Friends of Prime Hook names winning wildlife photos

January 16, 2022

Robert Bourgot of Millsboro has won the People's Choice competition of the most recent Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Photography Contest.

The annual nature photography contest and exhibit concluded in December. Judges awarded prizes in a number of categories, including Best in Show, in October.

Visitors to the show have the opportunity to vote for their favorite from among all the photographs. At the end of the show, the votes are tabulated, and a special People's Choice Award winner is announced.

This year's winner proved very popular with visitors, although a number of other entries also received votes. Bourgot won with his lovely photo, "Juvenile Tri-Colored Heron with a Catch," taken on Bear Swamp Trail at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Also receiving a number of votes was Susan McFarlin's "At the Cape."

Bird photography is something of a departure for Bourgot, a retired electrical engineer who designed aircraft systems and has traditionally focused more on landscapes. Bourgot said he began taking pictures when he was about 18 years old with an old, completely manual German Rangefinder camera given to him by a friend. "I've been a photography nut for a long time," he said.

He only began bird photography in the last year or so and shoots everything in manual mode. "I shoot 30 frames and hope that two come out," he said. His advice to other photographers is to be familiar with their camera, learn what makes a good photograph and then just shoot as often as possible. "Shoot like crazy. Shoot even when you think it is wrong," he said. "That's the only way to learn – practice, practice."

He was excited this fall when Jupiter and Saturn aligned at sunset, and he couldn't wait to get other people equally excited about that photographic potential. "I would drag people out," he said. "You've got to have that childhood sense of wonder. Before you can capture the beauty, you have to be able to see and appreciate it."

Edward Crawford's “Roseate Spoonbill” photograph won the Best in Show Award.

In all, 28 photographers submitted 139 photos in the contest, which opened with an awards ceremony and reception Oct. 17.

The annual contest was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19 but bounced back this year, and the friends hope it will continue to get bigger and better with each passing year.

Winners were selected in the Native Birds, Other Native Wildlife, Beauty of Prime Hook, Delmarva Scenery, Native Plants and Flowers and Student categories. This year's judges were Ed Norman, Ken Arni and David Koster.

The Friends of Prime Hook thank everyone who submitted photos and attended the show as well as all those who took the time to vote for the People's Choice.

Bourgot also won a first prize in The Beauty of Prime Hook category for a Prime Hook sunset. "God blessed me with a really good sunset," he said. He added, however, that he was watching the weather and clouds, and took his winning shot when he anticipated a break in the clouds. "You have got to have your eyes open. You have got to be watching. There's a whole world happening. If you don't look, you won't see."

He shoots manually when photographing birds and said understanding aperture, ISO, shutter speeds and other elements of photography and one’s own camera are important. When shooting landscapes, he likes a minimalist approach which often focuses on misty or foggy images. "[Photographing] landscapes is different," he said. "With a bird, it's fast, fast, fast. It's night and day. With birds, I get as close as I can get, but I still have to do a lot of cropping."

He's also a strong believer in learning about printing and processing, and believes the three key elements to photography are "Shoot it, process it, print it."

"One of my heroes is Ansel Adams, and he said the negative is just the beginning," he said. "You work really hard, and then you get home and pull that image up on the computer and you go, ‘Oh, yeah.'''

Other winners are: Best in Show, Edward Crawford; Native Birds, Geoffrey Blakely, Marian Dowling and Debbie Springer; Other Native Wildlife, Freddie Daniels, Edward Crawford and Bea Hickey, with honorable mentions to  Nancy Hedgespeth and Susan McFarlin; Delmarva Scenery, Rich White, Matthew Trucks, and Cynthia Zollman, with honorable mentions for Susan McFarlin and Alan Emerson; Beauty of Prime Hook, Robert Bourgot and Matthew Trucks for second and third, with honorable mention to Julie Memmolo; and Native Plants and Flowers, Matthew Trucks, Julie Memmolo, and Beth Baker. In the Senior Student category, Weston Williams won first, second and third place, plus two honorable mentions.

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