Growing up in Northwest Louisiana, my dad taught me all about hunting, fishing, repairing pick-up trucks, and paddling a pirogue, as well as some survival skills that Girl Scouts may have glossed over. Honestly, I wasn’t much into being a sharpshooter, and I failed as an auto mechanic, but I did pay attention when my dad tried to teach me about plants.
Whenever he took me to his deer camp he’d show me a barren fence where the cold hardy passion vine (Passiflora) was supposed to grow. He collected the Louisiana Iris (Iris virginica ‘Shrevei’) from the swampy waters. I’d religiously relocate them against a fence. The plants eventually spread into the neighbor’s yard to his great displeasure.
Someone recently told me that you can no longer collect these plants from the wild, even though someone originally collected the plants, and planted them around the cabin to dress it up. I wanted my dad to load up on plants instead of watching my mom prepare yet another mystery dish using the ample supply of venison filling our freezer. Any good hunter builds themselves a nifty deer stand built for one. From there, you sit up as high as you can go in the Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda) of Louisiana to watch wildlife for many solitary hours.
Around the the time my father turned 50 years old, he realized he found photographing nature more rewarding than hunting. I have a couple of theories behind this late-life epiphany: doctor’s orders, one too many bouts of kidney stones from eating too much venison, or simply the neighbors filled up the giant freezer with enough venison to last a lifetime (I remember whenever anyone opened the freezer door, rock hard frozen meat would tumble forth).
I found lots of high altitude sky photographs within the trays of slides, but I have yet to find those elusive images of wildlife captured using a telephoto camera lens. I would have really liked to have seen a photo of the snake that can swim and fly, or bullfrogs so large they could be walked/hopped around using a leash, or a photograph of the rare Louisiana panther jumping from one bald cypress stump (Cupressus taxodium) to another, feasting upon juicy catfish along the way.
This holiday weekend I somehow found myself acting like my late father, watching wild animal kingdom webcams in the comfort of my own Southern California living room. Our favorite is the Dick Pritchett Real Estate SWFEC bald eagle webcam, a site monitoring a family of bald eagles situated in a 60-foot high nest. This nest is set inside a slash pine (Pinus elliotii), surrounded by what looks like a church, a busy freeway, and a back drop of Southwest Floridian skyscrapers. The nesting bald eagles seem to be more harried by the plethora of noisy birds and swarms of flies than the continuous drone of the nearby freeway.
This particular nature webcam has attained viral popularity and national news coverage, scoring over 60 million viewers who’ve quietly enjoyed watching the treetop dramas unfold using their cell phone, laptop or internet-connected television in the middle of the night. Stationed only 6 feet away from the nest, the webcam is equipped with infrared night vision to prevent disturbing the family of eagles. The lens follows the action, moving with the family of eagles. Close-ups regularly showcase the cute white and fuzzy fledgling, and viewers take great pleasure watching the mom eagle feed her baby with fresh fish deliveries made by both parents (dad regularly takes over nesting duties while mom hunts).
Watching a snoring eagle after a hard day of work is really just the cutest. My husband and I have oddly enjoyed prying in on this feathered family as they build and tend their eagle’s nest – LE026-B as defined the Florida State Monitoring Program – situated within the tall pine trees. Dressed with branches and surrounded by a layer of soft pine needles, the pair constantly clean out the nest, keeping tidy their tiny 200 square foot loft and avian nursery. A makeshift refrigerator for the rodents and fish caught by the eagles is conveniently tucked neatly to one side within the soften base of torn pine straw, with spent feathers placed to keep the flies at bay. Watching each of the parents carefully feed the fledgling is really interesting, but I have yet to figure out why the eagle uses her beak to stick her head deep into the nest. Maybe to make a window into the world below?
Of course, nature can be brutal with unexpected violence and tragedy, so if you rather have the PG-rated version for the family to watch, try one of the major news networks for a delayed transmission. In any case, you cannot help but care about the cold, harsh beauty of nature after watching these wild animals endure. It matters!