Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Do's and Don'ts of Wildlife Photography

by Anna Morris
Lead Environmental Educator

photo by John Jones
In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” November's call to action is to "share your shot", go out and capture a piece of the wonder of birds through the lens of your camera. Share your vision to inspire passion for nature in others around the world...

You may have heard the phrase, upon entering a wild ecosystem, "take only photos, leave only footprints." In the age of camera phones, this has become a simple way to share your experiences with other people. One of the easiest ways to share your passion for nature with others who haven't experienced it with you is to share your photos of the wild flora and fauna you encounter.

But even if trying to think through things like lighting, shutter speed, composition, and depth of field make you uneasy, there are some basic tips to help you take better pictures of wildlife. What follows are a few easy rules to help you photograph wildlife, and leave the landscape as beautiful and wild as you found it:
photo by John Sutton

1. Let the scene be natural. Don't try to set up a specific situation, or bate animals to a spot by providing food. This endangers humans by letting sometimes dangerous wildlife get too accustomed to people, and endangers the wildlife in turn.

2. Don't get too close, and don't chase. This is especially important near nests, where your presence near new bird parents could cause them to abandon the nest. You wouldn't chase your human subjects during a family photo-shoot, would you? Choose one spot to stay in, and let the wildlife come to you, if they choose. Remind you fellow-photographers of this rule often.

photo by Samantha Driscoll
3. Sharpen your observation skills. Going into the field with an understanding of animal behavior or just a willingness to learn will really help you get those amazing shots. What time of day does that groundhog come out? How long does it take that Red-tailed Hawk to take flight after it ruffles its feathers? The more you look at their world, the better at showing it to others you will become.

4. Be patient. Sometimes the best photos will come only after the animal has gotten used to your presence in their environment, has decided to ignore you and go about their natural behaviors. That can take time! Plan an afternoon outing of photography, and you won't be disappointed.

5. Don't be afraid to get dirty! Some wildlife may think you are less threatening if you are low to the ground. Plus, you can get interesting, different perspectives and angles lying on your back or your stomach with your camera. Try it out!

Join us and World Story Exchange at the VINS Nature Center on Saturday, November 24th to pick up and practice your new photography skills, then share your photos with National Geographic in their "Your Shot" Gallery: https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Stellar Monarch Tagging Season at VINS

By Jim Armbruster
Seasonal Environmental Educator    

As the leaves begin to change color, the days grow shorter, and the temperatures get colder, monarchs are still on the move south.  During a short break from the rain, on a nice sunny day, we at VINS tagged our last seven butterflies bringing our season total to 74 individuals. We may continue to see monarchs here throughout the end of October as they carry on their migration, but most will reach their wintering grounds by November.

Our tagging season started with our first butterfly on August 28th and ended with our last on October 9th. September 26th was a big day with 15 individuals tagged. All of our tagging data has been submitted to Monarch Watch, and while we endure another cold New England winter, we will wait to see if any of our butterflies write us from their tropical vacation in Mexico. (If one of our tagged butterflies is recovered while on their wintering grounds, we will be notified by Monarch Watch.)

 According to Monarch Watch, this year’s numbers seem promising for a successful migration. Several roosts of butterflies have been observed on their path to Mexico with some roosts estimated to contain 1000 or more monarchs. During the migration of 2017/2018 there were 124 million monarchs estimated on the wintering grounds taking up 2.48 hectares of forests (24,800 square meters). But monarchs are not all doing well. Although these numbers seem huge, this is actually down 14.8% from last season. 20 years ago, monarchs covered 18 hectares and were estimated at 1 billion individuals. This year’s prediction is for monarchs to cover 5 hectares, with 6 hectares being considered the target for monarch recovery.

Since this is our first season tagging butterflies at our Quechee Nature Center, it is hard to say how populations are faring here, but our initial numbers seem to show that our meadow is an important habitat for this species. Because of this we hope to expand our monitoring program in the coming years. This will include monitoring how well milkweed, a preferred plant for monarch eggs and caterpillars, is doing in our meadow. (This fall we have already spread milkweed seeds throughout the meadow in hopes to encourage more growth next spring.) It will also include monitoring butterflies for parasites throughout the summer, and of course tagging monarchs next fall.

There is still a lot that scientists don’t know about monarch migration. It is unclear what factors may lead to a big year of migration and what specific habitats are crucial to this species. Luckily, many of the citizen science projects that we at VINS participate in can be done in your own backyard. This means that we can all take part in helping to better understand and protect the magnificent winged creatures that are the Monarch butterflies.

Monarchs are still emerging, even in the October chill.

To follow the monarch migration check out the maps at Journey North.

To see where monarchs are roosting check out this map.

To get involved with citizen science projects check out these organizations:
Monarch Watch
Project Monarch Health