlesnake plantain, a flower common in eastern North America that might be easy to miss, he said.

“It’s a kind of orchid (that’s) very subtle, very easy to overlook,” he said.

But after successfully locating a subject, other questions arise, such as whether to disturb the bird or plant to get a good photograph of it.

“To get really good photos in any event, sometimes you end up disturbing what you’re attempting to photograph,” Kirsch said. “… You don’t want your activities to harm them, either. Many times, I’ve passed up good photo opportunities just to not disturb things any worse than it already was.”

With some sensitive plants and birds, it’s an ethics question whether drawing more attention to it will bring harm, he said. But there’s also some opportunity to share a species with other people who may not have a chance to see the particular species, whether because of geography or the species disappearing, he said.

“I do like the think that maybe I can be in a position or allow kids, my grandkids, to appreciate things that they’ll get whatever enjoyment they can get out of it for their own personal reasons … and maybe someday they’ll be in a position where they can benefit everybody through conservation practices or casting a vote for something politically that might be good for habitat or anything,” Kirsch said. “I like to think you can influence some people through photography.”

Kirsch’s show can be seen at the Kenai Fine Arts Center on Cook Avenue in Old Town Kenai throughout August. The center is open Wednesdays through Saturdays between noon and 5 p.m.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

COVID-19. (Image CDC)
38 new resident COVID-19 cases seen

It was the largest single-day increase in new cases of COVID-19 among Alaska residents.

Anglers practice social distancing on the upper Kenai River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in late June 2020. (Photo provided by Nick Longobardi/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Exploring the Kenai’s backyard

Refuge to start open air ranger station

The entrance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna, Alaska, is seen here on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly approves plan for COVID-19 relief funds

The borough is receiving $37,458,449, which will be provided in three installments.

‘We need to make changes now’

Millions in small business relief funds remain unclaimed.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion 
                                Forever Dance Alaska performs for the crowd during the 2019 Fourth of July parade in Kenai. The team will not be performing in the parade this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic. They will instead perform during an outside July 4 production hosted by Kenai Performers.
The show must go on

American icons to take stage in outdoor July 4 performance

Soldotna’s Chase Gable, a customer service agent with Grant Aviation, prepares to load and unload baggage from a plane at Kenai Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Airport sees decline in traffic in wake of pandemic, Ravn exit

Passengers leaving Kenai this year through May are down 18,000.

Registered Nurse Cathy Davis (left) and Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Johnson (right) work at a table to get COVID-19 tests ready for the public Friday, May 29, 2020 at the Boat House Pavilion on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. South Peninsula Hospital is now offering free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic people with no appointments necessary at the Boat House Pavilion through June 6. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
3 cities, 3 testing strategies

Peninsula communities take different approaches to COVID-19 testing.

Cars pass the City of Homer advisory signs on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020, at Mile 172 Sterling Highway near West Hill Road in Homer, Alaska. The sign also reads “Keep COVID-19 out of Homer.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Don’t get complacent,’ governor says of pandemic

Alaska saw 36 new cases of COVID-19 in residents and 12 new nonresident cases.

Refuge reopens some trails to public

Burn areas provide new views

Most Read