By Audrey Alfson
Special for the Argus
As a child growing up in Chicago, Alan Stankevitz loved to watch birds whenever his family visited one of the big city’s many parks. He lost interest however, as adulthood beckoned him into the world of work and responsibility.
It wasn’t until 1996, when he and his wife, Jo, bought land off Highway 21 near La Crescent, that his bird-watching hobby resurfaced.
“They would wake me up early in the morning,” said Stankevitz with a smile, recalling the days camping out on his property while building their house. Intrigued, he bought a pair of binoculars but quickly became frustrated at only catching passing glances of the winged creatures. So he bought a spotting scope, then put a lens on it. Unsatisfied still, he invested in a digital camera, and a hobby was born.
Some 10 years later, Stankevitz’s camera collection has grown, but so has his recognition as a wildlife photographer. He has taken photos for children’s books, a cookbook, has been featured in magazines and newspapers and enters contests whenever he has time, with notable success.
Most recently, four of his photographs were winners in the 2011 Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge Photo Contest.
In the “Bird” category Stankevitz earned a first place for his photo of a Tundra Swan captured at the Brownsville Overlook, and a third place for a photo entitled “Hitching a Ride”.
In the Scenic category a shot of an “Autumn Shower” earned him a third place; and one of his recent favorite photos of a pregnant beaver, entitled “Mother to Be,” earned him a first place award in the Wildlife and Plants category.
While contest wins do come with cash prizes, Stankevitz’s earnings from his photography is only enough to pay for his hobby but not enough to live on. Nevertheless, he continues doing what he loves. During spring migration, half his time is spent watching and photographing birds. In the winter he likes to follow the eagles down the Mississippi to southern Iowa. “I try to do something different and see things differently,” said Stankevitz. “There is so much more to the refuge than the bald eagle,” which seems to be all some people want to photograph.
“I’m a birder and a photographer,” he added, explaining that he doesn’t just look for a good picture and he doesn’t want to just see a beautiful or rare bird. He wants to combine the two, capturing the essence of the bird (or animal) within the photo. If his recent success is any indication, his philosophy works.
Alan Stankevitz stands in front of his cordwood house overlooking the Root River Valley, heated and powered by solar panels and surrounded by birdhouses, garden and woods. He smiles and waves toward the interior–a work in progress.
“I keep trying to get the house done,” he says with a smile, “but I get distracted by something outside to photograph.” Regardless of the season, “I always have my cameras nearby because you just never know what you’re going to see.”
Stankevitz’s winning photographs are part of an exhibit of all contest winners that will travel around the Midwest for a year. They are currently in display at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha through the month of March.