Margaret Lacey is a photographer whose most recent book, The Birds of Aireys Inlet and Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road, came out in November. But which came first: the photography or the interest in birds?

She remembers looking for nests as a teenager driving round the family farm in the Propodollah parish north of Nhill in the Wimmera. But she didn’t really look closely. It was not until she started seeing the different birds around her weekender at Aireys Inlet more than a decade ago that her photographic skills came into play. She found it hard to identify fleeting views from the standard texts so she started to snap them. This helped recall the essential diagnostic features, even if the images were a little blurred.

Margaret Lacey

‘The photography found the birds,’ she says. Her training as a secondary teacher, specialising in drama and media studies, had given her technical photographic skills and advances in digital camera technology made bird photography much easier.

She had been creating one-off electronic books for friends on travel and other subjects. The first one on birds was a documentation of the birds of Propodollah. She then started capturing the birds of Aireys Inlet and friends kept asking if she'd sell them a copy because they loved the images of the local birds.

So she set to photographing more species. In 2010 she prepared a book for publication and printed a modest 1000 copies of Birds of Aireys Inlet. She used her long-service leave money from her years as a teacher and principal of Prep to Year 12 schools in Melbourne’s northern suburbs instead of going overseas. Self-publication isn’t cheap. But the whole exercise was fun: the photography, the design, the text and the round of sales at community markets, talking to people about their bird experiences. It resonated with her educational philosophy about the value of hands-on learning.

A grant to the Friends of the Eastern Otways led Margaret Macdonald to ask her to photograph the birds of the riparian bushland along the Anglesea River. This led to the discovery of rich birding locations there, and inclusion of Anglesea in the new expanded book.

The journey from photography to bird photography has added another dimension to her continuous learning. She deleted two pages of the current book—depicting various nests and birds in them—at the last minute because she attended a Birdlife Australia seminar on the ethics of bird photography which strongly recommended against publishing nest photos. Good nest photographs can prompt other less experienced photographers to try similar shots. But there is no guarantee that birds will not be disturbed by snappers getting too close, and the attention of predators may be drawn to the nest at a very vulnerable time for the birds.

She asked advice of the seminar presenters about her nest shots. They said: ‘Don’t do it...you’ll find other cute pictures’. That evening she shot the enchanting photo of three Superb Fairy-wren chicks huddled together on a twig which features in the new book.

Margaret’s book is available from greatoceanroadbirds.com.au

Sally White

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