wildlife neighbors

In October we brought you the first part of a two-part photographic essay by Rich Zahren, who trained his lens on the fall and winter wildlife of Mt. Lebanon. This month, as we dream about the soft hues and warm temperatures of spring and summer, we bring you the conclusion of the series, focusing on the animals we see in the temperate months.

Zahren, of Salem Drive, and his wife, Becky, have lived in Mt. Lebanon for 25 years, where they raised two children, Jeff Zahren and Tracy Ford. Zahren, who retired in 2003 after 35 years with PPG as the vice president in charge of automotive coatings, had always been interested in wildlife but had never taken photos. (He jokes that his experience with coatings and color is his only work in the visual arts.)

A downy woodpecker chows down on suet placed in holes in a backyard feeder log.

And it’s not like it’s easy for him: he is partially colorblind and has a slight hand tremor. Undeterred, he started with a few classes and began right away with digital photography on top of the line Canon equipment, integrating his new hobby with his family’s love for vacations to unusual destinations like Chile, New Zealand and Costa Rica.

Although his travel portfolio is extensive—Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Peru, Galapagos, Belize!—Zahren soon learned he could capture beautiful shots at home. Birds became a favorite subject. He loves their beauty and finds they are easy to attract, often with simple things like peanut butter and bird seed. He also captures small mammals such as mice and shrews in humane traps, snaps a few shots and then sends the animals back into the wild.

His own backyard is a favorite spot, but Zahren spends a lot of time in Bird Park and Mt. Lebanon Park.


A spangled Fritillary butterfly on a butterfly bush in Zahren’s backyard.

He loves how spring and summer make our indigenous creatures more vivacious as they have more food to eat and often bear and raise their young in front of our eyes. “This time of plenty keeps them very active and therefore, more visible, despite cover from more vegetation,” Zahren says. “Of course, the young are also the food for predators, so we do see nest raiding.”

Lately, Zahren has been willing to encourage other budding Mt. Lebanon photographers. In November, he spoke to the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy about his photographs and travels. He also speaks to local photo clubs and is a member of the Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh which meets in the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center (www.pghphoto.org).

For people interested in starting their own wildlife photography, he offers common sense tips such as studying the work of others and going to shows to start developing your own eye. Magazines he loves include: Outdoor Photographer (available at the Mt. Lebanon Library) and Nature’s Best Photography. If you’re not conversant with computers, learn to use them and get up to speed on editing software.

A young raccoon ventures into the backyard.

But Zahren’s best advice for begining photographers is to just go outside and start taking pictures. Start with landscapes and nature, and seek out beautiful places. Spring is a perfect time. Foliage and flowers create a beautiful backdrop. Everything is alive.