Dean DiTommaso is an environmental inspector and an avid, longtime birdwatcher but only a novice photographer. So when work called him from Lackawana, New York, to central Wisconsin for an extended stay earlier this year, he wasn't expecting to snap a picture that we'd publish on our cover. But he was hoping he might add a bird or two to his life list.
He found a lifer all right. A spectacular one -- one of the first Kirtland's Warblers to nest outside of Michigan in six decades. And he took a photo that landed on the cover of our October 2007 issue (pictured here).
DiTommaso had never seen or heard a Kirtland's Warbler before, but he listened to recordings to become familiar with its call, and he did a little research into the locations of past sightings in Wisconsin. The site of his new gig, on a petroleum-pipeline project, turned out to be just a bit east of one of those locations. Young jack pine trees, the habitat preferred by Kirtland's Warblers, were growing nearby.
DiTommaso's job keeps him outdoors up to 10 hours a day, sometimes six days a week. On May 19, he heard faint chirping and realized it was a Kirtland's. "It wasn't nearby," he recalled. This was good. "If it was near the pipeline, it would have affected the project big time. Seeing how the warbler's an endangered species, it could have put a halt to it."
He ran back to his vehicle, grabbed his camera, and quickly returned to search for the bird, which he soon spotted. "A week later, I found another male, about a mile south of the first site." In time, he also saw a female and found a nest.
He took the dramatic photo that ended up on our cover on July 4, after the bird, a male, landed only a few feet away. "They're not particularly wary," he said of the warblers. "I was standing still, and he flew up to the tree I was standing next to. He was looking for food to feed a cowbird, unfortunately."
Although DiTommaso has been birding for 25 years, he is relatively new to photography. He purchased a digital SLR and telephoto lens only a couple years ago. "I never wanted to mess with film," he said.
You can find out how to add the Kirtland's Warbler to your life list in this great article from our December 2006 issue. -- E.M.