Meaning in Photography
"This morning an osprey with its narrow black-and-white face and its cupidinous eyes leaned down from a leafy tree to look into the lake – it looked a long time, then its powerful
shoulders punched out a little and it fell, it rippled down into the water – then it rose, carrying, in the clips of its feet, a slim and limber silver fish, a scrim of red rubies on its flashing sides. All of this was wonderful to look at, so I simply stood there, in the blue morning, looking "
~ Mary Oliver "The Osprey"
Looking is an art. We look at osprey. They stare back with cupidinous eyes. And while we can see ours coming toward us on a plate, an osprey's vision lets it catch its own sushi.
Due to their visual acuity, osprey excel at catching fish, because they can see 6 to 8 times better than humans over distances. They have evolved a stunning set of survival skills to become the only North American raptor to diet on live fish as their major food source.
To save the osprey also took a set of human skills, and a sharply defined vision over years. Fortunately, decades of sustained efforts to rescue the osprey were successful, and today we all thrill to the sight these soaring fishing birds plummeting out of the sky and and flying up soaked with a wriggling fish, as Mary Oliver penned so keenly in her poem.
After osprey were deemed a threatened species, dedicated groups of birders and conservationists worked to save them. Osprey are thriving today. They live on every continent but Antarctica and migrate over long distances. An Osprey nesting in Québec but wintering in southern Brazil, may fly 120,000 miles during its 20-year lifetime. Osprey migration is a special wonder of the avian world.
While both the male and female osprey feed and care for their chicks, the female bird outweighs the male and is slightly larger.
Osprey are devoted parents. Female osprey have between one and three eggs. Their eggs hatch in about a month in the order they were laid. So, the oldest hatchling has a distinct advantage. It begins to feed first, and grows before its younger siblings. When there is a shortage of food, younger osprey chicks may not survive. This process can preserve the fittest birds, and occurs among birds of prey. It's known as “brood reduction.”
Young osprey can leave their nest after only 2 months. At times, some of these juveniles return for several weeks to beg food from their parents until the can hunt on their own. In some areas, young osprey stay withing their winter home grounds for an entire year, instead of going back to their breeding grounds. It's possible this helps them mate successfully and gives a better chance of breed when they finally go back to the family nest area.
The species declined during the 1960's and 1970's. While the story of the return of the bald eagle is more widely publicized, ospreys have made a special comeback too. Egg failure due to DDT, which made it more difficult for birds to absorb calcium, was the root cause, as DDT blocked calcium, making osprey egg shells thinner. Osprey eggs broke before the chicks inside could hatch.
POLITICS & PESTICIDES
As I write, I am sailing across the Chesapeake Bay, which has the largest population of osprey in North America, about one quarter of all the osprey in the US. The use of pesticides around Chesapeake Bay had a devastating effect on these birds. Banning of pesticides led to an increase in the number of osprey pairs, as many as 2000 by the 1980s. Now, we are seeing poisonous and costly effects the current administration's policies on environmental destruction and species endangerment.
Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% in the last 50 years. This news is from the 2018 Living Planet assessment released by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund. If this trend continues, the decline will impact two-thirds of all vertebrates by 2020.
The message here is that as photographers, we can keep our focus on conservation and work to benefit other endangered species.
USA WEAKENS WILDLIFE PROTECTION
In the United States, the current administration has a destructive view of wildlife. A review by Associated Press of the backgrounds and social media posts of 16 board members appointed by prior Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke indicated they are likely to agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging Americans to shoot some of them. Mr. Zinke, who left office in early 2019, was a Montana congressman who approved using lead bullets in national parks. An avid hunter, under his leadership the Fish and Wildlife Service moved to reverse Obama-era restrictions on bringing trophies from African lions and elephants into the United States.
David Bernhardt is the current US Interior Secretary. Bernhardt was the Interior’s top attorney during the last three years of George W. Bush’s administration. He worked, during the Obama presidency, for a lobbying firm that represents oil and gas interests, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck. Bernhardt weakened the rules of law around the Endangered Species Act, the law that helped saved the bald eagle.
According to the New York Times in a July 19, 2019 article on the Endangered Species Act: "significant proposed change, which has been rumored since April when a proposal was posted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, would alter how the Endangered Species Act deals with animals that are categorized as 'threatened,' or one level below 'endangered.' ” (www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/climate/endangered-species-act-changes.html). This is important because government agencies are obligated to extend the laws protecting endangered species so that the protections cover threatened species (think about the osprey population in 1983).
Changing these rules could take away some of these protections.
While weakening protections, the current administration of the U.S. is also waging a scandalous war on wildlife. The policies coming into practice in 2019 are leading to the environmental destruction for North American wildlife. Protections on endangered animals are being erased. Literally and figuratively, the administration is taking a shotgun approach. Hunters typically target the biggest and strongest animals, weakening already vulnerable populations. Just like DDT.
GET INVOLVED CLOSE TO HOME
Let us keep our conservation vision, put down our shotguns, and focus on making our photography benefit living creatures. Investing in wildlife as we travel, we keep in mind that doing nature, travel and landscape photography helps create more economic benefits to wildlife.
To become a conservation photographer, start close to home. Find an endangered location or animal species. Choose one you can easily photograph and visit often. If you find out it needs protecting, tell others. Get to your site or animal often and photograph everything that makes it special. Work to conserve the area with a group and use the spending power of the group to save land for wildlife.
MORE...to get involved in conversation photography, see https://www.morganheim.com/ and also https://conservationphotographers.org/news