WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, by Cathy and Gordon Illg

The plant is communicating with the flies, calling them to pollinate its blossoms. © Gordon and Cathy Illg

The plant is communicating with the flies, calling them to pollinate its blossoms. © Gordon and Cathy Illg

There’s always something new under the sun. There are always surprises waiting for us in the most unlikely places. Recent studies are showing plants may be far more than the yard decorations and colorful picture elements we’ve taken them for. These beings that we’ve always considered to be merely ground cover are capable of movement, communication–yes, they can talk to their neighbors–and even arithmetic–some species need to know the hours of darkness and calculate if they have enough starch to survive the night. Charles Darwin recognized intelligent, purposeful movement in plants, and he even wrote a book on it. The scientific community ignored his findings for more than 120 years. Continue reading

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

© Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN: Making the Snow Come Alive!

Images and Story by Budd Titlow

I’ll never forget the day the snow came alive beneath my feet.

It was a Sunday morning in February just after sunrise and I was heading up into the mountains for a day of cross-country skiing. The previous day’s blizzard had dumped more than a foot of snow on Colorado’s high country. But the morning air was surprisingly pleasant—almost balmy—considering it was midwinter and the nearby sign read: Guanella Pass Summit—Elevation 11,699 Feet. Continue reading

This Birding Life by Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

Sage Grouse Males Fighting © Budd Titlow

This Birding Life is a new monthly column by NANPA Member Budd Titlow.

SAGE GROUSE – Happy Hour on the High Plains

Image and Story By Budd Titlow

Sometimes Mother Nature provides a perfect microcosm of human life.

Many years ago, I was invited to observe an annual ritual that had all the elements of happy hour at your favorite neighborhood bar. Totally full of themselves, the males were strutting around in tight circles with their hairless chests puffed out. As they walked, they repeatedly made burping and belching sounds while aggressively posturing toward any other males that came too close to their domains. Meanwhile, all of the females skittered demurely in, out, around, and through all of the absurdly displaying males—acting as if the showboats didn’t exist.

Rather than watching patrons in a dark, after-work bar, I was driving along a Colorado high mountain sagebrush prairie at sunrise next to a “lek,” which is, appropriately enough, the Swedish word for “play.” And the clientele I was observing were chicken-sized wild birds known as sage grouse.

The largest grouse in North America, sage grouse live on the high plains of the American West—at elevations of four thousand to nine thousand feet—including populations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and western Colorado.

Like many wildlife mating rituals, the “dancing” of the male sage grouse around a lek is all about influencing female choice. Leks are circular open areas in dense stands of sagebrush where sage grouse have been performing every February through April for eons. Here, male sage grouse spend their time puffing out their large colorful breast sacs and proudly displaying their sharply pointed tail feathers while aggressively defending their territories—leaping high in the air with feet and spurs fully extended and striking out at their nearest competitors for feminine attention.

While the female sage grouse pretend that they don’t notice, in the end, only the males with the showiest exhibitions—typically less than 5 percent of those trying—mate with all the females. After a few hours, the losing males skulk off to recoup their grouse-hood in hopes of faring better when the next day’s dances begin.

Because they tend to be such show-offs, sage grouse are the subject of many tales—both tall and otherwise—told far and wide in the high plateaus of their Rocky Mountain homeland. Many western riders swear that sage grouse sit hidden in their sagebrush hollows secretly plotting the precise moment to burst up with wings beating wildly askew in front of horses galloping across the open range. The result of this supposed comic plotting is of course that the horses rear up, violently tossing their hooves and manes wildly and summarily flinging their riders—derrieres first—into the nearest clumps of sagebrush.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now lists the sage grouse as a “candidate species” for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The primary reason for the decline of this species is the wholesale loss of its high plains habitat throughout much of its native range.

A Professional Wetland Scientist (Emeritus) and Wildlife Biologist, Budd Titlow is also an international/national award-winning nature photographer and a widely-published writer/author. Throughout his career, Budd has shared his love of photography and nature by presenting seminars, workshops, and field trips Nationwide. He has also authored four books: BIRD BRAINS – Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN 978-0-7627-8755-5), SEASHELLS – Jewels from the Ocean (ISBN 978-0-7603-2593-3), ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK- Beyond Trail Ridge (ISBN 0-942394-22-4), and ENVIRONMENTAL SUPERHEROES: Now Climate Change Needs A New One (In Press). Budd’s work is featured on his web site (www.buddtitlow.com).

Let the Games Begin! by Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider in dew-covered web, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Text and Images by Gordon and Cathy Illg

I’ve known photographers who were totally oblivious of this fact, and I’ve lost sight of it myself from time to time: nature photography is not a contest. This can be a difficult thing to keep in mind, and it was another photographer–thank you Valerie Millett–who recently reminded me. Nature photography is not a game in which the person who visits the most locations or the most exotic sites wins.

I have fleeting moments when I think it might be nice if it was a game, at least for a little while, but those thoughts are generated by a desire for financial security. Speaking as a photo tour leader, it would be great if everyone was in a competition to see all the places we want to take them. However, for good or bad, it is not a contest, and it makes no difference if you’re photographing in Alaska or your own backyard, as long as you’re out there shooting.

The miracle that compels us to push the shutter button is not something that is only present in far away climes. The beauty and the life and death struggles that we want so desperately to capture happen in our own gardens, just as they do in the rainforest. This orb weaver spider laid her trap right beside our front door, and the fact that we didn’t need to travel to the far corners of the globe did not detract from the engineering marvel that was her web. From our house, we observed the evolutionary miracle that her stronger-than-steel gossamer strands represents and we witnessed the deadliness of her attack.

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Orb weaver spider with prey, Jefferson County, CO. Image © Gordon and Cathy Illg

The poetic naturalist, Annie Dillard, once wrote, “Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly; insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another. I never ask why of a vulture or a shark, but I ask why of almost every insect I see.” And the same applies to spiders. You see, spiders do not simply eat their victims. They inject a witch’s brew of poison and enzymes that paralyzes the prey and reduces its muscles and organs to a protein shake. Then it can be sucked out. Don’t you get hungry just thinking about it?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to photograph exotic locations or to search for the Shangri-Las of nature photography. There, you can find magnificent scenery, charismatic megafauna, and colorful birds. Our business depends upon some of these destinations, and even though Cathy and I have been lucky enough to visit a good number of these places, there are many more that are still on our list. This desire to see new places often has little to do with the quality of the photos we come home with, and a photo of an iceberg or a grizzly bear or a lion cub is not inherently better than one of a flower, a bug or a squirrel. When we judge photography competitions, we’ve found that the most ordinary and pedestrian images are often the ones with the most exciting subjects. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking the image is exciting just because the subject is. Some of the most extraordinary images are composed of ordinary subjects. I’m not sure if the ones I’ve included with this blog illustrate this fact adequately, but you get the idea.

Personally, I think that nature photography is a contest, the winner is the one who gets to spend the most time immersed in the mystery and majesty that we are a part of.

You can see more images by Gordon and Cathy Illg and learn about their photo tours at http://www.advenphoto.com

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Image by © Gordon and Cathy Illg

Lost in the Longleaf by Todd Amacker

Longleaf pine forest in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida by Todd Amacker

Longleaf pine forest in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida by Todd Amacker

 

Images and text by Todd Amacker 

One of North America’s most biodiverse forests, the longleaf pine forest of the Southeast, is missing from 97% of its historic range. As a proud Southerner, I’ve spent a great deal of time ambling through pine forests in the Florida panhandle. Recently, I’ve made an effort to use my photography and my words to portray exactly what has disappeared along with the forests themselves.

There are a lot of treasures in longleaf pine forests that make them special, both aesthetically and scientifically. It all starts with the longleaf pine tree itself, Pinus palustris. It’s resistant to fire, and that’s important when frequent fires sweep through the understory and flames lap at the trees’ exteriors. Layers of specially evolved, crusty bark protect its delicate innards. It is actually unhindered fire that gives life to the longleaf ecosystem and contributes to its aesthetic beauty. Because of the fire, the undergrowth is burned away and you can see between trees. (This is quite refreshing for forest enthusiasts, as most forests hamper your ability to enjoy the view.)  Continue reading

San Diego, the Summit, and the Chaparral by Rob Sheppard

Mariposa lily (Calochortus), Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California. Image © Rob Sheppard.

Mariposa lily (Calochortus), Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California. Image © Rob Sheppard.

Images and Text by Rob Sheppard

Rob Sheppard will be leading a Photo Walk in the California Shrublands on Thursday, February 19th from 9:00am – 12:00pm as part of the 2015 NANPA Summit in San Diego. Click here to learn more!

The NANPA Summit in 2015 is in lovely, mild San Diego. The Summit is a time to see old friends, connect with new friends, be enlightened and educated in all sorts of things related to nature photography, and even see new places through the photography of the presenters.

I am going to suggest that you take the opportunity to see and photograph something unique and special about nature while you are in San Diego or at least Southern California, something that you will not find in other parts of the country – the chaparral. This is an ecosystem, a landscape, a place of nature that is as ecologically unique as the redwoods, a place filled with biodiversity, and yet a landscape that is probably one of the least photographed of any important landscape in the country.

When people think of Southern California, so often, they only think of the big cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. Southern California, they believe, is just a place for surfers, celebrities, and a lot of cars! When I moved to the Los Angeles area over 20 years ago, many of my friends and family from Minnesota thought that I was moving to a barren, urban wasteland. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: Know Your Subject


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by Jim Clark

Welcome. What an honor it is to share with other NANPA members my love for nature and nature photography through this column. As the title attests, my columns will focus on techniques you can use in the field to capture images that convey a true sense of place. After all, the joy of nature photography begins with our time in the field. Without nature, there is no nature photography.

What makes nature photographers unique in the world of photography?  It boils down to three words: knowledge of nature. The more you know and understand nature, the better you become as a nature photographer. I guarantee it! Continue reading