Living

Wild Moments with Vermont Nature Photographer Roger Irwin

A stretching bobcat. Sunbathing fox kits. Motionless moose. When Roger Irwin takes his camera into nature, he wants “people to see what I’ve been lucky enough to see.”

By Yankee Editors

Jan 20 2023

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Following fresh moose tracks on an old logging road in East Haven, Vermont, Irwin came around a corner “and they were just standing there, waiting for me. They gave me a minute or two to take pictures before they figured out they wanted to take off.” By chance, Irwin would end up with one of this bull’s antlers, found by his son while rabbit hunting on a nearby mountain a week later.

Photo Credit : Roger Irwin

When he was 11, Roger Irwin’s parents opened their Vermont home to a pair of working photographers from New York City who were on assignment for Vermont Life. The visit was just two days long, but for Irwin it was life-changing. Fascinated, he soon started crafting his own stories, but it took decades (and semi-retirement) for Irwin to pick up a camera again. Now 72, he still finds time to pursue and capture the woods and wildlife of New England. Over the years Irwin’s intimate nature images have graced multiple covers of Northern Woodlands magazine and been featured by the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “It’s my passion,” he says, “and I just want people to see what I’ve been lucky enough to see.”

Following fresh moose tracks on an old logging road in East Haven, Vermont, Irwin came around a corner “and they were just standing there, waiting for me. They gave me a minute or two to take pictures before they figured out they wanted to take off.” By chance, Irwin would end up with one of this bull’s antlers, found by his son while rabbit hunting on a nearby mountain a week later.
While Irwin often performs moose calls to draw out his subjects, getting this shot of a barred owl needed a different kind of mimicry. After seeing it fly across the road and perch in a tree nearby, Irwin rolled down his truck window, grabbed his camera, and started … squeaking. “I don’t know how much like a mouse it sounded,” he chuckles, “but it kept his attention anyway.”
The farmhouse and barns on Irwin’s property in Maidstone, Vermont, sit on glacial delta land, and foxes sometimes dig their dens into its sandy soil. Shooting from behind a chair blind, he caught this image of fox kits out sunning themselves, momentarily transfixed by the commotion of nearby birds.
This juvenile black bear, which was traveling with its sibling and their mother, is taking a break from an annual fall feast: foraging around the edges of Irwin’s fields after a tenant dairy farm had harvested its corn there.
Though he has driven throughout northern New England in search of stunning wildlife images, Irwin often finds what he seeks in his own backyard, which encompasses fields, woodlands, floodplain, and, yes, beaver ponds.
Irwin has made a number of memorable photographs of bobcats—like this one enjoying a little stretch near a blind on his property—but getting the perfect shot of their elusive bigger cousin, the Canada lynx, is still on his bucket list. “I actually saw one two years ago in my headlights while driving in Maine, way up there by Parmachenee Lake,” he says. “If I keep trying, maybe I’ll get one someday.”
Photographing birds is a mixed blessing for Irwin. On the one hand, they’re generally not as skittish as mammals; on the other, it can be a real challenge to get good perspective on tree-dwellers from the ground. After noticing that a family of yellow-shafted flickers had made their home in one of his trees, Irwin put a blind on a pallet and used the loader on his tractor to lift it up to the birds’ level. He had to make a few trips up and down the ladder to the pallet to get this shot, but the results were worth it.
Using his kayak not only helps Irwin get close to moose—always a favorite subject—but also allows him to see things that are almost invisible from land. This days-old pied-billed grebe, no bigger than a marshmallow Peep, had been riding on its mother’s back but lost its hold when she dove for food. While waiting for her to resurface, the baby paddled toward Irwin for a closer look. “It would have been an even better shot if I could’ve gotten down to his level, but that’s pretty tricky in a kayak!”

To see more of Roger Irwin’s photos or to order prints, go to rogerirwinphotos.com.

Read a longer version of this story by Ian Aldrich in the January/February 2023 issue of Yankee Magazine.