New Zealand’s best bird photographer?

Three hundred photographers (and two painters) have contributed images to the New Zealand Birds Online website, which was launched in June 2013. Each of the 461 bird species on the website has its own page, with one image selected as the ‘master’ image, and additional images presented as a gallery of thumbnails that can be enlarged. With 461 master images to choose from, we can look back at which photographers have achieved the distinction of having the most images selected as master images.

A superb master image from New Zealand Birds Online, showing an adult New Zealand falcon standing out clearly from the background. Image: Craig McKenzie, New Zealand birds Online

A superb master image from New Zealand Birds Online, showing an adult New Zealand falcon standing out clearly from the background. Image: Craig McKenzie, New Zealand Birds Online

An ideal master image is technically superb, and shows a single adult bird in typical plumage and posture, standing out clearly from the background – so that the bird remains identifiable when reduced to a thumbnail for the ‘Identify that bird’ feature. But sometimes we have to make do from a limited range of images provided. We are always interested in receiving new images, and refreshing the website with new master images when better images are available.

A screenshot from 'Identify that bird' on New Zealand Birds Online, showing master images that work as thumbnails (and a few that don't!). Image: New Zealand Birds Online

A screenshot from ‘Identify that bird’ on New Zealand Birds Online, showing master images that work as thumbnails (and a few that don’t!). Image: New Zealand Birds Online

It transpires that the person with the most master images on New Zealand Birds Online is a painter – namely Paul Martinson. Paul painted images for the book Extinct birds of New Zealand (published by Te Papa Press), and 40 of his evocative images are used as master images on New Zealand Birds Online. It is not surprising that there are few photographs of extinct New Zealand bird species, but we have used them when available (see the master images for South Island snipe, laughing owl and bush wren).

A Paul Martinson painting of the extinct Chatham Island fernbird, as reproduced on New Zealand Birds Online. Image: (c) Te Papa

A Paul Martinson painting of the extinct Chatham Island fernbird, as reproduced on New Zealand Birds Online. Image: © Te Papa

The photographer with the most master images is my fellow Te Papa curator (and author of Extinct birds of New Zealand), Alan Tennyson. Alan’s cunning ploy was to take images of bird fossils held by numerous institutions, with half his 32 master images being of fossils. An honourable mention should also be made of Te Papa photographer Jean-Claude Stahl, whose craft is concealed behind the ‘© Te Papa’ credit accompanying 24 master images of bird fossil specimens held by Te Papa.

The holotype of Pelagornis miocaenus (a fossil seabird) from Armagnac, France, held in the Paris Museum. There is a single specimen referred to this species from North Canterbury. Image: Alan Tennyson, New Zealand Birds Online

The holotype of Pelagornis miocaenus (a fossil seabird) from Armagnac, France, held in the Paris Museum. There is a single specimen referred to this species from North Canterbury. Image: Alan Tennyson, New Zealand Birds Online

The holotype of Fleming's rail (a 1 million-year-old fossil) , in the Te Papa collection. Image: © Te Papa

The holotype of Fleming’s rail (a 1 million-year-old fossil), in the Te Papa collection. Image: © Te Papa

The photographer with the most master images of live birds is Sonja Ross of Melbourne, with 29 master images. Sonja’s gorgeous images were mainly taken in Australia, of species that occasionally stray to New Zealand (exceptions among her master images are those of common pheasant, grey heron and yellowhammer). We greatly appreciate the contributions of overseas-based photographers, who were able to provide many high quality images of species rarely or never photographed alive in New Zealand.

The red-kneed dotterel has been seen once in New Zealand. This adult was photographed at the Werribee sewage treatment works in Victoria, Australia. Image: Sonja Ross, New Zealand Birds Online

The red-kneed dotterel has been seen once in New Zealand – and no photographs were obtained. This adult was photographed at the Werribee sewage treatment works in Victoria, Australia. Image: Sonja Ross, New Zealand Birds Online

Narrowing the field down to images of live birds taken in New Zealand, the accolade for best local photographer goes to Neil Fitzgerald, with 24 master images, closely followed by Duncan Watson with 22. Congratulations to Neil and Duncan for their technical expertise, commitment and generosity – sharing their stunning images via New Zealand Birds Online.

A vagrant Japanese snipe photographed at Lake Rotokaeo, Hamilton. Image: Neil Fitzgerald, New Zealand Birds Online

A vagrant Japanese snipe photographed at Lake Rotokaeo, Hamilton. Image: Neil Fitzgerald, New Zealand Birds Online

A further eight photographers achieved the distinction of ten or more master images: Ormond Torr (17), Phil Battley (16), Philip Griffin (16), Alan Tennyson (16 live birds), Colin Miskelly (14), Tony Whitehead (14), Jim Denny (11), Craig McKenzie (10) and David Boyle (10). Click on each photographer’s name to see an example of their work.

A Buller’s mollymawk photographed off Kaikoura. Image: Duncan Watson, New Zealand Birds Online

A Buller’s mollymawk photographed off Kaikoura. Image: Duncan Watson, New Zealand Birds Online

Congratulations to all 108 photographers who have at least one master image on New Zealand Birds Online. The challenge is out to all bird photographers to attempt to knock them off their perches!

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2 Responses

  1. Stuart Nicholson

    Did I see a darter and a pelican in those thumbnails? “Stragglers” the checklist calls them, and that makes sense.
    No photos from people who put a lot of photos “out there” … Did Not Enter? Not considered for other reasons? e.g. NZ storm petrel (Pealeornis maoriana) … but I guess it was a quantity thing … looks like an inside job to me :-)

    Reply
  2. Olwen Mason

    That was a very interesting blog. Thanks.

    Reply

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