Dec. 5—A day after a blizzard whipped through Boulder County, dropping more than 2 feet of snow on Longmont on March 14, Art Trevino drove the freshly plowed roads in search of an eagle's nest west of Hygiene.
It was on this venture that Trevino, 71, of Longmont, would capture a photo that would win an award from The Comedy Wildlife Photography Competition, an international contest seeking to promote conservation. But, at the time, Trevino was just curious how the eagles were holding up following the heavy, wet snow.
The nest, on Boulder County Open Space property, just off Hygiene Road, has been there for more than 10 years. At the site, Trevino spotted a male eagle preening its feathers as it perched in a tree branch.
"I said, 'I'm just going to pull off to the side of the road and wait to see if he takes off,'" Trevino said. "I don't care to take pictures of birds in trees. It's kind of boring to me. I prefer to take pictures of them in flight. It's much more interesting."
About 30 minutes later, the eagle soared off to look for a snack in the nearby prairie dog field.
"Low and behold, he swept down on the snow to try and grab one of the prairie dogs that was sticking his head up out of the hole," Trevino said. "He actually missed. I couldn't believe it."
After his failed attempt, the raptor landed a few feet from the prairie dog. Perhaps seizing on the bird's lack of grace, the prairie dog jumped in the air and lunged at the eagle, causing the bird to stumble backward, kicking up snow in its wake.
"Like a real David and Goliath story, the prairie dog actually goes after the eagle, and the eagle is startled," Trevino said. "It's a one-in-a-million shot."
After demonstrating its ninja abilities, Trevino said, the prairie dog then scrambled back to safety to its hole in the ground.
While he happened to stumble on a particularly brazen prairie dog, Trevino isn't a novice photographer who just got a lucky shot.
Trevino studied photography while he was going to school at the University of Texas in Austin during the '70s and has been a wildlife photographer for over 40 years. Though today he said his day job with a TV antenna service pays the bills, he runs a side business taking photos of wildlife, called Pappa Dukes Productions — a nod to Trevino's nickname Pappa Dukes, which he earned while playing in a band with his son.
Using his Sony A9 camera, he's captured raptors in flight, moose grazing on tender grass in a meadow, mountains mirrored in pristine ponds and lonely prairies under starry skies. He also shares his expertise by serving as a tour guide in Estes Park, where he teaches people how to take better wildlife photos in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A few days after he got the prairie dog and eagle shot, Trevino shared the photo on Facebook. People started encouraging him to enter the photo, dubbed "Ninja Prairie Dog!" into The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Trevino decided to give it a shot.
Trevino said his photo was one of more than 7,000 contest entries from all over the world. While the photo didn't claim the overall winner, it was recognized with the Alex Walker's Serian Creatures on the Land Award. Trevino found out he earned the category win on Nov. 16. He received a certificate, camera bag and notoriety for his efforts, including interviews on TV and numerous media publications.
"I'm not too disappointed because it's a pretty big deal to be chosen second out of over 7,000 entries — international entries, not just U.S. entries," Trevino said. "It's been quite humbling."
Michelle Wood, an organizer for the comedy wildlife organization, wrote in an email that Trevino's shot is the perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.
"The narrative is priceless, " Wood wrote in an email. "This is hard to capture at the best of times, but it is also a beautifully shot image. Art has managed to create a brilliant composition with wonderful colors and tones."
The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards were started by founders Paul Joynson-Hicks, a Tanzanian-based photographer, and Tom Sullam. They wanted to run a photo contest that would feature funny wildlife situations as a way to create empathy and understanding for animals, according to the website.
As a way to give back, The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards donates 10% of its total net revenue to conservation projects that work to protect endangered wildlife.
"We hope that by grabbing people's attention with these amazing and funny images, we can encourage a much wider and louder conversation about wildlife conservation and how we need to start looking after the planet and the fragile habitats that are being destroyed on a daily basis," Wood wrote.
Trevino hopes his story taps into this message. Even though in Boulder County prairie dogs are often viewed as pests, Trevino said, they play an important role in the ecosystem by serving as a source of food for raptors, foxes and bobcats.
"By hopefully showing this photograph and bringing more of a human nature to these prairie dogs and eagles, it will really stress the importance of preserving these prairie dog colonies, especially for raptors and any predator out there," Trevino said.
Trevino added he is conscientious about not disturbing wildlife when photographing them and uses a long lens so that he can maintain distance from their habitats.
Trevino said that he feels fortunate to be living in Boulder County, where so much natural beauty and wildlife can be found. He encouraged people to get outdoors and see it for themselves.
"Enjoy our beautiful national park that we have just a few miles from us; all the trails we have up in the mountains; all the places around Boulder, Longmont and the Front Range — it's just so gorgeous," Trevino said.