America’s Better Idea: National Wildlife Refuges

The National Wildlife Refuges were created to manage, conserve and restore fish, wildlife and plants and the ecosystems that sustain them.

The National Wildlife Refuges were created to manage, conserve and restore fish, wildlife and plants and the ecosystems that sustain them.

Story and photographs by Jeff Parker

The National Parks have famously been called “America’s best idea”.  I have visited many of our National Parks and they ARE awesome.  However, I tend to think that our National Wildlife Refuges are “America’s Better Idea”.

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From the President: Gordon Illg

Close encounters with unimpressed bighorn sheep.

Close encounters with unimpressed bighorn sheep.

In the old days, not only did we have to walk through two feet of snow on our way to school (which was really tough for me because I lived in Tucson), but we didn’t have access to all the species and landscapes that photographers do today. If one has the money, there is now almost no place on Earth that cannot be reached and photographed with only a couple of days travel. Nature photography has indeed changed over the last 30 years, and I’m not just talking about technological advances in photo gear. I’m also referring to our subjects, our relationships with them, and our access to them. Most, if not all, of these changes have resulted from an exploding human population and the fact that we are increasingly mobile. Have these changes been good or bad? The answer is yes. The immediate conclusion most of us jump to is that a hordes of people are bad for the natural world, and this conclusion is not wrong. But, and this is a big but, lots of people can make nature photography better.

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Death of Moose Prompts Calls for Safe Wildlife Photography

News report of drowned moose.

New England Cable News report on a moose that drowned because it was frightened by excited tourists. (Screenshot)

Earlier in September, a moose drowned in Lake Champlain, Vermont, because of tourists.  Not directly: people didn’t go up and kill it.  Rather, it died as a result of what people did, or didn’t do.  After swimming from the New York shore to Grand Isle, in the middle of the lake, the moose came ashore.  Unfortunately, it came onto the island near a road and tourists, excited at the sight of a moose so close, got out of their cars and started snapping photos with their phones.  Sadly, the commotion frightened the moose back in to the lake.  Tired from its swim over from New York, the moose didn’t have enough energy left to cope with wind and waves and drowned shortly thereafter.

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Ottawa’s Wild Bird Care Center

© Barbara Adams

Story and Photography by Barbara Adams

The Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Center in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada welcomes more than 3,000 wild birds each year. It is the region’s only organization dedicated to the care, treatment, and rehabilitation of injured, sick, and orphaned wild birds. Our rescues come in all sizes, from the tiniest hatchlings to the largest raptors.

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Unveiling the Danube Delta

Great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) take flight over the blue waters of the Danube Delta in Romania, where many of them breed during their migrations. A pelican’s wingspan can stretch up to 12 feet across, so they are a sight to see close up! For this shot, I took a 12-hour long-boat tour in order to explore the smaller channels of the Delta. It is here where the Danube river meets the Black Sea. © Haley Pope

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.

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From the Archives – A Photographer’s Pompeii by Chad Anderson

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

Story and photographs by Chad Anderson

 

Pine Rocklands

Pine Rocklands  © 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 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

CONSERVATION: Sockeye Salmon Spawning

Story and Photographs by Andrew Snyder

 

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) making the jump up a small falls en route to spawning – Katmai, Alaska. © Andrew Snyder

 

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

Ruddy ducks—leading a double life

Story and photography by Budd Titlow

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.”

The ruddy duck, hated in Great Britain, loved in the United States and Canada. © Budd Titlow

The ruddy duck, hated in Great Britain, loved in the United States and Canada. © Budd Titlow

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.

The ruddy duck is shot by hunters in Great Britain, and by photographers in North America. © Budd Titlow

The ruddy duck is shot by hunters in Great Britain, and by photographers in North America. © Budd Titlow

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.

Europe is hardly a safe haven for the ruddy duck. © Budd Titlow

Europe is hardly a safe haven for the ruddy duck. © Budd Titlow

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, SeashellsJewels 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.