Dip and glide, dip and glide. Paul Bannick quietly approaches his quarry in a low-profile, white-and-red kayak. He's here to shoot great blue heron and he's got the big gun this afternoon: a Canon with a lens as long as your arm.
In fall, it's not unusual to find Bannick here at Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue. With miles of meandering creeks and native plants that attract more than a hundred species of birds, this is his natural habitat.
"The most exciting part of this season is the increasing abundance of raptors," Bannick says, listing off his fall favorites: harrier hawks, short-eared owls, and gyrfalcons.
As the sky turns iridescent green with the setting sun, a silvery trill fills the air. Bannick listens, paddle frozen midstroke as he glides along. "See that little splash of yellow? That is a warbler. They love the willows."
Bannick defies the stereotype of the nerdy bird-watcher. Sure, he's got birdcalls on his iPod, but look under the sensible wide-brimmed hat and you'll see a lantern-jawed guy with azure eyes and a 1,000-watt smile. Bannick is that rarest of subspecies: the happening, handsome, young (well, 43) naturalist.
When Bannick was 9 years old, he would tromp with a camera through the woods behind his Bellevue home and bring back photos of birds to show his 12 siblings. "I'm still just like that boy," he says. "I can tell someone about an endangered species and why it's important, and they probably won't get it. But when you show them a picture they say, 'Oh, that's what you're talking about!' "