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Last Day

Day 4 from photographer Neil Ever Osborne's trek across Pennsylvania for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE.

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Pine Creek, tributary of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

On the last day of the Chesapeake Bay RAVE, I stared at a rock for over an hour. The rock above actually. It was alone. The only rock breaching the surface of the scene. I used it to create a time lapse for a multimedia component of the RAVE some of my colleagues are working on. Time lapses are incredible tools that allow you to use multiple still images to create motion in a single scene. Subtle as it might be, the water ripples were the only thing moving, I was trying to elicit a mood that would suggest we can keep Pennsylvania's rivers, streams, and creeks clean if we keep making positive changes.

The farmers in Pennsylvania who work so closely with the land are doing this. They are planting more trees to create corridors that can act as buffers along waterways on their property. More trees equal more nutrient absorption and less soil erosion, and overall better health for the watershed.

This morning I was working alongside Frank Rohrer, a stream buffer specialist who works with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He is a photographer himself so the early rise at 5:00 a.m. was not too much hassle for the both of us. We worked the Pine Creek scene for a couple of hours, concentrating on simple compositions offered. Then, once the sun was up and the fog had dissipated, we headed home to conclude my RAVE assignment.

While I have no trouble staring at rocks for lengthy periods of time, I really was itching to see more of the Pennsylvania wildlife Rohrer talked about in the preceding days I was with him. Ideally, I would also get a chance to photograph these animals, but as nature often chooses, this is not always the case. Sometimes the sighting is enough.

On the way back to the cabin in the woods, we were fortunate to glance a Bald Eagle, a White-tailed fawn, and a Black Bear mother with two cubs.

Check back here in the next couple of weeks to learn more details about the upcoming action exhibit later in September on Capital Hill*. iLCP photographers will share images from the Chesapeake Bay RAVE.

- Neil Ever Osborne

* Thirty of the hundreds of photographs collected by iLCP photographers during the RAVE will be on exhibit in the Capital Rotunda September 20 - October 1.

Read all posts for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE

Learn more about the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Hunting for Hellbenders

Day 3 from photographer Neil Ever Osborne's trek across Pennsylvania for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE.

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Eastern Hellbender Salamander or Giant Salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) eating a crayfish.

Have you ever seen this critter before? I had not. I also did not know where to find them but their mystic was enough to intrigue me to look. During the Chesapeake Bay RAVE, collaborations with local experts and people on the ground were essential. This seems like a common thread with conservation projects these days and so through Chesapeake Bay Foundation communications guru Kelly Donaldson I was able to reach out to Dr. Peter Petokas of Lycoming College to assist me with a photo shoot with the amphibian he knows so well.

Eastern Hellbender Salamanders can grow to more than 25 inches in length, making them the third largest aquatic salamander species in the world. They really are that big. I wanted photographs of the giant salamander to introduce this amazing animal to those who had never seen one. What role they play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed might not be as clear as with other aquatic wildlife but they certainly maintain a balance in the crayfish numbers, eating them frequently with a suction feeding behavior.

Other names for this wicked looking creature are snot otter, devil dog, mud-devil, grampus, the Allegheny alligator, leverian water newt, and vulgo. But, to me they are not that ugly. Some people say the name Hellbender comes from their odd appearance. Under the water, they have the unassuming appearance of rocks, though this did not stop us from finding them. With Petokas at hand, we were able to photograph five Hellbenders in their natural setting.

I have my fingers crossed that one of my Hellbender images ends up in the 30-image action exhibit that premieres this September on Capital Hill*. iLCP and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are using the images this RAVE creates to facilitate news coverage of the urgency of the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Act to speed the restoration of the Bay's health and protect it over the long term.

I was also able to ask Dr. Peter Petokas a few questions during our time together and he had these few comments:

Q: Why do you study the Hellbender?

A: I began to study the Hellbender out of curiosity, what it was, where it was, and how well the species was doing, since no one seemed to know the answers to these things. We've since learned an amazing amount of new information about this animal and I hope to continue my studies as long as I am able. It's not pretty and it doesn't entertain us with interesting behaviors, but it is an intriguing animal, very secretive, difficult to access, and a key predator on stream crayfish. Having documented migrations of up to five miles, this creature defies what we think we know about salamanders.

Q: How important is the Hellbender to the Chesapeake watershed?

A: We've lost so much of the value of our watersheds through resource extraction and habitat degradation, that the Hellbender is now in jeopardy of complete extirpation. Along with the Bald Eagle the American Shad, the Hellbender is a poster child for everything that we've done wrong in the watershed. We've mismanaged the Susquehanna River Basin for over 200 years and it will never return to the pristine state when Bald Eagles, Mountain Lions, and Hellbenders were important keystone predators in the food chain. We're working to return long lost species such as Shad and Eels to the West Branch, but the Hellbender hasn't been eliminated yet and I'm working hard to ensure that existing populations remain viable with the ultimate goal of reintroducing Hellbenders to previously-occupied streams.

Q: You have a ritual of taking a photo of each student you work with holding a Hellbender, why?

A: A cameo shot is taken of each person who works with me to document their participation and for use on their personal web pages. I'm working on a Powerpoint presentation of the approximately 100 cameo photos that I have and will convert it to a Quicktime video, sequencing through photos of elementary and high school students and teachers, undergraduate students and professors, graduate students, ecologists, researchers, and other folks who have worked with me. I've even had students and teachers visit here from Japan to learn about Hellbenders.

Q: Are the populations of Hellbenders in the Chesapeake watershed doing well?

A: This animal is so difficult to study that it has taken me six years to discover that the Hellbender is in serious jeopardy of disappearing from the Susquehanna River Basin. It was once thought to be widespread throughout the basin, but today it appears to be restricted to just three tributaries of the Susquehanna River. Most populations in the West Branch were lost many years ago due to abandoned mine drainage. We've lost two other West Branch populations since 2006, one due to a Sodium Hydroxide spill and another due to rapid die-off from unknown causes. Several Main Stem populations have disappeared since the early to mid-1990's. I only hope that the three extant populations in the West Branch will remain healthy and not succumb to disease or the kinds of environmental disasters that occurred in the past.

- Neil Ever Osborne

* Thirty of the hundreds of photographs collected by iLCP photographers during the RAVE will be on exhibit in the Capital Rotunda September 20 - October 1.

Read all posts for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE

Learn more about the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Changing the Landscape

Day 2 from photographer Neil Ever Osborne's trek across Pennsylvania for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE.

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A water pipe lays in the land where trees once stood.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay RAVE, one of my goals was to create images that depict land disturbance in Pennsylvania. Covering this topic was important to connect the terrestrial environment with the issues of water quality in the watershed.

Bottom line: as the landscape changes, so does the flow of nutrients and sediments into the water, and that which enters the Susquehanna River could stand a chance of emptying into the bay.

As a focus point, I worked closely with some of the natural gas companies drilling within the Marcellus Shale to showcase how natural resource extracting is modifying the topography. In brief, the Marcellus Shale contains largely untapped natural gas reserves and companies have been flocking to this "play," the industry term for a rich area of natural resources, for over two years now. A local source in Pennsylvania told me there were over 25 individual companies working the land. Some, like Chesapeake Energy, are taking precautionary measures to minimize disturbance they cause, others seem not to be so keen.

As an example, gas companies need to use huge amounts of water during the drilling operation. In a process called hydraulic fracturing, water is pumped through serpentine like pipes that navigate through the landscape to a 4-5 acre drill site. Once there the water is then pumped into the well bore (pipes leading to the shale below the ground) at high pressures forcing the underground rock formation to fracture resulting in a more porous substrate for the gas to travel through.

Did I mention they need an insane amount of water to do this! A well blowout in Pennsylvania on June 3, 2010 sent more than 35,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the air and onto the surrounding landscape in a forested area.

As more and more permits for well sites are allocated, Pennsylvania counties like Bradford and Tioga, who seem to have the most drilling activity, will see more alterations to their countrysides.

- Neil Ever Osborne

Read all posts for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE

Find out more about the International League of Conservation Photographers

From Humble Beginnings

For the next four days we'll be sharing posts from photographer Neil Ever Osborne's trek across Pennsylvania for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE.

Will Harloff of Copperstown, NY fishes on the Susquehanna River at its origin in Otsego Lake.

From its humble beginning in Otsego Lake, the Susquehanna River winds 444 miles through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace, Maryland. While the Susquehanna boasts statistics that define it as the longest river east of the Mississippi and the 16th largest river in the United States its most impressive feat is that it dumps more than 50 percent of the freshwater that enters the Chesapeake Bay. I came to the origin of this river for that reason alone as part of an iLCP Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE).

In short, the concept behind iLCP's RAVE initiatives is to address the challenges of modern conservation by creating a full visual and media assessment of a conservation issue or threat in a very short period of time.

On the Chesapeake Bay RAVE, of which I am one of nine photographers, the iLCP has partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other experts on the ground that call the Chesapeake watershed home.

I am in Pennsylvania covering the northern region of the state with the hopes of capturing images that depict natural resource consumption, pristine rivers and creeks, and the aquatic wildlife that might inhabit the area.

Stay tuned for more work as my week in PA unfolds.

- Neil Ever Osborne

* Thirty of the hundreds of photographs collected by iLCP photographers during the RAVE will be on exhibit in the Capital Rotunda September 20 - October 1.

Read all posts for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE

Learn more about the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Better Than Disneyland!

Teachers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms Teacher Professional Development courses this summer. Three of them agreed to share their experiences with us. Today's guest blog is by Fran Glusiec, a teacher at Lee Davis High School in Mechanicsville, Virginia. Photos by Bill Portlock and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For me personally, this has been a "magical" summer. It hasn't been so much about learning as about living.

Heron and sunset - Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF My summer "vacation" began two days after school let out. I participated in a three-day technology conference offered by the Math, Science Information Center in Richmond, Virginia. Each day "mini" classes provided teachers with "hands on" activities to encourage kids (of all ages) to explore a variety of math and science concepts, from nanotechnology to raising trout as a classroom project.

The conference ended on Friday at 3:30 p.m., and by 5:30 p.m. I was on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia. Saturday was about spending time with my family and having some fun visiting the World of Coca Cola and wandering about Atlanta. But Sunday was the day I waited for with breathless anticipation and wonder, for Sunday was the day we would visit the Georgia Aquarium and I would swim with whale sharks -- "Gentle Giants," measuring over 41 feet and weighing up to 26,000 tons. It was inspirational and totally exhilarating. I can't help getting, "psyched" and excited every time I think about the experience.

What I also took away from the Georgia Aquarium was a "passion." The passion was passed on to me by everyone I met there who cared for and worked with their "sea world" family.

Prothonotary warbler I doubted that my next adventure could "measure up," but after three days of participating in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's outdoor field course entitled "Chesapeake Classrooms" I once more experienced that strong sense of dedication, caring, and "passion." It was obvious how each presenter felt about the Chesapeake Bay -- the wildlife, the land, its past, present, and future. There were Chuck's stories about the Atlantic Sturgeon coming back; Mike's mussels and the efforts ongoing to bring back native species to Virginia, as well as updates on the shad and herring populations; baiting crab pots with Ken on the James River; and Cathy's prothonotary warbler project that had all of us making birdhouses and excited about getting our students involved in a global effort to help this particularly beautiful little yellow bird.

Take a good look at the world around you -- the people, the geography, the diversity of life beneath the sea and in the air -- there is so much "magic!" And you know what? It's even better than Disneyland!

<< Read the first post in this series, "My Summer Adventure"

<< Read the second post in this series, "Wild is the Way"

Find out more about the magic of the Chesapeake Bay and how you can experience it at cbf.org.


Wild Is The Way

Teachers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms Teacher Professional Development courses this summer. Three of them agreed to share their experiences with us. Today's guest blog is by Claire Gardner, a first-grade teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. Photos by Bill Portlock and CBF staff.

marsh mucking - photo by Bill Portlock/CBFSometimes teachers get so busy trying to inform, that we squander our chances to help students form. We lose sight of what is important. But my week with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation brought everything back into focus, and my goals for the new school year include taking time (and making time) to allow my students to connect with nature. The Chesapeake Classrooms course allowed me to become a student again and realize the value of these necessary experiences. More than half of our group had attended a CBF summer immersion course before.  As CBF ‘veterans,' we could allow ourselves to enjoy the full experience since many of the ‘unknown concerns' had been addressed in previous settings. After all, aren't we like our students: how many times (and how many ways) must a concept be presented before it is truly part of our base of knowledge?

We were led by Bart Jaeger with collaboration from Shawn Ridgely, Adam Wickline and Bob Lehman. These educators love the Bay. They love it because they know it, and they know the Bay because they experience it with every fiber of their being; I think brackish water must flow along with the blood that runs through their veins. I would be willing to bet that they are truly at their happiest when totally immersed in the bio-region of the Chesapeake Bay.

Paddling the marshesWe started the week's study at the Horn Point Laboratory outside Cambridge, MD, learning about the lab's role in identifying solutions for restoring the Bay, which include researching submerged aquatic vegetation, and providing the largest hatchery on the East Coast for developing oyster spat used to re-seed depleted oyster beds. As we continued driving through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, we all marveled as I braked for a heron and egret as they gracefully lifted their long legs, searching for food at the road's edge. Since the road went directly through the marsh (and is occasionally underwater at high tide), extra caution was needed when driving. This gave us an opportunity to slow down and observe; this was a fitting and important prelude to the entire week. The road led us to CBF's Karen Noonan Study Center, a renovated hunting lodge and an Environmental Education Center dedicated to the memory of Karen E. Noonan, a young teacher who perished in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

After dinner, Bart guided us through the development of our organizing question: How has the change in natural and social systems affected the health of the Chesapeake Bay?  Already, the experiences from the afternoon and evening were helping us formulate a response. We found that we were steadily refining the question and looking at it from different points of view as the learning continued throughout the week. Again, aren't we like our students; don't we want them to form opinions and responses based on thorough consideration? 

The next day brought canoeing, marsh mucking, bay wading, shore exploring, a trip to Deal Island, oyster dredging, a crab feast, and a light show provided by Mother Nature. The canoeing, mucking, wading, and exploring were all combined in our study of the natural system of the marsh as we discovered its value, purpose and function. On closer inspection, we found a diversity of vegetation and animals and a discussion of interdependence followed. The experiences of this day were empowering; don't we want our students to gain and feel the empowerment of accomplishing goals that may have previously been denied because of fear or lack of exposure to an activity? Isn't a stronger sense of self an essential goal for all students?

Photo by Bill Portlock The next morning, we said, "Goodbye," to the conveniences of water pressure, electric lights, and air conditioning. Our trek to Fox Island would be by way of proggin' on Holland Island, passing South Marsh Island and the Martin Wildlife Refuge, and visiting the communities on Smith Island. These events brought us face-to-face with the ‘social systems' portion of our organizing question; these communities are shrinking just as quickly as erosion is claiming their shoreline. Our visit allowed us to see first hand the fierce pride and determination that embody the Islanders. While we question the effects of the social and natural systems on the health of the Bay, I cannot help but wonder about the influences of the social and natural systems upon each other.

We watched with awe (and a little fear) as an evening storm approached and inundated the lodge. With all manmade distractions (and conveniences) stripped away, it was a chance to reconnect with nature and find the wholeness that we often don't even realize is missing. Fox Island is magical to me; it provided a means to "strengthen the core skills underlying all learning: concentration, observation, relaxation, and open, receptive awareness with a positive, curious attitude." (*McHenry and Brady, 2009) As a class, our best discussions and exchanges happened at Fox. At our final group meeting, Bart encouraged us to use what we'd learned and experienced to influence how we teach our students: "You're good enough. You're strong enough. People like you. Make it happen." I feel privileged to have been on such an inspiring adventure! As teachers, don't we all want to have that kind of positive impact on our students?

Sunset at Fox IslandA plaque on a bench by the dock at Fox put everything in perspective: ‘Open Spaces, Sacred Places.' What a perfect setting to sort things out and focus on the impact of our actions. We were given the opportunity to see the big picture and come to the realization that we have more power than we know. We may now have more questions than answers, but we are able to ask them through a filter of respect for this fragile, vulnerable, one-of-a-kind, no-other-place-on-earth crossroads that has retained its ‘wildness.' I look forward to helping my students find meaningful, authentic learning experiences in nature; wild is the way!

*McHenry, Irene and Richard Brady (2009). Tuning In: Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning, Friends Council on Education

<< Read the previous post in this series, "My Summer Adventure"

Read the next post in this series, "Better Than Disneyland" >>

More on cbf.org...Find out how you can experience the wildness of the Bay yourself or learn more about CBF's education programs for teachers, students, and adults.


My Summer Adventure

Teachers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms Teacher Professional Development courses this summer. Three of them agreed to share their experiences with us. Today's guest blog is by Chris Chamberlin, a biology and advanced ecology teacher at Amherst County High School in Amherst, Virginia. Photos by William Mitchell, Bill Portlock and CBF staff.

On the banks of the Mattaponi / CBF@WilliamMitchellStudios.com A group of strangers arrived in Tappahannock, Virginia, on June 21, 2010. Not knowing that we would become fast friends, this band of weary travelers settled in at the Conference Center at St. Margaret's School, abound with hope for the upcoming week. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bill Portlock, Julia Elkin, and Randy Shank greeted us with refreshing beverages and welcoming smiles.

As teachers, we constantly encourage our students to take chances with new experiences, and our first day was an exercise in practicing that mantra. Using a large fish seine, several members headed out to the Rappahannock River to sample the water. Crabs, silversides, menhaden, and pumpkinseed sunfish filled the net as we all gathered around Bill and Julia for a lesson in animal behavior and aquatic biochemistry. This site was also home to at least one breeding pair of bald eagles, but my most indelible memory was of the countless dragonfly species knifing through the air, protecting our skin from unseen pests. After several more activities and informative, group sharing exercises, we headed to bed with visions of our upcoming canoe trip on the Mattaponi River.

pufferfishFormed from the confluence of several tributaries, the Mattaponi River is impressive. Its crystal clear waters, teeming animal life, and varied habitats sparked many conversations throughout our canoeing adventure. We learned about the upland influences and point and non-point source pollution affecting the Mattaponi as we delved deep into freshwater marshes and watched rare sparrows catch insects on the wing. This gorgeous river appears clearer than any other major Chesapeake Bay tributary, largely due to the vegetative buffers and courageous citizens who have spent many years protecting it from developmental pressures. We ate lunch at a gorgeous piece of property owned by one of the heroes of the Mattaponi, who has spent countless hours speaking for the river. Listening to her story enabled us to leave that place with a renewed hope of how one person can actually make a big difference. Sleep enveloped us quickly that evening, as many tired arms were finally able to rest.

DSC_8878_3_BPortlock_300 The second segment of our trip was to Tangier Island and was arguably the most memorable. Perhaps it was because one can only access Tangier by boat or plane. Or maybe it was because we learned about the watermen, whose difficult lifestyle and several hundred-year-old culture is dwindling. It also may have been the wonderful bounty of blue crabs we caught in our pots and cooked "island style" on Port Isobel, the CBF-owned island adjacent to Tangier. My personal favorite memory was the dinner plate-sized bat that flew past my head Thursday evening. Whatever the memory, every single person left that island with a renewed sense of appreciation for the nesting ospreys, eastern oysters, blue crabs, pipefish, pufferfish, eels, and many other creatures that Bill and Julia gleefully taught us about. I would also argue that our intrepid captain and his level-headed grandson showed us what family truly means. Fortunately for this group, we had become a family of our own, with plenty of stories and experiences to share with students, friends, and family alike. Traveling back to the mainland was bittersweet; nobody really wanted to leave this new-found paradise.

Read our second post in the series, "Wild is the Way" >>

More on cbf.org...Learn about the varied habitats that comprise the Chesapeake Bay or find out more about CBF's education programs for teachers, students, and adults.