In a City Defined by People and Politics, He Makes Headlines Because of Birds

August 07, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

“We can learn a few things from birds at this time. One is that even though our lives are in a very strange place, nature is doing its best to continue on.” Dan Rauch, Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist for the District of Columbia, quoted on American University Radio


In my latest podcast, I’m talking with Dan Rauch. Dan is a Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist at Washington, DC’s Department of Energy and Environment. If you love, or even like wildlife, then you should love a wildlife biologist too. Dan does a lot of interesting and important work on behalf of the citizens of the District of Columbia – which I’m one – but also on behalf of the diverse wildlife that make Washington, DC their home. Many in the DC area -- and beyond -- first learned about Dan because he’s often in the news. Whether he’s helping bald eagles, snowy owls, turkeys, or helping DC residents coexist with wildlife, Dan loves what he does. In a city of over 700,000 residents – not counting the additional hundreds of thousands that come to work in DC; thousands of wild animals, and mostly highly developed land, it’s a big job.




Here's the questions we covered on the latest podcast. Listen now.


  • Tell us about yourself.


  • Wildlife biologists serve throughout local, state, and the federal government. What’s the role of wildlife biologists in the District of Columbia?


  • What excites you about being a Wildlife Biologist?


  • This past winter (winter 2022) the District was visited by a Snowy Owl who took up residence near Union Station. Photographers began documenting that she was eating rats in the area – which is great – except for the concerns about the use of rat poison in that area. You got involved in addressing those concerns. Walk us through what happened and how the District responded.


  • What have you learned from being in this field that other people should know?


  • What are some common things people struggle with in your field?


  • Do you have a favorite species?


  • Where can listeners learn more about more you and the District of Columbia’s wildlife?



Read more about Dan and the District of Columbia's Department of Energy and the Environment:



Osprey in the Spotlight

July 17, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

The Osprey’s scientific name, Pandion haliaetus, comes from a mythical king of Athens, Pandion, whose daughters were turned into birds, and the Greek words halos (sea) and aetos (eagle).



Ospreys have provided me with some of my most memorable wildlife photography experiences and wildlife encounters. I’m always stunned by these birds not just because of how they look but how they’ve adapted to living fairly close to humans with all of our human noises, human gazing, and humans regularly closing in on them to get closer looks. In a recent social media post, I refer to Ospreys as having the equivalent of a PhD in survival.


Osprey hunting skills literally astound me – they can see fish underwater when they’re flying at heights up to 130 feet above the surface of the water. Not only can they see with that level of precision, they dive at tremendous speeds into the water sometimes submerging their entire bodies to catch fish in their talons. And if that wasn’t enough, once they catch a fish, they use the physical strength of their wings to get out of, or off of the water and fly off with their catch. If you’ve been underwater, you know water is heavy – yet Ospreys make it look like a breeze to surface out of the water.


Once they’ve caught a fish then they fly sometimes considerable distances with an extra half pound (rough average) of fish in tow.  That might not sound like a lot of weight, but when you consider that adult Osprey usually weigh no more than 4 pounds, even a half pound of fish would be 12% of a 4-pound Osprey’s body weight.  How would you do carrying 12% of your body weight (let’s say you weigh 170 lbs. – 12% is 20 lbs.) a few times a day, usually every day, for miles in all kinds of weather? The Cornell Lab bird authority says: “Ospreys are excellent anglers. Over several studies, Ospreys caught fish on at least 1 in every 4 dives, with success rates sometimes as high as 70 percent. The average time they spent hunting before making a catch was about 12 minutes—something to think about next time you throw your line in the water.”   Watching, photographing, and when necessary, rescuing Ospreys never gets old.



Ospreys’ tendency to be fairly comfortable around humans and our built-up environment means that it’s not so unusual to see Ospreys in the news. See the “Sources and Information” links at the bottom of this post for some of the headlines Ospreys have created for many journalists.


There are now several live-streaming Osprey nest cams from around the US that provide important and moving insights into Osprey behavior. Knowing their behavior, lifestyle, and desired habitat has allowed many photographers, me included, to capture incredible photos of this majestic and fierce raptor. Following are a few of my greatest Osprey photographs to date. I expect there will be more to come! Click on any photo to purchase or contact me to discuss buying a print.








Sources and Information:

Birds of Prey - The Best Prescription Never Written

June 01, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

On my latest podcast, I’m talking with Donna Cole. Donna is an award-winning multimedia and investigative journalist; bird of prey rescuer; mom, breast cancer survivor, and a U.S. Navy veteran. During her US Navy Service, Donna was recognized with a number of military service medals and honors including the National Defense Service Medal (Gulf War/Operation Desert Shield), Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy Overseas Service Ribbon and a Cold War Recognition Certificate. In the spring and summer of 2018, Donna broke the story about carbofuran, a federally banned pesticide, being illegally used and resulting in the death of 13 bald eagles in the state of Maryland. Donna's reporting led to national and global news coverage. I'm talking with Donna about her investigative work, among other very inspiring things.


Donna Cole at Raptor Rescue Training 2019Donna Cole at Raptor Rescue Training 2019


I got to know Donna through her bird of prey rescue work. She led the effort to organize a large group of volunteer rescue transporters – people, including me, that pick up the rescued birds and transport them to licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Donna’s own involvement with bird of prey rescue got started following a difficult and painful recovery from breast cancer, which she shares with us. We have a lot to talk about with Donna today and I’m so excited that she’s able to join the podcast!


Here's the questions we covered. Listen to the podcast here.


  • You have an active on-line presence which makes it so easy to learn about and keep up with you. Perhaps that’s the journalist in you? Tell us about yourself.



  • Do you have any raptor rescues that are more memorable than others?


  • In 2018 you broke the story that the federally banned pesticide carbofuran was responsible for the 2016 deaths of 13 bald eagles in Maryland – and possibly more we’ll never know about. That story got national attention. That was the largest number of eagles that were known to have died in Maryland in 30 years; and we know bald eagles don’t just fall out of the sky in numbers like that and die. Carbofuran is a pesticide to control pests in soil and on leaves in a variety of field, fruit, and vegetable crops. In 2009 the US EPA effectively banned carbofuran by not allowing it be reregistered because EPA concluded that “dietary, worker, and ecological risks are unacceptable for all uses of carbofuran. All products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards, and therefore are ineligible for reregistration.”  Tell us about how you got involved in this case and what you learned from it.





Sources and Information

The American West has to be seen to be believed and has to be believed to be seen

May 25, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

"The landscape of the American West has to be seen to be believed and has to be believed to be seen." - N. Scott Momaday


That quote sums up how I usually feel when I return from a west coast trip. Having been raised and lived all of my life in more eastern regions of the United States I know there are amazing and truly inspirational sights and historical places on our side of the country. Some are unmatched anywhere in the world – including in Washington, DC – my home for the last 30 years. That said, the mountain west also has its own unique history and lessons, but its natural beauty is just unsurpassed. Traveling through Utah in April I was reminded (again!) that we live in a diverse, resilient, and sacred place, when we allow ourselves to see it that way. I’ve posted on my social media a few of my favorite scenes from my recent Utah adventure, which I’m including in this blog along with their stories and some new images. I encountered incredible scenery, landscapes, wildlife, and great people throughout Utah, and the biggest impact was visiting Monument Valley – part of the Navajo Nation located in Utah, near Kayenta, Arizona. Let’s start there.




Monument Valley - "Sacred Land, Sacred View."


Sacred ViewsSacred Views


After spending about 48 hours in Monument Valley, witnessing the incredible rock formations and listening to native Navajo stories about creation and the significance of the land, I purchased the book “Sacred Land, Sacred View,” in a local shop. I read it front-to-back on the plane ride home and found that some of my photographs of the rock formations in and near Monument Valley - all on Navajo land - were talked about in the book. I had heard some of the stories I read about during my tour of Monument Valley where I had the great experience of learning about Navajo culture from Larry Team, a Navajo guide with Monument Valley Tribal Tours. One of the best descriptions I’ve read of how Navajos view the environment and land is: “Navajos read their environment as a spiritual text: the gods created the physical world to help, teach, and protect people through an integrated system of beliefs represented in nature.”


Larry Team - Navajo Guide, Monument Valley Tribal Tours

Larry Team - Navajo GuideLarry Team - Navajo Guide


The dramatic beauty of Navajo Land and its people left me, and still leave me speechless. The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, comprising about 16 million acres, or about 25,000 square miles, approximately the size of the state of West Virginia. Some of the most photographed scenery in the United States is on the reservation, notably Monument Valley.



Sunrise, Monument Valley


Some Navajo interpretations of the rock formations shown in the photo above -- specifically what are called the "Mittens" on the left and in the center -- say that these formations are two hands that were left behind by the gods as signs that some day they will return and rule with power from Monument Valley.



The photograph below shows Agathla Peak or Agathlan (Navajo: Aghaałą́, Spanish: El Capitan) which is located south of Monument Valley. It rises over 1,500 feet (457 meters) above the surrounding terrain. In Navajo tradition, this formation is believed to be a "sky-supporter", also described as a "transmitter", capable of communicating prayers.


Agathla Peak or El Capitan

Sky SupportSky Support


Anthropologists believe the Navajos probably arrived in the Southwest between 800 and 1,000 years ago. The Navajo people call themselves Dine', literally meaning "The People." After the United States defeated Mexico in 1846 and gained control of the vast expanse of territory known today as the Southwest and California, the Navajos encountered a more substantial enemy. Colonel Kit Carson instituted a scorched earth policy, burning Navajo fields and homes, and stealing or killing their livestock. After starving the Navajos into submission, Carson rounded up every Navajo he could find - 8,000 men, women and children - and in the spring of 1864 forced his prisoners to march some 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Navajos call this "The Long Walk." Many died along the way, and died during the four long years of imprisonment. In 1868 after signing a treaty with the U.S., remaining Navajos were allowed to return to designated lands currently occupied in the Four Corners area of the U.S.


Generations of Navajos were raised with the belief that what the natural world provides is sacred, greater than us, and essential for survival, harmony, and peace. Social media is loaded with incredible pictures of Monument Valley. But there’s much, much more, to learn and know about this place that the Navajo people see as sacred. They were taught to live in harmony with “Mother Earth”,” Father Sky” and other elements including people, plants, animals, and insects. Those beliefs have enabled the protection and care of natural resources for generations.


Monument Valley Mesas, Mittens, and Formations


A view of "Ear of the Wind", in Monument Valley Backcountry

Ear of the WindEar of the Wind


The photo below is another of many places we stopped during our backcountry tour of Monument Valley. Our Navajo guide told us to lay on our backs and look up at this formation. He asked if we saw the eagle? Some of us did. Did you?



Find the Eagle, Monument Valley


Do You See the Eagle?Do You See the Eagle? Seeing the EagleSeeing the Eagle



I could never do justice to the powerful stories Larry – our Navajo guide -- shared with us -- passed on to him from his Navajo grandfather -- or come close to describing the feelings evoked when Larry sang a Navajo song of love, sung over Navajo-born US soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress. But one thing Larry said clearly summed everything up for me..."when we pray, we give thanks to nature first.” This and so many other moments revealed a culture that reveres, loves, and respects the natural world.


Larry Team - Navajo Guide -- singing Navajo healing song

Larry Team - Navajo GuideLarry Team - Navajo Guide


In the Navajo culture, medicine men perform ceremonial cures that are targeted at body, mind, and spirit. There are nearly 100 Navajo chants of varying range and intricacy. Originating from the Navajo Creation Story, a Navajo medicine man learns only one or two over many years of apprenticeship. Ceremonies last anywhere from one to nine days and include chants, songs, prayers, lectures, dances, sweat baths, prayer sticks, and sand paintings. In order for a ceremony to be effective, everything must be done as prescribed in the legends.


Monument Valley Backcountry

Back CountryBack Country



Near the end of the Monument Valley Tour, we visited a traditional, and working, Navajo hogan – the name given for a Navajo home or dwelling. These are humble buildings constructed with natural materials that all have significance, meaning, and function. Men and women live in separate hogans, and the hogans are sized and shaped differently for men and women. In the female hogan we met a native Navajo woman who showed us the traditional methods for spinning, dying and preparing wool for Navajo rugs. It's a completely all-natural, power-free, process.


Another traditional Navajo skill we learned about is basket-making. Little did I know that the design of Navajo baskets is deliberate and every aspect of the design has meaning.  Baskets are not only functional but are a symbol and reminder of Navajo beliefs. Many Navajo baskets have the traditional Navajo basket design with the red, white, and black colors. The black design symbolizes the darkness (night) and clouds that bring the rain. The white part inside the black design represents the sacred mountains. Usually, there are four or six points in this part to designate the sacred mountains. If there are four points, then they represent the four sacred mountains. If there are six points, then two more sacred mountains are added. The outside white area represents the dawn and is tied together with the outside rim which represents a person's thoughts, prayers, and values. The red part within the black design represents the life-giving rays of the sun. The photo below shows our Navajo guide explaining the basket design. A source for the background on Navajo baskets is here.


Interior of (female) Navajo Hogan, Weaving and Navajo Basket

Navajo CultureNavajo Culture



More Amazing Utah and Regional Scenery

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe BendHorseshoe Bend


On the way to Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona is a somewhat newly popular tourist attraction. It’s part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and I like how the National Park Service describes Horseshoe Bend as a “social media darling.” At Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River created a roughly 1,000 ft (305 m) deep, 270-degree horseshoe-shaped bend in Glen Canyon. It’s unique, and interesting to photograph. However, best to get there very early in the day or late around sunset to avoid shadows in your photographs (which I did not!)


There were other great sights along the short hike to Horseshoe Bend, including many buck moth caterpillars. I had to do my research on these since I’ve not seen them out in nature before. Everything I’ve read says that buck moth caterpillars will sting defensively and therefore people should avoid picking them up or touching them. However, it’s actually very hard to see their spines – and know that you’re looking at a buck moth caterpillar, as they’re crawling around. Perhaps the best advice for all, "not-a-bug-expert", (that's most of us!) is to not harass, touch or pick bugs up. The buck moth caterpillar is very showy and I’m always glad to run across new species when I’m in new places. They get the name buck moth because they hatch during fall and are seen flying in the fall around the same time deer are often seen.


Buck Moth Caterpillar

Buck Moth CaterpillarBuck Moth Caterpillar


Here's a few other new wildlife sightings while I was traveling Utah.  You can also visit my INaturalist profile, where I regularly post new wildlife sightings.


Mountain Bluebird


Golden Eagle

Golden EagleGolden Eagle


Antelope Squirrel

Antelope SquirrelAntelope Squirrel



Bryce Canyon National Park – Millions of Years in the Making


Sometime in the late 1800s, Scottish immigrant Ebenezer Bryce, was sent to Paria Valley, Utah by the Mormon church, which he was a member. While living in southern Utah, he oversaw the construction of a road to the rim of Bryce Canyon. During this time, the red rocks and hoodoos were referred to as Bryce’s Canyon. Due to its natural and geological significance in the area, Bryce Canyon later became a national monument in 1923 and officially became a national park in 1928. I took hundreds of photographs of Bryce Canyon; and if you’ve visited this area, you understand. Bryce Canyon National Park is simply a stunning geological sight, highly unique among the National Parks. It’s known for its “Hoodoos” (irregular columns of rock). While these exist on every continent, Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.


Bryce Canyon

Bryce CanyonBryce Canyon


Bryce Canyon


Bryce CanyonBryce Canyon


Bryce Canyon

Bryce CanyonBryce Canyon


Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National ParkBryce Canyon National Park


Bryce Canyon


Bryce CanyonBryce Canyon


Sources and Information:

Low Country Conservation Wins

May 20, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

It's been a very busy spring 2022! Lots of travel, an art show, planning for upcoming art shows, some other projects, and lots of incredible photography to process and share. Before the next big event, I wanted to be sure and get back to the blog to share my latest inspirations from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.



If you follow my blog or social media you know that I regularly travel to Hilton Head, and have for years. The first time I visited, it was the natural and peaceful beauty of this place that I fell in love with. Many people associate Hilton Head with golf, but I'm not a golfer; and there's so much more than golf to Hilton Head! As a wildlife photographer, Hilton Head has diverse species and some of the most unique birding photography anywhere in the United States. How does a warm and sunny Atlantic coast beach environment, that's been named "America's Favorite Island", have great wildlife?  Because Hilton Head is also dedicated to conserving natural habitats and the ecosystems that make it possible for both humans and wildlife to thrive on the island.



Here's just a few of the ways Hilton Head has stepped up to protect the island and its ecosystems (source: ).


  • Hilton Head Public Service Department irrigates the Island’s six major watersheds with high-quality, treated domestic water to preserve hundreds of acres of native old-growth wetlands, which are home to rare and endangered wildlife and vegetation.



  • Hilton Head's Tree Protection Ordinance, in effect since the 1980's, protects against and mitigates the loss of trees based on ecological standards. It also encourages the protection of under-story vegetation. Even for single-family homes, tidal wetland buffer standards require that native vegetation be left intact in accordance with the Tree Protection Ordinance. Hilton Head has also been a Tree City USA Community since 2002. In addition, buildings are capped at a specific height to protect the integrity and aesthetic of the natural local landscape. Trees that are protected -- particularly tall, old growth trees, provide vital habitat for birds and raptors including bald eagles, ospreys, hawks, and kites.



  • To protect the sea turtles that travel miles through the Atlantic Ocean to nest specifically on Hilton Head beaches, the Town of Hilton Head Island requires light structures visible from the beach to be covered or turned off between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am during nesting and hatching season from May to October. Volunteers with the Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island also monitor the beaches daily during these crucial months to mark and track sea turtle nests, minimize pollution, and raise awareness of the importance of the sea turtle’s protection.



  • In 1987, a group of local residents created the Hilton Head Island Land Trust, a non-profit corporation with a mission to preserve and protect natural habitats from over-development. Today, nearly 300 acres of Island lands are under the land trust’s stewardship, including the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, Cypress Conservancy, Northridge Tract, and Fort Howell from the Civil War era.



  • The Town of Hilton Head Island has played a significant role in land conservation. Beginning in 1991, the Town began a plan to manage and control growth on the Island with a similar program created to preserve the open spaces in Nantucket, Massachusetts. As a result, the Town has purchased well over a 1,000 acres. These protected areas have precluded commercial development, hotel development, and new homes in favor of green space, parks, and natural habitat conservation. On December 27, 2017, Audubon International certified the Town of Hilton Head Island as the first public Audubon Sustainable Community in South Carolina. Read about Hilton Head's certification and sustainability success (scroll down to look for Hilton Head).




These conservation and sustainability actions have resulted in one of the most pristine, peaceful, diverse, and enjoyable places to vacation and photograph anywhere along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Everywhere in the world, conservation is a long-term commitment and practice to mitigate the effects of population growth and impact.


Photographs from my latest trip provide proof of conservation wins in the low country of Hilton Head Island.


Hilton Head Sunset

Conservation WinsConservation Wins

Osprey with Grouper Catch

What It's All AboutWhat It's All About

Laughing Gull

Laughing GullLaughing Gull

Male Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting - MalePainted Bunting - Male

American Oystercatcher

American OystercatcherAmerican Oystercatcher

Female Painted Bunting

Brown Pelican

Brown PelicanBrown Pelican

Piping Plover

Piping PloverPiping Plover

Semi-Palmated Plover

Semi-palmated PloverSemi-palmated Plover





Brown Thrasher


Black Skimmer Black SkimmerBlack Skimmer




Royal Tern


Royal TernRoyal Tern

Sea Star

Sea StarSea Star

Hilton Head Sub-species of White-Tailed Deer

Hilton Head Sub-species of White Tailed DeerHilton Head Sub-species of White Tailed Deer

Time Out

Calibogue Sound

The SoundThe Sound


Sources and Information:

Sustaining Generational Respect for Wild Places

April 04, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

On my latest podcast I'm talking with Isaac James Baker. I got to know Isaac through Instagram. The more he posted, the more I wanted to know. Isaac has worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, and editor. He has a Master’s Degree in fiction writing, he reviews wines for an award-winning wine blog, and is an author for The Good Men Project.  Among things we’ll talk about – Isaac -- in his own words, is a “newb” and “constant learner” wildlife photographer and posts his wildlife shots and sightings on Instagram, which include great birds, Coyotes and other species. Isaac calls Coyotes his “homies”, and he’s taken and posted some very nice shots of Coyotes. Isaac lives around the metropolitan DC area and we’ve been following each other on Instagram for a while. In the “9-to-5-world”, Isaac is a journalist. He’s currently a communications specialist for the Federal Election Commission. That’s an independent regulatory agency that “protects the integrity of the federal campaign finance process by providing transparency and fairly enforcing and administering federal campaign finance laws.”


Isaac also comes from a long line of outdoor lovers, including his mother who was the first women to surf in his local New Jersey town. As a young boy, Isaac also spent several years in Ukraine during a different, but also difficult time in that country’s history. That experience helped him develop an appreciation for wild canids. Canids include dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves.  Love, enjoyment, and respect for the outdoors were instilled in him young, and he’s living a life that celebrates, in many ways, what nature provides us.


The ability to be active in the outdoors actually helped Isaac overcome some pretty dark times in his personal life, and Isaac shares some things from a darker and difficult time in his life. Isaac is conscious about passing the generational respect for nature on to his daughter. I talled with Isaac about a lot of topics – including his love of nature, sustaining generational respect for our wild places, his years in Ukraine against the backdrop of today’s violence in that country, his project to document the hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park, things on his wildlife photography wish list, and more.


Here's the questions we talked about. Listen to the podcast now


  • You’re active in a lot of outdoor endeavors.  How did all that get started?  Why surfing, hiking, mountain climbing, and wildlife photography?


  • Shortly after Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine, you shared a photo on Instagram from Kyiv, Ukraine, taken in 1995, that showed you, your siblings, and other children playing on overturned military tanks. In that post you said your “heart was breaking for the people of my former home, who showed me so much grace and hospitality.”  How did those years living in Ukraine influence you?


  • Speaking of things on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, you review wines for an award-winning wine blog. Your interest in wine started on the other side of the Atlantic. How did that get started?


  • Changing gears a bit Isaac,  if folks were to search you on the Internet they’d easily find, that like many of us, at one point in your life, you experienced some dangerous and traumatic events. You’ve written and published about some very dark times in your life. Now that you’re on the other side of that, how has your perspective changed? Has the ability to get outdoors and enjoy the outdoors helped you?


  • When I look through your Instagram posts, it’s exactly what your profile says you’re about, “nature, waves, metal, wine, etc..”. One exception is that you periodically post about your daughter. Maybe when you next update your profile you’ll add, “dad”? 


  • You mention generational respect for our natural places. How are you trying to pass that on and sustain that?


  • You started a project in 2020 to hike and document every mile of every trail in Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah National Park is 75 miles from DC and has over 500 miles of trails. How is the project coming along? Do you plan to publish about it?


  • Do you have places or wildlife on your travel or photography “wish list”?



Sources and Information

There’s more to this neighborhood than meets the eye

March 16, 2022  •  Leave a Comment



I don’t travel anywhere these days without my photography gear, and that includes a recent trip I took to Las Vegas. I’ve been to Vegas several times. I know that -- despite the Bellagio fountains, swimming pools available in nearly all resorts, and lots of flowing beverages everywhere -- Las Vegas is a big place in a very dry desert -- the Mojave Desert. On my latest trip to the strip, I was looking forward to the possibility of seeing desert wildlife that don’t exist where I am on the eastern side of the US.  My research found several excellent birding and other natural areas within a 20 to 40-minute drive from where I was staying, just a block off the Las Vegas strip. What I discovered when I got there, is that while these good wildlife photography locations looked very promising in writing, they were spectacular in person.


What made these areas so spectacular was the diversity and numbers of species I observed and was able to photograph – in the great bright light of clear desert days. In this blog, I’ve shared some of my favorite photographs. However, the species I observed were far more and some numbered in the hundreds. For example, I observed a few hundred Northern Shoveler ducks at Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. I’ve never seen that many Northern Shovelers in a single location at the same time – and the only other location I’ve seen a higher concentration of waterfowl –anywhere -- is during winter along areas of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  I haven’t yet been everywhere in my life, but it’s an understatement to say I was stunned at the number of waterfowl I saw out in the desert.


What brings birds to the desert?  The same thing that brings birds to the east coast, Midwest, central plains and many other places – water and other suitable habitat where they can spend the winter or rest during long migrations. There’s water in the desert?  Yes – but like with so many of our natural resources – there’s not as much as there used to be. The southeastern part of the Mojave Desert where Las Vegas is located is also home to Lake Mead. Lake Mead, located 24 miles from Las Vegas, is the largest reservoir in the United States. It provides water to more than 20 million people in the region.  Because water is such a premium in desert environments, the various water authorities in this region are mindful about water use and conservation measures. Much of the water is recycled or reclaimed and used water (wastewater, urban runoff, stormwater) is conserved and put back to use again.  An interesting side note – while watching the local news out of Las Vegas one evening there was a story about fines for watering residential lawns on days that weren’t allowed. The Las Vegas Valley Water Authority has a mandatory schedule for watering that comes with fines for violators. They also have many other important and necessary conservation requirements on water use.  Take note -- those of us who live in environments where enforceable water restrictions are unheard of.


There’s an urban river that runs through the Las Vegas valley called the Las Vegas Wash. The Wash, which is connected to Lake Mead, carries more than 200 million gallons of water per day and is fed by reclaimed water, urban runoff, shallow groundwater and stormwater. Along the Wash are wetlands. Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or where water is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. In simple terms, wetlands are marshy, swampy areas that are normally wet all year long, but can be dry at times. Wetlands – everywhere -- provide critical benefits to humans and wildlife. They protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, and store floodwaters – helping to manage the impacts of flooding, among other benefits. In the Las Vegas Valley, wetlands at the Wash serve as "nature's kidneys," cleaning the water that runs through them by filtering out harmful contaminants.  However, they also provide habitat for diverse wildlife. Many of the bird-wildlife find this area because they travel one of the major north-south migration flyways that run through or next to Nevada -- the Pacific and Central Flyways And this explains the spectacular wildlife viewing that happens right outside Las Vegas.


I visited three locations along the Las Vegas Wash – Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, Clark County Wetlands Park, and part of the Wash that runs through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and I also visited the Lake itself.  There was even more scenery and wildlife at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Rainbow Owl Preserve, which I also visited. Enjoy these photos!


Burrowing OwlsBurrowing Owls Northern Harrier - ImmatureNorthern Harrier - ImmatureClark County Wetlands Park American AvocetAmerican AvocetHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve American CootAmerican CootLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Merganser - MaleCommon Merganser - MaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Merganser - FemaleCommon Merganser - FemaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Ring Necked Duck - MaleRing Necked Duck - MaleClark County Wetlands Park Ring Necked Duck - FemaleRing Necked Duck - FemaleClark County Wetlands Park Red Head DuckRed Head Duck - MaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Common Goldeneye - FemaleCommon Goldeneye - FemaleLake Mead National Recreation Area Red Shafted Northern FlickerRed Shafted Northern FlickerClark County Wetlands Park Greater RoadrunnerGreater RoadrunnerClark County Wetlands Park Gambel's QuailGambel's QuailRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area - Calico Springs Vermillion Flycatcher - MaleVermillion Flycatcher - MaleHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve Phainopepla - MalePhainopepla - MaleRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area VerdinVerdinClark County Wetlands Park

Desert CoyoteDesert CoyoteLake Mead National Recreation Area White Tailed Antelope SquirrelWhite Tailed Antelope SquirrelRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Desert Cottontail RabbitDesert Cottontail RabbitRainbow Owl Preserve - Nevada Red Eared SliderRed Eared SliderClark County Wetlands Preserve

Anna's Hummingbird - MaleAnna's Hummingbird - MaleClark County Wetlands Preserve Canada GooseCanada GooseHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve Great Horned OwlGreat Horned OwlClark County Wetlands Park Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler - MaleHenderson Bird Viewing Preserve

Sources and More Information:

Get to Know a Naturalist and Discover All Kinds of Nature

February 16, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve lived in Washington DC for 30 years, but I’m from Sandusky, Ohio and I know a lot about that area. Sandusky is located along the Lake Erie coast, in Erie County Ohio, making it home to many migrating birds in spring and fall. For me, this means good bird photography. In fact, there’s a few areas in Sandusky that are considered by the experts as birding Hot Spots. There's even a bird festival in the region during spring migration because the birding is that amazing. Before a recent trip to the area, I was researching birding areas in Erie County and surrounding locations. My research unexpectedly brought me across Martyn Drabik-Hamshare; who is a Naturalist with Erie MetroParks.  I like to say Martyn arrived in Ohio via England and South Africa -- he was born and raised in England and studied in both the UK and South Africa.  Not all of us know what a Naturalist is – in a few words -- Naturalists observe nature and communicate the importance of our natural resources using various programs and activities. Martyn does his work with the Erie MetroParks, which encompass 12 public parks, 30 miles of trails, and more than 300 free public programs each year. I’m excited to have Martyn on the podcast and hear about his experience and insights on all kinds of nature.


Below are the questions Martyn answered.  Listen to the podcast here.


  • You were born and raised in England, studied in both the UK and South Africa, and now you work in Sandusky, Ohio – a mid-size city that sits on Lake Erie and is probably best known as the home of Cedar Point -- an amusement park in operation for over 150 years that features a world-record 71 rides and world-record-setting roller coasters. Martyn, start us out by unraveling the interesting story of your worldwide study and travel and what brought you to northern Ohio.


  • What’s a day in the life of an Erie MetroParks Naturalist like?


  • Tell us about the most surprising thing (or things!) you’ve learned during your explorations or work in Erie County Ohio.


  • As you’ve certainly learned, we Americans love our bald eagle. On a recent episode of the Erie MetroParks podcast, “Off Trail”, you noted that there were 46 Bald Eagle nests in Erie County, as of the last census. How do you go about conducting a census of bald eagle nests?


  • The last time I was in the Sandusky area (Fall 2021), I made a trip up to Maumee Bay State Park (an Ohio state park) which was about an hour by car along the Lake Erie Bay shore from my location. On that drive, which was about 60 miles, I saw 14 adult bald eagles.I was really shocked and never remember seeing anything like that in that area before.What do you think contributes to that region being – apparently -- good habitat for bald eagles?


  • Ecologists often study and explain how human actions affect other living things and their environment. What kinds of activities that you’ve been involved in with Erie County MetroParks fit that description?


  • I’m pretty sure I would never have visited Pipe Creek Wildlife area in Sandusky (managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources) had I not seen some of your posts about the birds and other wildlife in that area. While I’m familiar with the part of Sandusky where Pipe Creek is located, I was never familiar with this area as a birding and wildlife area. North central Ohio is really a top birding destination. What are some of the other best places to see nature and wildlife in Erie County, and the surrounding areas?


  • Have you ever encountered any issues with wildlife crime (poaching, etc..) or was that ever discussed in your studies or job?


  • Do you have a favorite species?



Resources and Additional Information:

Conservation Photography – Would You Know if You're Photographing Threatened Species?

January 23, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I’m a photographer because I love and treasure nature. I understand it’s importance to the global health, survival, and well-being of our human species and the biodiversity of our planet. I’m committed to connecting others to the scenes, places, and moments I capture because they tell the story of what makes our places complete, what dwells among us, what’s relevant to our well-being, and what’s worthy of protecting. I also like creating beautiful things.



In 2020 I joined iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. On iNaturalist, I upload my photographs of species that are unique encounters for me, or species I recognize as unique or out of the ordinary for the location I’m visiting. iNaturalist is a massive online platform for recording and identifying observations of plant or animal species anywhere in the world. Users upload a photo or sound recording and propose an identification of what they’ve recorded, or they receive suggestions from community members. As of January 2022, iNaturalist contained over 88 million observations of over 340,000 species contributed by over 2 million observers world-wide -- and it just keeps growing.



You don’t need a professional camera to be in the iNaturalist community. iNaturalist allows anyone with a phone or camera and an Internet connection to upload and identify photos of plants and animals anywhere in the world. There are guidelines for using iNaturalist, and if you’re new to this platform, head over to their website and learn all about it. One of the goals of iNaturalist is to generate scientifically valuable biodiversity data from the personal encounters we have with the natural world. There’s been good progress on that goal as information gleaned from the platform has contributed to more than 1,400 studies. One of the most common research uses of iNaturalist data is the development of species distribution models.



Since joining in 2020, I’ve added 160 observations covering 118 species, primarily birds. One of the features of iNaturalist that adds incredible depth and significance to observations is the system may provide the conservation status (extinction or extirpation risk) of the species you identified. Let’s define extinct and extirpated before going further because these words will come up again. Extinct means the end of a species; when a species dies out completely its classified as extinct. Extirpated means a local extinction; when a species no longer exists in a particular area, but still exists elsewhere.



Of the 118 species photos I’ve contributed to iNaturalist, about 20 (mostly birds) have some type of imperiled conservation status association with them. In other words, these species were identified as extinct, extirpated, critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable in the regions I photographed them. That’s significant. It means that while you think you’re seeing just another cool hawk fly by, when you snap a picture and upload it into iNaturalist you may discover, and help others discover, a rarely seen and threatened species. These are valuable observations that can be used by scientists and researchers to support our understanding of species distribution and further species conservation research and intervention.



iNaturalist conservation status rankings derive from NatureServe and/or the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature’s) Red List. Established in 1964, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species and is a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. NatureServe uses a suite of factors to assess the conservation status (extinction or extirpation risk) of species of plants, animals, and fungi, as well as the conservation status (elimination or extirpation risk) of ecosystems. Conservation status is summarized as a series of ranks (letter and number codes) from critically imperiled to secure, and these ranks may be derived at global, national, or sub-national levels.



Below I’ve summarized several of my iNaturalist wildlife observations that had some type of imperiled conservation status. Remember that conservation status codes may be location-dependent. In other words, a bird that’s doing well in Montana may be extirpated (locally extinct) in Ohio.




Snowy Owl

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status is IUCN Vulnerable. This means the best available evidence indicates that snowy owls are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.



Bald Eagle

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status is NatureServe S2N/SXB. This means (1) non-breeding bald eagle populations are Imperiled, or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2N), and (2) breeding populations of bald eagles are Presumed Extirpated (SXB). This means breeding age eagles are believed to be extirpated from the jurisdiction; not located despite intensive searches of historical sites and other appropriate habitat, and virtually no likelihood that it will be rediscovered. This is equivalent to “Regionally Extinct” in IUCN Red List terminology.





Location of photograph: North central Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe SX. This means Merlins are presumed extirpated, or locally extinct. The species is not located despite intensive searches of historical sites and other appropriate habitat, and virtually no likelihood that it will be rediscovered. Extirpated species become less resilient to environmental, ecological and biological changes, making them more susceptible to extinction.




Location of photograph: Northern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S1N. This means non-breeding populations are critically imperiled, or at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.




Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S1N. This means non-breeding populations are critically imperiled, or at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Red-Shouldered Hawk

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S2B/S3N. This means (1) breeding age populations are imperiled or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2B), and (2) non-breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N).



Cooper’s Hawk

Location of photograph: Washington, DC (District of Columbia)

Conservation Status NatureServe S3N/SHB. This means (1) non-breeding Cooper’s Hawk populations are Vulnerable, or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N), and (2) breeding age populations are possibly extirpated. They are known from only historical records but still some hope of rediscovery. There is evidence that the species or ecosystem may no longer be present in the jurisdiction, but not enough to state this with certainty (SHB). Examples of such evidence include (a) that a species has not been documented in approximately 20-40 years despite some searching and/or some evidence of significant habitat loss or degradation; (b) that a species or ecosystem has been searched for unsuccessfully, but not thoroughly enough to presume that it is no longer present in the jurisdiction.



American Coot

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status is NatureServe S3N - Vulnerable. This means non-breeding populations are at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.




Long-Tailed Duck (female pictured; conservation status applies to both males and females)

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status ICUN Vulnerable. This means the species has a very high risk of extinction as a result of rapid population declines of 30 to more than 50 percent over the previous 10 years (or three generations), a current population size of fewer than 1,000 individuals, or other factors.




Pie-billed Grebe

Location of photograph: Northern Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S1S2B/S3N. This means (1) breeding populations are imperiled to critically imperiled or at high to very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S1S2B), and (2) non-breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3N).



Black-crowned Night Heron

Location of photograph: Northern Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S3B/S4N. This means (1) breeding populations are vulnerable or at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors (S3B), and (2) non-breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4N).



American Black Duck

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S2. This means all populations are imperiled, or are at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Black Scoter

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status ICUN Red List NT. This means the Black Scoter is a Near Threatened species, and does not yet qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.




Hooded Merganser

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S2. This means all populations are imperiled, or are at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Hooded Merganser

Location of photograph: Northern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S1B. This means breeding populations are critically imperiled or are at very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.



Prothonotary Warbler

Location of photograph: Northwestern Ohio/Lake Erie Region

Conservation Status NatureServe S3. This means all populations are vulnerable, or are at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.




Pine Warbler

Location of photograph: Northeastern West Virginia

Conservation Status NatureServe S2N/S4B. This means non-breeding populations are imperiled, or at high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors (S2N), and (2) breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4B).



Hermit Thrush

Location of photograph: Southern Maryland

Conservation Status NatureServe S3S4B/S4N. This means (1) breeding populations range from vulnerable to apparently secure, where vulnerable means at moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors and apparently secure means at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S3S4B), and (2) non-breeding populations are apparently secure, or at a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors (S4N).




If you’re not already involved in iNaturalist I hope you’ll visit and see how easy it is to make observations and how valuable they can be. Even though a species is common in one region, it could be extinct or imperiled in others, which is why it's important to record observations, in all areas you visit. That "common" red-shouldered hawk you see, may in fact be threatened in the region. Interested in viewing my iNaturalist observations?  Once you’re on the website, search for my name, Carolyn Copper. I’m a monthly supporter of iNaturalist, helping to support its growth and the discovery of biodiversity.




Sources and More Information:

Talons Crossed: The Incredible Work of Rescuing Raptors

January 03, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

I first heard the phrase “talons crossed”, on an Instagram post from Nancy McDonald -- a raptor rescuer located in Maryland – who is sometimes called the “Osprey Lady.”  Talons crossed – is a take on the expression “fingers crossed” -- something said when praying in our own way for a good outcome.  Raptors – hawks – owls – eagles – and ospreys have talons, not fingers, so that phrase, “talons crossed”, is a good fit. Nancy – an Army Veteran, and a former federal Aviation Security Investigator among those who helped shut down United States air space during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. -- has probably said a lot of “talons crossed” over the years she’s been rescuing Hawks, Owls, Eagles, and Ospreys. In 2021 alone, she rescued 125 raptors and that’s double the number she rescued in 2020. She’s rescued them after they’ve been found hit by cars, hanging from trees caught in improperly discarded fishing line, laying injured on the ground after their nests were destroyed, and even after they’ve been shot. Yes, shot. 


I met Nancy in the summer of 2021 after I became a volunteer transporter for the injured raptors, she and another raptor rescuer -- Donna Cole -- were rescuing and trying to save.  Myself, and several dozen other volunteer transporters, drove these birds, part of the way or all of the way –sometimes well over a hundred miles round trip -- to the designated wildlife rehabilitation center that could help them, or humanely end their suffering.  I’m still helping transport these injured raptors today.


It takes courage, strength, skill, a calm mind and a big heart to save wildlife from suffering.  I’m excited to interview Nancy in my newest podcast and hear about her courageous and compassionate work to help save the lives of injured and orphaned raptors.  Listen now, and follow Nancy’s Instagram account @rescuingraptors to learn about this incredible work of rescuing raptors.


Here’s the questions Nancy answered:

  • Let’s start with the numbers.How many years have you been doing this (raptor rescue) and have you kept track of how many birds (raptors) you’ve rescued?


  • You live close to the Chesapeake Bay and you do some sailing.Did this have any influence on how you got started in raptor rescue – particularly Ospreys?


  • On your Instagram account you have a post mentioning your desire to write a book about your rescue stories.What rescues are the most memorable or important to talk about?


  • How do you coordinate with the permitted wildlife rehabilitation centers once you’ve rescued an injured raptor?


  • We haven’t yet come up with animal ambulances, but there is a volunteer transport group for the injured raptors. I’m in this group, and I have to say I was surprised at the number of raptors that needed transporting just since I became involved. There are of course peaks and valleys in transport needs, but this is great resourcefulness and ingenuity to solve the big challenge of getting these birds the help they need.How did the volunteer transport concept come about?


  • Can anyone just go out and capture and rescue an injured hawk, owl, eagle, or osprey?


  • You’ve had more than one occupation over the years –which I think is a great thing to showcase. Earlier in life you served with the Army and then went on to work for the federal government for over 23 years. And what really got my attention was information you shared in one of your Instagram posts about being one of the Federal Aviation Administration representatives who helped shut down US air space during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US. I was living just a few miles from the Pentagon at that time. What can you tell us about that part of your work-life?


  • What else should we know about this (volunteer!) job of rescuing raptors?


Blog photo credit: Mary Hollinger


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Life is Better With Birds

December 15, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

It seems birds have always delighted people all over the world. They’re beautiful, powerful, engaging and make a lot of us very curious. Bird-watching or birding – the observing of birds either for fun, science applications, or other professional purposes, is an incredibly popular activity and it’s one of the fastest growing outdoor activities. It’s fair to say that dedicated wildlife photographers that include birds in their craft are also birders – me included. I’ve learned a lot from birders!


In my newest podcast I’m excited to talk with Jay Sheppard who had a career as an ornithologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service; is a fellow in the American Ornithological Society; has birded in all 50 states; and more recently has been leading tours to observe short-eared owls on a Maryland property slated for commercial development.  That’s how I came to know Jay. 


Jay is certainly a birder, but he’s also a bird scientist and dedicated conservationist. In addition to his 23-year career with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, in retirement, Jay wrote a nearly 500-page life-study of the LeConte’s Thrasher – a bird found in the desert southwest. Jay’s study was published by the organization of Western Field Ornithologists, and can be purchased from them or it’s also available on Amazon. I’m excited to have Jay on the podcast today – listen in – to hear from someone who has dedicated his life to the study and conservation of birds and their habitats. He’s seen a lot and done a lot.


Here’s the questions Jay answered in my newest podcast.

  • You've been watching, studying, and following birds for decades, and you had a career focused on birds. What interests you most about birds?


  • You’ve been organizing short-eared owl tours at the Konterra, Maryland private property for a few years. I’ve been on these tours and loved it. I have a few questions about this.
    • First, how do you describe Konterra?
    • How did you discover Konterra, Maryland?
    • How many people have joined the Konterra tours?
    • Do you expect Konterra will be developed some day?
    • What makes the Konterra property good habitat for the birds and other wildlife that live and migrate there?
    • What can those of us who benefit from birding and bird photography do to support the Konterra habitat?


  • Do you have a favorite bird?


  • We’re coming into winter season. You have a helpful post on your Facebook page about laying down a tarp when it snows to create a bare patch of grass for birds. Can you describe this and why it’s helpful for birds, as well as birders?


  • You’ve birded in all 50 states and Canada which means you’ve seen some amazing bird life. What’s the most unusual or unexpected encounter you’ve had?


  • What tips would you give new birders?


  • What tips would you give seasoned birders?


Listen now on my podcast.


Sources and More Information:

The Power to Make Humans Feel Human, In an Inhuman World

November 10, 2021  •  1 Comment

The power to make humans feel human, in an inhuman world.  This Veteran’s Day I’m thinking about war, what war does to people, and how animals of almost every kind, and particularly horses, have helped many veterans, first responders, and others, manage the trauma and blunt emotion that often follows war.


Feeling HumanFeeling HumanWild Colonial Spanish Mustang - Outer Banks, NC


Just last week in Washington DC, the funeral of General Colin Powell was held at the Washington National Cathedral. I watched the funeral on TV. Watching and listening to the funeral reminded me of so many things because Colin Powell was at the height of his military and government career when I was early in my federal government career here in Washington, DC.


In that career, I had a position in the government where I was part of a project that performed clear-eyed oversight of military programs and activities. One of those activities was Operation Desert Storm (aka the Gulf War), a military campaign in the early 1990’s to expel Iraqi military forces from Kuwait. At the time, Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I learned a lot about the technical and strategic aspects of war during those years I worked on the Operation Desert Storm project. I also learned a lot about what war does to humans.  It’s an immeasurable gift that the quiet love and acceptance of animals can help heal very deep human wounds and trauma.


There are many terrific organizations that use horses to help heal and equip veterans for life after traumatic events and difficulties. I list a few below, along with other resources.


Sources and Information:


Spread Ideas That Work

October 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I was delighted to be thinking about my career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during my latest podcast where I speak with Katie Butler. While I was there, Katie wore a number of hats at the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and was a skilled and effective leader. Post-EPA, Katie recently launched a new business -- The GeoLiteracy Project LLC. The GeoLiteracy Project’s mission is:


“We help environmental leaders optimize their programs and maximize their results. We advise on the best science, strategy, and management techniques to help you save the Earth faster." 


If you’re managing or leading any business or organization that’s expected, or required, to show environmental results, head on over to the podcast. Here’s what I asked Katie to share with us.


  1. What led you to The GeoLiteracy Project?
  2. How do you define “geo-literate”?
  3. What should we know about the GeoLiteracy Project?
  4. How did your EPA work influence the GeoLiteracy Project?
  5. I know you’re a supporter of drone technology and the benefits it can provide. Drones are fun – and to my surprise -- bounce-back well from crashes (😊). Importantly, drone mapping and monitoring can provide highly valuable data and information.  What are your thoughts?
  6. You just launched your company a few months ago.Can you share any perspective on what your clients are striving for?
  7. I worked with you (Katie) for years on highly challenging, complex and difficult issues, and I know first-hand how confident clients should be in working with you. Anything else we should know about The GeoLiteracy Project?


Visit to learn more, get free tools and resources, or schedule a free consultation with Katie.


StillStillLake McDonald - Glacier National Park, Montana



It Takes All of Us

October 25, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

For me, one of the most difficult things about wildlife photography is probably not what you think. It’s not the technical skill, research required, strength, discipline, travel to many and varied places, or exhibiting and selling work that’s hardest. Of course, those things have challenges, and don’t come easy; but what I find most challenging is witnessing other photographers – professionals, amateurs, hobbyists -- and other outdoor enthusiasts -- engaging in what’s come to be understood as unethical wildlife photography.  This doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen; and even things that occur in small amounts can do serious harm.


Here’s what’s so challenging. We have a lot of people talking about unethical wildlife photography, including popular wildlife photographers and prominent organizations issuing very well-crafted and thought-out guidelines and policies on the dos and don’ts of wildlife photography. But we lack lucid, concrete, steps that we can take when we find ourselves right next to, or in the company of people engaging in unethical, or even dangerous behavior, while photographing wildlife. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently because in my region of the US, we’re heading into owl season, and put simply, owls are keenly sought after by wildlife photographers, birders, and other wildlife lovers. In the last couple of years, I’ve had several encounters with other wildlife photographers, birders, and others, who were either, (1) willfully ignoring and by-passing clear protections to prevent people from getting too close to nesting owls; or (2) were not aware of the potential consequences of creating noisy, crowded conditions while photographing wildlife.  


Great Horned OwletGreat Horned OwletVirginia


You might ask – Isn’t there a place where such unethical people and behaviors can be reported so these actions can be stopped and prevented?  Well, in most circumstances, there is no such place or authority. Except for the few people who report what they believe is unethical behavior on Facebook birding groups or other social media groups, there are essentially no consequences to humans who choose to intentionally or unintentionally engage in unethical, disruptive and harmful wildlife photography or wildlife watching.That’s a hard truth, and completely unjust to the wildlife we love.


One of the things I see a lot in discussions about unethical wildlife photographers is a recounting and social-media, or email sharing, of an ethics policy from an authoritative source that states and describes the wrongs of unethical photography. There are a few of these ethics policies out there, and I’m grateful to the organizations that have invested the time, resources, and thought into developing ethics policies. Since I belong to and follow a few birding groups, the ethics policy I often see distributed among birders is the American Birding Association (ABA) Code of Ethics. It has three main provisions along with clarifying points on each of these provisions. The guiding provisions are:


  1. Respect and promote birds and their environment.
  2. Respect and promote the birding community and its individual members.
  3. Respect and promote the law and the rights of others.


There are also a few guidelines for ethical wildlife photography. For example, Principles of Ethical Field Practices, by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Audubon’s Guide to Ethical Bird Photography and Videography.  NANPA’s guide emphasizes three ethical field practices, which align closely with ABA’s. A useful and important feature of NANPA’s ethics guide is its emphasis on photographers being knowledgeable and having knowledge and awareness of what they’re doing, where they’re going and others around them. For readability, I added “(have)” to each of the three NANPA principles below. 




Ethics policies and codes like these are essential, educational tools and resources that I believe make a difference. But what happens when you’re out in the field and you witness something unethical and inappropriate?  These real-world scenarios aren’t covered by any of the ethics policies or guidelines I’ve reviewed. Not everyone wants to be that person that tells a stranger, to their face, they’re doing something wrong.  In fact, many people avoid these kinds of situations because they don’t feel equipped to manage the situation effectively. There’s understandable fear and anxiety about these kinds of encounters with our fellow humans.  Alternatively, there are those that may speak up when they see an unethical photographer in action, but who may come off offensive and harsh because the only way they’ve been equipped to handle these situations is by reminding the offender that they’re “breaking rules.”  


In winter 2020-21, at the height of pandemic closures and staying-at-home in the United States, I had an encounter with a visitor who was among the thousands to visit the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland to get a glimpse of the male painted bunting that had shown up in our area. The visitor was standing along with me and many others who were waiting for the bunting to appear when she started using a bird sounds app on her phone. There were several others nearby who saw and heard what I did. The disappointed looks on their faces signaled that they might have believed this was wrong, but no one said a word.  Using bird call recordings isn’t permitted in National Parks because, according to the National Park Service, “mimicking animal sounds is considered harassment, which is illegal.” ( ).


Painted Bunting - MalePainted Bunting - Male


At that time, I didn’t know that bird calling apps and sounds weren’t permitted in National Parks. By the way, many or all of the National Wildlife Refuges also prohibit bird calling. But here’s what I did know -- bird calling, under those conditions, was potentially harmful to this male painted bunting. Birds have excellent hearing and when they hear what they think is another bird in the area it can raise alarms, cause them to flee the area, cause them to search out the bird, and generally cause them to use up valuable energy. Further, it was the middle of winter; it was cold, food was scarce and the painting bunting was hundreds of miles from its warmer, and normal, winter range. This rare vagrant painted bunting was already under stress from many factors, and using bird calls just so the visitor could get a photo, just wasn’t a good choice. I told the visitor that the bird calling app was likely to add to the bunting’s stress. The visitor appeared to ignore me, continued to play the app for a few more seconds, eventually turned it off and then left the area.  


What if I had known the National Park’s position and policy that bird calling sounds and apps are considered wildlife harassment and therefore illegal?  I could just have led with that and told this visitor they were a rule breaker – period – done -- I can now go back to what I was doing.  Alternatively, as advised by NANPA’s ethics guidelines I could: “Report inappropriate behavior to proper authorities. Don’t argue with those who don’t care; report them.”  Both of these options are not unreasonable, and importantly, there could be situations where these are the only or best options. But, reporting someone, or getting in their face to tell them they broke a rule aren’t the only options. Also, these approaches get in the way of one critical thing – educating others on the impact they’re having.  Many people actually don’t know that things like bird calling, feeding wild animals, or getting too close or being too loud has consequences and can harm wildlife.


This is where a communication technique called “Authority of the Resource (ART)” can be invaluable because it supports effective and respectful interactions. This technique is embedded in the  “Leave No Trace” conservation principles, which have been broadly adopted by US National Parks and other recreation or public land areas. 


ART was laid out in 1990 by Dr. George Wallace, a professor specializing in human dimensions of natural resources at Colorado State University. He believed those who cause impacts in natural areas do so because they’re (a) unskilled; (b) uninformed; (c) careless; or (d) unintentional. Dr. Wallace observed a variety of law enforcement rangers in the field. He noted that rangers who incorporated an educational message in their interactions were more likely to successfully influence a visitor’s outdoor ethic.


A first step in using ART is recognizing that people who visit wild places, go hiking, birding, or photographing wildlife, aren’t usually there to cause harm. Should harm occur though, if we can clearly explain the impact their actions had, the consequences of the impact, and help them understand the preferred alternative, we can be successful in peacefully and respectfully changing behavior.


There’s a good deal of information on the internet about ART and some organizations offer training. Search your favorite web browser with “Authority of the Resource.”  Below, I provided a 4-step summary of how an interaction could proceed; and I use the experience I described earlier, witnessing a birder using a bird calling app in a National Park. One recommendation is that when you start your conversation, stand shoulder-to-shoulder (vs. face-to-face) with the person you’re addressing.


1. Introduce yourself and take a moment for ice breaking conversation.

Example: Hi, I’m Carolyn. I’m here like so many others to photograph this amazing bird. Is this your first visit out to see the painted bunting?


2. Give an objective description of the undesirable behavior observed.

Example: I noticed you were playing bird calls that sound like a painted bunting.


3. Reveal/"interpret" the implications of the undesirable behavior.Focus on how the behavior impacts to the resource or the experience of others.

Example: This little bunting is really a survivor out here. There’s a lot of people out here, it’s cold, and food can’t be easy to find out here. Those things put a lot of stress on this little bird.  Playing bird sounds can actually add to that stress. These birds are always on alert. The bunting will pay attention to the call and might even fly out from where it’s trying to rest, stay warm, or find food.


4. Describe the desired behavior. Communicate appreciation for the resource and model desired behavior when possible. Describe agency norm when appropriate.

Example: I’m really excited to see this bunting too. We all want to see this bird make it out here and not make things harder for it. It just takes patience. I feel like I should also let you know that it’s actually illegal to use bird call recordings in National Parks. The National Park system considers it harassment. You can find that on their web site, along with other rules for visiting the Parks.



As we wildlife photographers, birders, nature lovers, and other outdoor enthusiasts head into owl season, it’s not a bad idea to anticipate that we might encounter a few cases of photographers, birders, and enthusiasts, at all levels of expertise and skill, engaging in behaviors that put our wildlife and birds at risk.  Before you head out, refresh your memory on the ART technique, imagine the scenarios where it might be used and practice how to intervene effectively. You’ll be doing something great for the wildlife we love so much. 


It takes all of us.



Sources and More Information:

If a butterfly lands on you it’s probably tasting you…. And more interesting truths.

August 04, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve never set out to intentionally photograph butterflies, but the places I travel to intentionally photograph other species and landscapes, at certain times of year, are often the same places I encounter amazing butterflies. Most of us learned something about butterflies during elementary school. We may even remember a bit about the astonishing lifecycle and transformation of butterflies. I remember some of what I learned about butterflies, but since I come across so many different butterflies doing all sorts of interesting behaviors – that I don’t remember learning about – I was curious to brush up on my butterfly facts. I’m glad I did.

Zebra Swallowtail ButterflyZebra Swallowtail Butterfly



Butterflies are beautiful and there’s a lot of them. There are about 28,000 butterfly species worldwide. Butterflies are found in all types of environments but most species are found in tropical areas, especially tropical rainforests. We should enjoy them while we can. With some exceptions, the average lifespan of an adult butterfly is roughly three to four weeks. Some butterflies, like the North American Monarch, can survive for nearly eight months. 


Wings That Wow

One of the most eye-catching things about butterflies is their wings, and specifically, the color of their wings. Butterflies have scaled wings with colorful designs unique to each species. Those wings make butterflies good fliers. It’s a good thing that they’re good fliers because many species of butterflies migrate. Although butterfly migration isn’t well understood, some species like the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral, and the Common Buckeye are known to migrate a few hundred miles, but others like some Monarchs migrate thousands of miles. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do.

Buckeye ButterflyBuckeye Butterfly


The fastest butterflies can fly at about 30 mph (about 48 km/h) or faster. Slow flying butterflies fly about 5 mph (about 8 km/h). It may look like butterflies have two wings but all butterflies have four wings – one forewing on each side closest to the head; and one hindwing on both sides in the rear.

Cloudless Sulphur ButterflyCloudless Sulphur Butterfly


Besides being eye-catching to us humans, butterfly wings also have an important optics function to other butterflies, and other species. The colors and patterns on a butterfly’s wings help it communicate and attract other butterflies of its species, and warn, camouflage, or distract it from predators. In the case of poisonous butterflies, like the Monarch, the wings store toxins. Just know that you would have to eat Monarchs to be exposed to the toxins. Hopefully no one you know is eating Monarch butterflies!!


Have you ever wondered what happens to butterflies when it rains?  How is it that they just don’t disintegrate or get completely destroyed in a summer downpour? Butterflies take shelter, or roost, in or under plants, trees, leaves or any other area including human-made structures where they can stay dry, warm, and hopefully away from predators. Taking shelter obviously goes a long way for protection but research shows that butterflies have a layer of wax on their wings that repels water. Not only that but they also have “microscale bumps” on their wings that serve to break up and disperse water droplets. In short, when a water drop hits the surface of butterfly wings, it ripples and spreads.


Butterflies are cold-blooded so that means their body temperature isn’t stable but changes with the environmental temperature. One main reason that we typically only see butterflies on warmer days is because they can fly as long as the air is between 60°-108° F (15.5 – 42.2 C), but temperatures between 82°-100° F (27.7 - 37.7 C) are best. If the temperature drops too low, butterflies might bask in a sunny spot with wings spread out to soak up the sun's heat.

American Snout ButterflyAmerican Snout Butterfly


Butterflies can’t survive winter conditions in an active state. But they may be able to survive cold weather by hibernating in protected locations. They may use the peeling bark of trees, plants, logs or old fences, or the eaves of houses or buildings as their overwintering sites. They may hibernate at any stage (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or adult) but generally each species of butterfly is dormant in only one stage. With that said, If the weather begins changing some species migrate in search of sunshine.


Again, because they’re cold-blooded, when the outdoor temperature gets too warm, butterflies may head for shade or for cool areas like puddles. Some species will gather at shallow mud puddles or wet sandy areas, sipping mineral-rich water.


Silvery Checkerspot ButterflySilvery Checkerspot Butterfly


The Transformation

One butterfly fact I didn’t forget from my elementary school days is the metamorphosis of butterflies – the caterpillar (larva); the chrysalis (pupa); and then the butterfly (adult). Well, it’s a little more complicated. A butterfly starts its life as an egg, often laid on a leaf. The female butterfly attaches the eggs to leaves or stems of plants that will also serve as a suitable food source for the larvae (caterpillars) when they hatch. Caterpillars are very particular about what they eat, so the female lays her eggs only on certain plants. Caterpillars don't move much and may spend their entire lives on the same plant or even the same leaf, so it needs to be the right leaf!



The female butterfly can recognize the right plant species by its leaf color and shape. Just to be sure, she may beat on the leaf with her feet. This scratches the leaf surface, causing a characteristic plant odor to be released. Once she’s sure she found the correct plant species, she lays her eggs. The eggs get fertilized as they’re being laid with the sperm stored in the female’s body since mating. A sticky substance produced by the female enables the eggs to stick where ever she lays them, either on the underside of a leaf or on a stem. Male butterflies search for and pursue female mates.  As with many species, mating involves some courtship dances and cool maneuvers designed to win the attention of that special lady butterfly.


Passion - Gulf Frittilary Butterflies on Passion FlowerPassion - Gulf Frittilary Butterflies on Passion Flower

The larva (caterpillar) hatches from the laid egg and then eats almost constantly. This constant eating means the caterpillar increases up to several thousand times in size before pupating (turning into chrysalis); it also means the caterpillar molts (loses its old skin) many times as it’s growing. Molting occurs because the outer skin (exoskeleton) doesn’t grow as the caterpillar enlarges and grows. A caterpillar may go through as many as four to five molts before it becomes a pupa.


When the eating is done, it’s time to rest and turn into a pupa (chrysalis). The caterpillar attaches itself to a twig, a wall or some other support and the exoskeleton splits open to reveal the chrysalis. The chrysalis hangs down like a small sack until the transformation to butterfly is complete. Although the chrysalis is motionless during this resting phase, this is where the caterpillar's structure is broken down and rearranged into the wings, body and legs of the adult butterfly. WHAATT??? I’ve been underestimating caterpillars and leafy greens. 😊 Depending on the species, the chrysalis stage may last for a few days or a year or more. Many butterfly species overwinter or hibernate as a chrysalis.


The fourth and final stage of the metamorphosis of butterflies is becoming an adult. Once the chrysalis casing splits, the butterfly emerges. It will quickly go on to find food, locate a mate, and lay eggs to begin the cycle all over again.


Most butterflies live on nectar from flowers. Some butterflies sip the liquid from rotting fruits and a rare few prefer rotting animal flesh or animal fluids, including fluid found in animal droppings. Butterflies drink through a tube-like tongue called a proboscis. The proboscis uncoils to sip, and then coils up again when the butterfly isn’t feeding. The butterfly proboscis doesn’t have taste buds or similar sensors to determine taste. Instead, those sensors are located on the back of the butterfly’s legs. So, yes, one of the coolest facts about butterflies is that they use their feet to taste. If they land on you, they’re probably tasting you. 

Yellow Tiger SwallowtailYellow Tiger Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail ButterflySpicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


Attracting Butterflies

There’s many useful, free, resources that identifies steps for attracting butterflies and other pollinators to your yard. These may help, or do a search on your web browser of choice!


Sources and Other Information