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 →
When I presented my project on rewilding at the recent San Diego NANPA Summit, it was a Lightning Talk, so I only had six minutes to address the audience. I did not have time to explain a bit more about why I started a photo project about releasing animals back into the wild. It stems in part from spending years working on another project, which deals with less fortunate animals living in captivity. After photographing animals who had lost all freedom, I felt the need to experience animals returning to nature. But still, the project I call “Captive” is a quest I feel passionate about, especially as I have seen my photos play an integral role in the current public discourse over reforming and rethinking zoos.
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 →
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 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).
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.
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 →