We were delighted to learn that acclaimed photographer William Burt was bringing out this new book, as his three previous collections occupy privileged places on our bookshelves.
The first, called Shadowbirds: A Quest for Rails (Lyons & Burford, 1994), documented a 14-year search for Black Rail and Yellow Rail. Largely nocturnal and reluctant to fly, the birds are nearly impossible to find, let alone photograph, yet photograph them Burt did, and with a large-format camera.
His second book, Rare and Elusive Birds of North America (Rizzoli/Universe, 2001), is filled with even more incredible images — of Common Pauraques and other nocturnal nightjars, of solitary Sprague’s Pipits, of skulking Connecticut and Swainson’s Warblers, and of reclusive bitterns, as well as of every rail species. Its 57 photographs took 16 summers to collect.
“Burt melds the eye of an artist, the soul of a poet, the dedication of a religious acolyte, and the wizardry of seldom-seen nature photography,” Bernd Heinrich wrote of Burt’s beautiful third book, Marshes: The Disappearing Edens (Yale University Press, 2007).
You could say the same about this work, a collection of photos of the downy young of grebes, egrets, ducks, gallinules, terns, shorebirds, and other birds of shores and wetlands. Small, quick, adept at hiding, superbly camouflaged, these are birds few of us ever get to see.
We are grateful to have the opportunity, and doubly happy to know that what we are seeing is what Burt saw in the field. He describes how he makes his pictures in an appendix: “None of these photos are of captive birds, or of birds baited in any way,” he writes. “No props or perches were placed in the pictures, nor has anything been materially added or enhanced by means of Photoshop or other image programs.” Excepting the nest of an American Bittern, where he admits to holding back some grass temporarily and then brushing it back into place, “all scenes are exactly as they occurred in nature.”
Water Babies: The Hidden Lives of Baby Wetland Birds, by William Burt, Countryman Press, 208 pages, hardcover, $29.95.
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