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Picture perfect

A pintail duck photo by local photographer Randy Shipley landed on the cover of Ducks Unlimited’s magazine
Randy Shipley’s pintail photo will grace the cover of the May/June issue of the Ducks Unlimited magazine.

Randy Shipley’s bucket-list photo safari to the wilds of New Mexico garnered the amateur shutterbug a bushel of waterfowl images, the best of which he didn’t even knew he had.

Skimming through his memory cards when he returned home unearthed a stunning pintail sporting an astounding amount of bling that lit up Shipley’s computer screen.

Sure, the image nailed the pintail in crisp clarity while in flight, which is a rare enough feat for professional photographers. But this pintail also claimed not one but two banding bracelets from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that track these iconic birds’ travels and favorite haunts — a very rare find, indeed.

“I came back with over 4,000 pictures, and this pintail just jumped out at me, says Shipley, 59, a retired Phoenix High School phys-ed teacher and coach.

“Trying to capture birds in flight is my favorite, but it’s difficult,” Shipley says. “This time, it all came together.”

Come this spring, the image will grab the attention of more than 640,000 like-minded waterfowlers when they receive their copy of Ducks Unlimited’s bimonthly magazine.

Shipley’s photo won top honors among more than 1,000 images sent in to DU’s annual contest that honors waterfowl pics shot by amateur photographers.

The well-accessorized pintail didn’t win either of the three DU categories — waterfowl, waterfowl hunting and retrieving.

But DU’s entire magazine staff voted for the best of show, and collectively they settled on Shipley’s beautiful, and rare, pintail for the cover of the magazine’s May/June issue.

“That image actually is really cool,” says Chris Jennings, the magazine’s senior editor based in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The rarity of that really jumped out,” Jennings says. “We go through so many pictures, and we really don’t see that very often.”

This juxtaposition of not winning a judging category but winning the hearts of viewers is not new to Shipley and his wildlife photography.

He won viewer’s choice in three straight Wild Bird Photo Contest competitions conducted by the Mail Tribune last decade.

“I don’t know what judges are looking for,” Shipley says. “I just like to go out and take pictures of things I think are cool.”

Shipley’s pintail images came from the Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge, a Fish and Wildlife Service holding in New Mexico best known for its massive seasonal numbers of snow geese and sandhill cranes.

But the pintail stood out among the images Shipley captured, as did the metallic bracelets on the stunning bird.

For decades, biologists for various agencies and conservation organizations such as DU have relied on banding birds to unlock secrets of when and where waterfowl migrate as well as seasonal haunts.

DU operates a research program during which waterfowl are captured in wire traps baited with grain. Captured birds receive an aluminum leg band with unique numbers corresponding to information on the bird’s age, sex and species.

The information is uploaded to a database at the Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland.

Hunters who, over ensuing years, shoot banded birds are encouraged to report their findings, usually by calling the lab at a number affixed to the tag.

Most hunters keep the bands as souvenirs, but the lab typically sends them information on the date and location of their bird’s banding, its sex and age at banding.

To improve data collection, a small handful of birds get a second band offering a cash reward for reporting the data.

In Shipley’s case, the reward is the photograph and sharing it with his fellow waterfowlers through DU.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Shipley says. “It’s a pretty cool hobby.”

Shipley is intent on keeping his amateur shutterbug status just that. The DU contest is open only to photographers who have not sold an image to the magazine.

Capturing images of cool birds will remain a passion for Shipley and nothing more, despite his relative success.

“I don’t want to monetize it,” he says. “If you turn it into a job, it becomes a job.”

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.