By Lori Berkey
Shrewsbury – When Shrewsbury resident Bruce deGraaf decided to attend a public bird walk at Dean Park in 2003, he didn's know the outing would be so fascinating. He couldn's believe how many different species were flitting around his hometown. Already a photography hobbyist, deGraaf was drawn to snap pictures of the creatures and soon became a fervent birdwatcher.
He took bird courses and became knowledgeable about their behavior and proficient in identifying various species by their calls. He learned about equipment that would enable him to view his feathered friends clearly even if they were a distance away. He found out he could attach his point-and-shoot camera to his spotting scope, and soon he was digiscoping.
The technology allowed him to view birds feeding their young in a far-off nest, and to take action shots of them so he could share the wonder with others. He spied on birds and caught them preying on insects. He watched them exit reservoirs with fish in their mouths and water dripping from their claws. He's come back from his viewings with crystal-clear photos that documented their natural behaviors.
By 2005 deGraaf had already won a Mass Audubon photo contest for most interesting behavior of a bird feeding that was captured. Enjoying sharing his photos, he set up a website, www.brucedegraaf.zenfolio.com, so everyone could see what he saw. People were telling him he should publish his photos in a book and someone mentioned an online site that had a free tool for laying out and pasting photos and publishing them.
In 2009 he self-published “Avian Awakening, Discovering the Birds of New England,” a “Blurb” book that can be previewed online or viewed via a hard copy edition.
A member of the Forbush Bird Club, deGraaf enjoys both outings with fellow birders and outings alone. Sometimes deGraaf travels to Cambridge to watch birds at Mount Auburn Cemetery. During the spring breeding season he likes to check out the loons at Wachusett Reservoir. In the winter, he gets excited to see flocks in the countryside. Sometimes he sits at home and watches goldfinches, bluebirds and hummingbirds in his own backyard.
deGraaf marvels at the species that hang out on his property that he once didn's even know were there.
“People don's think of bluebirds as a bird that's around, and I didn's before I was a birder. I'se had as many as eight bluebirds at one time at my [backyard] feeder.”
deGraaf thoroughly enjoys his pursuit of birds.
“It's fun,” deGraaf said, “I like nature. I like to be outside. There's always different, new birds. There's always some rare ones that come through that you don's see very often and you find out about those on massbird [the website, www.massbird.org].”
When deGraaf goes out, he's got four cameras on him. He stuffs one in the side pocket of his shorts and uses straps and cases to tote the others. He keeps a “ruggedized” cold weather waterproof one for some shots. He packs one for wide-angle scenery and one for flight pictures. He's also equipped with a spotting scope, a tripod, and a quick hand-held camera to be ready for whatever flies.
deGraaf's 4-1/2-year-old granddaughter has started to take an interest in birding too. He has pointed out different birds to her and she likes to imitate their songs.
“She's learned how to do a cardinal call by whistling,” deGraaf said.
deGraaf also shares his knowledge with others. He does presentations and was interviewed on a local radio program. He hopes to make more books, as well.