2011 Bird Madness Winner: Red-shouldered Hawk

2011 Bird Madness Winner: Red-shouldered Hawk

The votes are in. Meet the champion of our online competition, who just so happens to be Audubon's photo contest winner, too.

By Julie Leibach
Published: 02/03/2012

Carol Fryer's northern Florida backyard is a slice of paradise, where dragonflies dance, osprey bathe, and, when the light is just right, dangling Spanish moss absolutely glistens. Situated on a golf course, Fryer's house looks out onto two small manmade lakes that welcome a variety of birdlife. The setting is a living canvas, one that reinvents itself each day with shifting shapes and splashes of color--an inviting scene for a former hobby painter who has now turned to amateur photography.

Bird Madness Winner Pop Up
Carol Graham Fryer
Carol Fryer's award-winning hawk picture.

Fryer, 68, has taken photos for a while but wasn't serious about it until several years ago, around the time she traveled to Maine with her husband, her Canon 20D camera in tow. After getting some great nature shots there, she kept at it, and her persistence has paid off: Fryer's image won the 2011 Audubon Magazine Photography Awards grand prize and became the audience favorite of "Bird Madness," a competition on Audubon's blog, The Perch, which pitted 16 photo-contest entries against one another for a reader-determined championship title.

Her winning shot features a red-shouldered hawk caught in a mangle of Spanish moss growing on a tree in her backyard. Fryer had been tracking the bird for several winter seasons, noticing its daily appearance around 10 a.m. Yet, she maintains, there was an element of luck in capturing the hawk in such a precarious pose. "I could have been stalking [it] and [it could have] done absolutely nothing," Fryer says. She caught its struggle in a series of photographs, documenting how it hung with drooping wings, moth-like, until its liberation. "It was very exciting," she says.

Though Fryer sometimes donates her photographs to philanthropical causes, entering a photo competition never dawned on her--she wasn't sure she was good enough. Her husband, however, encouraged her after spotting an announcement for the 2011 Audubon Magazine Photography Awards. Turns out, it was a smart move: Fryer's shot bested thousands of entries and garnered enough votes in the online Bird Madness competition to surpass the likes of a red-wing blackbird "surfing" on a snail kite and a tree spangled with egrets, set against a moonlit sky.

An advocate of "practice makes perfect," Fryer hones her talents by taking photos for an hour each day and learning more about the technology. On car trips, she listens to podcasts about photography, absorbing useful tidbits. Her favorite subjects to shoot span a spectrum. "I like beautiful scenery, I like anything having to do with water, I enjoy the birds," she says, "Any bird that I can, I take a picture of." Once, while swimming, she saw a bald eagle flying overhead. "I levitated out of the pool" and went after the camera, she says. Alas, the raptor was just passing through.

Travel plans hold the promise of fine-tuning her talents. With a journey to the Everglades slated for February's end, Fryer wants to concentrate on "not just taking beautiful photographs, but creating a story"--the way her ensnared hawk does. For Fryer, building on her skills leads to much more than prizes. "Whether you really take a winning photograph or not, you really start to be aware of your surroundings," she says. "You start to look at things with different eyes."

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Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is managing editor of ScienceFriday.com and a former Audubon senior editor. Follow her on Twitter: @JulieLeibach

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine