We became Facebook friends and last July when I was visiting the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, where she lives, we had dinner. Melissa is a tall, statuesque, striking blonde. She grew up on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, but since then has lived from California to Paris to Santa Fe, doing everything from working on Wall Street to teaching learning disabled children to learning the silversmith trade. In one of her later incarnations she worked as researcher for a few years for a Rockefeller Foundation school reform initiative in Cleveland, Ohio. One evening in l999 she heard famed elephant and whale researcher Katy Payne give a talk on the infrasonic communication of elephants; immensely moved, she decided she was going to find a way to work for Katy, and to study these animals which had always fascinated her. Katy, based at Cornell, hired her as a researcher for the newly formed Elephant Listening Project and took her for two field seasons to Dzanga Bai, the clearing in the rain forest of southern Central African Republic where they recorded the sounds and behaviors of the little known African forest elephant. They lived at scientist Andrea Turkalo’s camp. I describe the magical clearing and Andrea, the great lady who is its custodian keeping that area’s elephants alive, in my elephant piece.
In 2003, Melissa took a course in birdwatching at the Lab of Ornithology, and was immediately hooked. A couple years ago she picked up a camera and began to try to capture them in images. She has been taking extraordinary photographs of birds. Here are some of them, with her accompanying text. A remarkable lady. She’s going up to Canada in a couple weeks to find snowy and short-eared owls to photograph. Her pictures are unlike any bird photos I’ve ever seen. They really give you a sense of the individual quirky bird she is taking the picture of, not just that this is a loon or a rose-breasted grosbeak. The individuality of other animal species is underappreciated. I think you’ll agree that these images really convey what extraordinarily beautiful and graceful creatures birds are.
By Melissa Groo
Composed of fine feathers, delicate bones, and possessing remarkable agility, these creatures are found everywhere.