For love of wild things: Napa library shows works by local photographer

For love of wild things: Napa library shows works by local photographer

Photographs taken by John Comisky, the current president of Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County, reveal his love for birds and mammals.

His work focuses on wildlife both in its natural element, and as it goes through the rehabilitation and release process. In all his photos, the eyes of the creatures stand out as though they want to tell you something.

Some 25 of Comisky’s prints will be on display in a juried exhibit at the Napa City-County Library, 580 Combs St., through August. A reception is scheduled for Aug. 11 from 6-7:30 p.m. with an art talk at 6:30 p.m.

“Napa has an incredibly rich wildlife system, which many of us take for granted,” Comisky said. “We all have moments and encounters that change our day, interruptions of wonder and awe that reward us with moments of beauty and unexpected smiles before we resume the day’s plan.”

“I try to add to those and enrich them with more depth and deeper emotional connection, so the eye can see and re-see them, to appreciate the broader range of beauty and the presence of soul,” he continued. “I try to have them emerge as individuals worthy of note, not just part of the periphery of our lives, but as citizens of our community and world.”

Before becoming a wildlife photographer Comisky was an hobbyist photographer, living on the East Coast, with a day job in corporate America that kept him “scrambling for time” to go on shoots and improve his craft. He indulged his passion for photography by focusing on landscapes, street scenes, and “nuggets of visual value that went mostly unnoticed.”

He said his “world changed” when his daughter introduced him to his first digital camera.

“Suddenly I could take as many shots as I wanted with no cares about running out of film or knowing if the shot had a ghost of a chance of being a keeper,” he said. “Instant feedback and a slow progression of trial and error helped me learn, as did access to those who really knew what they were doing.”

Finally, free from the time-consuming demands of work, he and his wife retired to Napa four years ago.

His involvement with Napa Wildlife Rescue came from a chance conversation at the Farmers Market about 2 1/2 years ago. Later, the same week, he learned, from a different source, that wildlife throughout the world is disappearing rapidly.

“I was shocked by a radio story on a report by the World Wildlife Foundation, which concluded that 50 percent of the world’s wildlife had disappeared in the last 40 years,” Comisky said. “It was a point of no return.”

“If wildlife disappears, so do we,” he said. “It is like global warming. It is important to humans because it is affecting us in a direct way. It is no joke. Wildlife is disappearing because people don’t care.”

Comisky said he is following the advice of Marin naturalist, Elizabeth Terwilliger, who advised those wanting to protect wildlife to teach people to love nature because people take care of what they love.

“My photos are meant to deepen the perception of the beauty of these creatures. To strengthen our connection to them. People need to care.”

Whether he is waiting in the wetlands for hours for a golden eagle to return to its nest or photographing the birds and squirrels that visit his backyard, Comisky devotes countless hours to his art.

“There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t take hundreds of pictures,” he said.

He uses a Canon 5D Mark 3 when he goes out to shoot. Photographing wildlife, he said, is more challenging and requires longer lenses than landscape photography.

“Wildlife doesn’t pose for you,” he laughed. “With a landscape, you still have to get up early for the light – but it will still be there. With wildlife, you never know when you will get the keeper (shot).”

“The dawn and evening light are the best for a photographer,” he said.

He has found that the key skill is learning to track an animal as it moves and he is constantly discovering more about his wild subjects.

Once, knowing an osprey had a nest nearby, Comisky waited three hours for it to come back. When it finally started circling around, he realized that, to the osprey, the camera eye looked like a “big eye,” which was making it wary.

Each day brings new knowledge about his subjects through research and field experience.

“Getting a good photo of a red shouldered hawk is challenging because they are more-high strung than most other birds,” he said.

“In birds of prey, the females are bigger than the males,” he said.

“Coyotes are born with blue eyes. That coyote pup’s mother was killed,” he said, explaining the soulful blue eyes of a coyote pup in one of his photos.

Comisky’s compassion has led him to use his skills and prior knowledge of the business world to promote Napa Wildlife Rescue, and he hopes to draw other people to this nonprofit organization. It has 120 volunteers and always welcomes more volunteers.

Napa Wildlife Rescue was founded in 1991 by local veterinarian Shirley Harmon to rehabilitate and then release healthy wild animals back into their native habitat.

Napa County is the only North Bay county that does not have a physical wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility, but efforts are underway to establish a permanent wildlife center in the county.

Through home-based satellite care centers NWR currently intakes and cares for more than 500 mammals and raptors throughout the year.

For more information about Napa Wildlife Rescue go to

To visit John Comisky’s website go to