A snowy owl roosting among the dried-out driftwood and grass of Devereux Beach. A coyote keeping low to the ground as it stalks prey. A deer foraging for food on a forest floor. The Milky Way’s stars littering the night sky.
Rick Cuzner’s photographs lift the curtain on a natural world seemingly hidden in plain sight. But with enough patience and interest, one can lift this veil, too, he says. For the past 15 years, Cuzner has taken thousands of nature photographs that have captured the wild animals who call Marblehead home.
“It’s a good stress relief running around in the woods,” Cuzner said. “I love hiking. I love nature. I love the wildlife.”
The Marblehead native’s family lives in a home near Steer Swamp, where Cuzner often escapes during what photographers call the golden hours when the light is just right.
“My family loves to sleep in, and I love to get up early,” he said. “I’ll get a coffee just before sunup, and I’ll make my way into the woods.”
Cuzner will retreat back into the woods when he finds “pockets of time here and there.”
“I like to find new owls,” he said. “I may find one in the afternoon and return when the light is really good.”
He might frequent Steer Swamp the most, but he has shot wildlife on just about every conservation land in Marblehead, from the bird sanctuary on the Neck to the Lead Mills property.
“I’ve seen coyotes and foxes and raccoons,” he said. “Up in the trees, we’ve got barred owls, screech owls and the great horned owls — all right here in Marblehead.”
By far, owls make up the majority of his portfolio. He attributes the start of his nature photography to trying to shoot a snowy owl.
“I remember marching up and down Crane’s Beach and finally found one,” he recalled. “From that point on, it has been an obsession.”
He was in heaven during a once-in-a-century snowy owl irruption that Marblehead experienced in 2014 and 2015. Residents spotted the majestic birds all over town — it was like something out of a Harry Potter book.
Cuzner is self-taught, saying he primarily learned how to use a camera from the internet and YouTube videos.
“Growing up, I was that kid who always had a camera,” he said.
Cuzner’s photography has extended into astrophotography, taking images of the night sky and deep space objects from Devereux Beach, his backyard and Castle Rock. His celestial images are jaw-droppingly clear for having been taken in a metropolitan area with so much light pollution.
“I have a pretty elaborate setup with a star tracker, which moves the camera at the same pace as the earth moves,” he said. “I’ll take a series of long-exposure photos over three or four hours and meld them together.”
He’s shot a beautiful image of the Andromeda galaxy as it hurtles toward the Milky Way. He has also created a series of star trails. He produced a stunning image of the Milky Way, taken from Castle Rock.
“Right now, there’s this one nebula called the witch’s nebula that I’ve been trying to get,” he said, “but it’s really hard to find, so that’s been a goal for this winter.”
Cuzner says his photography is truly a passion. He makes very little money from this hobby.
“I just love sharing them with people, showing them the wild animals that are all around them,” he said.
He said even his eyes opened to local wildlife through the years.
“When I started walking through the woods, I didn’t see so much,” he said, “but now I see a lot more.”
The Marblehead Current is excited to welcome Rick Cuzner, a Marblehead native, as a regular contributor. His photography will appear in the Current every two weeks. Check out his Flickr page at https://bit.ly/3EHOF1F.