After 15 years as a professional news and sports photographer in New Jersey, Phil Lanoue packed away his camera and moved to South Carolina to enjoy retirement in Murrells Inlet. His Canon might still be boxed up had it not been for some adventurous Roseate Spoonbills.
The gregarious wading birds showed up at Huntington Beach State Park the summer of 2009, drawing the attention of beachgoers like Lanoue and his wife.
“They stopped traffic,” Lanoue recalled. “Spoonbills are not normally found in coastal Carolina.”
Eager to get the rare bird sighting on film, he decided it was time to break out his digital SLR. After successfully shooting the Roseate Spoonbills, he moved on to other wildlife found in the park — anhingas, bald eagles, ducks, minks, blue crabs and alligators.
“Huntington Beach has such a great variety of wildlife,” Lanoue said. “But what really makes it unique is that the wildlife is very close. The birds seem to be used to people. They’re not skittish.”
In June, Lanoue started an online photo blog to share his photos with family and friends. The website has since found an international audience with viewers from 65 different countries, including India, Vietnam, South Africa and Turkey. On average, it receives 400 to 500 views a day.
Of all the birds and animals he has photographed, alligators garner the most interest. One particular series of images titled “Alligator vs. Croc” have become an Internet sensation.
The four photos feature an alligator doing battle with a Croc — not the reptile, but the popular rubber sandal.
“I noticed he had something in his mouth,” Lanoue recalled. “It wasn’t until he raised his head to chomp down on it that I could see what it was. I recognized it immediately. I thought it was very funny a gator would be chewing on a Croc.”
A news agency in Great Britain discovered the photo online and before long, it had gone viral.
Using his favorite 300mm lens, Laroue caught another fascinating gator shot — this one involving Spoonbills. He spotted the birds playing with a juvenile alligator’s tail while feeding in the park’s marsh pond. One curious Spoonbill was so taken with the armored appendage, he picked it up in its beak.
“I use the same approach with wildlife that I used as a sports photographer,” Lanoue said. “I capture animals in action — flying, fighting, feeding. I try to get a different, unique perspective.”
Of the thousands of photos he has shot, his favorite series is of an eagle robbing a great blue heron of his catch. The beautifully detailed photos capture the action, play by magnificent play.
“It was an amazing thing to see,” Lanoue recounted. “The eagle just swooped in and flew off with the fish.”
To score those kinds of shots requires patience, said Lanoue, who visits Huntington Beach State Park several times a week.
“You have to get out of your car and spend a little time just watching the animals,” he said. “If you learn their behaviors, you’ll know what to expect.”
You can view Lanoue’s photographs at www.phillanoue.com. The photos are not for sale, just for your enjoyment.