Sunday February 24th found myself and two fellow ex-California Condor biologists and Scavenger Huntcollaborators birding and nordic skiing at the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area just north of Salt Lake City, Utah. Matthew Podolsky (Director and Producer), Evan Beuchley (Musical Composer), and myself (Co-Producer) reunited for the weekend to do some skiing and to enjoy the abundance of wildlife at Farmington Bay.
Birding and skiing at Farmington Bay WMA, Utah. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Farmington Bay, on the edge of the Great Salt Lake, conserves critical duck and waterbird habitat. The many species of ducks and waterbirds we saw were fairly extensive: Tundra Swan, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Merganser, Canvasback, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, and Pied-billed Grebe all dotted the landscape. We even observed a group of White Pelicans on the distant ice-shore!
Northern Pintails and Canvasbacks. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Drake Common Goldeneye. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Drake Bufflehead. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
I am always a sucker for raptors and the abundance of waterfowl and other prey species provided excellent opportunities to see Rough-legged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, and of course Bald Eagles. The gulls were also out in full force as they always are around the Great Salt Lake.
Female American Kestrel eyeing her tiny landing site. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Ring-billed Gull. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
However, the main reason we came to Farmington Bay was to see the Bald Eagles. Managers are trying to eradicate invasive carp that inhabit the area, and eagles are not known to turn down a free meal. We observed many Bald Eagles along the waters edge scavenging on carp.
Adult Bald Eagle scavenging carp. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Juvenile Bald Eagle. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Coming in for a landing. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
What was even more fascinating was to watch the interactions between eagles as they vied for the “best” carp to eat. Eagles and other raptors flash their deadly talons at each other when they feel threatened and this day was no different…
Adult Bald Eagles defending rotting carp. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
All-in-all it was an excellent day along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Observing the eagles on this dramatic landscape was especially rewarding.
Bald Eagles at Farmington Bay. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
2012 was the first full calendar year of existence for Wild Lens, and we wanted to recap the year and extend a special thank you to everyone who supported us in 2012!
Our first feature length documentary “Scavenger Hunt” continues to raise awareness for the lead poisoning issue in California condors, other wildlife, and humans, and was awarded by 5 film festivals in 2012. Special Jury Prize by the Yosemite International Film Festival, Honorable Mention at the Vegas Cine Fest International Film Festival, Finalist at the International Wildlife FIlm Festival, Official Selection at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival, and Official Selection at Film Fest Twain Harte. 2013 has already been big as we signed a distribution deal for “Scavenger Hunt” with Cinema Libre Studio! The official release date for the film is March 5th 2013 when it can be purchased via several online distributors. Many more details about the release will be announced in the coming weeks.
Condors at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Tim Hauck.
In addition to feature films, Wild Lens initiated a Webisode-based project early in 2012 with great success. We reached out to field biologists around the globe who were interested in documenting important wildlife conservation issues through film. We received an overwhelming amount of volunteer support for this project from field biologists, producers, and editors. This project is almost completely driven by volunteers, and we want to thank all of you for the time and energy you devoted to this. Completed film projects included work conducted at the Idaho Bird Observatory, vulture declines in Africa, ptarmigan in Alaska, effects of shade-grown coffee on birds in Central America, and conservation of the Maasai giraffe in Africa. We continue to work on several of these projects and will be releasing more docs in the coming months on treefrogs in Thailand, antbirds in Costa Rica, landbird monitoring in Alaska, greater sage-grouse conservation, and burrowing owl conservation. Thanks again to all our volunteers and we are looking forward to continuing this project in 2013 under the guidance of newly elected board member Sean Bogle.
2012 Webisode Collage. Clockwise photo credits starting from upper left: Sean Bogle, Erin Strasser, Neil Paprocki, Tatiana Gettelman, and Adair McNear.
We also experienced a significant loss in 2012 as our Board Chairman, Mark Podolsky, passed away far, far too early. Mark’s role in the formation of Wild Lens, coupled with his invaluable experience in the non-profit sector proved second-to-none. He will be deeply missed by all of us. The outpouring of support we received following his passing was simply tremendous.
Wild Lens held several successful fundraising events in 2012 as well. Our first was in October: Kegs4Kause held at Payette Brewing Company in Boise, Idaho. Our year end fundraising event was held in December in the form of a Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer benefit concert at the Visual Arts Collective in Boise. Local band Idyltime also was generous enough to perform that evening. Both of these events could not have happened without our dedicated crew of volunteers who were on the ground making sure all went according to plan. The attendance we received at these events from our friends in Boise was simply outstanding, and we wanted to thank everyone for coming out to support us!
Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer perform for Wild Lens supporters. Photo by Eddie Chung.
Finally, and most importantly, we received over $26,000 in private donations from over 60 supporters during 2012. Average donation: $400. Simply put: OUTSTANDING! To this point, Wild Lens has existed almost purely on donations from loyal and committed supporters like yourself. We are so grateful to everyone who donated to Wild Lens in 2012; be it with a generous check or by volunteering your time to help at events, filming or editing videos, and so many other countless ways! To put it bluntly, this small non-profit would not be able to continue its existence today without the support we have had from each and every one of you. 2013 will be an exciting year for Wild Lens, and to all of you who have supported us in the past, continue to support us, and will support us in the future: We won’t let you down! Our mission is, and always will be, to help raise awareness for wildlife conservation issues through research and documentary storytelling. This we promise you.
Devoted Wild Lens volunteers and supporters. Photo by Eddie Chung.
Wild Lens is happy to announce the addition of two new members to our Board of Directors! We are excited to introduce Sean Bogle and Erin Strasser.
New Wild Lens board member Sean Bogle in Tanzania.
Sean was formally educated in fine arts and worked as an interior designer for several years before getting involved in wildlife conservation. Since making the transition to science, Sean has been on the front lines of conservation. Over the past 8 years, he has worked with a diversity of wildlife, including many threatened and endangered animals such as: fish, Hawaiian monk seals, Northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions, Pacific fishers, black bears, ringtail cats, Maasai giraffes, and the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker. We came to know Sean through his work with the Maasai giraffe. Working with the Wild Nature Institute, Sean spent two weeks filming giraffes in Tanzania for Wild Lens, and we’re excited to be nearing completion on a few short documentaries about this project. Since becoming involved with Wild Lens, Sean has taken on an expanded role and we’re excited to see his enthusiasm growing as a part of our organization.
Maasai Giraffe. Still frame pulled from Sean Bogle's video footage.
New Wild Lens board member Erin Strasser with a Golden Eagle.
Erin Strasser recently completed her Master’s of Science degree in Raptor Biology from Boise State University working with the American Kestrel. With a wealth of knowledge and experience in the avian world, Erin spent the 2011 winter in Honduras filming for Wild Lens as part of a larger study looking at how Neotropical Migratory Birds use shade-grown coffee farms. We are excited to be releasing a short doc about this project very soon, and you all may have read Erin’s blog posts about the project. Erin also spent the fall of 2012 trapping raptors for the Idaho Bird Observatory. Currently, Erin is working for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Chihuahua, Mexico doing wintering grassland songbird monitoring. She will be continuing to film in Mexico for Wild Lens, and we’re excited to have her on board for another project!
Wood Thrush, Honduras. Photo by Erin Strasser.
With the addition of Sean and Erin, a few members of our board of directors will be stepping down. Eddie Chung and Kristen Handerhan, both founding members of Wild Lens, played pivotal roles on the board during our first year as an organization and their guidance will certainly be missed. Both Eddie and Kristen will continue to work with Wild Lens in advisory roles. Karen May, who served as our board Secretary and legal advisor for this past year will also be stepping down from our board, but will continue to provide us with unmatched guidance in legal matters. We at Wild Lens would like to thank Eddie, Kristen, and Karen for all their hard work and dedication as members of our board of directors.
Sean wants YOU to become a Wild Lens volunteer!
Are you looking to get more involved in what Wild Lens does? Do you know someone who might be interested in what we do? We are always looking for dedicated volunteers to help further the mission of Wild Lens. Please don’t hesitate to e-mail us if you’re interested in learning how you can get involved. Who knows, you may just get sucked in and eventually become board members, just like Sean and Erin! We’re excited to have these two along for the ride and are deeply grateful for their dedication to our cause.
My father giving a fundraising pitch at our Boston screening of "Scavegner Hunt." Photo by Debbie Antoinetti.
As I’m sure many of our followers know by now, my father, who served as the chairman of our board of directors for Wild Lens, passed away a little over a month ago. This has been a difficult transition for all of us at Wild Lens, as my father played a central role on our board. His honest and straightforward advice served as a guiding force from our company’s inception a year and a half ago, right up through the end of his life.
In the weeks since my father’s passing, the amount of support that we have received, in both the form of donations as well as helpful advice and condolences, has been tremendous. I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has made a donation to Wild Lens in my father’s name. This outpouring of support has been extremely important to all of us at Wild Lens. More than just providing funding for our film projects, these donations have provided us with a moral boost that was absolutely necessary. If you have made a donation to Wild Lens in my father’s name, I would like to thank you from the very bottom of my heart. If you haven’t yet made a donation, keep in mind that it is never too late to show your support.
We have come a long way in the past year and a half as an organization. Our feature length documentary “Scavenger Hunt” has screened at film festivals across the country and is beginning to play a central role in the growing movement in support of non-lead ammunition. We learned just recently that “Scavenger Hunt” was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the prestigious Yosemite International Film Festival. Our short documentary projects chronicling songbird and raptor migrations through central Idaho and the precipitous declines of East African vulture populations have been used as teaching aids by educators across the globe.
While my father was proud of what we have accomplished thus far, he was always pushing us to think about the future. He insisted that we always keep the big picture in mind and pushed us to think about innovative solutions to both the creative and logistical issues that we face as an organization. My promise to all of our supporters is that we will continue to strive for excellence with every project and conservation issue that we choose to address. The lessons that we have learned over the past year and a half will not be forgotten, and we will continue to bring you compelling stories about critical wildlife conservation issues worldwide.
From late August through the end of October I am trapping and banding hawks, falcons, and (hopefully) eagles as they migrate southward for the winter. Situated at the southern edge of the Boise Ridge at 6525 feet elevation, perched within viewing distance of Boise, Idaho lies the Idaho Bird Observatory’s (IBO)Boise Peak hawk migration trapping station.
Boise Peak. The bald face on the moutain is where the trapping station is located. Photo by Erin Strasser.
The Boise Peak blind. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Migrating raptors are concentrated and thus easier to trap here because of the landscape features. Raptors use thermal uplift generated from the mountain slopes, expending as little energy as possible as they move southward. The Boise front is also the southernmost extension of the Idaho mountains, ending abruptly at the Snake River Plain.
An adult male Coopers Hawk. Photo by Erin Strasser.
But how do I capture these hawks? Well here in lies the most intriguing, exciting, and yes, addicting part. For those of you who hunt, fish, or enjoy any type of tireless and time-consuming effort with sometimes no payoff, you will understand the allure of hawk-trapping. Lure birds (House Sparrows, Ring-necked Doves, and your standard pigeon), all of which are invasive and non-native and therefore not protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act are used to lure in hawks as they migrate past Boise Peak.
The aptly named “Cow Rug”, one of my lure birds. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Each lure bird wears a protective harness which is attached to lines that run back to the blind where I sit. These lines are pulled causing the lure birds to pop into the air and flap their wings. The largest lure bird, the pigeon is “popped” every 90 seconds, so that any passing raptor will be drawn into the trapping station.
View of the lines running from the blind to the lure birds. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Depending on the size of the raptor, I will then use the smaller dove or sparrow to lure it in. Three types of nets, the Dho-gaza (DG), bow-net, and mist-net are used to capture the raptor. The mist-net and DG which surround the lures are virtually invisible to the raptor which will hopefully fly into and become tangled.
The mist net. Photo by Erin Strasser.
The bow-net on the other hand requires the raptor to land on the lure bird. A trigger is then pulled and the spring loaded bow-net closes on top of the bird.
Two bow-nets and DG's surrounding the sparrows. Photo by Erin Strasser.
After being captured, hawks are banded with uniquely number federally-issued bands, and data is gathered on body size, age, and sex.
Meauring wing length. Photo by Erin Strasser.
At the end of the season, information on the birds and the band numbers associated with them are reported to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL). The hope is that birds will be recaptured or recovered, giving us an idea of where they go and how long they live. For those of you that ever discover a banded carcass, please report that band to the BBL.
Bands of various sizes, each specific to a species and/ or sex hang from the wall of the blind. Photo by Erin Strasser.
A size 7A band on a Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Erin Strasser.
On August 31st 2012, after two full days of set up entailing running lines, placing dho Ghaza poles, fixing DG’s, adjusting lines, pruning the surrounding vegetation, cleaning the trailer of hopefully Hanta virus-free mouse droppings the fall migration hawk trapping season was ready for action. Although it was already 6:00 pm I was itching to start trapping. Shortly after I started I captured a Hatch Year (HY, that is a bird that hatched this spring/summer) Sharp-shinned Hawk The following day I was pleasantly surprised to trap and band 17 birds, an fairly high number for this early in the season.
A female American Kestrel. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Early in the season early we primarily capture hatch year accipiters, our sharpies and Coopers Hawks. Migration phenology follows a fairly distinct pattern. As mentioned, hatch years birds pass through first, followed by adults.
Head shot of a hatch year Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk (in this case an after second year or ASY). Photo by Erin Strasser.
It is always exciting to see the first adult accipiter as they are strikingly different in appearance with their orange to brick red eyes, slate gray upper parts, and rufous barred underpants.
This late summer and fall forest fires are pervasive. Smoke has on many days obscured my view of Boise and the surrounding landscape.
Smoke obscures my view from the blind. Photo by Erin Strasser.
It has led me to wonder how this affects raptor movements and even survival. I can only hope it doesn’t affect my numbers too much!
Lago de Yojoa. One of the many beautiful places in Honduras. Photo by Erin Strasser.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Honduras and hope to return in the near future. The people were friendly and hardworking, the landscape beautiful, the birds abundant, and the food delicious.
Collared Aracari, one of the resident species we encountered. Photo by Fabiola Rodriguez.
Baleadas, the comida tipica of Honduras! Photo by Erin Strasser.
One of the things I loved most about Honduras was the peoples’ pride and sense of obligation to protecting the land. Signs preaching the importance of conserving water sources and protecting the flora and fauna were scattered throughout many of the farms we visited. The coffee pickers that regularly surrounded us were genuinely interested and often stopped to chat as Fabiola and I processed birds.
We protect the fauna. Photo by Erin Strasser.
Unfortunately it was common to observe children picking coffee during the hours they should have been in school. One morning as Fabiola and I banded, a young girl of about 8 or 9 approached us. Her curiosity was apparent and immediately she began asking questions, even following us on a few net runs. We learned that she did in fact attend school, but during coffee picking season her studies were infrequent. Will this brief experience somehow influence or guide this girl in the future?
The entrance into one of the coffee plantations. Photo by Fabiola Rodriguez.
It seems as with most conservation issues there are always pitfalls and roadblocks, at times eliciting a sense of despair in even the most optimistic of people. For example, in the middle of an attempt to recapture one of our radio-tagged Wood Thrush, we discovered that that particular forest remnant was destined to destruction and a future as a sun grown coffee plantation. Machetes hacked away at the trees and vines as we hopelessly looked on, pondering the fate of the birds that will likely perish. Damn the man!
A Northern Bentbill, one of the resident species likely to be displaced after a patch of forest was chopped down. Photo by Fabiola Rodriguez.
Towards the end of our field season, the Mesoamerican Development Institute and COMISUYL organized a workshop for faculty of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH). Presentations highlighted sustainable coffee growing and processing practices, jetropha-based biofuels, the theory of integrated open canopy (IOC), and songbird conservation.
Brett talks to a group from UNAH about his research on neotropical migratory songbirds. Photo by Erin Strasser.
An integral part of the workshop was to organize and initiate a monitoring program for neotropical migrants in coffee plantations. Fabiola and Brett both gave great talks and faculty joined us in the field for a banding demonstration.
Brett and Fabiola discuss bird monitoring with faculty from UNAH. Photo by Erin Strasser.
I truly believe that consistent outreach, education, and collaboration can help promote more biodiversity friendly and environmentally sustainable actions. It will take a lot of effort and patience, particularly in less developed countries where money is hard to come by and everything is that much more logistically challenging.
A Worm-eating warbler, one of the migratory birds that utilizes shade-grown coffee for overwintering habitat. Photo by Erin Strasser.
In the coming weeks we will release one of two or three webisodes documenting our work in Honduras. Maybe it will persuade some of you to further support research and conservation or simply buy shade-grown, bird friendly coffee.
Having spent a considerable amount of time working in the Great Basin, you gain an appreciation for the simple, dominating presence of the piñyon pine/juniper woodlands dotting the landscape. Walking through this country, the smell of sagebrush and juniper mix together to create perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing scent imaginable. This scene plays out along the Owyhee Bluebird Trail of southwest Idaho. Many of you may have heard of Al Larson, known simply as the Bluebird Man, who has been a fixture in Idaho for decades managing over 300 bluebird boxes all over southwest Idaho. I had the privilege of accompanying this man for a day of bluebird banding along his stretch of nest boxes in the Owyhee Mountains.
Checking nest boxes. Photo by Al Larson.
This particular stretch of nest boxes houses Mountain Bluebirds, although House Wrens, Tree and Violet-green Swallows, and Chickadees will occasionally take up residence. Mountain Bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they rely upon other organisms such as woodpeckers to create nesting cavities. In this case, they have taken a liking to the artificial cavities constructed by Al Larson in the form of wooden nest boxes nailed to juniper trees.
Our mission for the day was to check nest boxes that could potentially have nestling bluebirds around 8-14 days old, as this is the best age to band nestlings before they reach fledging age. Most of the boxes we were checking contained second broods, as much of the bluebird population completed their first round of breeding in May and June. Getting a brief glimpse into the life of this beautiful bird was a great experience.
A nest full of bluebird nestlings. These guys were a little to young to band. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Many of the nest boxes containing nestlings had two attentive adult bluebirds very nearby. The parents were clearly unhappy with our presence, and would sometimes flutter feet over our heads, trying to figure out exactly what we were doing. A few males even flew straight at our faces in a game of chicken before veering away inches before collision! Our slight disturbance however, was quickly forgotten soon after we left the area.
An adult male Mountain Bluebird defends his nest. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
The passion that Al has for these bluebirds after an astounding 30+ years of work and over 25,000 bluebirds banded is truly amazing. Being in his early 90s, he has begun to look for ways to sustain this important monitoring beyond his lifetime. While he is certainly starting to slow down, his energy level is amazing, and following a full day of checking nest boxes I was dead tired, while he was still raring to go! After only one day in the field, I could certainly appreciate the allure of these birds, and have no doubt that Al will find a capable home for the continuation of the fine work he began over 30 years ago.
Thanks for the great work you’ve started Al, and our generation will do our best to continue down the path you have created.
Adult male Mountain Bluebird. Note the band on the right leg. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Adult male Mountain Bluebird. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
I’ve been pretty excited these past few weeks as I researched and planned to purchase my first DSLR camera from Canon. I have not historically been a person well-versed in camera knowledge, and have pretty much been relegated to shooting landscape pictures with a small point-and-shoot camera for years. With the formation of Wild Lens last year, I’ve slowly been exposed to more and more camera technology, and I figured if I was to be an integral part of this non-profit, I needed a camera to match. I settled on a lightly used Canon EOS 7D from eBay, and also bought two lenses: a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 and a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS. This camera will serve dual purposes: 1) videography, as it shoots full 1080i HD video and, 2) high-quality photography. This camera will be promptly put to good use during my upcoming trip to Alaska studying Ptarmigan. Until I leave on May 11th, my aim is to become a semi-proficient photographer and videographer. This practice began yesterday as I took a field trip to Centennial Marsh Wildlife Management Area in central Idaho. Below are some highlights of the first pictures with the new camera.
Pygmy Rabbit southwest of Magic Reservoir, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
American Avocet, Centennial Marsh, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Willet, Centennial Marsh, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Centennial Marsh, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Rock Wren, Magic Reservoir, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Red-Tailed Hawk, Magic Reservoir, Idaho. Photo by Neil Paprocki.
Up next: Matt and I will be heading to northeastern Nevada this week for three days to help shoot some additional audio and video at Sage Grouse leks for one of our webisode projects. Stayed tuned!
The original idea for Wild Lens was a simple one – connecting biologists with filmmakers to increase the potential for outreach and education. Our most recent endeavor has taken this simple idea and made it a reality. Some of you may have noticed our announcement at the start of the New Year that we would be releasing a new webisode each month. This is just the beginning of a program that connects wildlife field biologists working on fascinating conservation-based projects around the world, and empowers them to produce documentary shorts by connecting them with experienced filmmakers.
Male Sage Grouse lekking. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman
Image capture and wildlife biology work go hand in hand. Many of the most spectacular wildlife photos are taken by biologists simply because these are the people who are spending the most time in beautiful remote areas working with wildlife species on a daily basis. We are searching for the best wildlife biologists/aspiring filmmakers and helping train them in the art of documentary filmmaking.
Tatiana Gettelman is an experienced wildlife biologist who has taken some of the most spectacular photographs of sage-grouse and their central Nevada habitat that I have ever seen. Tatiana starts her third season working with Greater Sage-grouse in March and she plans on approaching this field season with a slightly different perspective. With the help of the Wild Lens crew, she will be producing a documentary short about sage-grouse conservation during her three-month stay in remote central Nevada.
Male Sage Grouse. Photo by Tatiana Gettelman
Deborah Visco is a graduate student at Tulane University in New Orleans. She conducts her field research in Costa Rica, where she is studying the impact of forest fragmentation on the Chestnut-backed Antbird. Deborah has been using video to document nest predations and incubation patterns, but has been struggling to find a way to use video as a tool for outreach. This March, with some help from the Wild Lens crew, Deborah will be producing an educational documentary that can be used to teach kids in Costa Rica and the US about the effects of forest fragmentation.
These are just two examples of short documentary projects that will result from this collaborative program. Stay posted for updates from Costa Rica, central Nevada, and many other field sites across the globe where we will be helping biologists spread their message through documentary storytelling.
We are pleased to announce that Wild Lens is now officially a federally tax exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit! Word just came in from the IRS today, and our pending status has been removed in place of official 501(c)(3) status. This means all those who have donated to Wild Lens since our inception in April 2011 can write off their donations on their tax returns. Thanks to everyone who helped us get to this point, and we look forward to being a 501(c)(3) organization for a long time to come. An exciting day!!