Lombard photographer combines two hobbies in one spectacular shot

  • Bonnie Graham of Lombard says mallards don't get the credit they deserve for their beauty.

    Bonnie Graham of Lombard says mallards don't get the credit they deserve for their beauty.

  • Bonnie Graham

    Bonnie Graham

By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted4/19/2018 10:29 AM

A dramatic stop-action photo of two mallards taking flight won Bonnie Graham the distinction of being March's Daily Herald Photo Finish contest winner.

But it was her encounter with another avian species that would align her birding hobby with her passion for photography.


She was in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Lemont when she spotted a yellow-throated warbler.

"I could not believe we had a bird like that in Illinois," she said, recalling the creature's captivating beauty and sweet sound.

She now refers to the tiny songbird as her "spark bird," the one that got her into birding. She has since joined the DuPage Birding Club, where she serves as the group's treasurer and often schedules trips to witness migrations.

Graham said she began birding shortly before she retired.

"I was a police officer in North Riverside. I was a street cop," she said. "I started birding toward the end of my career."

Combining birding with photography came later. When she began as a photographer, she would aim her camera at scenery and a variety of animal life, especially while on vacation. But then she started zooming in on birds.

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"I think it started with taking pictures of hawks," she said. "It just gradually became more and more."

Birds' intricate markings became a focal point.

"A lot of birds have rings around their eyes. And they have different color feet and beaks," she said.

The Lombard resident said she often visits local forest preserves with her husband, where the two walk their dogs and Graham keeps a lookout for birds and potential photos.

The winning duck photo was taken at the East Branch Forest Preserve dog park in Glendale Heights.

"We take our dogs there. It's a good birding spot," Graham said.

She used her Canon 70D camera with a 100-400 millimeter telephoto lens, eschewing a tripod in favor of holding the camera in her hands.

She said she took several shots in rapid succession to capture her winning shot during a late morning or early afternoon in mid-March.


"The sun is just at the right angle and the sun is shining on them. People don't realize how beautiful they are," she said. "The sun was directly behind me and that's how those colors came on."

Daily Herald DuPage Photo Director Bev Horne said the photo's composition is stunning.

"It's a difficult shot to get and the colors of the mallards look great against the background," Horne said.

As winner, Graham will receive a $50 gift certificate for PJ's Camera in Glen Ellyn.

She said she plans to continue photographing birds both at home and on vacation.

Graham said she and her husband recently returned from a trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, where they saw roadrunners and cactus wrens.

"I got 29 of what we birders call 'lifers' -- brand new birds I've never seen before," she said.

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