When photographer Kelley Luikey left one of her go-to spots near Beaufort, South Carolina, where she had been shooting roseate spoonbills on a summer morning, she didn’t think she had captured anything noteworthy. At home, she glanced over the files, and nothing jumped out. It wasn’t until three weeks later that she took a closer look.
“And that’s when I found it,” she says of the shot that would become G&G’s October/November 2022 cover. “Something about the colors, the soft light that lit the feathers just a little bit, and the sense of movement in both birds.” She’d snapped the photo as some fifteen spoonbills unexpectedly arrived from the nearby marsh to roost in a tree thirty feet from Luikey. “There were none, and then all of a sudden they just started flying in,” she recalls.
Luikey specializes in both resident and migratory birds, and though she is happy to photograph any species that presents itself, the roseate spoonbill has a special place in her heart. “It’s my spark bird—the one that made me love birds in the first place,” she says. “Plus, they’re a great species for talking about climate change and habitat loss. Before, we didn’t have them in South Carolina, but due to these factors, their range is shifting and we can actually see them here year-round.”
As a certified master naturalist, Luikey was an ideal fit for the October/November issue theme of Champions of Conservation. She advocates for ethical practices in bird photography—no calling or baiting—and donates 2 percent of all her sales to Audubon South Carolina. “As soon as my photography became profitable, I knew I wanted to give back to the birds here,” she says. Year-round, she frequents bird hotspots around the state, including the ACE Basin wildlife refuge and Bear Island, to capture white pelicans, oystercatchers, skimmers, and of course, roseate spoonbills.
“With bird photography, the background is important, the wing position is important, the foot position is important—all those details add up,” she says. “It’s fun to photograph a sunset or a landscape, but there’s nothing like the challenge of capturing a bird in a beautiful pose with beautiful light, and it just keeps me coming back for more.”
G&G’s October/November issue is available on newsstands now. Or start your subscription here.