THE CALL OF THE WILD
Lens Magazine|July 2021
A recent assignment taught me that I could find a whole world of wildlife within most city limits with little effort and local introspection. I'm not, of course, speaking about zoos. - Mark Edward Harris
MARK EDWARD HARRIS

My epiphany came in Lubbock, Texas, home to the legendary Buddy Holly. While they can't hold a tune as well as the guitarist and songwriter, Lubbock's prairie dogs are constantly belting out songs of their own in Prairie Dog Town, a protected area established in the 1930s by early conservationists Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy Clapp. In my own backyard of Los Angeles, Griffith Park, which dates back over a century, is home to a wide range of wildlife from deer to mountain lions.

Overseas I've seen the same successes of early conservation efforts by people long gone. So while human expansion has led to conflicts where wildlife inevitably loses, we also have the ability to help our fellow creatures.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I rediscovered what a great resource America's National Park System is for all visitors, especially my fellow lensmen and lenswomen...Every country on the planet offers its own unique fauna, so while most of us have to stay within our borders during the pandemic, there's little excuse for not keeping our cameras active.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I rediscovered what a great resource America's National Park System is for all visitors, especially my fellow lensmen and lenswomen. Many have year-round photo opportunities, while others have specific time periods for the most sought-after photo ops. For example, every July, during the peak of the annual salmon spawning migration in Alaska's Katmai National Park, brown bears make their way to Brooks Falls to fish for their favorite meal. While most bears stay at the bottom of the falls and pin to the river floor the salmon that miss their attempts at jumping the cascading water, a few venture to the top and attempt to catch their prey in a midflight.

I used a Nikon D810 with a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens set to 1/2000th of a second at f/5, ISO 100 to freeze a successful fishing attempt. Any time of day is great to bear watch, but the light is best for photography from the viewing platforms in the late afternoon hours. Brooks Lodge at Katmai National Park is the ideal hotel in the area, but rooms book far in advance. Otherwise, visitors can fly in for the day on a floatplane. Circumnavigating the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone from Jackson Hole yields year-round photo opportunities, with close encounters with moose and bison being among the highlights. I hopscotched between lodges in Yellowstone then capped off the early winter adventure with two nights at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, where one can almost literally ski into the lobby after a long run.

Every country on the planet offers its own unique fauna, so while most of us have to stay within our borders during the pandemic, there's little excuse for not keeping our cameras active. Off of Mexico's Baja Peninsula are opportunities to photograph gray whales and dive with whale sharks. For the gray whale photo off the coast of Lopez Mateo, I used a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens on my Nikon D850 set to 1/3200th of a second at f/10, ISO 200. So often, long lenses and fast shutter speeds are the names of the game when photographing animals in the wild, which definitely applies when shooting from a moving boat. However, diving with whale sharks was a very different and even more intense experience. To be only a few feet away from these huge magnificent creatures effortlessly gliding through the water was humbling, to say the least.

Further south in Costa Rica I based myself at three lodges Lapa Rios, Arenas del Mar, and the Finca Rosa Blanca Resort – each a great case study of ecotourism done right. I arranged my itinerary through Costa Rican Vacations to focus on shooting in a country with the largest percentage of protected areas in the world, with more than 26% of its land set aside as national parks or reserves.

Corcovado National Park is one of the must-visit areas because of its biodiversity, which includes jaguars, pumas, ocelots, tapirs, sloths, and all four Costa Rican monkey species – the white-headed capuchin, the Geoffroy's spider monkey, and the Central American squirrel monkey, and the mantled howler.

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