We just received word late last week that our great friend and supporter Donald J. Mullaney passed away peacefully after a short battle with cancer. Our thoughts and condolences go to his extended family and friends.
If you have visited our website, seen one of my presentations, or gotten emails from our communications staff, you have seen Don’s awesome bird photography. He was very generous with allowing us to use his images and artistic effort for more than a decade.
I first met Don when he showed up for one of my regular Wednesday walks at Valle Crucis Community Park near Boone with a huge telephoto lens and tripod. He was fairly new to bird photography but was a good photographer, looking to learn something about the birds he was just starting to capture. He quickly became a regular, joined our local High Country Audubon chapter, and began to rapidly increase his skills.
I used to joke with him that he needed to at least bring binoculars, but he proved me wrong quickly as he was very proficient at getting images that he could study at his leisure. The first couple of years, whenever he was unsure of an ID, he would send the photo to me before posting to his website. But the need for my input was short lived as he became a very good birder.
He said he liked to travel and boy did he ever travel, whether “migrating between Florida and Beech Mountain," visiting he and his wife Jocelyn’s home in the Dominican Republic, or on many excursions for bird photography. He always sent updates and the best shots of the day (rarely by that point for ID) and to show off his latest “wall hanger” (or best shot of the day). A few of those are posted below.
I had the great fortune to travel with Don to Nicaragua to share with him and our other intrepid travelers our work and to introduce them to our partners. Don, as usual, always carried his own gear, took thousands of shots and always generously shared them for our use.
One memorable afternoon we stopped at a roadside tienda. Don, like me, had a pretty bad sweet tooth, and he generously bought cookies for everyone—including the children in the parking lot. But that was Don, big guy, big personality, and a heart to match.
I watched him patiently help other photographers at Valle Crucis learn their craft (some faster than others!), get excited to promote pickle ball to his neighbors in Beech Mountain and Florida, and regale us with stories of his travels or his time as a NYC firefighter. It is a cliché that you get to know people really well when you travel together, and the more time we spent on the road, the more we liked it and our time with our "official trip photographer."
He was especially excited this February when three of his images placed in the annual Carolinas’ Nature Photographers Association Competition including Best of Show for his Barred Owl, which looks more like a painting than a photograph!
His photography will be a lasting tribute to his passion, his kindness and his generosity, but is a poor substitute for his friendship. My heart goes out to his family. Thank you Don for all of your work!
A note from Don's family:
Valuing Don’s great birding experience in the North Caorlina mountains as well as his loyal support of the mission to conserve and restore the habitats of birds, charitable donations can be made in his name (please include his name in note or check memo) to:
Audubon North Carolina
807 E. Main St.
Durham, NC 27701