FWS Behind the Lens Jake Bonello
Passion for Wildlife Photography
Jake Bonello is the assistant refuge manager at Julia Butler Hansen Refuge. In this photo he is holding a female hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). Photo Credit: Tyler Dolin

Jake Bonello is an avid wildlife photographer, conservationist, and the assistant refuge manager at Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer along the Columbia River in both Washington and Oregon. Jake recently contributed many of his images to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library. His favorite thing about photography is being in nature. He shares, “As a wildlife photographer, my hobby gets me outdoors and on the trails. Being able to capture the memories through a lens is just a bonus.”  

The National Digital Library, managed by the USFWS Library, is the premier source for public domain wildlife images, and home to the pictures, documents, audio, and video that tell the story of the Service. Public domain imagery is free to use, reuse, and share in any capacity. The FWS Behind the Lens blog series highlights Service employees in the field who have contributed spectacular photography, with an eye toward reflecting the full mission of the Service. 

Jake grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, and spent time hunting and fishing "up north." He has had a lifelong fascination with wildlife. He pursued a career as a biologist and earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and society (biology) from Eastern Michigan University. While he was in college, Jake landed a field job working for the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, the Friends group for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. After working there just a few days, he was hooked. He knew this was what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing. Jake continued his education at Eastern Michigan University while volunteering and working at the refuge. During this time, he had an internship with the Service’s Directorate Fellows Program, graduated with a master’s degree in biology, and was offered a position at a refuge with the USFWS.  

Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and other owls often require patience to photograph, because they are bit skittish, so Jake waits for them to come. Photo Credit: Jake Bonello/USFWS

In his current role, Jake is the assistant refuge manager at the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer. Though part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the refuge only has three dedicated staff members. Jake oversees the day-to-day operations with maintenance and helps the equipment operator implement the plans put forth by the biologist. He manages the grazing program for the whole complex and works with grazing cooperators in order to meet habitat management goals. He and the biologist develop management plans, goals, and adaptive management strategies. Jake also identifies new opportunities for visitors and coordinates activities for the complex’s volunteers.  

He first picked up a camera in 2014 while on an annual eagle tour on the shores of Lake Erie. Jakes shares, “I decided to take my parents’ camera with me, and by the end of the day we saw over a hundred eagles. That's all it took. I ended up getting a point-and-shoot camera that Christmas, and in 2017, I upgraded to an entry-level DSLR. Today I have an even better DSLR 150-600 mm lens, and it never leaves my side.”  

A bull elk with a couple of elk cows (Cervus canadensis) all standing alert in the grassy field. Photo Credit: Jake Bonello/USFWS

Jake reflects on one his favorite moments as a photographer, “It was on a cold winter morning on the shores of the Detroit River. In between the urban metropolis of Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Canada, there were 10's of thousands of canvasback ducks. The water was black there were so many ducks! Then a boat came through and they all took off at once. To this day I can’t describe the sound a multitude of canvasbacks make when they take off all at once, but in an instant the sky was filled with birds.” Jake tried photographing this epic moment, but that just didn't do it justice, so instead he took a video of the birds flying by to help capture it. In Jake’s opinion, neither image nor video could match the surreal beauty of seeing that with your own two eyes. This experience made Jake realize how important this refuge was. All the Great Lakes were frozen solid, but Detroit River wasn’t, and all these ducks ended up congregating in this one urban area. Thankfully the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is there to help be their voice and can continue to provide quality habitat for wintering waterfowl. 

Graceful flyover of five tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus). Photo Credit: Jake Bonello/USFWS

Jake is talented behind the lens and in tune with the seasons of wildlife. He’s been carrying a camera around since 2014, and it’s evident he loves it! His photography style opens a window into what many species of wildlife are doing in their natural habitat. He records wildlife sightings in his very own digital bird journal, which includes all of the North American bird species he’s ever photographed, like raptors, warblers, and waterfowl, etc. Tips for wildlife photography are completely dependent on the species, and being an inquisitive biologist, Jake knows how to find the individuals in the right place at the right time.  

Jake continues to be passionate about wildlife photography. He wants to have a lasting impact for conservation by making a difference for future generations of people and wildlife. Visit our National Digital Library to find thousands of public domain images. Brought to you by the USFWS Library, #FWSBehindTheLens, #WeAreUSFWS. 

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