Story and Photographs by Haley R. Pope | TerraLens Photography, LLC
It is the largest wetland, the second largest river delta, and the best preserved in Europe, I was told. It’s an intricate pastel mosaic of winding river channels, floating reed islets, never-ending blue skies, migrant nesting birds, diminutive spotted frogs, and schools of fish, I was told. A pristine haven for wildlife lovers, birdwatchers, and fishermen and a sight to behold as the river flows through ten countries and finally joins the Black Sea. They were talking about the Danube Delta, a UNESCO world heritage site that covers parts of Romania and Ukraine.
Editor’s Note: As I’ve mentioned before, NANPA is fortunate to have a large archive of blog posts going back several years. Occasionally, we will post one from the past that is important and relevant today. This blog by Chad Anderson was first posted in December 2014, and offers important information that has renewed urgency today. DCL
Vast stretches of azure blue waters thinly vail a dark secret. It’s been happening ever since the melting of the Wisconsin glacier some 12,000 years ago, but now occurs at a hastened pace and with a new cause. Meanwhile, Margaritaville plays, tourists stroll, and wading birds perch on mangrove shores as the slow pace of everyday life in the Florida Keys continues. Scientists, government entities, and even the public are coming to a grim reality. Change is here. It’s not abstract, distant, or easily pushed aside but prevalent, pervasive, and imminent—and the evidence is everywhere. The vast stretches of post card blue waters are a result of recently submerged lands. Even the upland forests here can hardly conceal their ancient marine past. Just millimeters below the leaf litter lies weathered coral reef. One of the oldest permanent tidal monitoring stations in the United States is located in Key West, Florida. Without hyperbole, it states the bare truth. Nearly nine inches of sea level rise has occurred since 1913. That may not sound like much, but for perspective, the average elevation is less than four feet. This effect is amplified by the fact that the slope of the shoreline is near flat, imperceptible to the human eye in most cases. For this reason, a couple of inches of rise can translate to hundreds of feet of land lost. In just a few decades the changes to the ecosystems have been staggering, rapidly shifting as the mangroves march inwards. Ancient buttonwoods stand like tombstones of a once proud forest. At times, mangroves, the most halophytic of all flora, can’t keep up the pace. Continue reading →
Andrew Snyder is a new NANPA board member, a professional biologist and photographer, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Mississippi. He recently posted a piece on maptia.com, a website devoted to stories and photography of the natural world, about the annual spawning of sockeye salmon, which return to freshwater rivers from the Pacific Ocean each year to lay their eggs.
When sockeye salmon are born, they spend between one and two years in freshwater lakes or streams. Then, they migrate to the ocean and spend two or three years there. Once they’re ready to spawn, they head back to the river where they were born. Continue reading →
Depending on where you live in the world, the ruddy duck is either a cute bundle of fun or a despised nuisance.
In the United States, this perky duck is beloved for both its peculiar name and its unique appearance. Arthur Cleveland Bent provides this perfect description of the ruddy’s personality: “. . . the little gem of bird life that floats gently on its surface, his back glowing with the rich, red brown of his nuptial attire, offset by the pure white of his cheeks, his black crown, and above all his wonderful bill of the brightest, living, glowing sky blue. He knows he is handsome as he glides smoothly along, without a ripple, his saucy sprigtail held erect or even pointed forward till it nearly meets his upturned head.”
Ruddy ducks are a common migratory species throughout the United States and Canada and can be found in marshy ponds, lakes and bays. Even though ruddies are one of our smallest ducks, they lay eggs that are the size of those of the great blue heron and wild turkey.
Wonderful divers and swimmers, ruddies often submerge to considerable depths to capture shellfish, crustaceans, aquatic plant roots, and aquatic insect larvae. With their chunky bodies and short wings, they must patter for some distance across the surface of the water before finally becoming airborne. Their small wings stroke so fast that these birds resemble bumblebees in flight. During courtship, male ruddies engage in a highly entertaining “water bubbling display” while delivering a funny sound reminiscent of a lawn mower starting up.
Now—for those folks living in Europe—here’s the dark side of the ruddy duck’s story. Due to escapes from wildfowl collections imported from North America starting in the 1950s, the ruddy duck became widely established as an invasive species in Great Britain. Since that time ruddies have spread throughout southern Europe, where problems first arose in 1999. Spanish biologists began complaining that ruddy ducks migrating down from Great Britain were threatening the survival of their globally endangered white-headed ducks. In response, British biologists concocted a controversial plan to extirpate the ruddy duck as a breeding waterfowl species throughout Great Britain.
In the March 8, 2012, online edition of the Guardian, environmental editor John Vidal wrote that the British government has killed more than 6,500 ruddies at a cost of more than £900 (approximately $1,173) each, making the ruddy duck some of the most expensive ducks in the world. Although the ruddy duck has bred happily in British ponds for more than 60 years, Vidal notes that bird lovers hoping to see this species should “hurry because the government is about to spend £200,000 (approximately $260,720) trying to shoot the last hundred to finally exterminate this invasive species.” Their only crime: being “American, oversexed, and over here.” Other European countries with ruddy duck populations have abandoned their eradication efforts, believing that a complete culling of the ruddies is both impractical and impossible.
For now, the ruddy duck will continue to live its double life—loved on one side of the Atlantic and hated on the other.
A wetland scientist and wildlife biologist, Budd Titlow is an award-winning nature photographer and author in Tallahassee, Florida. His credits include: 2003 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Outdoor Photographer, National Wildlife, Audubon, Outside, Nature’s Best, Travel/Holiday, Time/Life Publications, Sierra Club, Popular Photography, and Petersen’s Photographic.He has authored four books: Protecting the Planet—Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, Bird Brains—Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, Seashells—Jewels from the Ocean, and Rocky Mountain National Park—Beyond Trail Ridge. He also writes a weekly birding photo-essay for the Tallahassee Democrat, teaches ecology, birding , and photography courses at Florida State University, and serves as president of the Apalachee Audubon Society. See his web site at www.buddtitlow.com.
I awkwardly clamber up the cobble and bedrock of a swift Southern Appalachian River. My senses and thoughts are continually captivated by the life that call these forests home. Small slimy salamanders scurry along the bank as the heavy buzz of cicadas flood the sweet Southern air, all a pleasant reminder of the unique diversity that is supported by these ecosystems. However, to truly understand how special Southern Appalachia is you have to look below the water’s surface.
As I hike up river, occasionally looking for glimpses of what might be lurking in the small rapids and pools, all I see from above are fleeting dark shadows that seem to blend in with the patterns of the water. From the surface, these rivers can appear as lifeless bands of bedrock and boulders, as if that’s where the forest’s life stops. But looks can be deceiving, and as every photographer knows, perspective is everything. Hidden beneath the surface of Southern Appalachia’s rivers and streams lives one of the greatest assemblages of freshwater life found anywhere on this planet. Continue reading →
Applications are now available for NANPA’s Philip Hyde Environmental grant, a $2,500 award given annually to an individual NANPA member actively pursuing completion of a peer-reviewed environmental project featuring natural photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation and environmental protection. Application deadline is October 30, 2015 at midnight PDT.
Past recipients include Paul Colangelo (2010), whose efforts to bring the remote and largely unseen Sacred Headwaters of British Columbia to the attention of lawmakers and citizens outside of the Tahltan First Nation played a key role in vacating Shell Oil Company from a million acres slated for methane development; Amy Gulick (2008), whose award-winning book Salmon in the Trees, traveling exhibits, lectures and YouTube videos tell a hopeful story of Alaska’s Tongass rain forest, a rare ecosystem where salmon grow trees and support an abundance of bears and bald eagles; and C.C. Lockwood (2008), whose photographs showcase disappearing swamplands that threatened the culture and economy of Louisiana, as featured in the PBS documentary Atchafalaya Houseboat.
As applicants for the Philip Hyde Environmental Grant, these photographers successfully demonstrated the ways in which their still photographs would make a difference to specific decision-makers wrestling with a timely issue. Additionally, at the time of application, these projects were already well underway, with established collaborations, realistic schedules and practical budgets. These factors made for compelling applications that fared well in scoring.
A large male puma makes his way down the hill to the kill we’ve spent the last hour watching. For the next 45 minutes, we have the privilege of observing the interactions between this adult male, a female, and two 1-year-old siblings as the pumas work at consuming a guanaco killed the day before.
The biologist with us at the photo shoot—a big cat specialist—had never seen such behavior before. Most research has been conducted on pumas in North America, where adult males such as this one—likely the mate of the female and the father of the two cubs—don’t hang out with, and especially don’t dine with, others. This behavior in South America may be because the ecological fitness of the habitat minimizes the sort of competitive forces we see in more northern areas. Continue reading →