Hi, I am the Executive Penguin and pengies are my inspiration in life.
Before I can speak to why my wife, Scarlett, and I started Surrounded By Penguins you need to know how I became fond of birds.
How I came to love and appreciate birds.
My spouse, who is a Bird Biologist and the Surrounded By Penguins Executive Photographer, is passionate about birds on and off the job. It was mainly through her passion that I saw what birds had to offer and I also realized that many of them need our help. On what could be considered our first date, she showed me a bird nest on a local popular trail. The nest contained brand new nestlings in them! They were completely helpless and blind, so young their egg teeth (a hard bit of material at the end of newly hatched chicks beaks that helps them break out of eggs) were still intact. The birds were actually vocalizing enough that if someone on the trail listened closely, they could hear them. I knew I would never had noticed without Scarlett’s aid. But I couldn’t believe how I could had missed them once I knew. I realized all my life, I never looked up to see, and listen to the birds and their chirping around me. I never knew what they were about, or what they did, or how much I needed birbs to thrive in order to ensure my own survival. Well my survival at least in the emotional and spiritual sense. I cannot recall if the chicks fledged or if the nest failed. Many nests fail, with the chicks falling victim to predators that do not belong in the birds environment, insect infestations again often from insects that don’t belong in their environment or other factors. As Scarlett works with endangered species, when a nest fails it’s extremely tragic.
Looking back, it seems that I instantly I fell in love with Scarlett and birds.
I stared going out with Scarlett to bird watch and eventually we traveled together to see birds on our travels. Now, I know many birds by name, even if only by genus name.
Why we started…
I’m not sure how or when exactly it happened but my affection for penguins existed before dating Scarlett. More on this later.
Our first trip away from California we went to Maui, Hawaii in 2012. With Scarlett’s background we were able to take guided private hikes to see amazing birds, most of them already protected, some even critically endangered. On the first guided hike I learned that Hawaii has about 51% of the endangered species in all of America but receives only around 4% of the funding allotted to protect them. I did not have to be a mathematician or scientist to know, that’s not enough funding. I instinctively knew that this situation was not unique. I was oblivious to the plight of birds, not just in Hawaii but around the world. Birds are the most accessible wildlife. Most people in the world can observe birds. We can even observe them in parking lots, yet I took them for granted and paid little attention beyond looking up to see what bird pooped on my car. I realized that many birds have existed as a species longer than us humans. My travels with Scarlett and observations of these wonderful creatures opened up a whole new world to me and connected me to wildlife in ways I’ve never connected before.
When Scarlett reviewed the pictures from that trip to Maui, she discovered she took a picture of the Maui ParrotBill’s criss-crossed beak showing how the top and bottom did not meet flush to fit together perfectly. The top and bottom of the beak actually cross each other to form what looks like an X on the underside. The picture was but it was blurry but the crossing of the birds beak was obvious.
The Maui ParrotBill was an endangered protected bird then that you could only see if you arranged to attempt to see them with a specific guide. If you were lucky, you could see one of the two Maui ParrotBill’s that hung around the boardwalk trail. Pictures of their beak at an angle that show how the top and bottom criss-cross are rare finds. In fact, I’ve yet to find a picture that shows the beak in the way Scarlett captured it. It upset me when she told me she was deleting the picture. We fought regarding her desire to delete the picture just because it was out of focus. I argued that there is no other picture like it, blurry or not. She could not get over how out of focus the bird was and argued that it is not a completely accurate depiction of the bird since it was blurry. We had to visit the Maui birds once again so she could try to get a better shot. Years later Scarlett would get her chance but the bird did not ever give her a shot at their beak from that same angle. Shortly after our last visit in 2018, we learned that the major efforts to restore the bird’s natural environment and revive the population devastatingly failed. The last guided trip we took was the second to last guided hike any outsiders were permitted to take. No one is allowed to be in the bird’s habitat let alone see the birds any longer, unless they work with them. I was emotional thinking we lost one of the only picture of the Maui ParrotBill with the beak showing the criss-crossing nature from below the bird. In the fall of 2022, when I brought up the Maui ParrotBill and that picture, Scarlett told me she kept the picture. I was relieved, but the fact still remains that we went from being able to see the bird in the wild with a guide to never being able to see the bird again in a span of less than 6 years.
Unfortunately, this is not the only animal we’ve seen that has this type of sad story. We realize now that we may already hold images that are the last of their kind and that in our travels we will obtain more…
To show off the Hawaiian birds in plight, Scarlett wanted a shirt with Native Hawaiian birds on them. Our quest to find products and images with the endangered birds on them failed from 2012 to today. Although she now has 2 of the same shirts made for fundraising campaigns of a different Hawaii bird, purchasing those shirts are few and far between. They also featured them in a more cartoonish way, not real images of the birds. It is as if the birds were already extinct. To the general public most times these birds are so protected they might as well be extinct. The problem is, how do we get people to care about something that does not exist to them? With all this personal awareness, I felt obligated to share what the birds allow us to capture in photography. My dream was to put these images and designs on products that people can see every day, not just in galleries. Everyone has a right to know these birds, but also they deserve to have the opportunity to connect, care and do something for them should they choose.
Like many birders, we want to see all the birds. We are especially motivated to see birds that are in danger of becoming extinct, like the penguins. So far we’ve seen only 4 of the over 17 penguin species in the wild. When we first started traveling to see birds, we observed and captured images of birds in their natural environment for our own personal fulfillment. We had no sense of urgency nor much of a drive to share what we saw with the public. In fact, only one of us took pictures of the birds. With climate change and dwindling habitats, we are afraid that what happened with the Hawaiian birbs will happen with Penguins.
Many of the birds we’ve seen have enriched our lives, I felt obligated to help do the same for them somehow. This is why we started the 2 for Trashy Tuesday challenge.
Many of the birds we’ve seen others will never get to see. What is even more sad is that many people will not know that they missed their chance until they hear about it on the news. Consider George the Tree Snail, also Hawaiian. Knowing now that even less people will be able to visit certain bird species in the wild that we will get to see, the urgency to share more about them has increased. We did not set out to share what we’ve seen, but knowing what we know I feel that whether we want to or not, we have to.
Because I love and adore penguins so much, our goal now is to obtain images of all the Penguin species in their natural environment as fast as we can before it’s too late. We know people love penguins, what’s not to love? So conveniently for us, penguins make the perfect ambassador for our desire to connect people to birds. Losing a job and learning about Print On Demand during the pandemic, I literally woke up one day startled with my own eureka moment and said “I can make shirts with penguins on them!”. They would be eco-friendly too! If print on demand didn’t exist, I don’t think we could had gone into retail. We truly believe that responsible production leads to responsible consumption. It would be hard to justify making hundreds of shirts preemptively.
We don’t just want to take pictures and exploit the birds for our benefit alone. We find it necessary to help them through our products and presence in exchange for the images they gift us. Our goal is to create a real life human to wildlife connection through our print on demand products.
We at Surrounded By Penguins travel to take photos of wildlife and feature them in our products to help reinforce the human to wildlife connection that is ingrained in all of us.
At Surrounded By Penguins, We Love Penguins. Obviously. Aside from them being the perfect ambassadors, they bring joy.
When life is going rough for me, I think of the penguins. All of them are the opposite of how a bird is supposed to be. They don’t do birb things like normal regular birds. They can’t even fly! Although, I think they do, in their own special way. Flying super fast underwater and toboggan on land seems to work just fine for these short legged flightless birbs. This reminds me that it’s okay to be different, in fact, it might be better to be different.
All things need to adapt to change and make use of their surroundings, I think we’re no exception. We too must learn to fly our own special way. Like the penguins adapting and overcoming obstacles alone and as a species is just part of life for everything living. I believe we humans must must adapt and overcome obstacles too. The harsh climates and hardships in life are inevitable and sometimes I feel we need to be reminded that we are not alone. We have a colony and everyone in that colony is different yet the same as you and I too. For these reasons, many of the products featured will have real pictures of birds that we at Surrounded By Penguins took ourselves. We are not much different from birds and it’s important to us that we share that fact. We feature the real birds in their habitats, their real personalities, strengths, endurance, togetherness, love….
Why print on demand?
If we were going to sell products, we wanted to sell products in an eco-conscious way. We did not want to contribute to unnecessary waste or the fast fashion problems. We want people own products that help ground the connection to the animals featured on their product but also with the environment in mind. Humans need to wear clothes, have items for everyday use or décor and that’s okay. Actually that helps broaden the impact. The more people see wildlife on everyday items, the more exposure they get which leads to more people caring about wildlife and nature. At Surrounded By Penguins we want people to ask us to only make the products that call to them. We aim for people to experience love at first sight when browsing our products online. We don’t want people to feel forced to buy because it’s already made or because it fits off the rack. We believe that housing an already made inventory might influence the shopping process in a bad way and worse could cause permanent damage or strain on the environment.
Dreams and goals.
Even though this is a part time venture and I’ve been intimidated by people that are professionals in this business, I still feel compelled to follow my dream of launching a store that features mine and my wife’s bird creations. Creations that can maybe help birds more than we alone can help. As individuals, my wife and I contribute to bird conservation several times throughout the year, but it would be amazing if Surrounded By Penguins can assist several more organizations that help birds on a regular basis.
We want hundreds of people to join in on Trashy Tuesdays. We want to share what we see in nature. We want to showcase photos in exhibits and galleries. We want to copyright images to share them online and offer prints. We want to have more of a presence on YouTube. We want all the things! Mainly, we want people to reconnect to our natural environment and wildlife.
Thanks to starting Surrounded By Penguins, I myself now do beach clean ups at least once a week (Trashy Tuesday’s) at beach’s in San Diego County. I want people that buy our products to feel good about their purchase, not just because they love the product but also because they helped with conservation. We all have to wear clothes and own certain items, wouldn’t it be awesome if those products also helped creatures in need? But even for those that are not in a position to buy our products or our products are not quite their style, I want to make it easy for others to help. Soooo don’t forget to get your #2fortrashytuesday ! All you have to do is pick up 2 pieces of litter on Tuesday’s and dispose of the litter appropriately. You can do this anywhere you are or with us Tuesday mornings!
I hope that in the near future, near a beach or not that every continent has someone that is hosting their own Trashy Tuesdays so we as a collective can help to clean up trash in bird habitats wherever each of us live.
Even though everything about perusing this dream has been really challenging for me, I still feel compelled to try. Like a rockhopper penguin that can’t help but climb no matter how much they fall… I’m actually proud of myself for continually perusing this dream. I’m sure the rockhoppers too thought, “this is much much much harder than I thought it would be.” I am sure it was not easy for penguins to go from flying to diving and swimming just to eat. To see a stranger wearing a shirt I designed… That they bought themselves because they thought it looked cool. Or to purchase a picture my wife took… I tear up thinking about it.
Just by visiting this website, you are helping us fulfill our dreams. Your interest feeds our hearts and souls. You taking the time to read this page, means you care. For that, we are grateful.
I know this is very long winded so I appreciate you reading this far just to get to know us. It is our hope that our work and dedication inspires you to be like a penguin, to fly any way you can. To pursue what life has to offer you despite your shortcomings. This far along in my life it’s the penguins that inspire me to keep going. After all, if a penguin can do as much as it does with all the obstacles they have to face, what excuse do we have?
Thank you for taking the time to get to know us. We hope that after reading a little about our story that you too feel inspired when you think of penguins.
The Executive Penguin