Red Chair Gallery Presents Cascade A&E Magazine Cover Artist Sue Dougherty ~ Wildlife Photographer

(Walruses in Svalbard Archipelago by Sue Dougherty)

Wildlife photography is not an easy pursuit. It requires hiking long distances to remote areas while carrying heavy equipment, enduring all sorts of weather, sometimes not finding the animals you seek, and possessing incredible patience to wait for the right moment to click the perfect shot. Sue Dougherty has mastered it all, producing remarkable photos of wildlife from all over the world. Her work is showcased at Red Chair Gallery in March.

“Wildlife photography is a challenge because you never know what you’re going to get,” she says. “It’s a meld of spontaneity plus careful planning.” Last September, Dougherty traveled to the Svalbard Archipelago on the Arctic Circle to photograph polar bears, walruses, puffins, Arctic foxes and reindeer. Fall is a good time to travel there before the winter sea ice forms. But the first snows of fall were late and the bears could only be found traversing rocks instead of a snowy landscape. “A sign of global warming, perhaps,” she muses. Bad weather prevented her from reaching some desired viewing areas, but she still came away with some spectacular photos. Then her laptop computer crashed and she had to rely on a smaller Macbook Airt to process her shots during the trip. (Fortunately, she learned to take a second computer along after suffering the same problem on two previous trips, bad techno luck!)

Sometimes, the pursuit of wildlife results in real drama. In Patagonia, Dougherty and her photography group were on the hunt for native pumas and guanacos. The latter are the common prey of pumas in that area. The group came upon a guanaco peacefully grazing, unaware of a puma stealthily crawling towards it. Hearing suspicious sounds, the guanaco glanced up but the puma continued to approach silently. Suddenly, the puma leaped onto the guanaco’s back, only to be thrown off. The cat jumped onto the guanaco twice more before the guanaco was able to free itself from the claws and race away. “We were all just shaking because it was so amazing to see, and happy the guanaco got away” Dougherty recalls.

Another time in the Galapagos Islands, Dougherty saw a large bird swoop down to a beach to scoop up its dinner, a tiny newborn turtle crawling towards the ocean. A few minutes later, the bird dropped the turtle on the sand. Dougherty found it stunned but alive and photographed it as it scuttled to safety in the waves.

Dougherty has traveled extensively to pursue her art but continues to find new destinations with spectacular wildlife. This year’s excursions will be to an area near Calgary to shoot several different species of owls and the Texas coast to find shore birds. In the summer, she will be on the northern end of Vancouver Island photographing sea wolves, who have been isolated from other wolf populations and have learned to live off marine life, catching and eating fish and mollusks. In November, she flies down to Ecuador to look for mountain hummingbirds and other tropical avians. Hummingbirds are some of her favorite subjects and she has photographed them in Arizona, Costa Rica and even Central Oregon. “I can never get enough hummingbirds,” she says.

Dougherty, who is a “mostly retired” board certified internal medicine veterinarian, believes her professional training gives her a special empathy with the animals she photographs. “I try to relate to the animal’s situation and show that they all have feelings, lives and loves, and instincts,” she explains.

She and her husband, who is a board certified veterinary surgeon, moved to Bend from San Jose almost two decades ago and started the first small animal specialty practice in central Oregon. They wanted to bring up their children in a smaller place where nature was more accessible. They also longed for an area where they could fly-fish, Nordic ski, hike and trail run. Once the kids were in high school, Dougherty, who had always enjoyed photography, aimed to take it more seriously and to focus on wildlife. She began taking photography workshops and trips with photography experts to improve her technical skills.

Now she is an award-winning photographer. In 2020, she was named the Audubon Professional Category winner and a bronze prize winner in the 2022 Bird Photographer of the Year competition. Currently, she is a finalist in some prestigious photography competitions but is not revealing which ones they are until the winners are announced. If you happen to be visiting St. Charles Medical Center, Dougherty is the Artist in Residence and has an exhibition of her photos which is located near the hospital cafeteria. • IG:

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