Meet James Giroux, 1st Place Winner of the 2019 Birdathon Photography Contest

By: Caley Zuzula, Travis Audubon’s Program and Education Coordinator

As soon as I opened the email with James Giroux’s submissions to this year’s photography contest, I knew at least one of his photos would place. His crisp, bright, impactful photos are visually stunning– despite photography being his hobby rather than his profession, his skills do not give that away. I sat down with James to learn more about his interest in birds and photography.

Did you get interested in birds or photography first, and how did you make your way to the other?

“I started birding first, but I had an interest a long time ago in photography, and it was a natural thing to want to take pictures of these birds. The photography became more of a part of what I liked to do, so I upgraded my cameras. My stepfather was the one who got me started in birding about 15 years ago, and he and I take a spring trip every year to the Texas coast.”

Where did you take the photos that you submitted to the contest?

“The beach ones were done at Sea Rim State Park. The [Yellow-billed Cuckoo photo] was at Sabine Woods.”

What camera did you use to take these photos?

“A Canon 80D with a 500 mm lens.”

What is the most exciting bird you have ever photographed?

“A Siberian Rubythroat. This was at St. Paul Island in Alaska, and it’s one of those birds that really lives over on the other side of the Bering Sea in Russia, but they stray over to Alaska and those islands. We went there in 2015 for 7 days and we were a little disappointed because we were expecting to see 2 or 3 rare birds. It was on our last day, we were waiting for the airplane to come and we were not doing much. And I said, I’m just going to go out, and I was looking around in this trash pile and all of a sudden I see the bird. I saw the back of it, and I knew, this is something, and it turned around and it had this ruby throat. I had done some studying, and I thought, I think that’s a Siberian Rubythroat. I went to tell the two people I was with, I said open the book, let me see the Siberian Rubythroat. I said yeah, that’s it, there’s one out there. So we all went out there. We spotted it, and then we called the guides that were on the island, and two groups came out. It was very exciting.”

What is a bird you would really like to photograph in the future that you haven’t yet?

“One of my nemesis birds– I hear it every day in my yard. It’s a Lesser Goldfinch. I have a website and I have about 363 photos, and I don’t have Lesser Goldfinch. They are in my neighborhood, I hear them 12 months out of the year, they’re all over the place. I have a sock feeder, and a few years ago, I guess I always thought that’s an easy bird to photograph, I’ll get it, but now for whatever reason they won’t come to my sock feeder in my backyard.”

Do you have one particular photo that you’ve taken that is your favorite?

“Probably so, it’s a Great Egret photo taken at High Island. It was about 5 PM, maybe 6 PM. It was getting dark and it was very overcast; a storm was coming so it was pretty dark outside. I took a picture of this Great Egret, and it was fanning its feathers and the background came out almost pitch black, so it had these white, beautiful feathers beneath this black background. It was pretty cool.”

Where are some of your favorite places to photograph birds?

“In Austin, Hornsby Bend is the best, and then Pedernales Falls State Park, Commons Ford, and McKinney Falls State Park. Outside of Austin, Big Bend, the Texas Coast, Sea Rim State Park, and Sabine Woods.”

Who are your favorite wildlife/nature photographers?

“Greg Lasley, Alan Murphy, and Robert Royse.”

What advice do you have for birders who are interested in photography, but don’t really know where to start?

“Equipment is hard [to recommend] because there is such a range of prices, but start with a $400 or $500 camera and practice. Get out every opportunity you have, and look at other bird photographers’ work. That’s how I got going on it. The more you do, the better you get at it.”

Where else can people see your work? Where else is it featured?

“My website, jamesagiroux.comFlickr, and the KXAN bird forecasts.”

Check out the winning photos here.