Saturday, March 19, 2011

NANPA Summit

NANPA High School Scholarship winner Kathryn Boyd-Batstone with one of Canon's
behemoth lenses and 7D bodies at South Padre Island, Texas. 

Every year the North American Nature Photography Association hosts a conference inviting the nation's top shooters. The annual summit lasts three days providing the attendees with keynote speeches, workshops from the industry leaders, and a trade show of exhibitors showcasing the latest equipment. It's an overwhelming place and I've met some lifelong friends and mentors at this conference over the years. The most rewarding part, however, is getting to participate as an instructor for the high school scholarship program.

Before the new year NANPA selects ten high school and ten college students to attend the conference which usually falls in February or March. The students arrive three days early and are thrown into the lion's den with mornings that begin at 5:00 AM and end at 12:00 AM. Sponsored by Canon, Hunts Photo and Video, Wimberley, Delkin, Nik Software, and Manfrotto tripods, they get the chance to use the best gear in choice locations with direct tutelage from professionals like Raymond Klass, Sharon Klass, Ellen Anon, Michael Nadler, Lou Nettlehorst, Ray Pfortner, and myself.

This year's winners were Joe Sulik, Jayleen Beedle, Alex Sandlin, Johan Doornenbal, Timmothy Brooks, Benjamin Knoot, Ben Walker, Kathryn Boyd-Batstone, Luke Crouch, and Danny Waterman.

Instructor Ray Pfortner with student Timothy Brooks at South Padre Island

I could write a novel from all the stories and experiences we had in our short week together, but I'd rather you hear it from them. Here's a video which we showcased to the 300 attendees on the last night of the conference put together by Raymond Klass. They received a standing ovation from the most respected names in nature photography. How's that for wind at your back?

Eight years ago, I was a student and one of the ten recipients of the NANPA high school scholarship. At that conference I was offered my first professional job, promoting and building a photography ranch in McAllen, Texas. The following three years they sent me to attend the summit's tradeshow on behalf of the Cozad Ranch to promote photography excursions in McAllen. Three years ago I accompanied one of my students from the Honduran organization GUARUMA as a translator and liaison in a life-changing trip. I was with him on his first airplane ride and next to him as he said his tearful goodbyes to the other students. Now I'm an instructor at the annual summit in McAllen, Texas and I find myself glowing with coincidence.

NANPA gave me a foundation for my confidence to build and a fertile place for my ideas to grow. It's been a long beautiful ride. I love a full circle and even more so, the potential energy stored in our youth. It's impossible to predict the ways they will change this world but I can't wait to follow along.

Did I mention my middle name is McAllen?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anhinga Trail

Anhinga Trail - The newest print available at

There are only a few places I've been for bird watching that rival the Everglades' Anhinga Trail. This isn't one of my "secret spots," either. I'm pretty sure every tourist from New York to California knows that in the dry season, this small section of boardwalk and previously-quarried pond offers front row seats to the wading bird and alligator show. As fish are bottle-necked into the deeper waters they stand little chance against the patience and sharp bills of the herons and anhingas which line the banks.

Double-crested cormorant

I normally drive past places like this because of the crowds. It's hard for me to justify making a trip out to the third largest national park in the lower 48 that encompasses 1.5 million acres only to share personal space with strangers. Photographers line the boardwalk trying to keep their tripod legs from getting bumped by passing strollers while large groups of boy scouts, girl scouts, Europeans, Asians, and tour groups make their excitement audible. It's not such a bad thing, though. Sharing, that is. In fact, it's the constant stream of visitors that make this place so unique. 

Pied-billed grebe with a dollar sunfish

The birds are so accustomed to people they have no fear of courting, foraging, or displaying right in front of a lens. Sometimes, it seems that because I'm there with a camera, they put on their best show. 

Green heron

Within 20 minutes of visiting last week I saw great blue herons, woodstorks, purple gallinules, american coots, white ibis, green herons, pied-billed grebes, great egrets, snowy egrets, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, cormorants, and of course, anhingas. Oh and I almost forgot: the black vultures. Probably the least photographed bird at the park, these unloved bottom-feeders of the system will do anything for attention. With unnerving bravado, they bark, grunt, and even steal your lens caps simply out of spite. The vengeful vultures, so upset with their lot in life, have resorted to crime and pillaging. These gothic mongrels of the sky will chew the weather sealing of your car doors and windshield wiper blades while you're away taking pictures of other, more colorful birds. 

Anhinga or "snake bird" in breeding plumage

If you happen to be in South Florida or the Everglades during the dry season, I would say Anhinga Trail is a must-see. While it might not be the ideal place for peaceful solitude, it is the premier spot for close encounters with birds and alligators. Just make sure you park your car at the far end of the lot.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wallpaper for your desktop

Two months ago a fellow photographer and friend of mine, Neil Losin, had a feature article in Birder's World magazine about burrowing owls. The editors used one of my images for the opening spread and we stayed in touch over the winter. Just recently, they changed their name to Bird Watching Magazine and contacted me about using a few of my images for their members to download as wallpapers. If you'd like access to these photos and other great bird photography check it out! And wait... the best part... is it's totally free!

One of the photos available for download with Bird Watching Daily