See photographer Paul Bannick's salute to owls and woodpeckers in an exhibition at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington through Aug. 7.

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Birds on the wing, birds staring, hunting, excavating their homes — birds revealed in ways you’ve never seen before. Not all birds — just woodpeckers and owls, because, as you’ll learn in this remarkable exhibition, many of them perform yeoman service in maintaining biological diversity, and they are especially important indicators of habitat health.

Paul Bannick, a student of nature, has been learning about and photographing birds for much of his life. He knows that a good animal photographer studies everything about the animal before ever setting out with his camera. Then, when in the field, he must be prepared to sit and wait, sometimes all day or all night, in all kinds of weather.

Patience and knowledge count as much as skill. “I spend more time studying the birds than actually shooting them, and even more time than that learning to identify the right habitat,” he says.

That’s why his images reveal so much about bird behavior. And that’s what makes his pictures so beautiful, so intimate and, in many cases, so surprising. Did you know that on close inspection, open bird wings are as beautiful as the floating colors on those marbled papers used in bookbinding? The feathers create swirls of color, patterns of dots, undulating rows of muted hues. In this exhibit, you’ll see a number of owls with exquisite extended wings.

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The 25 large-scale photographs depict many of the birds larger than life and some almost life-size. Audio-naturalist Martyn Stewart’s nature sounds provide aural ambience. Accompanying interpretive material shows the role of these animals in their niches and explores their diversity and unique life ways. Hands-on activities in the gallery, bird walks and lectures are just a few of the programs related to the exhibit.

Bannick, who is development director of Conservation Northwest, is passionate about the environment and its conservation. He’s a champion of Seattle’s natural areas, such as Discovery Park or Washington Park Arboretum, and shores, places with great variety in habitat and thus great variety of wildlife.

There he often sits and waits, hoping to catch the perfect shot, like the one of the white-headed woodpecker digging out a tree hole where it will raise its young this year and where other species, particularly owls, will make a home in later years. This bird’s improving the habitat, in typical woodpecker fashion.

Habitat deterioration and habitat loss are the biggest issues in conservation today. Bannick encourages backyard conservation — planting native species, avoiding insecticides, installing bird boxes and making water available for these birds that eat the pests we abhor.

The revealing bird photos in the exhibition and many of the interpretive materials are presented in partnership with Braided River, The Mountaineers Books division that published Bannick’s award-winning volume, “The Owl and the Woodpecker.” After its Seattle presentation, the exhibit will travel to nature museums throughout the country.

Nancy Worssam:

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