Many people have benefited from René’s star excellence in bird photography and, like me, they can tell you about his qualities.

Among bird photographers, he is one of only a few who has a professional education. In the 1970s, it resulted in a carreer in a then well-known photographic lab near Rotterdam. Meanwhile, he was an active birder too, and he criss-crossed the Netherlands and other countries to photograph birds, at first mainly rarities. By the late 1970s, the first issue of Dutch Birding was printed. I still remember that he looked at it in dismay and told us, the handful of people who published the first issue, that he would be happy to help in upgrading the pictures of future issues. Well, he just did that, for more than 30 years now. His professional qualities were such that, in those years, his boss could not be without him and had no other option than to agree that the lab’s professional equipment could be used free of charge to produce the print-ready films for Dutch Birding.

A lot has changed since, but not René’s class, abilities and quality. Over the years, he stimulated many birders to improve their photographic skills. Bird photography has gone digital and René followed suit. He combines his professional photographic skills, both in the field and behind the computer screen, with a wide ornithological knowledge and experience. It means, for instance, that he knows what the colours of any bird should look like when he is working on the levels of someone’s photo sent for publication. Dutch Birding, the journal of which I have been an editor for so many years, became famous because of René’s excellence. Each and every photograph ever published in all those years in Dutch Birding, exactly 8532 until April 2009, has been scanned and treated by René.

Obviously, many publishers of other journals, magazines and bird books discovered the pictorial qualities of Dutch Birding and found out who was behind it. As René moved away from his native area along the mouth of Maas and Waal near Rotterdam to have a new career as father of four in the top of Noord-Holland and on his beloved Texel, it became even more difficult for him to say no to all the requests for help from a wide range of bird organizations. If you see an interesting book with good quality bird photographs, just look in the colophon who did the lithography: a good chance you find his name.

In recent years, he has attributed to a wide range of books. For instance, he scanned all the photographs in The birds of Scotland (a real heavy-weight, published in 2007). Even more recently, he did the same for the new Top 100 birding sites of the world (published by New Holland in 2008) and Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere (by Richard Chandler in 2009). Currently, a lot of his time is taken by scanning pictures for the landmark photographic Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds by Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson (to be published by Helm).

Notable birding groups enjoying his help include the Oriental Bird Club with journals like Birding Asia and Forktail. Local groups also profit from his great skills and generosity: the annual reports of the Texel bird group (Vogelwerkgroep Texel) are a feast to page through because of the pictures, and he agreed to give his help to the upcoming book project of northern Noord-Holland too (‘Broedvogelatlas’ in 2010).

René is heavily involved in music as well. Not only he is a guitar player in a local group but also he has a remarkable ‘ear’ for recognizing and naming pieces of music, be it classical or pop. Not surprisingly, he is quite good in recognizing bird sounds too. He became a member of the team of The Sound Approach (TSA), which is working on collecting and analyzing all the bird sounds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. However, he is not involved as a sound-recordist but, naturally, as a bird photographer and as scanner operator for the acclaimed Sound Approach books, of which three have been published up to 2009. His work for TSA brought him to photographic meccas such as Alaska, Macaronesia and Mongolia, and some of his excellent pictures can be admired in these Sound Approach books (soundapproach.co.uk).

 

Arnoud B van den Berg, 5 mei 2009