For his latest book, Rhapsody in Blue, Maryland photographer Middleton Evans traipsed all over North America and beyond during a five-year period in pursuit of and photographing water birds in their natural habitat.
In all, his 37 journeys took him to 13 states, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. However, he found plenty of birds to study and photograph right here in Maryland.
"We have 300 species of birds in Maryland - give or take - and you can see 200 of them in Patterson Park," Evans said, yesterday, adding, "I've documented 120 of them."
A Duke University graduate, Evans' reputation as a Maryland photographer was established with his early books, Maryland in Focus, Baltimore and Maryland's Great Outdoors.
He was working on a second Baltimore book in 1997, and after taking a break midway through the project, took a trip to Florida, where he couldn't shake out of his head beautiful memories of "soaring eagles, dancing cranes and preening spoonbills," he writes in Rhapsody in Blue.
By the spring of 1998, the Baltimore book was placed on the back burner, while Evans went forward with the water bird book.
"Of the many subjects that I pursued, the water birds most nourished my soul. I have always been drawn to the edges where the land meets water; growing up in Maryland there was plenty of opportunity for that. Mix in some beautiful birds and I am very much at peace, with not a care in the world," Evans writes.
One of his most memorable visits was to Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.
"I chartered Armando's 20-foot open-cabin fishing boat and we sailed to Isabela, an uninhabited island 50 miles off Mexico. It was an absolute adventure," Evans said. "We had to wade ashore carrying our suitcases and equipment because there was no dock. We slept on the boat and caught fish for our dinner."
The only evidence of human habitation was the presence of huts used by fisherman who occasionally visited the island. Otherwise, it was a desolate speck of land surrounded by Pacific waters.
There Evans photographed brown- and blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and pelicans.
"It was paradise. It seemed to me that the tropical seabirds had no innate sense of fear, and we could actually get quite close to them," he said. "I spent four glorious days walking around the island, photographing all of the birds that I came upon. It really was a Darwinian experience when I think about it."
Locally, Middleton's favorite places include Patterson Park Boat Lake, where he recorded American coots and wood ducks, and the Magothy River, where he photographed Canada geese, mute swans, buffleheads and tundra swans.
Evans calls the Patterson Park Boat Lake the "Miracle Pond."
After visiting Patterson Park regularly for two years, Evans accumulated 1,200 rolls of film.
"There are many beautiful birds in Maryland, and you just show up and let it happen. You have to put yourself out there and let things just happen," he said.
"The reason I like Patterson Park is because it is open like a golf course, and you can see the birds move around as they fly from tree to tree," he said.
In Druid Hill Park, Evans photographed the black-crowned night heron and the kingfisher. On his various travels around the state, he recorded mute swans and ospreys on the Tred Avon River, northern harriers on the grounds of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, tundra swans and Canadian geese on the Magothy River.
On the beaches of Ocean City, he photographed ruddy turnstones and purple sandpipers, herring gulls squawking on Deal Island, and piping plovers at Assateague.
"I have a sense of awe and wonder about birds, and I feel a spiritual connection to them," Evans said.
Evans, 43, and his wife of six years, Kristie, who has accompanied him on trips to Florida, Maine, California and Alaska, are the owners of Ravenwood Press in Fallston.
"I like photography, and I like telling stories. I like projects that speak to me and resonate with my soul," he said.
"Right now, we're a small operation and will issue a book a year. Forthcoming projects include a book on Maryland birds and the late Thomas J. Abercrombie, the legendary National Geographic photographer who died last year. Next year, we'll be publishing Hometown Baltimore.
"I know what I'm able to do is both a gift and a blessing," he said.