By Benjamin Olson, Minnesota, USA: I remember my first encounter with baiting owls quite vividly. During a week long trip to the Sax Zim Bog to photograph the resident Great Gray Owls I had an encounter with another gentleman who introduced a different kind of photography to me: Manipulation. For the first couple days I thought the use of live bait was an interesting method, and I even photographed the birds that other photographers were baiting. But as I began to think more thoroughly about consequences of using live bait, I began to feel remorseful and even began to regret that I had even taken the images in the first place. During that week I watched this man feed ~150 mice to the Great Gray Owl and a Northern Hawk Owl, and at one point I even saw the Northern Hawk Owl come grab mice out of his hands. This was my breaking point. I deleted all of the images I had captured of the two owls influenced by bait and began a project that has altered my approach to wildlife photography.
For the past year I have immersed myself into the habitats of the animals that I wished photograph, with the philosophy that if I spend enough time with these creatures they will become accustomed to my presence and allow me to photograph them within close proximity without the use of any baiting or calling methods. My goal is to create wildlife images without any habituation or association to humans as a food source, or to impart any negative repercussions on the animal or habitat because of my presence.
During this year’s Snowy Owl irruption I ran into the same problem with people baiting, just as I did the year before. People were feeding the owls directly on the roads, using “fake” mice tethered to fishing poles to lure them, and even putting mice into hamster balls and under aquariums to prevent the birds from obtaining them. I was infuriated, to say the least. I almost gave up searching for the white owls, let alone photographing them because the way people were behaving out in the field. I couldn’t stop my search, and persistence finally paid off. Over the course of two and a half months I spent a third of my time working with a single female Snowy Owl. At first, she wouldn’t allow me within 200 yards, but as the winter progressed and I monitored her body language, I was able to get her accustomed to me. By the end of my time with her, she would allow me within 10 feet, all of which was done without feeding her or calling her once.
Dr C’s goal will be to get the otter healthy and stable, and to acquaint him with other otter orphans his own age. Once old enough to be released, the group will be set free together in a suitable wilderness area. Juvenile wildlife is always a challenge for caretakers, and not all babies make it. Wildlife rehabbers such as Dr. C dedicate their lives to helping animals. From the sick, to the orphaned; their work doesn’t stop at 5pm-baby animals need to be fed every few hours. People like Dr. C work tirelessly to care four our pets and get wildlife back into the wild. Let’s thank them for all they do-for all the little otters out there!
Visit www.karineaigner.com for more of her images.
By Todd Amacker, Tennessee, USA: The East African country of Mozambique has gone through its fair share of changes in the last five or so decades. Soon after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 (a dramatic affair in its own right), it entered into a civil war that would last nearly two decades as the country’s two main political entities attempted to sort out their differences. This was an incredibly trying time for Mozambicans, and even after the civil war ended in 1992, many problems persisted. The Mozambican economy was in disarray, but many Mozambican natives who had originally fled during the struggle flooded back into the country, one of the largest repatriations in Sub-Saharan history. The Mozambican economy has risen quite steadily ever since. But how did the natural world fair after all of this conflict? Not well. The good news, however, is that there are quite a few exciting projects happening right now in Mozambique that involve a trio of ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ contributors.
Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, is in the midst of an extraordinary restoration under the helm of philanthropist Greg Carr and a team of scientists, local Mozambicans (some of whom are also scientists!), educators, and administrators. Piotr Naskrecki (Ph.D), a Harvard-based entomologist, has been named Associate Director of the soon-to-be-opened E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory right inside the Park itself. Naskrecki was blown away by the richness of life that he witnessed in Gorongosa, along with the diversity and pristine condition of the natural habitats found within, so he was keenly interested in making a modern biodiversity research laboratory a reality. Furthermore, the number of fascinating creatures he has been able to document against a white background leaves any viewer ready to pack their bags for East Africa!
Another Meet Your Neighbours contributor who has been stomping through the Mozambican bush in search of (mostly) reptiles and amphibians is Harith Farooq. He feels that they are a sensitive group. “Everybody knows about the worldwide amphibian diversity decline and regarding reptiles, snakes are actively killed for no reason in this country. Something I’d like to see end.”
As a child, he spent his days playing with bugs in his garden. He eventually left for Portugal to receive his university education, and, like many others, returned to Mozambique after receiving his Master’s degree. He’s now based at Lúrio University, in the coastal town of Pemba. This university trains up-and-coming Mozambican biologists. It’s also not a bad place to stroll along the beach looking for colorful star fish.
Another Meet Your Neighbours contributor busying himself in Mozambique is Todd Amacker. In 2011, along with a small group of dedicated volunteers, he founded MozCause. They’ve undertaken a project to restore a small primary school on the periphery of Banhine National Park in southern Mozambique. Their first goal is to improve the school’s derelict facilities, and their first project (which involves replacing a long missing roof) is nearing completion. This is a life-long project for MozCause’s members, and they plan to be around during what they think will be an equally impressive transformation of the surrounding National Park. MozCause’s partner, Búfalo Moçambique, has undertaken the first attempt to restore wildlife numbers in the Park.
To learn more about MozCause, visit their website.
-By Todd Amacker, Tennessee, USA: When we last met, we learned about the extraordinary plant diversity that Longleaf pine trees allow to thrive in their light-filled understory. Not just a forest; not just a meadow, but both! An upside down forest, so to speak, with the overwhelming majority of its plant life flourishing in an area where most forests cast an enormous shadow during some (or all) of its seasons.
Frequent fires discourage the growth of pesky hardwoods, which makes way for a seemingly infinite amount of plant life. Pitcher plants, orchids, sundews, butterworts, meadow beauties, yellow-eyed grasses, wild blueberries, and myriad relatives of the mint family. Endemics of coastal plain longleaf alone count for 925 species. (And if you care to know, no place has as many species of Sarracenia, the largest genus of pitcher plants, than the state of Alabama, with nine. All but one are completely dependent on Longleaf pine.)
But this is only the beginning of the cascade of diversity found in Longleaf ecosystems. With so many tasty plants to consume, pollinate, lay eggs on, and hide in, insects flock to this ecosystem. Bees, ants, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, katydids, spiders, and wasps are lured in year-round by the sequential droves of flowering plants and tasty green leaves. By simply stepping foot into a Longleaf pine forest, especially during summer months, you’ll be met with a cacophony of insect sounds that would send any naturalist into a flurry. It’s best to get down on your hands and knees (watch out for snakes) so you don’t miss anything. You don’t want to miss out on finding a new species to science.
With such an impressive menu, Longleaf pine forests of the Southeast play host to an equally impressive collection of insectivores, including a rich diversity of amphibians and reptiles (not to mention hundreds of bird species, with a few being hopelessly dependent on Longleaf.)
Searching for frogs, one of my favorite pastimes, can keep one quite busy. Do they squawk, squeak, chirp, or bellow? These are clues to help you identify the some 30 species of frogs that can be found in longleaf pine forests. My favorite might be the little pine woods tree frog (Hyla femoralis), which can be found in the early morning clinging to clusters of dew-drenched leaves. There are also a staggering 56 species of reptiles that call longleaf home. Remember the snakes I mentioned to watch out for? The three largest in North America (the indigo, the black pine, and the diamondback rattlesnake) are all found in longleaf pine forests. But only one of those, the diamondback, could actually hurt you.
If you already live in the United States, and haven’t found your way to any of the Southeast’s lovely natural areas, please consider a Longleaf pine forest as your next stop. The Florida panhandle, North and South Carolina, as well as coastal Alabama and Mississippi are all good places to consider. Oh, and pitcher plants bloom in March and April. You’re welcome!
More of Todd Amacker’s photos can be found on his website.
By Juanjo Segura, Taos, New Mexico: Winter is ideal for bird photography. Birds are wearing their beautiful winter plumage, and they visit feeders more often. That’s because they have a greater need to find food and calories, which I’m happy to provide! Using snow as a white background instead of a diffuser provides great freedom of movement and naturalness, which I hope you’ll see exemplified in my photographs.
The steps to keep in mind are the same for photographing any wild birds that are attracted to your feeder. You choose a well-visited spot, set up the hide and the feeders, and allow time for the birds to get used to feeding comfortably. These images were taken over a 3 month period in the backyard of a house in Arroyo Seco, in the mountains of Taos, New Mexico.
The food I used was seeds for garden birds mixed with black sunflower seeds. But their absolute favorite is a homemade suet, which they love! The suet is simply a mixture of three equal parts of corn flour, lard and peanut butter. I prepare the perches so that I can place the food behind them in a way that it is hidden. I also use a drill to make holes that can be filled with food where I want the birds to investigate.
To use the snow on the ground as a natural white background, the perches should be nestled in the snow itself or close to the ground. To overexposure the snow in action photography you need a good amount of light. The days I prefer are cloudy yet bright. The brighter, without direct light, the better. If you don’t have a super-bright day, you can still use the snow as a white background. But then later, when processing, you will likely have to turn up the whites to get the pure white background.