This photo Marchese took of a sleeping Saw-whet Owl is her favorite. Photo: Shayna Marchese
A photographer captures stunning images that she hopes will raise awareness of the feathered creatures who share the city with us
By Meredith Kurz
Shayna Marchese is an art director by day, and a bird photographer, graphic artist and birder on weekends. Her work can be found in the National Audubon Society’s “Great Backyard Bird Count,” the Instagram “Audubon Takeover,” the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, on her new website, Sleeping Owl Studio, and on her portfolio website, shaynamarchese.com. She has over 5,600 Instagram followers.
Her birds fly all over the internet.How do you manage an indoor and outdoor career?
Bird photographing and bird spotting are times for me to relax. I enjoy being out in the wild, and I get to use my photographs and graphic design to help the conservation nonprofits I support. My photography and graphic design is focused on rescuing and preserving what I can through the organizations I work with.What would you tell a beginning bird spotter?
Birds are everywhere. Even if you don’t hear them singing, they are all around you. You don’t have to go to somewhere special. You don’t need to know everything. I’m learning every day about how to take a better picture, where the best habitats are for certain birds. There are a lot of beginner birdwatchers, especially in New York City. I’m trying to introduce the beauty of birds, and I think they can be a gateway to caring about conservancy. Caring leads to action.What can New Yorkers do for birds?
New York City is part of what is called the “Atlantic Flyway,” a great turnpike in the sky for migratory birds. [The city] is actually doing quite a bit. Prior to renovation, the Jacob Javits Center was a major site for bird deaths. The facade acted like an enormous mirror, causing the birds to crash into the glass. The new glass panels are imprinted with patterns. This cut bird deaths by about 90 percent. The green roof attracts birds, and is the second largest one of its kind in the United States.
A second place that caused a great deal of bird deaths was Freedom Tower’s light show. Migratory birds often fly by night and the bright beams of the tower confuse them. A typical count of birds around the tower shot from 500 to 16,000 during the “Tribute to Light.” To address this, the lights are periodically turned off to reorient the birds. Audubon Volunteers stay at the site overnight observing.What can an individual do?
If you don’t need a lot on in your apartment, turn it off.
If you see a bird lying sideways on the ground, give it a minute. It could be just stunned. You should never touch a large bird. If you see a baby bird that has feathers that is hopping on the ground, leave it alone, the parents are feeding it. The parents may not return if you’re around. If you can, put the baby back in the nest. You can call the Wild Bird Fund at 646-306-2862. The Animal Raptor Center is only for raptors and waterfowl. Their number is 212-838-8100. The Urban Park Rangers pick up injured New York City park birds that are not pigeons or starlings. Their number is 212-628-2345.
New Yorkers saved tens of thousands of birds with their advocacy efforts with the Freedom Tower and Jacob Javits Center. If you want to lend a hand you can sign up for Audubon’s ‘Avian Advocates’ here.Who’s your favorite photographer?
Definitely, Melissa Groo. She’s what’s called an “ethical” model photographer, and advises Audubon on photography content and ethics. Some photographers bait the birds, which cause them to be comfortable around and dependent on humans. This is why it’s illegal in many circumstances.What’s your favorite New York City spot?
In Manhattan there’s a small, unusual little quiet spot, a cemetery on West 21st Street called the Third Cemetery of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue. In Queens, I enjoy strolling along the park near the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria, on the water. There are a lot of shore birds there.Is there a special camera you prefer or a new lens or technology?
I use a Nikon, but if you ask any wildlife photographer they’ll tell you it’s their longest lens. I have some that are easy to carry around, but the largest one needs some planning.Do you have any photography tips for our readers?
The more overcast the better when it comes to getting good results. Early morning and dusk are also great lighting opportunities. If you’re looking for certain birds, learn what and when they eat, when they mate, when they call to one another, so you can find them.What’s your own photo capture favorite?
I had been looking around for quite a while, and it was mid-afternoon. A group of sparrows were trying to avoid me and they went in, and immediately out, of a holly tree. There tucked against the trunk, fast asleep, was a Saw-whet Owl. I was thrilled, but knew I couldn’t even breathe for fear of wakening it. I was able to hold my excitement and quietly snap the shot. That was a great moment.Tell me about your new website, Sleeping Owl Studio.
This is part of my nonprofit support. I’m both a graphic artist and a photographer. I hope to use [my works] to help wildlife conservancy. There are embroidered patches, buttons, stickers and a bookplate pattern. You can find them here. Proceeds go to my nonprofits.
Interview edited for space and clarity.