Photographer finds unexpected in ‘wilds’ of Lake Washington

The book “Wildlife of Lake Washington” has its roots in the Amazon jungle, where Aaron Baggenstos and his first camera were in 2008, shooting photographs of exotic wildlife.

“I became fascinated and amazed by the sheer amount of biodiversity out there. I could not stop taking pictures,” said Baggenstos, who was born and raised in Snohomish.

When he returned, he began exploring parks and wildlife sanctuaries around 22-mile-long Lake Washington, discovering, to him, unexpected wildlife in a semi-urban area.

“One day I saw a wood duck, the prettiest, most colorful bird I’d ever seen in Washington state. I made the decision to dedicate my life to inspiring others to care about and protect the natural world through my images,” Baggenstos said.

Through a combination of countless hours in the field, being mentored and taking photographic training online, the 28-year-old Bellevue resident improved his photography, eventually working his way toward a book on the wildlife diversity of one of the state’s largest natural lakes.

“There were a ton of surprises every day I went out … I was at a Kirkland park in January or February and the lake was iced over on the edges. I looked over and saw a mink running across the ice, a species I didn’t know existed on the lake.”

Some of my favorite Baggenstos photographs are:

• A narrow horizontal of a bald eagle swooping down and spooking a cover of coots.

• A four-shot collage of a bald eagle preparing, catching, taking and carrying a fish.

• An osprey emerging from the water, claws empty.

• A sequential series of great blue heron photographs. The heron has been photographed incessantly, yet Baggenstos has caught some that still attract your attention, including the last one of it with its bill speared through a fish and its right wing spread wide across the water.

• A startling sharp shot of a pair of pied-billed grebes, one feeding a newborn on Union Bay.

“It takes a lot of patience to photograph birds, and you have to have the right equipment, as well. You have to spend enough time looking at wildlife, eventually you’re going to have a close encounter,” Baggenstos said.

• A terrific shot of two trumpeter swans “walking” along the water on takeoff.

• A head-on shot of a blue dasher dragonfly with its lacy wings spread out, perched on a blade of grass.

“Dragonflies are prehistoric, dating back to dinosaurs. They also have the best vision of any insect in the world. There are 19 species that live on Lake Washington.”

This book goes beyond birds. There are also shots of turtles, salamanders, a newt, Pacific tree frogs, river otters, mink, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, beavers, deer, coyotes, and Larry Engles’ shot of a bobcat behind Kirkland’s Forbes Creek Fire Station.

Baggenstos’ best photographs depict behavior.

“Anybody can take a picture of a bird on a perch. I want to see what it does when I’m not influencing its behavior. My favorite thing is to photograph action, behavior.”

That’s how he ends his book, with an image (and reflection) of a long line of red-eared slider turtles basking in the sun. When space becomes limited, the turtles stack up on each other, the front section of one turtle up over the back section of the turtle in front.

It’s another example of behavior creating the best images.

Baggenstos teaches nature photography and guides wildlife tours. His website is www.aaronstours.com; email is aaron@aaronstours.com; telephone is 425-760-1505.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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