Photographer / Author: Elusive Birds • Wetlands & Wild Places


Water Babies

by William Burt

(W. W. Norton/Countryman, October 2015)

For 40 years, photographer William Burt has chased after the birds few people see: first rails, then bitterns, nightjars, and other skulkers – and now these, elusive creatures of a very different kind: the Water Babies.

The “babies” are the downy young of ducks, grebes, gallinules and shorebirds, herons, and the other birds of wetlands – those that get their feet wet, as it were – and challenging they are, to birder and photographer alike: quick-footed, wary, and well-camouflaged, to say the least; and temporary. You have only a week or two each year in which to find them. But above all else, they are endearing. From the comic-monster herons to the fuzzy ducklings and stick-legged sandpipers, these tots have personality – and spunk.

To find these youngsters and adults Burt prowled their wetland breeding grounds each spring and summer for some 7 years, all over North America, from the arctic circle to the Gulf of Mexico. The result: a portrait of these wild birds of the wetlands as not seen before.

Marshes: The Disappearing Edens

by William Burt

(Yale University Press, 2007)

from Reviews:

"William Burt has an enviable gift: the power, with prose and camera lens, to persuade a reader of Marshes that these 'disappearing Edens' are among the most remarkable places on earth. Believe him." 
– Katrine Ames House & Garden (April 2007).

"Photographer and bird lover Burt has had a love affair with marshes since childhood, and this book portrays, in words and photographs, his romantically tinged tour of North American marshlands and his take on how they've changed since the early explorer-naturalists first found them."  
–Publishers Weekly 

“Burt melds the eye of an artist, the soul of a poet, the dedication of a religious acolyte, and the wizardry of seldom-seen nature photography to create a stunning evocation of the edenic marshlands of North America. This is simply a marvelous production.” 
– Bernd Heinrich (on jacket) 

"Naturalist Burt uses his considerable literary and photographic skills to describe the mysterious beauty of rapidly disappearing wetlands. More than half a dozen states have lost 80% of their wetlands. An estimated 99% of Iowa’s wetlands have been lost to agriculture. A constant battle rages for water, the most precious of resources, and a never-ending argument ensues over how it should be best used. Burt points out that humankind’s shortsightedness is matched by threatening natural elements, such as the common reed that overwhelms other plants and is extremely difficult to eradicate. His photographic journey moves from Oregon along the coastline, then on to Texas and Louisiana, up the Atlantic seaboard, and into Canada. Capturing on film elusive spoonbills, bitterns, and herons sheltered by elegantly shaped plants with delightful names like sea pink, sweet flag, swamp rose mallow, silverweed, and blue flag, Burt delights in and educates readers about the fragility and importance of wetlands." 
– Pamela Crossland Booklist (March 2007)

“Perhaps no other living person has spent more time in marshes than William Burt. …Without question, Burt knows the marshes unlike any other.” 
– Noble S. Proctor (from Peer Review)

Rare & Elusive Birds of North America

by William Burt

(Rizzoli / Universe, 2001)

from Reviews:

“In engaging prose, photographer and naturalist Burt records the 16 summers he spent in search of 20 of America’s most elusive and mysterious birds, captured in 57 arresting photographs. Sprinkled with relevant quotes from Thoreau, Audubon, Seton, and others, his text is poetic and lyrical yet grounded by a scientist’s eye for fact and an appreciation for place and history. Burt’s epic, singular odyssey in the plains, prairies, coastal marshes, bogs, and woodlands are compellingly and entertainingly set forth. End chapters provide photographic advice, well-annotated lists of references, and vivid descriptions of these unusual, near-mythic birds. Highly recommended.”
– Henry T. Armistead Library Journal (September 2001)

“His work reveals delicate patterns and unexpected beauty….. The photographs are vivid, sometimes startling glimpses through the natural keyholes of thicket, grass and leaves at secret birds, caught unaware.” 
– James Gorman The New York Times (Weekend − December 21, 2001)

“William Burt is a perfectionist whose photographs of rails and other shy and elusive birds of our wetlands are unquestionably the finest ever taken. .... He has set a new standard.” 
– Roger Tory Peterson (on jacket)

“More than a remarkable and beautiful collection of photographs, this book by Bill Burt provides an intimate look at some of the most little-known birds in North America. His detailed accounts of the lives of these birds, and the special challenges and successes he experienced on his quest to photograph them all, make fascinating reading. What really comes through, in the writing and the photographs, is his deep and sensitive appreciation on the uniqueness of each of these most intriguing birds.” 
– David Allen Sibley (on jacket)

“Burt … collects 16 years of work into a celebration of species that most bird-watchers have only glimpsed. His book is familiar to readers of Smithsonian or Audubon magazines, in which his photographs have whetted the appetites of many… Burt’s photographs reveal the subtle beauty of birds that most birders have seen only for a split second. The accompanying essays make light of the author’s difficulties in finding and photographing the birds. The result is a quietly wonderful book…” 
– Nancy Bent Booklist (November 2001)

“The full-color photographs are stunning – rich and detailed – showing these species in their natural habitats as few people have ever seen them. The text is a wonderfully engaging narrative of the travels behind each photograph. Ultimately, this is the story of one man’s quest, and the satisfaction of exploration and discovery.” 
– David Allen Sibley House & Garden Magazine (November 2001)

“The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, Glory be to God for dappled things …. and I think that Mr. Burt must have taken this to heart at an early age …. William Burt (has) a unique and hauntingly beautiful prose style and brilliant photographic skills. This book is a treat to the eye and inner ear and I enjoyed every dip into its crepuscular waters.” 
– Fatbirder.com (February 2002)


by William Burt

(Lyons & Burford, 1994)

from Reviews:

“Nature photographer Burt writes hauntingly and evocatively of his search for two species of secretive marsh birds: black rails and yellow rails. Reluctant ever to fly and largely nocturnal, these cryptic, almost mythical birds skulk through marsh grass unseen. Fortunately for Burt, they do call vigorously in the breeding season, and his exquisite color photographs of the birds are legendary among birders. He takes the reader to Chesapeake Bay marshes to find black rails and their nests and to Manitoba, North Dakota, and other prairie regions for yellows. Much of the yellow rail segment concerns his search for and miraculous relocation, 90 years later, of haunts visited by a kindred spirit, a Rev. P.B. Peabody. Full of musings, philosophy, and lyric descriptions of the rails’ chosen habitats, Shadowbirds is a fine read. Highly recommended.” 
– Henry T. Armistead Library Journal (May 15, 1994)

“It is impressive enough that Burt has fashioned mysterious and engaging characters out of a couple of eccentric birds. Add to that an absorbing storyline and a talent for depicting the places he roams, and this modest book takes on rather grand proportions.” 
– Kirkus Reviews (March 1994)

“Burt has done it – captured in words the magic spell those marvelously elusive phantoms of the marsh, the tiniest rails, cast over him. Readers of Shadowbirds will find themselves inexplicably drawn to the marsh…..” 
– S. Dillon Ripley (on jacket)

“This book is a little gem ….. It is on a prominent place on my bookshelf, along with other classics of Nature Writing….” 
– Bernd Heinrich Wild Earth (Spring 1997)

“Told with exceptional grace and good humor…. I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” 
– Roger Tory Peterson (on jacket)

“In pursuing two obscure species at considerable expense, personal risk, and sacrifice, William Burt becomes the quintessential trophy hunter. In sharing his quest with us, he’s written one of the best natural histories of the decade.” 
– George Reiger (on jacket)

“Burt has a marvelous knack for keeping his quest in often humorous perspective. This is a first-rate book by a talented and sensitive writer, an effort that reaches far beyond the story of capturing images on film.” 
– Nelson Bryant (on jacket)