John Carlin outdoors | Wildlife photographer Garland Keats

Butort County, Virginia The Cherry Blossom Trail is a gentle trail around a small lake in Greenfield Park in Botetourt County. Greenfield is a modernized version of an industrial complex, with large steel buildings spread over hundreds of acres.

Inside the park, companies make everything from heavy machinery to beer.

Kitts capture light and movement as well as the bird itself. (Garland Keats)

But we’re here for the trail and the lake. Specifically, wildlife photographer Garland Keats shows us that amid this rural version of the industry, there is a great deal of wildlife.

John Carlin and Garland Keats at Greenfield Park in Bottetourt, Virginia. (WSLS)

Garland has a knack for finding and capturing these wildlife through the lens of his camera.

After retiring four years ago, he was able to dedicate several hours per day to the task.

He’s looking for pictures with a little extra stuff. It is not enough just to see the topic and record it. They should be fun to be honest, too.

“Winning is a shot in focus, it’s a little on the unique side. It’s not just a flat-looking bird or an animal or anything else. It’s something like a bird with a worm in its mouth. Or it’s hanging from a tree upside down,” Keats said.


Aseq – a small bird of prey that carries a lizard in its beak. Photography by Garland Keats (Garland Keats)

After visiting a website called E-Bird, where local bird watchers have reported recent sightings of interesting birds, he hopes to photograph a rather uncommon little duck, called teal.

“I understand there will likely be a couple Bluewing Teals here. So we hope you’ll be able to see those,” Kits explained upon our arrival.

On the way to his favorite place – he suddenly stopped, because he heard something.

“I’m looking for a yellow hummingbird to come back and fly over us,” said Keats as a bird was tweeting somewhere under the cover of nearby trees and bushes.

Three hours a day researching topics pays off. He knows a beautiful bird when he hears it.

There’s an app on his phone called Merlin that listens for birdsong and confirms it’s a yellow bird. Kitts places a Bluetooth speaker on a branch and plays the sounds of flying chirping.

Then it’s a waiting game.

And after two minutes, the bird rests on the megaphone.


Keats sees movement first, then notices a dash of yellow between the branches.

He looks through the lens and waits for a corner, a paperless one in the way.

Moments later, the shutter clicks at 30 frames per second. More than a few of those shots are “good”.

Keats snapped a picture of a beautiful yellow bird that most people would never have noticed.

It’s a safe bet that even the most outdoorsy folks have never seen a yellow bird.

Say nothing about taking a picture of someone.

A yellow songbird captured by photographer Garland Keats in Greenfield in Bottitorte County, Virginia. (Garland Keats)

If bird photography was baseball, the birders would be the soloists, while the raptors would be the majors.

Songbirds are one thing, but the depiction of birds of prey—hawks, hawks, and eagles—is a notch up. If bird photography was baseball, then the critics’ birds would be the soloists – while the powerful raptors would be the main protagonists.

Keats has just returned from California where he snapped photos of peregrine falcons – which can dive at 180 miles per hour when searching for prey.

“When I first got there, the first thing I saw was the male peregrine falcon put maybe 15 yards from me on a cliff-side tip. I mean a perfect shot,” he said.


As good as that shot was, he came back the next day and hit the photographer’s golden.

“The male came out. He caught the pigeon. I prepared him for the female, by lifting his feathers from her. Then he sprang off the cliff wall and circled in front of the place of the cave—where the nest is,” said Keats.

He was witnessing how male and female falcons take care of their young. The male hunts and brings food – in this case, a pigeon. But he does not come directly to the nest. The birds exchange amazing lunches in the air for the little ones.

And Keats took it all.

“The male carries the pigeons. The female comes under him, she is still flying and in the middle of the flight, he delivers them (food) from her beak to her claws and she flies back to the cave to feed the young,” he explained. “This will never happen again. What a dream to have this photo.”

Talk about a little extra stuff.


exchange moment. A male hawk delivers lunch to a female in the air. Photo via Garland Keats (Garland Keats)

Kitts shares his photos on his Facebook page and it’s clear that he has an amazing talent.

Pictures of water dripping from the beak of a cat, a pair of beavers, and from you along the Roanoke River.

A fox’s den.

“I went and kind of did the thing that was hiding in the weeds. … One of the youth must have raised his head. I got some good shots of him.”

One of his favorite pictures is a bald eagle scratching its head.

“I took several shots and he started doing all kinds of funny things moving. I realized he was wet…then he started scratching his head. It was great watching him almost comedic in some ways,” said Keats.

A small fox – called a group – was taken by wildlife photographer Garland Keats. (Garland Keats)

We walked in hoping to find those little ducks – but again the sparrows interrupted.

Once again, the song is on the speaker. Once again, the bonus – a bird appears among the leaves.

It is a brilliant blue bird the size of a sparrow called the Indigo bunting.

Not a first for Keats but she always deserves the space on his digital media.


“I’m always looking for something I’ve never seen before. The beauty of birds is that you never know,” he said.

Indigo study, photographed by Garland Keats (Garland Keats)

Keats keeps a list of all the birds he has photographed. His life list includes more than 300 species.

We continued down the Cherry Blossom Trail, entering the vents near the lake in search of the elusive teal. At some point he saw them in the distance through his binoculars. But the ducklings are camera shy and never appear when we get close enough to take a picture.

It’s happening,” said Keats, shrugging his shoulders.

Several hours later, we packed our bags and almost went back to the car when he heard something else. In the trees above us are the Baltimore orioles.

After a few chirps on the speaker, the bird appears, and Keats records another great shot.

It makes it look easy. But that’s because it was put in time.

“You can’t expect to spend 30 minutes today looking for things and making them come to you. Be warned, you have a lot of pictures that you just can’t.


For Kitts – the Oriole isn’t one of those elusive birds he’s ever seen – it’s not even a bird that does anything special.

But again this is an example of what any walker or hiker would see if they slowed down to smell the roses.

Or maybe you listen to the birds.

A bald eagle scratches its head as wildlife photographer Garland Keats takes the photo. (Garland Keats)

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