On a spring day in 2021, photographer Steve Wagner was taking pictures of a family of osprey he’d come to know well. Each season, the birds (who, in general, can live to be 25 years old and often mate for life) returned to the same nest in Barnegat Bay, and Wagner documented them catching fish, defending their territory, and raising their chicks.
But on this particular day, Wagner witnessed something disturbing. “I was at the nest, and there was a wrapper, a plastic wrapper from roofing shingles, that was intertwined into the nest that wasn’t there the day before,” he says. “The urban runoff, the plastic, has gotten into the environment of our wildlife there.”
Wagner, who grew up locally in Normandy Beach, aims to both capture the natural wonders of Barnegat Bay and protect it. His beautiful new coffee-table book, Birds of Barnegat Bay, accomplishes both. The 180-page book places his images of birds alongside interesting facts about each species. Some of the photos feature birds that are well known to most Jerseyans—the herring gull, the great blue heron, the American goldfinch—as well as creatures that may be less familiar or are tough to spot in the wild, such as the snowy owl, the bald eagle and the hooded merganser.
In a mission that is important to Wagner, a portion of proceeds from the book’s sales go to Save Barnegat Bay, a nonprofit working to protect and restore Barnegat Bay—a 64-square-mile section of Ocean County that is home to countless species of birds, fish and crabs.
In addition to photographing wildlife, Wagner focuses on—and has roots in—a very different side of the water. He began his career as a surf photographer, which led naturally into wildlife. “There’s a lot of downtime when you’re waiting for a set of waves,” he says of surf photography. “What happens in that downtime? I started shooting coastal birds in flight that were just going by me in between shooting the surfing. It gradually moved to, Well, I can shoot surfing when there are waves and surfing, but when there are no waves, I can go out and shoot wildlife.”
The book can be purchased for $50 at stevewagnerphotography.org, the Barnegat Bay EcoCenter in Toms River, and other Shore-area shops like BookTowne in Manasquan.
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