INTERVIEW: Gerrit Vyn on Multimedia Storytelling in The Sagebrush Sea

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado.  Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Strutting male Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The display of this speceis differs significantly from that of the Greater Sage-Grosue and led researchers to declare it a unique species in 2000. Gunnison County, Colorado. Photo by Gerrit Vyn.

Story by Andy Johnson; Photos by Gerrit Vyn

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Multimedia Production team has spent the past three years producing an hour-long documentary about the iconic sagebrush steppe of the American west. On May 20th, at 8/7c, The Sagebrush Sea aired nationally on PBS, as part of the award-winning series, NATURE. Check your local PBS station for future viewing times. You can also stream the film online for free on the PBS / Nature website.

Gerrit Vyn, photographer and producer at the Cornell Lab and iLCP fellow, has spent much of the past few years documenting the sagebrush steppe for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Sagebrush Project included a magazine article in Living Bird, educational web interactives, and an hour-long documentary for PBS / Nature, The Sagebrush Sea. In today’s shifting media landscape, increasingly rooted in web and multimedia, conservation itself (in turn, rooted in communication and education) is also expanding its media toolbox.

I recently sat down with Gerrit to discuss how the intersection of conservation photography with filmmaking and web production can benefit a core message. Continue reading

Photographing the Unseen by Sebastian Kennerknecht

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Bay Cat (Pardofelis badia) gray morph male in lowland rainforest, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia © Sebastian Kennerknecht

Using SLR Camera Traps to Photograph the Unseen

Text and Images by Sebastian Kennerknecht

How do you photograph an animal so elusive that the biologists studying them have never even seen the species themselves? The answer is simple: SLR camera traps. Photographing wildlife with a camera trap seems easy in concept. Place a camera trap in the wilderness, let it sit there, and have it take amazing pictures while you relax at home. This isn’t quite the case. One of the hardest parts about camera trap photography is getting your set-up to work like you want it to. The camera and flashes have to be ready to take a picture at a moment’s notice, but it also needs to conserve batteries enough to last for an extended period of time. And then everything has to be safe in a serious down drench. 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).

The Bio Blitz Concept For Photography by Kevin Fitzpatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Bio Blitz © Kevin FitzPatrick

Text and Images by Kevin FitzPatrick

A Bio Blitz is a short (usually one-day), intense team effort to discover as many different life forms as possible in one location. This often involves researchers and the general public working together to identify as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. To date, I have photographed over 45 Bio Blitzes from California to Maine and have done four with National Geographic.

For me, the Bio Blitz compasses all that I want to communicate to my audience about conservation and biodiversity and is a wonderful way to communicate with students and their parents about science! Depending on where they live, young people might get a chance to try their hand at species identification, photography, wildlife sketching, writing about nature, or the discovery of the natural history of their area. No two Bio Blitzes will be the same, as each one will be a reflection of the local environment. It is an opportunity for youth to not only enhance their appreciation of the environment through photography, art and exploration, but also to engage in true citizen science. This can be done through the iNaturalist Mobile Application, which makes use of the Encyclopedia of Life’s Species Collections, allowing participants to document species and upload their observations to a collective map that is available freely online.

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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

A Photographer’s Pompeii by Chad Anderson

Pine Rocklands

Pine Rocklands

Text and Images By Chad Anderson

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 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

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Mountaintop Removal – Story and photographs by Carl Galie

8 Billion Gallons

8 Billion Gallons

I thought I knew all there was to know about strip mining, since I grew up in coal country in a mining family and even spent some time selling truck parts to the mining industry early in my career. Then in 2009, I was invited by members of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and St. Vincent’s Mission to go on a tour of a mountaintop removal (MTR) site in Floyd County, Kentucky, with a group of students from Berea College. I was not prepared for what I saw that morning.

Yes, it was a strip mine. But it was a strip mine on steroids. It went on for miles. At the end of the tour, I was asked by Sister Kathleen Weigand from St Vincent’s Mission if I would consider doing a book on MTR, and I immediately said yes.

New River 1

New River 1

Approximately 500 mountains and more than 2,000 miles of streams already had been destroyed by MTR throughout the southern Appalachians. My research revealed that MTR was not an isolated problem in Kentucky. It had affected all of coal country. Furthermore, legislation passed to accommodate the coal industry had the potential to affect water quality across the United States, making MTR a national problem.

A number of scientific papers were published in 2009 on the impact MTR was having on the waters of Appalachia and public health. President Obama had just taken office, and I expected that the EPA would finally be allowed to do its job and put an end to this mining practice. I was wrong, and six years later, MTR is still going strong.

Since the purpose of my project was to raise awareness and educate the public about MTR, I decided that a book—added to several books and powerful documentaries I knew were already in production—might not be the best way for me to get the story out. I decided to take my project in a slightly different direction: a fine art exhibit that would focus on the beauty of the region and what could be lost.

I reasoned that a traveling art exhibit could reach a different and broader audience and have a better chance to be viewed—not only by those against MTR, but also by those supportive of the mining industry. I partnered with Appalachian Voices and The New River Conservancy, two organizations working to protect the region, and with SouthWings—an NGO (nongovernmental organization) located in Asheville, North Carolina, which provided my flights. Funding for the exhibit came from grants provided by Art for Conservation and The Blessings Project Foundation.

Lost on the Road to Oblivion

Lost on the Road to Oblivion

In 2013, the exhibit, “Lost on the Road to Oblivion, the Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country,”opened at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts at Appalachian State University. I collaborated with then-poet laureate of North Carolina, Joseph Bathanti, and the exhibit included 13 of Joseph’s poems in addition to 59 of my prints.

Joseph’s and my collaboration continues, and he has agreed to write poems about more of the prints in the exhibit. We are currently working on exhibit scheduling for 2015-2016. Oh, and remember the book that got the project going? We’re revisiting that idea as well.

Carl Galie is a North Carolina photographer who has worked on conservation issues for the past 19 years. Carl was awarded the first Art for Conservation Grant in August 2010 for his project “Lost on the Road to Oblivion, The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country.” In March 2014, Carl received Wild South’s Roosevelt-Ashe conservation award for journalism for his work documenting mountaintop removal of coal in the Appalachians.

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Pantanal, Story and photograph by Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures.com

D440260We hear all the time that little things make a difference.Sometimes it’s hard to believe; other times, it couldn’t ring truer. Throughout my career I’ve combined photography with conservation, since a concern for our planet and its inhabitants has always been important to me. For the past few years, the Natural Exposures Invitational Photo Tours has taken guests to the Pantanal in the wilds of Brazil. Here, we do our best to incorporate the same philosophy of integrating photography and conservation, much like any of our travel destinations. Continue reading

Photographer Project: Saving Serengeti, Story and photographs by Boyd Norton

NortonSerengeti-1331Serengeti—it’s one of the most famous names in the world, an icon of wild places.

The Serengeti ecosystem, almost 10,000 square miles in area, includes Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and adjacent reserves such as Loliondo, Maswa, Ikorongo, Grumeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara. It is one of the few large, protected ecosystems left on earth. Each year, more than two million animals—wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores—migrate from the eastern plains through central Serengeti and northward to Masai Mara and back, in a search for water and fresh grasses. It is the largest land mammal migration on earth.

NortonSerengeti-1333I’ve been traveling to the Serengeti ecosystem annually for 30 years, leading photo tours, and working on book and magazine assignments. I always assumed that national park and World Heritage Site designations would protect this ecosystem. I was wrong.

In May 2010 I learned from Masai friends that the Tanzanian government planned a major commercial highway that would cut across the northern part of the park like a knife wound. Hundreds of trucks would speed daily from Lake Victoria in the west to the Indian Ocean coast. In addition to cutting off the migration route, the highway would become an avenue for poachers.

Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater, TanzaniaWithin days of my discovery, I contacted a handful of other frequent Serengeti travelers and we started a Facebook page, Stop the Serengeti Highway. Word spread, and today that page has more than 60,000 followers worldwide. In addition, ecotourism consultant Dave Blanton and I started a tax-deductible non-profit called Serengeti Watch to rally support to save Serengeti and to inform select news media around the globe about the threat. Click the link to join and/or make a donation.

In December 2010, Richard Engel of NBC News traveled to Serengeti. He uncovered the culprit funding the highway: China. Engel asserted that China was after coltan, an important mineral in cell phones, and certain rare-earth minerals.

NortonSerengeti-1339The situation has grown more complex because of oil in Uganda and South Sudan. Plans are now being discussed by the Tanzanian government for a “transportation corridor” that might include a railroad as well as a highway. Either would mark the end of the migration and the total unravelling of the Serengeti ecosystem.

Serengeti Watch has proposed an alternate southern route, one that bypasses Serengeti entirely. Parts of this road already exist and are being upgraded for major transport. The Tanzanian government has ignored funding offers for a southern route, and to date the Serengeti Highway remains a threat.

Dawn, wildebeest and acacia tree, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya.Building local support is vital. Through donations, Serengeti Watch has made educational grants locally to raise awareness about the importance of preserving Serengeti. The overall aim is to fund projects in media and education that encourage young Tanzanians to become involved in conservation. Through photography, journalism, video and social media, Serengeti Watch will give local people the ability to communicate the importance of protecting their reserves and parks.

This may be the best way to protect Serengeti for the future.

Boyd Norton is the author/photographer of 16 books. His most recent, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning, has received accolades from primatologist and researcher Jane Goodall and Richard Engel of NBC News, among others. For more than 45 years Boyd has used his photography and writing to save and protect wilderness and wildlife worldwide, testifying at numerous congressional hearings. He has served on the Board of Trustees for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. He is a Fellow of NANPA, a former NANPA board member, charter Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and founder and Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers. His next photo safari to Serengeti will be in February, 2015. www.boydnorton.com; www.wildernessphotography.com. See a recent legal development: http://newsle.com/article/0/162431923/

Revealing and Reveling in the Beauty of Native North American Bees and Wasps – Story and Photographs © Clay Bolt

Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visits a Black-eye

A Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visits a Black-eyed Susan.

Since Niall Benvie and I first developed Meet Your Neighbours in 2009 I’ve seen my fair share of amazing, beautiful and sometimes bizarre creatures. From the beginning, I’ve worked almost exclusively in the land that surrounds my home near the Southern Appalachians in upstate South Carolina, USA. Rather naïvely, I suspected that after a short period of time I would begin to run out of subjects to photograph but nothing could be further from the truth. Seldom does a day go by that I don’t see a creature or plant that I’ve never seen before in the wild, anywhere! As Piotr Naskrecki points out in his fantastic book The Smaller Majority, “Over 99% of life on Earth is smaller than your finger.” It’s little wonder then that the careful observer will be awarded with a lifetime of discovery.

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