Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography by Samantha Starr

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you live in one of our stunning Sonoran Desert communities and look outside your window at any given time of the day, there is a fairly good chance that you will see a pair of long ears peeking up amongst the wildflowers.

Rabbits have become synonymous with peace and harmony, their presence in our yards representing the tranquil beauty for which our North Valley neighborhoods have become known. This month, their significance momentarily intensifies with any one of them capable of being the Easter Bunny, preparing to hide colorfully dyed eggs for our children to find.

Therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to celebrate their genial charm. Images Arizona’s photo essay this month showcases a number of wildlife photographer Samantha Starr’s exceptionally charismatic rabbit pictures — many of which she took right in her very own yard.

“I have bird feeders, water dishes and a water feature in my yard that are for the birds and whatever other critters that come through,” says Starr, noting that she has seen everything from bobcats and coyotes to javelinas and raccoons wandering around just outside her Apache Junction home.

Of all her wild visitors, rabbits offer some of the most joy as they frolic and play with one another as well as amicably coexist with other creatures like quail and lizards.

Cottontail rabbits, with their fluffy white tails and forbearing black eyes, may be the most adorable animals in the Sonoran Desert. Then there are the amusingly wide-eyed expressions on the faces of the far-less-common jackrabbits, whose skyscraper ears are truly a sight to behold.

Starr says that although there were two months last summer when three jackrabbits frequented her yard, they are fairly elusive creatures. She adds that your chances of seeing one in the Valley may be best at Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler but maintains that their wariness makes them extremely difficult to find let alone photograph.

Fortunately, Starr has the patience, the luck and the skill to capture both cottontails and jackrabbits — the latter of which are actually hares, not rabbits, technically speaking — on camera. She and everyone at Images Arizona hope that their amiable appearance in this month’s issue brings a smile to your face and a happiness in your heart.

Source of Happiness

Photography has become a form of therapy for Samantha Starr. The hobby and art form has encouraged the Apache Junction resident, who works as a bookbinder, to spend plenty of time outdoors.

“Sometimes my work can be a little bit stressful and I find that I really enjoy being out in nature, searching for interesting things,” explains Starr, noting that some of her favorite places to explore are Hereford, Sierra Vista, Madera Canyon and Gilbert Riparian Preserve. “Capturing moments and being able to just stare at them and enjoy them longer is a lot of fun and very peaceful.”

Moreover, photography has also been somewhat of a saving grace over the past year. Whereas many others suddenly found it impossible to partake in the things that bring them joy, Starr’s source of happiness not only survived but also boosted her physical health.

“Photography has gotten me walking instead of just sitting around being a couch potato during this pandemic,” she explains. “I am just glad that I am into something that I am still able to do. If shopping in the mall was my favorite thing to do, then I would have been in trouble this past year.”

Photography has also opened the door to new friendships, with Starr receiving tips, support and — most importantly — camaraderie from those in Arizona’s photographer community. It is therefore a very personal piece of her life and one that she is hesitant to put a price on.

“I have had a few people ask me if I sell my prints,” Starr says. “That is something that I am still considering. I have not jumped on it yet, though, just because I really enjoy my photography and I am worried that if I turn it into a job then it is going to be something that I am not going to like as much anymore.”

Nonetheless, Starr enjoys sharing her photography on social media — and has even developed a bit of a following.

“[I] hope that the images bring people smiles,” she explains. “That is one of the main reasons I share my photos on social media. If I can give someone a bright spot in their day then I am accomplishing something. While I enjoy the technical aspect of learning photography and composing nice images, having those images speak to people in some way matters more. If ever people needed a reason to smile or laugh, it is now.”

About the Photographer

Originally from Connecticut, Samantha Starr arrived in Arizona about 19 years ago. She has spent her life in a variety of occupations, initially exploring jobs in the medical industry before eventually becoming a bookbinder for her family’s business — all the while also being a full-time mom.

When her son went off to college, she felt compelled to find a hobby to occupy her time. Having always received compliments from friends about the photographs she captured on her smartphone, Starr decided to see what she could accomplish with a real camera.

The Apache Junction resident began studying the principles of photography on the internet, learning how shutter speed, ISO and aperture affect exposure. After all, she did not want to spend a bunch of money on a camera just to use it in auto mode.

“I had no idea what I wanted to photograph, though, so I just bought a camera body and one all-purpose lens that went from 18 to 250 millimeters,” Starr says. “I figured that way I could have something I could do a little bit of everything with until I figured out what my focus was going to be.”

Starr then took an online photography class from which she learned the function of every button, switch and menu item on her camera. Then, she simply went outside and started practicing her craft. Before long, she found her focus as she fell in love with nature and wildlife photography — especially bird photography.

Today, Starr spends just about every weekend outdoors with her camera. Moreover, her camera is in her hand for at least an hour or two every day as she continues to delve deeper into the art form, finding new things to photograph and new ways to see the world around her.

Facebook: @samanthastarrnaturephotography