Retired teacher turns nature photographer

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Retired teacher Jerry McGrath at The Grind Café in Wading River, where his works have been on display all month.

There’s a place in Wading River where you can catch a glimpse of an egret so close up that you can see the sun’s glare in the bird’s eye.

No need to hide out in the marsh and wait to spot one returning to its nest. Retired Wading River Elementary School teacher Jerry McGrath, 65, is doing the dirty work.

He’s been staking out the area in his kayak, armed with his camera. For hours on end, Mr. McGrath waits for the perfect opportunity to capture his winged friends’ personalities through his lens.

“There’s a lot of places that I’m discovering,” Mr. McGrath said. “I’m so lucky because I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way.”

Mr. McGrath’s first exhibit opened in September at the North Shore Public Library, and his work has been on display all month at The Grind Café in Wading River. The exhibit will run into April.

Mr. McGrath said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the response to his latest showing.

“I thought maybe 15 to 20 people would show up at the opening,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how many visitors I had. There were about 80 to 90 people. It was very exciting.”

An avid fisherman licensed to operate boats by the U.S. Coast Guard, Mr. McGrath, also known as Captain Jerry, said his photography hobby took a professional turn after he won first place in a photography contest about five years ago, which landed him two free round-trip tickets from Alaska Airlines to travel anywhere in the country.

Mr. McGrath and his wife, Cathie, decided to visit Hawaii.

“I thought, I can’t just go with a point-and-shoot camera,” he said. “That’s when I got a Canon DSLR. It took fabulous pictures and we had a great time. That’s when I became addicted to Canon.”

Mr. McGrath described his latest exhibit as outdoor photography featuring panoramic landscapes, sunrises, sunsets and animals — particularly those with wings, four legs or fins.

One of his images on display piqued the interest of Laura Latora of Wading River earlier this month as she worked on her laptop at the café.

“I love the owl,” Ms. Latora told Mr. McGrath. She said the rare close-up of the bird would be perfect for her 11-month-old son’s room. “I try to find art that we enjoy and will stimulate him,” she said.

Mr. McGrath said he’s looking into showing his work at vineyards along the North Fork and will continue to explore Long Island’s beauty with his camera.

“I’m mesmerized by nature,” he said. “It’s quiet, peaceful. It’s like being in my own secluded world.”

For more information about Mr. McGrath’s work, visit

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