During my trip to Florida for the AU convention and GHC Auction, I spent a day at the partner loft of John Marles and Mark Evans of Myrtle Lofts. I asked them to help me pick out a hen to add to my breeding loft. Any and every hen on that property would have been an excellent addition. I asked to look at birds with Shadow in their blood in order to further compliment what I already have in my loft.
After looking at and handling a couple of beautiful hens, John took a moment to retrieve a hen from a different loft. He handed me a medium sized blue bar who was so strong I struggled with her for a few moments. She is a beautiful bird who I trust will make equally beautiful (and fast!) birds. When Don Campbell looked over and saw her and anxiously asked who she is out of, I laughingly told him that information was “need to know”. That’s also what I plan to tell my wife when she asks me what I paid for her.
I have plans to mate her with a cock who is a triple grandson of Shadow and also my Eisenhower cock (also a grandson to Shadow). The Lord and Lady of the Rings are nest mates who were fabulous racers and breeders and are down from Shadow via Solitaire. Pre-Olympic is a top performance pigeon and quickly turning into a world-class breeder for Mark Evans and his children commanded a steep price at the GHC auction, the top one pricing out at $9,100. A double-grand child of Pre-Olympic sold for $8,000 (Pre-Olympic x Davina / Pre-Olympic x Lady of the Rings). As you can see, I feel very fortunate to have a very similarly bred pigeon in “Need to Know”.
See the photos below of “Need to Know” 13 GHC 6067, a grand daughter of (Pre-Olympic x Lady of the Rings) / (Lord of the Rings x Davina)
John Marles holds GHC 6067 at his loft with Joe Ferreira in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013. Photo by David Stephenson
Mark Evans holds GHC 6067 at the loft in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013. Photo by David Stephenson
Mark Evans holds GHC 6067 at the loft in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013. Photo by David Stephenson
John Marles holds GHC 6067 at the loft in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013. Photo by David Stephenson
Mark Evans, John Marles and Joe Ferreira with David Stephenson, right, at the Marles and Evans loft in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013. Photo by David Stephenson
John Marles, Don Campbell, Mark Evans, Joe Ferreira and David Stephenson in Spring Hill, Fl., on Friday, November 22, 2013.
At the 2013 AU Convention in Tampa, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the best pigeon racers in our country and a small handful from outside of the U.S. I have never attended a convention but I made a point of coming to this one to meet and listen to Mark Evans of Myrtle Lofts and his North American partner John Marles. I’ve been acquiring birds down from this world-famous stock and I knew this would be a rare chance to meet him them person. I also had the pleasure of meeting another Evans aficionado Kenny King of Kings View Lofts. This is a man who has made a significant “buy in” to this family of birds and will surely soon be hitting the top of the sheet in races around the globe.
The weekend did not disappoint, as I had the very good fortune of spending the majority of Friday at the John Marles & Mark Evans partnership loft in Spring Hill. Also there was the exceptional flyer Don Campbell from Ohio and Marles’ Canadian partner, Joe Ferreira. We spent the day looking at and handling birds and I went a little nuts taking photos. I knew it was a moment that would not soon be repeated. The birds were stunning, of course, but I was particularly struck at how John Marles moved through his loft and how his pigeons reacted to him. You can see in the photos how much he cares for the birds and how much they care for him.
Check out the two galleries below for pictures from the convention, including photos from the historic auction which garnered more than $164,000 for 78 birds from Jos Thone, Nikolaas Gyselbrecht and the Pipa Elite Breeding Center, Big Andy, and of course Mark Evans’ Myrtle Lofts.
The Pigeon Photographer was featured in the November 1, 2013 edition of the Racing Pigeon Digest. The story was written by a good friend and former Herald-Leader colleague, Maryjean Wall. Below you can see the pages as they appeared in The Digest.
The cover of the Nov. 1, 2013 edition of the Racing Pigeon Digest
By Maryjean Wall
In the slipstream of a crush of rushing wings, the camera clicks. It’s going to be a good day. David Stephenson has caught the perfect light as he releases pigeons for a training flight.
You could call Stephenson a two-fisted pigeon guy. From the one hand he releases his birds, sending them along their way towards the rising sun. In the other hand he holds his photo gear du jour: today this might be a remote shutter release triggering a camera on a tripod. On another day his gear might be as simple as a camera phone.
Stephenson, 43, of Lexington, Ky., is a professional photographer who also races birds. When he combines his two pursuits, the results can be spectacular. He recently organized his best work on a new website, ThePigeonPhotographer.com, and began offering a photo wall calendar in October.
Among his reasons for creating the web site was to help people find his pictures better and allow anyone to license images of racing pigeons in an affordable – and legitimate – way. He also hopes it will deter people from taking photos without permission off the internet.
In the bigger picture, “I want to create a new way of seeing our racing pigeons,” he said. “I’m not excited by seeing the same type of photos over and over. They’re often not particularly flattering and the birds all start to look the same. I like to see beauty and character in my birds. We in the sport know our pigeons are beautiful. I hope others, by seeing my photos, may begin to see that beauty, too.”
Stephenson has stamped this site with the same creativity and energy that has brought him multiple awards for his photography – and for the racing pigeons that he, his wife, Angie, and daughter, Tory, raise at his Kastle Loft.
“David is turning the flight of the pigeon into art,” said Charles Bertram, chief photographer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He is seeing pigeons in a way the naked eye would never see. Of every photo of a pigeon ever taken, his work is going to be up there at the top.”
Five years ago, when Stephenson was well established in his photojournalism career, he returned after a long hiatus to pigeon racing. He had never really lost interest in birds throughout that time; he just never felt that any of the places he lived were suitable for building a loft.
He recalls his initial interest in birds. He acquired his first birds – doves – when in junior high school because a neighbor kept doves. Then he discovered that still another neighbor kept racing pigeons. Stephenson took to the pigeons right away. “I was enamored with fact that you could let pigeons out and they would come back,” he said.
Stephenson’s family moved from Lexington to Berea, Ky. (home of Berea College) when he began high school. His late father, John Stephenson, was president of the college and so David was able to build a small loft behind the President’s House. “I worked and paid for my birds and loft,” he said, citing the late Loftus Green of Lexington as his pigeon source. Following high school in Berea, a baccalaureate from Western Kentucky University, and stints as either a photographer or photo editor in Connecticut, Wyoming, Chicago, and finally, as a staff photographer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Stephenson returned to the racing pigeon world.
Once again, 25 years later, he acquired some pigeons from his original source, Loftus Green, a lifetime member of the Lexington Racing Pigeon Club.
“What happened was I took my daughter to a children’s movie called Valiant,” he said. “The movie was about homing pigeons and their effort to deliver life-saving messages during World War II. That totally reignited my interest.”
He built a starter loft in his back yard. Two years later he replaced it with a larger loft, measuring 8×15 feet with 3 sections. He flies with two families: Koopman’s and the Wittenbuik and Shadow lines of M & D Evans Vandenabeele’s. Among his most recent awards are a club Champion Bird and the club’s Average Speed for both the 2013 Old Bird and Young Bird seasons. One of his birds finished second in a Gulf Coast Homing Club 150-mile race while handled by Jim Combs. The same bird was in the money in last year’s Gulf Coast Classic. He has a new son of M & D Evans’ Eisenhower he has high hopes for and is already seeing great results and in more than one loft. He has nine pairs of breeders and raises 30-40 young birds. He sends six to 10 birds annually to out-of-area races. Stephenson is now the President of the Lexington Racing Pigeon Club and designed and manages the club’s website, www.lexingtonracingpigeonclub.org.
In 2009 Stephenson left his staff position at the Lexington Herald-Leader to pursue freelance photography and take the position of Photojournalism Adviser for the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. Since then, he has expanded his range of photography and multimedia work. This has complimented his innovations in bird photography.
He has constructed a mobile studio for photography inside lofts. His Facebook page reached more than 2,000 “likes” in just a few weeks, and his Twitter and Instagram accounts likewise are becoming substantial, allowing him to share his work across the globe. He organized his work “to help people find me and the pictures easier” and “hopefully to make a little money to help pay for feed.” His work paid off quickly, when Audubon magazine published one of his pigeon photos in the March-April 2013 magazine. He also had a photo selected for the popular NBCnews.com Week in Pictures slideshow. He’s had university researchers and book publishers also license his photos.
Stephenson’s increasing presence on the Web, whether it is his own work or designing sites for other pigeon flyers, is taking his own pigeon ownership into a new dimension. Every time he goes to his loft he now has some kind of camera with him, even if it is only a camera phone. He always has a professional camera on hand when he releases his pigeons to train. Most recently he is shooting slow-motion video of his birds with a Go Pro.
As Bertram said, “His work transcends pigeon photography and becomes art.”
The pigeons bring their wings together in Stephenson’s photos and you can almost hear the clap.
Here are David Stephenson’s tips for photographing your pigeons on a training flight: There are two good options for getting photos: One is upon release and the other is of the birds flying overhead. Set up your camera on a tripod with a remote shutter control release.
Anticipate where your birds will fly upon release and prefocus on that spot. Set the shutter speed on a fast setting, at least 1,000 or more, which will be necessary to freeze the motion in the image. The fast shutter speed will require a lot of light, which means the f-stop will be set at a low number, 2.8 or 4.5. After the birds leave the baskets, you will need a zoom lens, because the birds won’t fly close to you for very long. Follow the birds and hope they cross into a spot with a good background. And practice, practice, practice.
If tripods and remote shutter releases aren’t in the cards, you can still get good photos even with a cell phone. Try to anticipate where the birds will be going and put yourself at the best angle to capture it. Get low to the ground and have an interesting, clean background. Get closer.
“Shoot a lot,” Stephenson said. “I’ve shot hundreds of photos (on a single training flight), liking only a few. Take your camera every time you train. If you don’t like what you get one day, try it from a different angle next time. I change perspectives all the time, often lying on the ground. I rarely get it on the first try. Some sunrise silhouettes I shot for an entire season before I got one or two I liked.”
Also, spend some time outside the loft with the birds. That is when they will show their true character and in a more natural setting. The light is almost always better and stronger outside the loft, too. A longer lens helps in this setting.
Stephenson is often asked in emails about the type of camera he uses. Stephenson uses professional models of Canon camera bodies but he said any DSLR will work, as long as you have enough light. He currently uses two Canon 5D Mark III’s. The lens range he works with is from 14 mm to 600 mm. If you don’t have a DSLR, a camera phone will work in the right circumstances, he said. You just need good light, good timing and a willingness to learn from your mistakes.
We tried a few new training and feeding techniques this year which resulted in some significant changes in our returns. During the summer, I single-tossed every bird out to 30 miles before they were ever group tossed. No bird was lost. We also changed our feed regiment which I believe gave our birds much more fuel on race day.
The returns on race day were fantastic. In the first 5 races, we didn’t lose a single bird. Better yet, we had 95% -100% of our team on the drops in each race. Almost all of our birds stuck together in the race and they came home ahead of the other birds with a couple of exceptions (congrats Fred!).
Unfortunately our season ended when most of our club lost most of our birds in a smash race at 200 miles from Columbia, Tn. We had birds coming in for days and weeks but we are still missing some fine, fine birds. Perhaps they are safe and sound in another loft.
Our Kannibaal family continued to perform well for us and also for others in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. We are starting to see great results now from our new M&D Evans Gabys not only in our loft but also in lofts in Ohio, Atlanta and the Gulf Coast Homing Club. We had multiple diplomas at home and away and many equal 1sts, top 2%, 5%, and 10% finished in competition with 500-1100 birds. Don Campbell raced some of our Gabys and earned one of them an AU ACE distinction.
At the club level, Kastle Loft earned:
Top 12 Champion Birds
1st Average Speed
Some highlights of our birds’ performances in other lofts includes:
Flown by Don Campbell:
Earned Ace Pigeon status with 13 GNEO 2662: 35th vs. 443b. 100 miles (8%) | 20th vs. 543b. 170 miles (4%) | 49th vs. 443b. 170 miles (11%) | 22nd (eq.1) vs. 338b. 200 miles (7%) | 66th vs. 442b. 200 miles (15%)
Also earned: 11th vs. 443b. 100 miles (3%) | 8th vs. 545b. 100 miles (2%) | 33rd vs. 357b 175 miles (9%) | 30th vs. 275b 100 miles (11%) | 7th (eq.1) vs. 338b. 200 miles (2%)
Flown by Jim Combs, GHC:
Kastle 1321: 159th vs. 1321b. (12%) 120 miles GHC | 77th place vs. 928 b (8%) 150 mile Option Race (2nd to loft). 46 seconds to win | 96th vs 933b (10%) 200 miles ghc option race.
3rd place Pigeon Talk Classic flown by Damon Sylve of the North Atlanta RPC (M & D Evans family)
Multiple diplomas over ten races flown by Gene Miller of Ohio (Kannibaal family)
3rd place Combine for Larry Brock of Cincinnati.
Top 10% finishes in the North Florida Combine down from our Kannibaal family for Angel Copote.
I am heading to Florida for the AU convention in November and plan to add another hen to our arsenal of M & D Evans Gabys from the John Marles / Mark Evans partner loft in Spring Hill. Breeding season is just around the corner and brings another year of opportunity and growth with it.
Jimmy Combs, who handles our birds in the Gulf Coast Homing club for the Classic race, has scored a big win in old birds with 2012 AU Kastle 11. He finished 2nd place, 150 miles, 1084 birds with a blistering speed of 2094 ypm. Congratulations also to Jim, as the first place bird was also his, but flown by another loft.
Kastle 11 is by Waddy, our son of Kannibaal’s Gold, and out of Widow’s 20, a double grand-daughter of Black Widow. Kastle 11 was our best finisher in last December’s Classic race, finishing in the money and the top 10%. Clicking the image below will take you to the complete results.
Congratulations to Tory for another outstanding science fair – her second of two award-winning projects involving our racers. This year, she won first place at her school and just yesterday she won 7th grade district champion. We are very proud of her and wish her the best at regional competition.
This year, her project was comparing diets high in fats and carbs to see if they affected the flight speeds of our birds. She tested them at pretty short distances, but the results were still very interesting. Below is an excerpt from her abstract.
What is the effect of a diet high in fats or carbohydrates on the flight time of a homing pigeon? My purpose is to help pigeon racers like me decide what types of food make the pigeons perform better. My hypothesis is that the pigeons that ate the high carbs diet are going to be quicker because carbs give you energy quicker, whereas fats are a more long-term energy source and don’t burn off fast. From the results of my experiment, I learned that a diet of high fats makes the pigeons fly 0.45 miles per hour faster on average than on a high carb filled diet.
We added a son of Eisenhower x Joint Venture, pictured above, to our breeding program in 2012 and expect he will have an immediate impact in 2013.
We’ve wrapped up 2012 here at Kastle Loft. We were happy to add a total of six first place wins in club racing during the young bird season.
Our biggest win of the young bird season, however, came in the Gulf Coast Classic. Our handler, Jim Combs, did a great job with our birds. AU 2012 Kastle 11 finished the Classic race in 204th place. Out of 2052 birds and 101 lofts, that finish was good enough to get us in the top 10% and in the money in some of the toughest competition in the country. We plan to send more birds to Jim in 2013.
Kastle 11 is a daughter of Waddy (a direct son of Kannibaal’s Gold) and Widow’s 20 (a double grand-daughter of Black Widow and Aviator).
We also enjoyed finishing up Tory’s 7th grade science fair project where she compared flight speeds of our birds on various carb & fat diets. We wish her the best in upcoming competition.
Here’s looking back to a fun, although sometimes frustrating 2012, and to hopeful success in 2013.
The Pigeon Talk Classic, hosted in 2012 by Mr. Walt Conditionfreak, had 16 birds in this release in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 16 at the Wal-Mart parking lot (results here). Our Kastle bird is still in the mix and finished 8th out of the 16 today.
Going along for the ride with his 16 birds were another thousand or so from lofts across southern and central Ohio. It was quite a rush to see such a flock released. Beautiful sight.