Kyle Gerstner is keeping his eye on the Baker Wetlands.
He's looking for birds, mammals, reptiles, flowers, grasses, sunsets and other images that he can shoot with his Canon D30 camera.
"When I first started, I didn't know much about what I was seeing, but I liked the exercise and enjoyed the walking (at the wetlands)," he said. "Now I study (the animals') habits so I can get better pictures."
Using lenses that range from 17mm to 500mm and teleconverters that increase the focal length to 4400mm, Gerstner is able to produce photos of a turtle's face, a profile of a Great Blue heron and a close-up of dew on an aster's petal.
"In April, I went out and shot a bittern," he said. "I came home and looked it up and realized I was lucky to see one because they are a shy and secretive bird."
Another secret perhaps is the diversity and abundance of wildlife in the Baker Wetlands.
"I've seen 61 species of birds," he said. "Since 1968, 240 species have been recorded."
Gerstner likes visiting the area before he begins his workday but mainly shoots on weekends before 10 a.m. or from 6 p.m. to dusk, when the natural light is softer.
Among the animals he has photographed are the American coot, indigo bunting, plainbelly watersnake, catbird, Eastern tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purple butterflies, dragonflies, Eastern kingbird, Baltimore oriole, deer, red-headed woodpecker, killdeer, white-lined sphinx moth, black-and-yellow Argiope spider, Green heron, snowy egret, red-tailed hawk, Canada geese, cedar waxwing, Plains leopard frog, a variety of sparrows and American goldfinch.
Gerstner, 45, has always held an affection for the outdoors. He grew up at Medicine Lodge, where bluffs and grasslands create one of the state's most scenic areas. One of his family's favorite pastimes was taking drives through the countryside.
"I still like to take the back roads," he said.
Gerstner, who moved to Lawrence in 1986 and makes a living as a carpenter, didn't take a strong interest in photography until about four years ago, when he bought a digital camera that "did not waste film" and provided instant feedback so he could quickly improve his photography skills.
About a year and a half ago, he slapped down the money for a film camera and some lenses.
"That's the point I got interested in shooting nature photos," he said. "Last year with the eagles and cold weather that was fun, and it got me excited about bird photography."
He began stalking the Kansas River and Clinton Lake in February 2001. He didn't see much wildlife so he started walking the Baker Wetlands. By April he was hooked on the wetlands' flora and fauna and was amassing a portfolio.
"A friend suggested that I should do an online photo tour," he said.
Gerstner put 30 photos online in April, and the response was so positive that he decided to follow the Baker Wetlands for a year and each month post an online tour of the animals and landscape he saw.
"I have a better appreciation of what's out there the different birds I'd never seen before and I've bumped into like-minded people who enjoy the outdoors, nature photographers and birders," he said.
In the future, Gerstner said, he would like to turn his lens on the hills, valleys, prairie, rivers and other landscape features of Kansas. But he still has one photo left to take at the Baker Wetlands. One bird has eluded him.
"The Virginia rail," he said. "That's the one bird I haven't seen there yet."