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.

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