Jocelyn Anderson does not consider herself an expert birder.
Not yet, at least.
But one look at her website or Instagram account is like walking into an aviary chock full of birds from all corners of Michigan.
Anderson, a web developer in LSA who has spent more than 15 years with the departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Psychology, and Technology Services, spends much of her free time in nature, capturing on film and in intense detail the many birds she encounters in the wild.
“It’s something I do almost every day, and sometimes I’ll be out there for hours because I can feel the batteries recharge, it’s so enjoyable,” she said. “It’s so much fun.
“My job involves a lot of programming, which I love. I stare at the computer a lot and when I’m not doing that, I stare at birds.”
Photographing birds is a relatively new pursuit, one she discovered about seven years ago when she was taking a walk through the many nature trails at Kensington Metropark in Milford.
While there, she spotted a very small bird bouncing around a bush and it sparked her curiosity.
“It turned out to be a ruby-crowned kinglet,” she said. “And it got me thinking, ‘If I didn’t realize about this bird, what else am I missing?’”
Kensington is a nature photographer’s paradise, so Anderson’s family gifted her a high-end camera and lens.
“Those lenses allow you to get so much closer to the bird,” she said. “So it all started with a walk on a nature trail and this teeny, tiny little bird and it opened up a whole new world that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with.”
Since receiving that camera, she has photographed more than 200 species of birds, almost all in Michigan with the exception of some she captured at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in northern Ohio.
Her Instagram account includes more than 4,800 posts, most of which are photos or videos of the birds she sees at Kensington, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, and her backyard in Whitmore Lake.
She delights her more than 18,000 followers with fun facts about the birds she captures on film, including slow-motion videos of birds approaching her waiting hand to enjoy a treat. Since birds there are so accustomed to people, Kensington allows visitors to feed birds that can land in their hands.
That’s an experience she does not take lightly, nor does she entice birds with calls or sounds to elicit a response. The phrase, “These visuals are captured with sincere respect for the animal,” is included on her website, and she is committed to helping educate others in that regard.
“One of the things I keep in mind when doing photography is that, for birds, every moment for it is life or death,” she said. “If you have a bird and they have young ones and hear a call from someone’s phone, the adults are going to go fight off this non-existent threat and leave the young ones alone. That distraction is stressing for both the birds and myself.”
Such close encounters with birds can end poorly, as Anderson experienced with a particularly agitated couple of sandhill cranes that chased her and went after her camera. But that is the exception, and Anderson’s most memorable and cherished photograph came courtesy of a sandhill crane family.
Four years ago, a Canada goose laid an egg in a sandhill crane nest. The crane couple, already expecting their own colt — as crane offspring are known — chased the goose away, but did not destroy the egg. The gosling hatched a day before the colt, and about a week later, Anderson captured a photo of the cranes walking, with the gosling and their colt in lockstep between them.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s going to get any better than that. The story and the care that sandhill crane family had for that Canada goose, I loved it so much.”
Dubbed by Anderson as “fuzz butts,” the photo garnered the attention of the National Audubon Society, which included it on its list of the top 100 photos for 2020 and published a story about the family on its website. Anderson followed the quartet for a couple months, but sadly the gosling was found dead on the U-M Golf Course.
“That was not how I wanted that story to end,” she said. “I just think about how loving that family was.”
Capturing birds on camera is rewarding, fulfilling and challenging. Anderson approaches each day as a simple walk in nature with limited expectations about what she will encounter or record.
She receives alerts from a group should a rare bird be in the vicinity, but is not willing to drive nine hours to the Upper Peninsula in an attempt to view one, like she heard one birder attempted recently. The birder missed out on seeing the rare bird.
“You can see the bird or you can miss it,” she said. “That’s something I love about nature photography — you don’t know. There’s an element of luck there, which I think makes it super fun.”
While every month in Michigan provides opportunities to view birds, Anderson said May is her favorite time of year. She takes a week off that month to try to photograph warblers coming through the state, and since their arrival is predicated on the winds being just right, picking the correct week is a guessing game.
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Over the past seven years, Anderson has learned how to identify many bird species. When she photographs an unfamiliar bird, she consults a Michigan Bird Watching group on Facebook, and members there provide their insight.
She said she’s found an inclusive and supportive group through the Washtenaw Audubon Society that is a mixture of birders and photographers, and she encourages anyone interested in learning about birds to look into the group.
As for her, she considers herself slightly more photographer than an expert birder — for now.
“I feel like I need to know a certain number of birds to get that title,” she said. “I would say I’m more photographer, because if I see a bird and it’s giving great looks, as they say in the birding world, I will wait on that bird and get all different poses. A birder who is not a photographer may look at the bird and move on.”