By Dan Rankin
“Birds of St. Marys and Vicinity,” the new photography exhibition that opened this week at the St. Marys Station Studios and Gallery (5 James Street North), represents a major first for St. Marys wildlife photographer Herman Veenendaal.
“Until now it’s just been a hobby,” he told the Independent Tuesday evening during the exhibition open house. Now, Veenendaal’s crisply shot and engaging photos of over 30 varieties of birds are on display for all to see, with some photos transformed into items of merchandise including refrigerator magnets, postcards and photo prints that are on sale at the gallery. “It’s a first for me. I don’t even know what to make of it yet.”
Veenendaal, who has lived in St. Marys since 1975, began capturing wildlife images on film as a hobby in 1981. After he retired in 2011, he returned to his passion of photography, finding digital photography a considerably more affordable hobby compared to when he had to buy expensive film.
He has an impressive gear kit that includes – along with his camera – several long telephoto lenses, tripods, camouflage clothing and blinds. Sometimes when he’s on the lookout for waterfowl he’ll shoot from aboard a kayak using a 400 mm lens on a gunstock mount. But, according to him, technological proficiency is not the most important part of being a good wildlife photographer.
“Knowing animal behaviour, feeding behaviour and mating patterns is key to success in wildlife photography,” he said, adding that patience is another important trait. Case in point, he said, speaking before a crowd of local art lovers, was capturing his photo of an oven bird in mid-song. “It’s well camouflaged and flies very fast,” he said. “I waited in a swamp for about an hour and got many bug bites. You have to know where to look and when to look.”
He was encouraged to put on the exhibition – just the second hosted by the gallery – by his friend Cameron Porteous, one of the three artists that runs the studios and gallery. “We became friends because we were both train enthusiasts, but when I learned he was also a wildlife photographer and I saw some of his work, I was impressed and pushed him to exhibit for the first time,” Porteous said. “He’s quite a special photographer. I get the feeling he doesn’t know how special his work really is.”
Birds on display in the exhibition range from the very local and very common, such as tree swallows, red-winged black birds, and great blue herons, to the considerably more rare, such as white pelicans, snowy owls and eastern meadowlarks.
Some birds, such as the eastern meadowlark and the brown thrasher, are becoming more rare in the area due to modern agricultural practices Veenendaal and Porteous said. “The farmers are haying too early,” Porteous said. “It’s just a matter of a couple of weeks, but I know farmers have to make a living too.”
Veenendaal said he mainly shoots around the St. Marys area but sometimes makes trips to Long Point, Rondeau and Pelee, as well as area parks such as the Pinery and the Morrison Dam near Exeter. He’s also travelled to Florida and the interior of British Columbia to capture photos of birds on their wintering grounds.
The exhibition “Birds of St. Marys and Vicinity” runs until Nov. 7. St. Marys Station Studios and Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.