For wildlife photographers like Orland “Bud” Kelch, patience and observation are key factors to getting just the right shot.
Sitting in a canvas chair inside a small camouflaged hunting blind, Kelch readied his 35mm camera with its 500mm long distance lens as an American egret waded into the waters of a drainage watershed. As he started to shoot, an alligator leapt from the shallow pond, barely missing the startled bird.
“You can see the head right there,” pointed out the 90-year-old former auto parts store owner from Urbana, Ohio.
“I’ve always loved nature,” said Kelch, an Audubon member who spends countless hours searching for nesting birds and habitat that attracts wildlife. “I specialize in Florida water birds, scrub jays, and robins.”
His favorite photo site, his “honey hole,” was a pristine natural environment located at the back of the Sun ‘n Lake subdivision, not far from the winter residences where he and his wife, Marjorie, have been vacationing for over 15 years. He was upset when the area was cleared by the development.
At the home they rented for four months this year, the Kelchs eagerly showed off several plastic bins containing over a thousand wildlife prints, a wealth of memories from his hobby.
Kelch said his photographs and note cards became popular at the Florida art shows and fairs where he and his wife set up their booth because of their “au natural,” no-effects style.
For about 12 years the couple sat up their white tent and wire racks to display the matted and framed art work bearing his trademark signature, “O.Kelch.” “But we are getting too old to do it now,” remarked Marjorie, who turned 88 in April.
Some of his most prized prints include an egret displaying its feathered breeding season plumage, three newly fledged great horned owls, and whooping cranes from “Operation Migration.”
Several years ago, the couple had the opportunity to tour one of the facilities of this non-profit organization that reintroduces endangered whooping cranes hatched in captivity to the wild.
Kelch said that he was fascinated by the bird costumes worn by the human surrogate parents, the crew’s dedication to never speaking in front of the birds, and the use of ultra light planes to teach the young cranes how to migrate.
Kelch himself grew up with a surrogate family after his mother died from tuberculosis when he was only 4 years old. He and his two brothers were raised at the Madisonville Children’s Home, a Methodist orphanage that cared for approximately 370 children during the Depression.
“We were lucky we were there,” said Kelch of the facility that provided good food, dental visits twice a year, an onsite hospital, and a Boy Scout troop. “We were brought up right.”
Married 68 years, Bud and Marjorie met in high school after he went to live with his aunt in Cincinnati. They were married when he completed his service as a chief radio operator in the Army Signal Corps during WWII.
“I got discharged the day after Christmas in 1945,” noted Kelch.
The Kelchs have three boys they describe as “all doing well.” They are outdoorsmen who enjoy sports fishing like their father.
“I just got back a week or so ago from the Keys,” said Kelch, who reminisced about several past charter trips to Islamorada. He pulled out an envelope containing several snapshots of him posing with fish…amberjacks caught in the Keys and walleye caught on Lake Erie.
Also avid golfers, the Kelchs were honored by the Urbana Country Club last year when they were presented with honorary memberships. The couple had been members for well over 40 years, played in tournaments, and Bud Kelch served six years on the board of directors.
Kelch expressed his hope that his seven grandchildren grow up knowing how important it is to “work hard, save your money, and watch what you do.” It is those principles in life that have provided him with the ability to enjoy the hobbies he loves, especially his photography.