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For an Olive-Sided Flycatcher, He'll Wait

December 12, 1987

Reflections showcases county residents who have an interesting life story and gives them an opportunity to tell it in their own words.

Jim Gallagher shot a rifle in front-line combat in Okinawa during WWII and booked burglars and car thieves in Watts as a Los Angeles police detective for 29 years. Armed with a talent as a marksman--kept sharp on police shooting ranges--the Huntington Beach retiree gave up firearms to perfect another kind of shot when he retired seven years ago. Trading a gun for a camera, the former hunter began shooting birds through the lens of a Minolta. A warning of heart disease got him walking for exercise and led him to observe hundreds of birds in the nearby Bolsa Chica State Reserve. Now a director of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, Gallagher, 61, with the help of his wife, Sylvia--a bird sound expert--has boosted the chapter's slide collection to 4,000 transparencies. Together the couple have created eight film strips for schools as well as elaborate multi - image slides shown to service groups. Gallagher said he doesn't miss the "horrendous workload" at the police station . He can wait all day by a tree to catch a shot of a red-breasted sapsucker.

His remarks that follow were taken from an interview with Times Staff Writer Nancy Reed. \f7 I drove by, day in and day out, in a hurry, and I never even knew Bolsa Chica was there. It's just a big, flat spot in the road on Coast Highway. It just looked like a swamp. I didn't have any time for it. The natural marsh had been drained by people who wanted to use the land, but now they have built islands down there and tried to make it a natural place for the birds to nest. So each year in the last five years, different birds have been coming that haven't nested there in 100 years.

I think the police business did help me because you are required to shoot your pistol at least once a month. It is the same principle in shooting; you don't want to move the camera when you fire it off. Photography is a lot harder--you not only have to line it up, you have to focus on top of it.

I try to dress in real drab colors and usually wear a camouflage cap. You are not going to fool a bird--they can see an ant at 50 yards--but you have to look like you are harmless to them. Like you are just a cow in the pasture eating grass.

Sylvia also is responsible for a lot of the good pictures that I take. Birds being what they are, they don't like other birds in their territory. When she plays a bird's recorded sound, (the bird) will come flying to drive away what it thinks is another bird--particularly during nesting season.

Many times I have said: "Well, Sylvia, the sun is this way, put the bird on this branch right over here." It is surprising how many times that bird would come and land right on that branch I was all set up and ready to fire on.

The olive-sided flycatcher was one of our coups. It was a bird up in the mountains. Sylvia played the recording, the bird came out to drive us away, and I took his picture several times. But even after she quit playing and we walked away, that bird parted our hair out of the meadow. The bird realized that we were the ones making that sound, rather than another bird. It was really odd that that is the only bird that had ever done that. It must have followed us 100 yards.

To get out there and to have all the time I need to do the job is just a lot of fun. There is something in trying to think like a bird and to entice this bird toward you. It is incredibly relaxing. It took me two years to do the photography for one show. We think we are the biggest bird-slide library west of the Rockies.

I have a lot of patience when it comes to stalking something. The camera I carry . . . I have built a stock so it is like a rifle. To me, it is like hunting, only you don't bring the thing home and stuff it. You have a picture of it.

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