TIP FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER: PROTECT HABITAT – Ask Paul Bannick questions on Jan. 27. He not only “captured” this short eared owl hunting at sunset, he wrote the book – two books – on owls and wants to share his hopes for your help in protecting them – and us, too.  – Photo courtesy of Paul Bannick
TIP FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER: PROTECT HABITAT – Ask Paul Bannick questions on Jan. 27. He not only “captured” this short eared owl hunting at sunset, he wrote the book – two books – on owls and wants to share his hopes for your help in protecting them – and us, too.  – Photo courtesy of Paul Bannick

Above everything, Paul Bannick is a good storyteller. It’s a skill the noted naturalist and photographer has been honing since childhood.
As a boy in Bellevue, Bannick loved exploring the fields and woods near his home. But when development began to overtake the wild spaces he enjoyed, Bannick was deeply moved by the loss of wildlife and diversity of animals in his neighborhood. He witnessed firsthand how development was impacting the place he called home. It triggered a desire in him to tell others the story of the natural world he so deeply appreciated.
It’s not surprising Bannick leaned in this direction. His father started out as a newspaper editor and then moved into a role in Communications for Boeing. Bannick saw how his father told stories with words and photos. Initially Bannick tried to touch people through drawings, but he learned quickly that if he took a good photo it had the power to stop people and make them listen, so he dropped illustrating and took up photography.
Although he spent 15 years working in the software industry, Bannick never lost that boyish enthusiasm and wonder for the natural world. He spent his spare time hiking and kayaking and teaching other people how to explore through the Mountaineers organization. But it wasn’t until one afternoon in the woods, while teaching a navigation class that he decided to open the skirt of a spruce tree, where he found himself face-to-face with a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
This first encounter was a revelation for Bannick. He had always looked hard for wildlife but had never seen a Saw-whet Owl. He wondered what other things he had been missing. His curiosity led him on a mission to learn all he could about owls. And now he is sharing the wealth of knowledge, understanding and perspective he has gained from years in the field in a book called OWL: A Year in The Lives of North American Owls, which follows the lives of our 19 North American species through four seasons of the year. 

After studying these species of owls in North America, he has come to see them as a message of hope. Understanding how owls interact with their habitat is key, he believes, to understanding how we too might survive the indignities and threats to our changing world.
In Washington state we are lucky in a good year to have as many as 15 of the 19 species of North American owls. In Skagit county there could be Short Eared Owls, Barn owls, Barred owls, Great Gray owls and if we’re lucky enough to find them, Northern Saw-whet owls and even Western Screech owls.
“Owls give us hope,” he says. “All 19 species that greeted the first Europeans are still here. If we watch their lives, learn from them, they give us the prescription for stewardship of habitat. They can force us to come together from all our different perspectives and take the long view.”
To learn about how these fascinating birds adapt, live together, and survive, attend his keynote lecture Saturday, Jan 27 at 3 p.m. at Maple Hall. You will be entertained, educated and you just might walk out feeling a little better about this planet. Copies of his book will be for sale.
The La Conner Birding Showcase is Jan. 27-28. Saturday’s events run from 11 a.m-3 p.m. Sunday is 11 a.m-4 p.m. Admission is five dollars and Bannick’s talk is five dollars. Children under 10 are free.