Student’s love of birds, photography become a winning combination

Biology major Brandon Gerringer recently had one of his photographs selected as a finalist in a contest sponsored by Photographer’s Forum Magazine.

Brandon Gerringer always has been interested in nature, which is why he came to Western Carolina University to study biology. But it was only in the last year the senior developed a love for photography.

The combination helped Gerringer become a finalist in a worldwide contest sponsored by Photographer’s Forum Magazine. Gerringer’s photo of two song sparrows taken on WCU’s campus was one of 789 images chosen as a finalist in the magazine’s “Best of College 2017” category.

Not bad for someone who has only been into photography for about a year. It started with Gerringer taking pictures with his cell phone. In January of 2016, he upgraded to a professional quality camera and focused on taking pictures of birds, which also is the subject of his research in the biology department.

“I really fell in love with taking pictures of birds,” Gerringer said. “One of the most challenging parts is just finding birds. Also, having patience with them because they move around a lot. It’s definitely a test in patience of having to sit and just waiting for them. Also, getting your exposure correct on your camera because they’re moving around in shade and light.”

His two favorite spots to shoot pictures are in the courtyard in front of the Natural Science Building and in the historic hill area. Occasionally, Gerringer will find bluebirds near the Courtyard Dining Hall.

Gerringer said the coolest bird he has photographed was a barred owl in his hometown of Raleigh. “It was exciting,” he said.

This is the picture that led to biology major Brandon Gerringer being named a finalist in a contest sponsored by Photographer’s Forum Magazine.

Last year, Gerringer noticed an advertisement for the Photographer’s Forum contest pinned up in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. He decided to enter two photos – one of a bluebird in a tree, the other being the winning shot of two song sparrows, one of which was diving while the other was perched in a tree.

That photo will be featured in a compilation book the magazine will release at the end of the year, Gerringer said. Gerringer also will have a picture featured in WCU’s 49th Annual Juried Undergraduate Exhibition, April 3-28, in the Fine Art Museum.

Several of his photographs are currently on display in a conference room in the Natural Sciences Building.

“I think they look amazing,” said assistant professor of biology Barbara Ballentine, with whom Gerringer is currently doing research. “It’s a really nice collection. It’s a mixture of art and science. He’s focusing on the campus and the natural world and it ties together things very nicely for the biology department here at Western.”

When Gerringer isn’t photographing birds, he’s studying them. His research, conducted with graduate student Gabriel De La Iglesia, has been looking at extra pair behavior between urban and rural populations of bluebirds based on blood samples taken by Ballentine.

“There’s some reasons to think that behavior differs between members of the same species but that live in urban versus rural environments, kind of like people,” Ballentine said. “Urban birds are a little more aggressive and bold. We were interested to see how potentially those different behaviors, especially aggression, might lead to other reproductive outcomes, like extra pair paternity. He’s doing the molecular work to figure that out.”

And also taking some splendid photographs.