Mariela Rodriguez is a lifelong Texan and educator who believes photography is an important part of storytelling. That’s why, on a trip to Europe in 1996, she first dabbled in photography by cataloging the trip with a point and shoot camera. Her interest in photographing places transformed into an interest in photographing wildlife, now with a DSLR camera.
She can pinpoint the experience that got her started on photographing birds: on a 2018 trip to Kruger National Park in South Africa, she kept on seeing a particularly colorful bird and snapped a shot of it. That bird, the Lilac-breasted Roller, got her wondering what other birds were out there. She started buying bird ID books and using bird ID apps on her phone, and started birding through her lens.
Ever since the Lilac-breasted Roller, Mariela has had some really special experiences photographing birds. To her, the most exciting bird she has ever photographed is a Venezuelan Troupial in Puerto Rico. Her favorite places to photograph birds in Texas are McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, where she loves to watch the egrets and herons, San Bernard NWR, where there is a great driving loop where she’s seen wild boars, alligators, and lots of spiders and butterflies, and the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island where Roseate Spoonbills can be observed.
One of her favorite pictures is not of a bird, but has a cool story to match an equally cool photo. During her time at Kruger National Park, she saw an outline of a hippo in a pond from afar and, thinking it looked particularly large, snapped a quick photo. Upon reviewing the photo later, she realized that the hippo looked so big because it had a calf resting its head on its snout!
When asked for advice for birders who are interested in photography but don’t know how to start, Mariela notes the rich knowledge birders have of bird identification, calls, and behavior that provide a huge step up in locating and photographing birds. Just find a camera you’re comfortable using and get practicing!
Mariela’s work has been featured on KingBirder.com with a “Top Shot” from their “A Pair or Greater” photo contest and Friends of Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where a few of her bird photos earned first place in select categories. You can follow her on Instagram at marirod_pics.
Featured image is of Ruddy Turnstone, Mariela’s 1st Place photo in the 2021 Birdathon Photography Contest.