From his home base in California, where he formerly worked in Refuges, full-time professional outdoor photographer Gary Kramer set out to film the world’s entire collection of ducks, geese and swans for his recent book achievement. How many waterfowl species exist worldwide, and how many of them did he film for his monumental coffee table book Waterfowl of the World? How many countries did he visit, how long did it take? What were some of his greatest challenges, fondest memories? What were some of the rarest species, wettest and coldest moments? Epic Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode.
Educated & Experienced: Gary Kramer
I did all the original research that established a flight time from Alaska to Baja.
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Man, waterfowl of the world. How many species are there worldwide would you reckon? Somebody asked me one time, how many do you want of them? How many can you hunt? How many do you want to hunt? My answer was all of them. I’m not really sure how many species there are in the world but today’s guest knows. And I know this I can’t hunt all of these species. There’s just rules and laws and endangered species and places and unfortunately you can’t shoot them all with a shotgun but you can hunt them all with a big long lens. And that’s what today’s guest Mr. Gary Kramer did. Gary, thanks for joining us this morning. How are you?
Gary Kramer: Good morning to you Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. It’s a good morning and glad to be here. Gary, introduce yourself to everybody listening, who are you?
Gary Kramer: Well, my name is Gary Kramer and from the standpoint of the duck hunting world, my background is that started duck hunting many years ago, raised in Southern California of all places. But I still managed to find a few places to hunt ducks. That eventually led to a great interest in waterfowl which then further led to after I got out of the military, I was in for a couple of years during Vietnam got out then I went to school, and I got a couple of degrees from Humboldt State University in Wildlife Biology, one was a Bachelor’s degree, and then I went on and did a Master’s degree, and that was on brant in Mexico.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Gary Kramer: Yeah at San Quentin Bay which you know well.
Ramsey Russell: Well no, I didn’t know nobody did research on Brant down in Mexico.
Gary Kramer: I did all the original research that established a flight time from Alaska to Baja.
Ramsey Russell: And what was that time?
Gary Kramer: Well it’s about 3000 miles and they do it in about 60 hours.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. Nonstop, just skip like a stone I’ve heard, across some of those bays in California.
Gary Kramer: Well, it’s a nonstop flight. They don’t ever stop on the way down. On the way back in the spring, it’s a very slow migration but in the fall it’s a straight shot.
Ramsey Russell: I had no idea you had done that. And what when would that have been? Back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s?
Gary Kramer: That was in ‘74-’75, that winter. I spent that entire winter six months at San Quentin right where you’ve been many times, many times.
Ramsey Russell: Many times.
Gary Kramer: I lived in the Old Mill Motel.
Ramsey Russell: No idea man you’d done that. I know you’ve been down there some with it, but I had no idea you did your research. And where did you go after grad school? You were a biologist.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, after grad school I was fortunate that I kind of got my dream job which was to be a waterfowl biologist with the Fish and Wildlife service. And it ended up being that I was a Wildlife Biologist at two stations in California. Current National Wildlife Refuge and San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. And then after that I did some additional time as a refuge manager at Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge in the desert, Southeastern California. And then I finished my career at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge up north.
Ramsey Russell: When did you officially retire from the service?
Gary Kramer: I took an early out and I got out in 1999.
Ramsey Russell: It’s been a while.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. Been over 20 years. And I was doing the writing and photography on a very part time basis when I was working for the service.
Ramsey Russell: So you were working for Fish and Wildlife and doing magazine stories and stuff like that?
Gary Kramer: Yeah. So I was working for the service full time in it. It wasn’t really a part time endeavor that I started. It was back in the day when I had little kids, right? And I’m doing this hunting and fishing all over. I wonder if I could ever write a story, sell a photo just to offset that income a little bit.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, like a little money.
Gary Kramer: And kind of supported my hobby, right? And that kind of blossomed, and got a little bigger, and a little bigger, and I sold more stories, and I did more traveling, and got to do some international stuff. And then all of a sudden, I got 26 years in and they had a special program of 25 years any age and you could retire. So at 26 years I pulled the plug very next day I —
Ramsey Russell: Never looked back.
Gary Kramer: Started doing this whole thing.
Ramsey Russell: You see you suck. I’m outta here.
Duck Hunting in Southern California
And the first duck I ever shot was on current refuge where I became the biologist.
Ramsey Russell: What was your first duck? How did you get into duck hunting? Who did you duck hunt with? Where did you hunt in Southern California?
Gary Kramer: Well, I had a couple of buddies that we had gone out in the desert. My dad never hunted for instance. So it was kind of one of these things that I developed entirely on my own.
Ramsey Russell: Like a lot of?
Gary Kramer: Yeah, I mean reading instead of reading comic books, I was going and reading the outdoor magazines as a kid, right? And it just looked like to me something I wanted to do, so I think I talked my folks into buying me an old Mossberg Bolt action 20-gauge one time when I was probably about 15, which they did. And then as soon as I could drive, I bought a little bit better shotgun and I talked to a couple of buddies into going out. And we used to go to current National Wildlife Refuge, which surprisingly enough I worked at as a biologist in later years. And then also there were some state areas you could drive to, and they were all three plus hour drive out of the LA Basin. But at least we could get out there and shoot a duck. And the first duck I ever shot was on current refuge where I became the biologist. And it was it was a spoony.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Gary Kramer: The first one I ever shot.
Ramsey Russell: Congratulations. You’re working for the service and you decide you want to get into photography, did you already have gear? Kind of walk me through that process. I’m thinking, okay here’s a here’s a biologist, somebody that duck hunted, I’m working on this federal refuge back in the eighties and nineties. There’s ducks galore in some of these areas, and they’re beautiful, and I want to take pictures that kind of I need to go get a camera. Is that kind of how that process worked?
Gary Kramer: Well, yeah for me what happened is that I started really – the first stories I ever wrote were on fishing in Baja because I knew Mexico, I spoke Spanish and I loved to fish. So I used to drive it down to Baja go fishing. And very quickly I found that in order to sell a story, you could write it and send it in, and maybe get it published. But if you had photos to go with it and in that package, you sent him the package, now you don’t get any more money really, but you get the sale because they don’t want they don’t have to go search for the image.
Ramsey Russell: They don’t have to go shopping, buy art. And I’m no photographer at all. But some of the stuff we do with Safari Club and different magazines, like, that’s a big selling point, oh, you got artwork. You send it in one package, they can put it together and be done with.
Gary Kramer: And so the thing is it works out. So what I did then is with really no training in photography. I kind of pushed that a little bit, and did more and more but I didn’t really have any big lenses. This was all fishing stuff, and then eventually duck hunting or quail hunting in the desert or something. And then when I was down at Salton Sea Refuge I actually lived on the refuge.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of camera did you have back in those days? Just what kind of camera and what kind of setup was it?
Gary Kramer: Well I —
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen you set up modern day but what was it then?
Gary Kramer: Well, I had a buddy at the time was in the Army that knew a little bit about cameras and he was stationed in Korea. And I told him, I said hey, I know nothing about cameras just buy me one. Because they were cheap at the PX. So he bought me an old Cannon FTB was the first one I ever owned, which was kind of a mid-level camera.
Ramsey Russell: Print-film?
Gary Kramer: Yeah. This was all slides you push the button, you don’t know what it looks like. Every time you push the button, it cost you 20 cents, because you got to buy the film and you got to get it developed.
Ramsey Russell: And you have no idea what’s behind door one till the little envelope comes in from Kodak.
Gary Kramer: You have no clue, it’s a mystery.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a long-time learning curve too.
Gary Kramer: Oh man, it kills you. But in those days, that’s what we did. So it was not an issue. Looking back on it, it’s like that’s caveman stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I know. I was there man, I can remember working down in south Texas had a little amateur set up taking pictures of whitetail deer and click and you had no idea. Put them little Kodak that little bit of tiny envelopes mailed it off and you had no idea for several weeks.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, couple weeks.
Ramsey Russell: What if anything you had how you messed up how you needed to improve.
Gary Kramer: Exactly.
The Progression of a Wildlife Photographer
And then that progressed into writing stories of all outdoor stuff anywhere from fishing, to like I said, quail hunting or duck hunting, and the photography progressed.
Ramsey Russell: When did the bug hit you because I can see already that your progression as a wildlife photographer is a lot like any duck hunter? You start off with something but you just keep getting better and bigger, and more and more.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, exactly. In my case in the photography and as a duck hunter, I started. Then I was so interested in wildlife in general, then I got my education. Then when I selected my graduate work, it was on a species of waterfowl. It was brant at that time, was the first study ever done in Baja California on waterfall period. And then that progressed into writing stories of all outdoor stuff anywhere from fishing, to like I said, quail hunting or duck hunting, and the photography progressed. And when I was Salton Sea, I lived on the refuge. And that’s when I could get up in the morning, walk out my door and there’d be, 10,000 snow geese on the front lawn, so to speak. And that’s when I actually bought my first big lens and it was a 500-Canon manual focus, cost me a fortune back in the day.
Ramsey Russell: You’re not a bazillionaire, you’re a federal government employee. What did your wife has to say about it? I don’t care how long ago, that was still a relatively expensive piece of appliance.
Gary Kramer: Well no, it was very expensive.
Ramsey Russell: Could have gone about your pickup truck.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, I mean it was expensive at the time. It was like kind of almost outlandish compared to what I was using. But I said I got to make it, and she said, well, yeah it seems to be working for us. So I mean one thing, amazing that she was good about that, as far as my trips and whatever, it was never — I mean I told her early on, look, this is what I’m going to do for a living. I’m never going to make a lot of money and I got to move a lot because every time at least with the Fish and Wildlife service to get a promotion, you need to move.
Ramsey Russell: Had to move, yeah.
Gary Kramer: I could have stayed in one place for 26 years but I’d be making the same money.
Ramsey Russell: Luckily you got to stay in California.
Gary Kramer: That was the odd part. I said I did. It’s a federal system. I could have gone anywhere and it just so happened I had the contacts that when I applied for a job they kind of knew what I had done before and what my performance was. And they said, yeah, come ahead.
Ramsey Russell: That’s awesome. All right, so how do we go from that first big lens to where I’m sitting here looking at on my coffee table right now. How do we go — what then I got this 500-millimeter lens. Were you able to take pictures on a lot of those refuge properties? Is that where a lot of your waterfowl pictures came from?
Gary Kramer: One of the things I had to be very, very careful about is the fact that I worked there. And you can’t go taking advantage of that situation. Now I could, from the standpoint of knowing where birds are at, but I couldn’t go in a closed area or an area where the general public could not go. And I made a point of never getting in trouble by doing that. So I never brought my camera to work. I never wanted to be in a government vehicle and somebody says, well, that dude’s out there taking pictures in a closed area where I can’t go. So I did it on my own time, and I did it in public areas, and then I go to state areas that I had nothing to do with, and other than I knew the guys and I kind of do the same thing there. So I was very, very careful. So I didn’t do that. Then I started to travel like to Mexico quite a bit where you can photograph obviously anywhere.
Ramsey Russell: And I know because as long as I’ve known you before this book, your most recent project before that you were traveling around the world going to lodges, taking pictures of hunting and fishing experiences. Because I know a lot of your photography is a guy shooting ducks, or guys shooting pheasants, or hunting scenery. Was that kind of how you started, was going down that pipeline was just sticking with the hunting and fishing?
Gary Kramer: Yeah absolutely. What I did is I’ve done several books but there’s really two precursors to this one was Wing Shooting the World and that was —
Ramsey Russell: That was the book I was thinking of.
Turning a Passion into a Career
I wanted to experience that and just kept on going down the road like Forrest Gump running.
Gary Kramer: Then I did 31 destinations in 17 countries. And that was a lodge-based situation to where it was a lodge that had a bird hunting program only, not big game or fishing. And I’d go to the lodge photograph that hunting action, including the birds, and then we did a book on that. And that was the Patagonia publishing out of Argentina. And it was really a wonderful project and I sold that thing out like crazy. And then the next one was I did another book which was called Game Birds which was not a hunting title, it was a natural history title which was the true precursor to this Waterfowl of the World. All the game birds in North America, actually Canada and the US, and there’s 34 species and there had never been a book that had images and biological information of all those 34 species, including the 13 introduced game birds in Hawaii. There’s 13 introduced in Hawaii and most of which you can hunt. So I did that book and it did very well and that became the two things. Like well, okay I did in North America thing and I pulled that off. Could I possibly do what was my true passion, which was waterfowl? I mean even though the hunting, that Wing Shooting the World was everything from doves in Argentina to geese in Iceland, and everything in between. Driven pheasant in Europe, driven partridge in Spain, Africa, the whole bit, the real focus has always been ducks. I mean, kind of like, that’s the thing. I don’t know what it is. It’s like you get a little crazy on it, right?
Ramsey Russell: Well, an old book from back in the ‘70s or ‘80s similar to what you’re talking about, Wing Shooting Your Horizon, or written by somebody else who was traveling around the world. Somehow, I came across that book way back when I was a senior or so in college and it opened up my world. It’s like Pandora’s box though. I mean it’s all I thought about was man, there’s places outside of Mississippi, outside of Texas, outside of the United States. There’s these species and it started with like one or two species, yellow bellied ducks, Roosevelt pochards, and I just had this obsession. I wanted to experience that and just kept on going down the road like Forrest Gump running. Once you got away from you, but in listening to you talk about the natural history, I do have a biological background and I find that you never — even though I don’t practice wildlife biology, it’s still kind of who I am when I’m out looking at the red crested poachard to these new species or in these parts of the world walking through the different habitats. I’m cognizant of the plant composition of the habitat, of what the bird — I find myself just fawning over this bird and looking at them and studying them and reading up on him more that natural history just speaks to me. I guess it’s going way back, 20-30 years ago back to college and my formal training is still kind of how I approach hunting and the bird itself.
Waterfowl in the World: It All Starts with a Picture
But what it really became, which was not the original intent, is that it really is a biological document because I spent tens of thousands of hours of Internet research trying to pull together a description of every single bird in the world.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of what I have done too. It’s like, the habitat really is the key to all this stuff, and that’s what I tried to capture also in the Waterfowl in the World book is that. It’s really a coffee table photo driven publication. But what it really became, which was not the original intent, is that it really is a biological document because I spent tens of thousands of hours of Internet research trying to pull together a description of every single bird in the world. What they look like, how much they weigh, what their wingspan is, the biology, what time of year do they nest, how many eggs they lay, what the fledging period, what they eat, and then a section on their distribution, specifically where they’re found. And if they migrate, where they start and where they finish, whether they’re resident like a lot of the African species, or they move around, and then it’s finished off with the status and conservation of each. So you have an idea of whether they’re endangered, whether they’re like the Brazilian Morganza, it’s the second rarest duck in the world. There’s a hundred in the wild, end of story, that’s it. Snow geese, there’s billions of them. All that information. And so it became a biological publication in addition to a photo book. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what — I’m the proudest of is putting those two things together. As you said, talking about the habitat, the biology, as well as my best shot at giving you pictures.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I did not know what to expect. You had told me, gosh Gary, 3,4,5 years ago you were going to do this project and I was excited to see it. I was almost expecting just to see literally a coffee table book and I flipped the page and it’s just the different pictures. When I opened up your book, yes, there’s a lot of information and I appreciate that. It’s a great waterfowl book, kind of guy like me is going to sit there and just fawn over. I mean, just look, and look, and look, and look, at it in my lap for hours. And it takes some of the bird books I have now to another level but it all starts with the picture.
Gary Kramer: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: The picture first. And then we’re going to put the words down. Where did you start first? Let me just ask you this. How many species are photographed? How many species did you say, okay, I got to film these many birds, what’s that number?
Gary Kramer: That’s 167.
Ramsey Russell: 167.
Gary Kramer: In the world. That ducks, geese and swans. And the way that’s determined is that there’s a number of authorities that name birds. And so that number can fluctuate. But I picked the International Ornithological Congress – which is an organization of ornithologists worldwide – their list is 167 and that’s what I used. So that’s how I started was okay, luckily, I had a whole bunch of the North American, virtually all of them. Now, it took me four years to put this together. I ended up going in 36 months prior to COVID. I went to 40 countries in 36 months. And as I was on an airplane twice a month, constantly. I mean, I go to Africa, and I come back home four days, and I go to Iceland. One of those deals.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that sounds like me.
Gary Kramer: Absolutely.
The Journey of Photographing 167 Species of Waterfowl Worldwide
What I did is I started to just pick off places where I thought I could get a lot of species and I would set up a trip there.
Ramsey Russell: But I’m not going near as many countries. Start with North America, because you did have a lot of North American species. What species did you need? What species did you need when this project started in North America?
Gary Kramer: Okay. The North American ones, I had the majority of them, but I either did — there was only a couple of species that I didn’t have any photos of. One of them was the white-winged scoter. I mean there’s three scoters in the U.S., the surf scoter is relatively common on both coasts. You oftentimes find them pretty close to shore.
Ramsey Russell: Bunches of them out in San Francisco Bay.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, right there. They’re pretty easy. Black scoter are much more prevalent on the East Coast. I got most of mine there in New Jersey and off the coast there in Massachusetts. But the white wings are a little bit, found generally a little bit further offshore and they’re a little tougher. Pretty good in Alaska. But I found a place in Washington State where they fly over a sand spit. So they roost in the ocean, fly over a sand spit where you can stand there and then they come into a bay and feed on clams. So I needed that when I didn’t have very good model ducks, I had some. So I had to go back to Florida and the Texas Gulf Coast to get those guys. I had already been to where I got Steller’s eiders, spectacle eiders, and king eiders. Those would have been tough, but I had already been there a couple of years before. So what I really did with the North American, I photographed plenty, is that I tried to improve what I had. Obviously, the reason you keep taking pictures that you’re always going to get the shot right. So many people say, well you got so many pictures of pintails, because I live in a place where I can go to the refuge that I managed, and go to a 40-acre pond and see 25,000 pintails.
Ramsey Russell: But you never pass up the opportunity to maybe get what you’re looking at.
Gary Kramer: You’re looking for the improvement. So I improved on what I had in North America. I added the white-winged scoter. I got better model ducks. And I also improved my black ducks because obviously I’m on the West coast and doing East coast species. So I improve those. There’s two subspecies of brant. There’s the Pacific black brant, which I had tons of both from Humboldt Bay and from San Quentin where I still go from time to time to hunt and photograph. But then on the East Coast there’s the Atlantic or light-bellied brant, which I had some, but I wanted to improve those, which I did. So I improved a bunch of the North American filled those out. I already had quite a few South American because I had hunted in Argentina a bunch.
Ramsey Russell: And when you were down there doing your wing shooting books and stuff like that, you were still taking pictures of waterfowl?
Gary Kramer: Typically. The wing shooting book is a perfect example of that. I’d go down, let’s say to Argentina, and I’d be in a lodge, we go out in the morning, put out our decoys as you’ve done a million times down there, and I would actually hunt in the gray. And my buddy that was with me, we both just hammered down. I tell them, look, I’m a hog it up here before the sun comes up.
Ramsey Russell: Hunt in the gray.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. But when the sun comes up, then we’re done because I need to take pictures, and at that point you got to be patient with me, and so I got three or four buddies that go, they’ve got the clue.
Ramsey Russell: You got to pick your buddies right for that. I got buddies say you go and put down that gun to pick up that camera. You’d be lucky to get a live duck.
Gary Kramer: There you go. So what I’d do is I’d shoot in the gray in the morning, the sun had come up. And if it was a crummy day, I’d hunt normal but the sun comes up, I’m bringing out the 600-millimeter lens, the tripod which I had there already. And for the next two or three hours I’m photographing rosy billed pochards, feet hanging coming in the decoys.
Ramsey Russell: And you need that low light when you’re filming flying birds, you need kind of that light low on the horizon to illuminate the underside of that bird coming in or flat – once that sun gets high. Now his whole underbelly and you don’t notice that looking at him flying with your naked eye, but you do, once you print that picture.
Gary Kramer: Absolutely. I mean I would photograph from – let’s say 8:00 to about 10:30 then it’s over with. No matter if the birds are fogging you in, you got to be done with your photos because as you exactly pointed out, the quality of that image, same duck, same location taken at 8:00 in the morning and 11:00 in the morning is going to be totally different. You’re going to throw away the 11:00 AM bird is deleted, 8:00 AM is you save it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What would you say is the hardest species in North America for you to film was what? To find and to get pictures of?
Gary Kramer: Probably Stellar’s eider. Either that or the king Stellar’s eider. They’re a small breeding population of Stellar’s eider you can’t hunt. They’re a protected species in North America and the spectacled eider you can’t hunt either.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve never even seen a spectacle in the world.
Gary Kramer: Well, the only places that you will see them is that they’re pretty easy to find around Barrow, Alaska, way in the north in June right before they start nesting. And what you’ll find is pairs and some unpaired males in these small tundra ponds. And you can actually, walk around or drive around. There’s a little bit of road system there, and find the birds and photograph them successfully. There’s quite a few of them there. They also nest on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, but there’s really no access there. It’s hard to get there. The average guy would never get there. But you can fly to Barrow and photograph them there. Stellers are less common up there. But that’s the place to get those is in Barrow. But they also winter around Kodiak. So I’ve photographed them around Kodiak a little bit in the winter and then Barrow on the breeding grounds. But the biggest population is in northern Norway where I went and photographed, and there’s a picture in the book of 200 Stellar’s eiders in the flock.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, when I think of ducks to get in North America, I don’t think spectacles and stellars because you can’t hunt them. And kings, I think, okay, they’re hard to get they’re in a remote area. You can get weathered out, all that good stuff, but I can get them. To me what represents some of the hardest North American species are the — number 1 of 4 of is whistler. That’s one of the hardest birds I think to close the deal on with a shotgun, very isolated pockets, certain amount of time. Model duck can be in parts of Florida. Yeah, Florida model, if you’re on the coastal model, man those birds are local, they’re pressured, they’re worried their population ain’t doing great, you know what I’m saying? I think that whistlers number one would be the hardest – to me represents the hardest species in North America to add to the list.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, from a photographic standpoint. Some were relatively easy for me because if you go into spring, obviously when you can’t hunt in coastal Texas.
Ramsey Russell: Right.
Gary Kramer: There’s a number of pretty good places where you can photograph them.
Ramsey Russell: And usually in September, October they’ve gone further south, down to Guatemala wherever they’re going.
Gary Kramer: And then they’re quite common in places in Mexico, they’re very common in Brazil, and they’re also found in Africa.
Ramsey Russell: They’re found on four continents, I’ve heard that.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. So the thing is is that, and I’m not going during the hunting season necessarily, but in all those places, I mean I got some incredible shots in Brazil. I got some pretty good ones in south Texas, and actually not south Texas, kind of right close to Louisiana border on coastal Texas. And then in Mexico I’ve actually shot them. So I’ve been able to photograph full of it’s pretty easy really, but that’s not shooting them either, right?
Ramsey Russell: Did you have all of your North American species on the hard drive before you took off around – before you took off down the list? I know you had some South American, I know you had some North American. Did you finish up kind of your North American species and then hit the world at large?
Gary Kramer: Not really. What I did is I started to just pick off places where I thought I could get a lot of species and I would set up a trip there. And then I got to come back and sort images and so on and then if the weather is good on a Thursday morning, I only live within a 45 minute drive where I live in the Central Valley, California. I got six areas that I can photograph that are unbelievable in the winter. So what would happen is that I go on a trip, come back on a Thursday morning, would have perfect a little bit of a south wind, bright sunshine, I get up in photographs and then I’m adding to my North American. But the dedicated trips I started out with trying to piece as many together where I would get a lot of species. For instance, the two trips of all of them that I did the 40 plus countries I went to that were the most productive were Iceland, which I went in May – and that was an interesting story and the fact that that was in May of 2020 in the height of COVID, the world has shut down and I had, for some reason I don’t even remember where I found it on the Internet. I noticed that Iceland – because I was always checking these countries I needed to go to that now are shut down during COVID, and many of these I had trips planned that I had to cancel. So Iceland is one of them. I ran across this thing that said Iceland was giving special permits for scientists, journalists, and movie crews. Apparently, they filmed a bunch of movies in Iceland. So I got this email – sent an email on a Sunday night, Monday I get an answer back from Iceland saying we’ve received your request because I can qualify as a scientist and a journalist. Tuesday, I get a letter saying your request has been granted. Wednesday, I get an email says, here’s your permit to enter Iceland, signed by the guy, the Department of Foreign Affairs head guy. I fly to Boston, get the only flight in the whole week to Reykjavik, get off the airplane, hand that form to the guy in customs, and he says how did you do this? And he says welcome to Iceland. I was there for eight days, photographed with impunity was the — people would say what are you doing here? You’re the only foreigner we’ve seen in months and months. And it was incredibly good. I went in May where the birders would go. And the real famous place is Lake Mývatn in the north, big breeding area. And normally it’s just loaded with birders. The place that I had rented before for let’s say eight or nine days that I had to cancel was $900. When I went there was $300 because there was nobody there.
Ramsey Russell: And nobody was asking there so nobody was scaring the birds.
Gary Kramer: It was so perfect and it was unbelievably good. I mean I got like a dozen species during that period of time. Some of them in your face too. I mean just super close because in the spring, unlike when you’re hunting them, these birds are being pushed and shot at and it’s pretty tough but in the spring they do calm down, so this was in May. So Iceland was incredible. The second-best place of all my trips was southern Chile at Punta Arenas, Chile. Which I went there in, let’s see, late September which is their spring, which you’re familiar with the upland geese. The Ascii headed, the ruddy headed goose, the kelp goose, crested ducks, just a whole – all the steamers, the flightless steamer, and the flying steamer duck, yellow billed pintail, bronze wing duck, which I had never seen. So it was really another outstanding trip, was that one.
Ramsey Russell: You were telling me about bronze winged duck I think yesterday about how difficult it was to film that bird.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, I’ve been to Argentina like you have many times, probably 20 times duck hunting. I’ve never even talked to an outfitter that has seen one. Because in the area that most of the hunting in Argentina they don’t exist and they’re found mostly in riverine environments. You never find them in flocks and they’re found in Southern Argentina but south of most of the hunting – like south of a province, and then over in Chile, they’re quite common. So that’s where I finally found it but there was a lot of species worldwide that were like that. Then I was going to places to photograph a duck I’ve never seen, at a place I’ve never been to. I hired a guide I’ve never met, and I have no clue what the weather is going to be like six months in advance, and then show up for a week and hope to get the photos.
What Is the Most Difficult Waterfowl Species to Photograph?
The most difficult one, without a doubt, there is a duck called the Salvatore’s teal in New Guinea.
Ramsey Russell: What was the hardest species?
Gary Kramer: The most difficult one, without a doubt, there is a duck called the Salvatore’s teal in New Guinea. It’s found only in the mountains of New Guinea. And if you look on the Internet, which, thank God for the internet or this couldn’t have happened because of the research I could do ahead of time and contact these local guides, and they weren’t hunting guys. They were mostly birding guides that knew where these were at. But you look on the Internet, there’s no, what I call a professional level photo, of a Salvatore’s teal. Most of them are taken through a spotting scope where they’re taken with a regular camera but they’re cropped so heavily they’re just fuzzy, and I go, I wonder why that is? I mean, so I fly to Australia, first photographed up around Darwin for about a week or eight days, which was an excellent place for photography as well. Then flew to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Then flew to a town called Tabibu, which is a mining town up in the mountains in New Guinea. The weather is so bad they have a flight every day, only two a week actually make it. It’s raining, it’s overcast, it’s foggy. And what happens is these are another riverine species, unlike a lot of our ducks are found on these rivers, only in pairs or family groups, never in flocks. The jungle is right down to the river’s edge, that’s the rainforest. So I had a buddy go with me. The first afternoon we’re driving around on dirt roads, and we stop and go look at our box, and there’s a pair up on it sitting on some rocks up in the river. We go, well, this isn’t so tough. I mean we find them in the first two hours we start looking. But then we found out why there’s no photos. We got out of the car at about 120 – 130 yards, and the second we opened the door, they blew up and flew away. They’re so wary because in in Papua New Guinea, everybody over the age of about five has a sling shot, a 22, a shotgun, a rock. If it’s a bird with a plume, they shoot it for their headdresses and plumes. Because you’ve seen those pictures of them with all the plumes and stuff, and the Birds of Paradise. And if it’s something you can eat, they shoot it to eat. So these birds are the wariest thing on the planet. I have never seen anything like it. So the only way you photograph these guys is that you find a pair of birds in the daytime, say an afternoon. You say, okay, let’s hope they’re there in the morning. Then you go down to the river in the dark and most of the time you’re hacking. I hired a couple of birding guides who actually were a little bit somewhat famous because they guided Sir David Attenborough on this Bird of Paradise special for the BBC. So we get there, but he assigned us these two young guys, he didn’t want to be bothered with this duck that was harder than the Bird of Paradise. There’re two guys in a beat-up old Land Rover. So we’d get up in the morning, these two boys would get their machetes and hack a path through the jungle, down to the river’s edge and I’d set up a blind, and then I would wait and hope that these birds are going to drift down the river and somehow present themselves. Now it’s raining about half the time, horrible weather, fog, everything else. I spent 60 hours in blinds for four minutes of photography and I finally found two birds on the fifth evening that I saw coming down the river, and I’m sitting there in my blind, after I’ve already done this for 50 hours, and here they come, and I’m not believing that these things are going to come to me. Then they just they’re floating on the current downstream, coming at me. They do disappear behind the rock, they’re gone. I’m going, I’m already, I’m thinking about, I got to come back to this place. I mean, it was expensive and it was a long way to go, and then they come out from behind the rock, come back, and they jumped out on a rock dead across the stream from me and sat there for about five minutes, maybe four minutes. I hammered down as many photos that I could possibly take with the button at just 12 frames a second, just on and on and on. And I finally ended up with shots of that bird of which are in the book. And I went the next day and then the next day we flew home.
Ramsey Russell: Is that the species for which you’re proudest?
Gary Kramer: Well, I think the effort put out, yes. I mean there’s a couple like that, but that was the one that even in the beginning I talked to people that had been – birdwatchers that had gone there and they say you can see him, but God, we’ve only seen him at 250 yards or 100 yards or whatever. So I knew it would be tough, but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to solve that problem until I got there and what I did is, you just, you just take your time and sit in the blind. I mean, I’m not a real patient guy generally, but I become patient when I sit in blinds because it’s all about in the next second, it can happen for me. So I’ll just, if it’s 10 hours, that’s the way it is.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a whole other level right there. What’s the worst guide you ever had? Were there any guide you just said, I can’t even get in the car with this guy?
Gary Kramer: Well, there was actually. I was very fortunate that I hired 40-50 guides over the period of time and most of them were outstanding. I mean, I’ll give you a good one before I give you a bad one. The best one of the bunch was I sent an email to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, say I’m working on this book. Here are some species that I would like to get in New Zealand, can you point me in the right direction? I ask nothing more than that. They came back with a with an email that that says, we’ve looked at your website, we believe in your project. Because I did some explanation that it wouldn’t be just a picture book. There’d be biology with it. They said we will assign you a biologist with a vehicle and give you a free place to stay.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Gary Kramer: Flew to New Zealand, met up with this young biologist and a vehicle, we hiked in, found blue ducks, which are very cool and hard to find, duck brown teal, which are difficult too. Those people took care of me. They said, you can stay here for free. And I went to two different places in both places. I had guides, free places to stay and the vehicle.
Ramsey Russell: Wow that is good. What’s the worst?
Gary Kramer: The worst was in China. The absolute worst was in China. I hired a guy there that was a birding guide and actually he was somewhat of a photographer. But the problem was that – which wasn’t his fault – the weather was horrible most of the time. In fact, it was so — I was in China in February of ‘20 and I was in Wuhan for two nights. So I was in Wuhan China before it even broke in the world. And then I came back to the U.S., called up and said, hey I think I need to get tested. They said well do you have any symptoms? I said no. They said well we’re not testing unless you have symptoms. I said, well, guess what? I was in Wuhan china three weeks ago. They said, come right on in.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. And I didn’t – obviously I tested negative. The problem was I didn’t know whether it was the culture or whether he was just willing to give up. Like one morning, for instance, we went out looking for geese and I was specifically looking for swan geese, which is, I didn’t have any photos. I’ve never even seen one in the wild. And there was a fair population there. So we drive around the rice fields looking for him, trying to – we find nothing. And then after about an hour and a half, he looks at me and says, well, there’s no geese. What do you want to do? I said, I hired you, what do I want to do? I don’t even know where I’m going. If you threw me out of the car now, I’d probably die because I don’t know where to go. It was like that. He just gave up. And then there’s another really rare one called Baird’s pochard.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah. Where did you get in China? Is that where you got here?
Gary Kramer: Well, yeah. The thing is that you can’t hunt them. They’re highly endangered,
Ramsey Russell: Highly endangered.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. They’re about the fifth or sixth rarest duck in the world. Anyways, and I found a half a dozen birds. We found them with binoculars there out in this wetland, and it was a wetland that was owned by the government. And I said to the guy, I said look and this is what I do anywhere in the world. Let’s go talk to the people there at the headquarters and see if they’ll let me get in early. It’s only with the camera, I’ll get it in the dark, which is typically what I do, get out in the cattails in the dark, set up my big lens and I’ll stand there for five hours. And then when I’m done I’ll leave, there’s very little disturbance. He said no we can’t do that. And it was like he wasn’t even willing, I didn’t speak the language, obviously, so I couldn’t go talk to him. He wasn’t even willing to go. He just put out so little effort if it didn’t work, he just gave up. Whereas all the other guys mostly worldwide, if it didn’t work, we tried plan B. And if B didn’t work, we tried plan C. But this guy just gave up. So that was actually the worst experience. And then you had the weather made it even more difficult.
Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you in terms of weather, what were some of the wettest situations you were in?
Gary Kramer: Well, Papua New Guinea was – it rained a lot and I hate to take your gear out. I mean, I got a rain hood and I do that, but it rained a bunch there. But overall, and then China, the weather was just foggy and heavy, overcast and a bunch of rain. It was in February, which I should have – I was hoping for the best. But by and large, I was pretty lucky in the weather. It was pretty amazing. I mean, I’ll give you another example of whether. There’s two ducks, there’s a Campbell teal and an Auckland teal. These are both found only on small islands about a two-day boat ride south of New Zealand and it’s like victory at sea. It was two days of victory at sea. There were 40 people. It’s a natural history cruise. 40 people on the boat. The first morning, only eight of us were at breakfast. There were 32 people in there sick. So we get to this place which is in the Southern Ocean and you go to the beach in a Zodiac. Well, there’s one day on Campbell Island, and one day on Auckland Island, and if that day happens to be real rough seas, you don’t go. So you’ve just made this cruise which cost $10,000 and you can’t – there’s no way for me to get a picture of this duck. So we have this victory at sea. We get there, roll into this bay, that morning was the calmest day that this was in December. The calmest day that they had in the entire calendar year. It was 20 degrees warmer than – it was like being in the freaking Bahamas. Got in the Zodiac, went to the beach and I said to the guide, I said, well, where should I start looking for these ducks? He said, well, there’s one right there. And there was literally one at the landing site 50 yards away, and I photographed those, but those are very endemic, flightless teal found in these – way in the middle of Nowhere Islands.
Ramsey Russell: Wow! Because I’m sitting here thinking, we start getting into sea ducks or some of these marine environments going out with a shotgun. It is just – I mean you got to strip the thing down completely and oil it even just a vapor. Just the moisture in the air is permeated. How do you – god, that must have been a struggle with expensive electronic equipment, these cameras and stuff.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. Well, what I did is I was pretty diligent. I always had to bring a 600 millimeter. Then I brought another backup large lens, which was horrible because I had to carry it around. But think about this for a minute, I’m going to New Zealand, I’m getting on a boat for 10 days. I’m spending a ton of money and if I drop that 600, it gets saltwater in it. I mean that’s like a surgeon going to surgery and he has one scalpel and he breaks it, the patient dies. Well, that’s what happened to me. So I take a backup. But I was very diligent about coming back and getting stuff cleaned. I belong to Canon Professional Services, which has a wonderful ability to ship things to Canon. They do a complete clean job and then they ship it back, and they do it at an extremely reasonable price. So I had a lot of stuff cleaned on a very – and I had a back up of everything. I had two big lenses. I had two bodies because I just couldn’t afford anything to go wrong.
Ramsey Russell: Now, when I go 6800 miles from home or something to go duck hunting, I use the best guns on the market, but I bring another trigger assembly, another bolt assembly, handful to pieces because stuff happens.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, exactly.
Ramsey Russell: You know what I’m saying? And if you don’t have it, you’re just SOL like that surgeon.
Gary Kramer: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Did you ever lose any equipment? Did you ever drop one in the ocean?
Gary Kramer: Well, for this project, I did not know I have in my career. Of course, during the course of my whole career, 45 years of taking photos in some fashion, I’ve dropped one 500 millimeters completely in the drink. A couple of bodies, and the bodies are worth about six grand each, but at some point, I got insurance, which is expensive, but the first 500 I dropped, I had no insurance and that hurt me. But on this project, I was very lucky in that regard. I had no camera failures of any kind. I didn’t ruin any equipment and everything seemed to work right.
Dangerous Situations Photographing Waterfowl
He said, well, three people were killed in the last month in this section of river by a rogue hippopotamus.
Ramsey Russell: What were some of the most dangerous situations you found yourself in?
Gary Kramer: Well, the one that was the most unique.
Ramsey Russell: I don’t want to caveat that to say environmentally and culturally.
Gary Kramer: Well, I mean probably the most dangerous part, really, if you think about it, was driving in vehicles in these foreign cities, because I went to India twice and driving in downtown Delhi is like one of the places – one of the times in India we stayed on the outskirts of Delhi. And surprisingly enough, there’s a number of these almost urban wetlands within a relatively close drive from Delhi. So we’d stay in a hotel, and then drive out, take your 45 minutes in the morning coming back, it takes three hours. Because in the morning at 5:00 AM, there’s no traffic, but at 5:00 PM, it’s three hours driving back. So really, a car accident was probably the most dangerous. And then I did a fair amount of flying small aircrafts in Africa and did different things. But really, as far as to me personally, not associated with transportation, was that I photographed – there’s a duck in Kenya called the African black duck.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, I know. My favorite bird over there.
Gary Kramer: And it’s also found in wetlands, but also in riverine environments. Some of these riverine species seem to be some of the most difficult around because it’s not like you’re finding a bunch of big flock in a marsh, they’re in little pairs, this and that.
Ramsey Russell: They say those African black ducks are highly territorial and highly aggressive and it’s about one pair per mile and a half, two miles per river.
Gary Kramer: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: So they’re very secretive. They like to lay up under the grass and not out in the open.
Gary Kramer: Exactly. And so I didn’t have good pictures of them. I had a couple from Ethiopia that were okay. So when I went to Kenya, I told the guy, I said, look this is the last shot, and I did that in October of ‘20. Kenya was open during COVID if you had your negative test. So I went there, and he found me a place above these waterfalls where he says there’s some African black ducks I’m pretty sure we can photograph. So I fly to Nairobi, meet this guy, we drive up to, this is near Thompson Falls, pretty famous place in Kenya. So we get down to a bridge right next to the river, just about daylight. And I’m looking down there, and I look with my binoculars, and I see a pair up on the river. I said, well, let’s go. He said, no, we can’t go. I said, what do you mean we can’t go? There’s two birds, I just flew 4000 miles or whatever to photograph these birds, you are telling me I can’t go? He says, we have to wait for the Game Rangers. I said, what do we got to wait for the Game Rangers for? He said, well, kind of paused and looked at me. He said, well, three people were killed in the last month in this section of river by a rogue hippopotamus. I said, well, okay, I guess we’ll wait for the boys. So they show up with their uniforms and their rifles. And we get introduced and they walked me down to the river, and they’re like, hanging on like two feet behind me, guns at the ready for the first half hour going, okay, you can go a little further, a little further, and I’m working on these ducks, and after about a half hour and they said, oh I guess he’s not here today, and they back off. They stayed there for the whole morning with me. But it wasn’t like it was potentially imminent. And if you know Africa at all, more and more people are killed by hippos in Africa than any other animal, and by and large way more than lions, way more than leopards. It’s the most dangerous animal. Because what happens is they – these males will be very territorial in it in a river section and anything comes by, they want to run it out.
Ramsey Russell: And they can run about as quick as a court horse.
Gary Kramer: Absolutely, yeah. So that was potentially – but I mean it worked out, I got the killer pictures of my African black duck and there was no issues, but maybe, it was maybe alright.
The Most Interesting Cultures Around the World
So Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby next, to Delhi is probably the most – what’s the best word – tore up place I’ve been.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah. What were some of the most interesting cultures around the world? You went to all these countries. I mean beyond the bird. Did you ever find yourself saying, wow, this culture is just badass?
Gary Kramer: Well, there’s some real — India to me. I also lead photo safaris, right? I do Africa Galapagos and I do win for tigers. So I’ve been to India quite a few times. But I’ve always amazed at what India is like. It’s not a vacation, it’s a cultural experience. It just is with the traffic, and the people, and the cows standing in the middle of the road, they’re sacred, and the whole thing. So that culture is interesting to me. Delhi is probably one of the nastiest places on the planet. But then when you get out in the country in the National Parks, it’s a very cool place. So that’s always been of interest. And then really the other end of the spectrum which is the easiest places in the world to travel which, well, is New Zealand and Australia. You can go to a motel or restaurant pretty much the same as us. Great road system drives on the wrong side of the road. But other than that, people are super friendly and it’s a very comfortable environment because of that. So those are some of the two. Papua New Guinea was very strange in the fact that they chew betel nut there which is this, it’s a fruit thing that they chew, they do it in Thailand too. It makes your teeth black and then they spit everywhere. So it’s like that can be around the bus stop, there’s a semicircle of this where people have been spitting, it’s so nasty. It’s unbelievable. So Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby next, to Delhi is probably the most – what’s the best word – tore up place I’ve been.
Ramsey Russell: Wow! I can relate to the dangerous aspect about the cars and the drive, and somebody asked me just yesterday about the most dangerous situation I’ve ever felt like I was in, and it was the four-hour ride back to Karachi while hunting in Pakistan. I had felt completely safe until that point, and I hang out, I held onto the old shit bar for four hours.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, and I’ve done that.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder if this guy had ever driven before.
Gary Kramer: Some of them are like that, it just depends on – I think the driving is probably potentially where you or I could really run into trouble. It’s never happened. But on the other hand is falling down and drowning or something like that, probably isn’t quite as realistic, but a couple of those happened too. I was in Morocco photographing red crested pochards and got off by myself. The guide was back up on the land, and I got my waders, and I’m out there always trying to push the envelope and get out on a little point where I can get a better shot of birds coming by, and I got in some mud. I finally, had the camera luckily, I screamed at this guy and he came waded in in his full clothes. I kind of threw my $600 with the body you have in your tripod and all your stuff you’re carrying, nearly $20,000 worth of gear, threw it to him and he caught it and I finally was able to wade out. I would have had to give up my camera on that to get out.
Ramsey Russell: I’m assuming you’ve been vaccinated for basically everything that the health service will give you.
Gary Kramer: Pretty much.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I mean you start, you start getting into parts of the world, we’re talking about stuff like Dysentery and Typhoid and Yellow Fever is real.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And I don’t know what it is because we don’t see it around here, but I don’t want it.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. Right. Well, because I’ve traveled so much already, most of the things that are required I had already. A lot of it is not actually required other than yellow fever, it’s recommended. So, Tetanus is super important, Hepatitis, got all those, I got all those so just, trying to be safe.
Ramsey Russell: Talking to medical professionals, that’s what sent me down the road of getting these vaccines and different things. It’s like if not, don’t worry about Yellow Fever, don’t worry about Malaria, worry about stepping on a rusty nail. Worry about getting in that car wreck and getting a blood transfusion in a country that ain’t America.
Gary Kramer: Right.
Ramsey Russell: That stuff gets real all of a sudden. And so I’m like, well, I’m at the health center getting all that mess.
Gary Kramer: Well, it’s good preventative. It’s kind of like riding a motorcycle. I’d rather put a helmet on than and prevent that in case your head hit the ground, right?
Rarest Waterfowl Species Ever Filmed
It’s endemic to Madagascar, found only there. Not a single bird had been seen for 15 years.
Ramsey Russell: What’s the rarest species and singular plural that you filmed?
Gary Kramer: Okay, with 167, there’s one that is at the top of the list immediately, and that’s called the Madagascar pochard. Pochards are like redheads’ cans, common pochard, a diving duck, right? This particular duck, Madagascar pochard was thought extinct for about 15 years. They had not been seen in 15 years. It’s endemic to Madagascar, found only there. Not a single bird had been seen for 15 years. And this is after some biological searching. It wasn’t this guy’s looking, it was some dedicated biologists looking for this bird, it’s extinct. And then there were some biologists, someone from the Peregrine Fund out of Boise, Idaho that we’re looking for an endangered raptor up in the remote mountains of Madagascar, and they come across this lake which is a volcanic circle up in the mountains, far from any villages. And they got looking down with their binoculars and they go, there’s some ducks down there, and they look and they go, wow, I wonder if those are those ducks that are extinct. Could it possibly be? Well, they go back to their bird book, look them up and they go, well let’s get a little closer. So they get a little closer, they go, I’ll be damned. These are the extinct ducks. They found 23 of them on one lake.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Gary Kramer: 23 in the entire world. By the time I got there, which was several years later, there was about 60 birds on this particular lake. It took me six days from California to get to that lake. We left it in the evening. So I count that first day, two days flying to Africa and then to Madagascar. First day was 10 hours on pavement, which was mostly potholes. Second day was 10 hours on dirt. And the third day in Madagascar was about 40 miles, took five hours. It was the roughest road I’ve ever been on. Then you hike down to the lake, got down to the lake, there’s a research camp near the lake. Got into a yellow canoe which these guys had on the lake forever. So the birds, come to find out, were habituated to the yellow canoe, and within the first five minutes I had seven of the 60 birds in front of me, and I photographed them for the next three days with impunity. Because they were habituated to the yellow canoe. And a buddy of mine was there too. They paddled, got me in position. I took them all from a canoe, but I ended up with probably – there’s very few flying pictures of that duck, and I got a bunch of them, and then we had to camp there for a few days, and it ended up being – once we got there, it wasn’t that tough, but it was the journey that was just so.
Ramsey Russell: Always is.
Gary Kramer: And then they have a captive breeding center which they’ve taken. They took some eggs, a few years later they have a captive breeding center. Quite a long way from the lake which I went to as well and checked that out. And now they’re reintroducing them in that particular area. They reintroduced or introduced these birds into a second lake so that the entire population wouldn’t be in one location. But think about that, when there’s only 60 in the world, and I was able to fly 8000 miles to get there, and then see the birds in the first five minutes on the lake is pretty amazing.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What are some of the other rare species?
Gary Kramer: Second rarest duck in the world is the Brazilian Merganser found in the Atlantic rainforests of eastern Brazil. About 100 of them in the wild. I went there and I got those shots too. First, I had a guide, he took me to birds. They’re on a little bend in the river. And I got out of the car, started to head down toward them figured I could get closer and they flew off. So we went back a couple of days later, I built the blind, got there in the dark, which is one of the typical things I do. Had two birds fly in. I mean right in front of me, but it was too dark to photograph because there’s some mountains there, and the female instantly dove down and caught a pretty nice sized fish, choked it down. I can’t take a photo. And then just before the sun came up they flew away, and I’m going, god, again, here I am. So I said, I’m going to tough this out until the next couple hours and hope they come back. Well, they came back in about a half hour and then for the next hour and a half they just lived in that pond. I photographed those guys on the rock. They never caught another fish.
Ramsey Russell: Did you ever run out of time and have to reschedule your stay or extend your stay or come back for a species?
Gary Kramer: Usually I didn’t extend it because the problem was a lot of the airfare got so expensive if you changed it at the last second. Since COVID they’ve really relaxed the regulations. But pre-COVID it was like there’s a re-book fee and a cost. So rarely did I ever extend. But I did have to come back. I went back to Romania three times to get red breasted geese.
Ramsey Russell: Romania to me is that it would be a tough country and tough culture. I went wonderful. I’d like to go back and see some different things. Not duck hunt there. I’ve got stories for days about the three days I spent in Romania, and that’s interesting about the red breasted goose – it’s endangered. But is that where you went to find that bird? That’s his range. Well, the existing range.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, they nest in Siberia, and then they migrate in the winter. The majority of the birds these days are found in Romania and Bulgaria. And that’s where the majority of winter is right on the Black Sea right near the Danube Delta. From the Danube Delta into Romania. But the first winter I went it was a very mild winter and they stayed a little further north. The second time I went, it was a real hard winter and they went a little bit further south into Northern Greece. And then the third time I went it worked out better. Some of these birds have a very distinct wintering area but based on extreme conditions they alter that wintering area. So all the research you do goes out the window that didn’t happen to me, luckily in very many places. Because many of these birds like the ones – like African birds – most of those are residents. They move around but they don’t make these huge.
Ramsey Russell: Actually. The entire Southern Hemisphere is non-migratory.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. Well there’s quite a bit of migration in South America because you get the pochards and yellow billed pintails that come from the south.
Ramsey Russell: It’s not continental like we are, it’s not the continental span. Like we think of up here or anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. They’re not coming from Arctic regions further south. They may move 1000 miles but they’re not migrating, they’re exploiting resources.
Gary Kramer: Right, it’s not the same. South America is the only one that can be a little bit the same but still it’s not as far as ours Africa there’s very little movement. Asia, there is some. There is quite a bit of movement in Asia, because they’re nesting way up in Siberia coming through China and their nesting like I went to South Korea too where I got the best mandarins. I got where I found flocks of 200 mandarins in one flock. I mean that’s just when they blow up, that’s a just an incredible photograph.
Ramsey Russell: How many shutter clicks a year did you go through?
Gary Kramer: God, I don’t even know, tens of thousands.
Ramsey Russell: I’d have said millions.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. Well maybe for the book millions probably. No, I’m sure for the book it’s millions.
Ramsey Russell: Millions of shutter clicks.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, I mean the deleting was like – I mean, I’d get tired.
Ramsey Russell: Part-time job.
Gary Kramer: Yeah, it’d be delete. Because I only really even kept about 10% and then of the 10% that I kept, I probably only – there’s 1299 photos in the book, which is a lot for any book. But that came from, as you said, probably several million pushing the button and even just keeping them. That’s 1%.
What Comes After Waterfowl of the World?
Ramsey Russell: So where do you go? You got Waterfowl of the World. Where now game birds of the world or upland birds of the world. Where do you go from here Gary?
Gary Kramer: Well I’m just the first thing I have —
Ramsey Russell: Are you going to retire and play golf?
Gary Kramer: No never. I’ll never retire, ever. I mean I can’t imagine that I’ll do this so I can’t do it, probably like you right? Just do it till you can’t do it. So the thing is I didn’t take a picture of anything else but a duck goose or a swan for the last four years. I mean literally and I do have some markets for calendars and magazines, whether it be a pheasant or whether it be a mule deer. So I’m so backed up on those photos as far as not having fresh stuff. I need to do more of that. I need to market this thing. I printed 4000 copies and there’s a lot to move. Although surprisingly enough, it’s been so amazing that in six weeks I’ve actually got rid of or sold 2000 copies. I mean, which is half the run, which astounds me.
Memorable Moments in the Field
And there’s six blue ducks standing on the X.
Ramsey Russell: Looking back, last question. Looking back on the four-year chase for doing this. Is there one place you were that stands out? Just one moment that stands out like, when I think back in the last several years, I just think of certain places, this moment, I don’t know why I remember them still but is there one just iconic moment on the top of the mountain sweating in the jungle, something is just one moment where you go, wow? If you think back the last several years out in the field doing this just one moment like wow, that’s just special.
Gary Kramer: Yeah. I think the one that stands out in my mind is – based on the backstory to it – is the blue duck in New Zealand. They’re found highly endangered, again, these tough riverine ducks. I send an email to a biologist in southern New Zealand. This gal sends me an email back and says, well when you’re going to be here, I’m not going to be here, so I can’t really physically show you the spot. She puts an X on a map. An aerial photo shoots it to me halfway across the world, right? I get on an airplane. I fly to Auckland, I fly to Christchurch, rent a car, drive to the mountains to the west, another 2-3 hours. Look at this map, drive down the dirt road, get out of the car, and walk down a path that I could see on the aerial photo to the X. And there’s six blue ducks standing on the X.
Ramsey Russell: Wow.
Gary Kramer: So what is the probability that somebody can give me an aerial photo, months in advance, of a place halfway around the world where I can make that journey, get out of the car, I didn’t even grab my camera because I was just looking. So I hauled us back to the car, the rental car, grabbed my camera and photographed those ducks. They were literally on the spot she had X’d on an aerial photo. What are the odds of that? So that moment I’m going, look, and it was towards the end of the project. So I go, well, maybe this thing is really going to work out for me.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Amen. Tell everybody how they can connect with you real quick, Gary.
Gary Kramer: Well, if you’re interested in the book, the best way to get it is go to my website which is garykramer.net and it’s available. Just go to books, it’s available there. it’s easy to click on PayPal. The book gets ordered shipped to you. It’s $99 for the standard edition, we ship a media mail, but it’s been getting to people in 5-7 days. Even at Christmas, it was amazing how quick it got there. So that’s the way to order it. All the ones you ordered from me are signed. And then also I have a limited-edition book which is 250 bucks’, numbered 1 through 250, they’re all numbered. It’s a leather like cover, comes in a slip box, and that’s selling pretty good too. Someday when I’m gone, that book will be worth a fortune.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Gary, you’ve also got a great Instagram page. I think of it as just real duck porn. It’s beautiful. You post a lot of pictures of these species and give a short narrative about them. It’s @Gary_Kramer on Instagram?
Gary Kramer: Yeah, it’s Gary_Kramer_photography. And what I tried to do in leading up to this when I first released, I first let people know it was available on Instagram, is kind of give people the backstory on getting some of these photos so that when it finally came out they say, wow, I’ve been seeing some of these photos and I want to see the rest. And it worked out perfectly. So yeah, it’s Gary_Kramer_photography.
Ramsey Russell: Gary, thank you very much for taking time this morning to meet with us here at Dallas Safari Club convention. Folks in the background will probably hear kind of waking up, we got to roll. But thank you very much for being here. Guys, check out this book, Waterfowl of the World. You can find it on the Internet at GaryKramer.net and check out his Instagram page. And thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. Please subscribe, rate, comment, let us know your feedback, share it with your buddies. See you next time.