Bonding over birds: An 11-year-old’s 7,000-mile picture safari


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Summer time trip started for Karsyn Sterns when faculty set free at 1 p.m. on Might 25. By 2:15, the 11-year-old was on the street headed west, her father, Stephon, behind the wheel of his Toyota RAV 4 hybrid.

“Her purpose was to get to Arizona,” mentioned Stephon.

Treasure awaited: Grace’s warbler, Harris’s hawk and dozens of different birds. The rising seventh-grader and avid nature photographer from Dumfries, Va., was embarking on an epic street journey throughout the American West.

“We got down to {photograph} as many birds as we may,” mentioned Stephon, 56.

This has turn into a daily factor for the pair, ever since Karsyn was 6 and Stephon handed her his previous digicam after shopping for a brand new one for himself.

“I do not assume she mentioned something, however she took 123 photos that day: round the home, out the entrance window, birds on the feeder,” Stephon mentioned. “I knew there was an curiosity. It blossomed from that time. I purchased her her personal digicam.”

In 2017, they drove to Yellowstone, in 2018 to the Grand Canyon, in 2019 as much as Maine. The pandemic put issues on maintain till this yr, when Karsyn vowed to {photograph} at the very least 60 new species.

Stephon retired from the Military in 2007 then labored for a number of years as a contractor in Afghanistan. Since Karsyn’s beginning, he has structured his jobs round spending time along with her, not too long ago in its place trainer in Stafford County. He and Karsyn’s mom are divorced and Karsyn lives with him over the summers. They pack in quite a bit.

“I’m simply going to do the perfect I can with the time that I’m given,” he mentioned. “The easiest I can do is squeeze as a lot good into the summer time as we are able to.”

Stephon has taught Karsyn the fundamentals of pictures, serving to her arrange her digicam.

“It’s not all the time in regards to the birds,” he mentioned. “One of many first classes I gave her was don’t take an image since you see me take an image. Take an image since you see one thing lovely. She has all the time executed that. I’ll flip round and he or she’s flat on her again trying straight up into leaves within the timber. She’ll say, ‘I see one thing summary and I haven’t taken something summary in the present day.’ ”

Karsyn was 7 when she gained her first picture contest, within the junior class at Huntley Meadows. A few of her photographs are a part of the hummingbird exhibit at Inexperienced Spring Gardens in Alexandria.

Stephon’s home in Dumfries — he lives in his childhood residence — is stuffed with photographs he and Karsyn have taken on their adventures. They print up picture books and make presents of prints. Karsyn’s historical past trainer at Stafford Center College has a classroom adorned in shades of purple and inexperienced.

“I’ve an image of a hummingbird that’s inexperienced,” Karsyn mentioned. “I gave that to her and he or she put it in her room.”

These annual street journeys — the newest one put 7,000 miles on the odometer — are a far cry from what Stephon did at Karsyn’s age, when summers meant going to West Virginia to stick with some cousins.

“We actually didn’t do a lot,” he mentioned. “Whenever you develop up and go into the navy and see there’s an incredible large world on the market, I believe it modifications you. You come again and you already know there’s greater than what you had been uncovered to. It’s best to do higher by your child.”

As a proud survivor of life with preteen women, I requested Stephon if there isn’t the occasional friction when cooped up collectively for hours.

“Her enjoyment is selecting at me, making enjoyable of me, discovering the issues that barely annoy and irritate me,” he mentioned. “I mock fake like I’m upset.”

Karsyn is in pleasant competitors with among the different birders she and her father stumble upon round right here. She has different pursuits, too: soccer, basketball, video video games.

“I’m attempting to make my daughter into probably the most well-rounded particular person on the planet that I can,” Stephon mentioned. “Individuals ask me, ‘Is she going to be a photographer?’ I don’t ask her that query. That’s not a call for me. That’s not even a query to pose to her. My job is to show her to as many issues as doable. No matter she chooses is completely as much as her.”

I requested Karsyn if there’s something different youngsters concerned about fowl pictures ought to know.

“A whole lot of instances they’re going to should stand up early within the morning, particularly when it’s like 80 levels at 5 within the morning,” she mentioned. “He has to wake me up.”

That’s what fathers are for.


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