Earth Day 2019: where my local wildlife lives

A photo essay featuring North Carolina wildlife alongside their polluted habitats, in the hope it will inspire positive change.

Bolin Creek at Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC

A beaver lies bead among the trash in Bolin Creek where it intersects Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.  This is a disturbing image which i debated whether to publish.  Yet, it sums up, in one image, the cause of my concern…our actions are unintentionally contributing to the deaths of the wildlife which we say we love. I also have found a dead fox beside the water upstream.  In this one section of urban creek, I’ve documented: rabbits, raccoon, opossum, hawks, heron, owls, beaver, nutria, woodchucks, deer, and far too many birds and reptiles to list.   The biodiversity of this urban, wetland environment is simply stunning.


Jordan Lake, Apex, NC

Bells Chapel Public Access at Jordan Lake, NC.  A large amount of plastic trash can be found in the water itself.  Do Not Litter signs seem to do little to discourage people.
Osprey nest near same section of Jordan Lake as the above image. Both osprey and bald eagles eat fish from the lake and mammals living along the lake’s woodlands.  Both have been documented bringing trash items and contaminated prey to nests and young.

Haw River at Bynum, NC

A bald eagle catching fish from just under the dam at Bynum Bridge—the EXACT same location as photographed above.

Little Creek at Meadowmont, Chapel Hill, NC

All in one photograph:   Bird drinking water alongside chemical containing litter in Little Creek at Meadowmont, Chapel Hill.  Wood ducks rear young in the pond fed by this creek and there are documented hawk and barred owl nests as well, both species eat crayfish, fish and mammals from along this waterway, increasing the potential for contaminated prey to be brought back to young.

Bolin Creek at Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC

This is Bolin Creek at Franklin Street in Chapel Hill (right beside the Enterprise Rental Car store).  See all the trash which has washed down and collected? The creek is in the Jordan Lake watershed….the lake is a drinking water source and boasts active bald eagle populations.
I took this standing at the EXACT same spot on Bolin Creek at Franklin Street as the above image…a woodchuck (aka groundhog) lives in a burrow along the banks.  She raised a family there last year.


Bolin Creek Trail, Chapel Hill, NC

Litter clean-up extraordinaire Daniel Toben with a sample of chemical waste he pulled from Bolin Creek near Franklin St. He’s doing great work cleaning up our community.  Thanks Daniel!
Barred owl photographed from the Bolin Creek Trail …owls, heron & hawks all eat crayfish & fish from the creek and mammals from it’s woodlands.
Baby barred owl on its first day out of the nest last summer. It was the sole chick to successfully fledge.  I’ll keep the exact location of this nest private so as not to invite harassment of the current owlets.  Of concern is that owl parents unwittingly bring contaminated prey to feed owlets.
A red-shouldered hawk catching a crayfish in Bolin Creek near Elizabeth St.   Red-tailed, red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks all have nesting sights along Bolin Creek.  Again, a clean environment is important as contaminated prey can lead to both adult and baby bird death.


Outer Banks, NC

Not in the Triangle nor the best images due to distance and lighting, but I thought this was a dramatic illustration of how wildlife incorporated our waste into their lives.  This particular osprey nest had a surprising amount of construction plastic wrap, foam ‘swim noodle’ and general plastic built into the nest.

Osprey bringing trash to the nest. Nags Head, NC

Thank you for taking time to view.

To see more of my photographic work, please visit


Please don’t let the first image, be the last image for which our advanced civilization is remembered.  We can do better.  We must do better.




Exclusive: NatGeo’s Yellowstone Live presents years old documentary footage as live

National Geographic Channel presents footage published 3 years ago as being from animals they filmed this week during the broadcast, Yellowstone Live.  

As a wildlife photographer, I abide by a few simple rules:

1) Respect the wildlife.

2) Get the shot honestly and ethically.

3) Present an image in the post-edit as close to how you actually experienced it.

In the era of photoshop and fake news banter, authentic photography is a fundamental ethic which National Geographic Magazine has historically promoted.  Editorial polices express the belief that what the reader sees, should be what the photographer saw naturally…no baiting of wildlife, no over-manipulation of images during post-processing, etc.

Unfortunately, this ethic apparently does not extend to National Geographic Channel with videography because it is purposefully and with shocking intent presenting stock footage filmed 3 years ago as being from animals they are following this week during a live TV and internet broadcast.

Yellowstone Live, is a four-night multi-platform production presenting the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.  It premiered on the National Geographic Channel August 5, 2018 and is hosted by former CBS reporter Josh Elliott with co-hosting by animal expert Chris Packham and FS1 reporter Jenna Wolfe.  In the series press release, it says the production will use

“a complex network of 34 live cameras, 200 crew, cutting-edge, first-ever cell-phone bundling technology to broadcast in the most remote locations, live-audience interaction; digital coverage on multiple platforms and innovative technologies including the following:

A “Magma Cam,” a thermal imaging camera, which will reveal Yellowstone’s thermal features

Aerial views of essential wildfires

Aerial filming of a wolf pack in remote wilderness area

Footage from inside a beaver lodge”

Let’s examine that last bullet point…footage from inside a beaver lodge.  The co-hosts in both Episode 1 and 2, present multiple clips of beaver lodge footage as either ‘happening right now’ or with the introduction “these are pictures we got a little while ago”.   Yet, these are the exact same video images which appeared in Wild Yellowstone, a documentary published by National Geographic in 2015.  Not ‘sort of similar’ but exact frame for frame identical.  These animals were not filmed “a little while ago” as the host states, unless you count 3-4 years ago as fitting that criteria.  See the comparison for yourself:

Above Snip from 2015 documentary “Wild Yellowstone”
Snip from Yellowstone Live Episode 2

Host Josh Elliott introduces the Episode 2 clip by saying “Another family intensively studied is a family of beavers who we’ve been with all week long following this family out at Schwabacher’s Landing.  We want to check back in and see what they’ve been up to.”  In fact, the animal family in the footage was first published in a 2015 documentary Wild Yellowstone-Grizzly Summer.

“Another family intensively studied is a family of beavers who we’ve been with all week long following this family out at Schwabacher’s Landing.  We want to check back in and see what they’ve been up to.” In fact, the animal family in the footage was first published in a 2015 documentary.

Color footage of a beaver with a branch is shown while Christ Packham narrates. Then as the color footage transitions to a black-and-white infrared scene, Packham says Now these are some pictures we got a little while ago showing….” The footage airing during Packham’s narration is from the 2015 documentary.  Packham continues, “Let’s listen..remember this is in pitch blackness.” Both Packham and Elliott chat back and forth about how cute the images and sounds of the baby beaver chewing a stick are.  (See the full clip below).

A second clip is then played showing a beaver on a the bank felling a tree.  The image is of a single beaver first running towards then direction of where the tree will fall and then, changing direction and running away.  Eliiott wraps up the segment by saying “so that’s what we were capturing remotely”.  This is the exact same beaver footage from 2015.  Judge the comparison:

Above Snip from documentary Wild Yellowstone 2015
Above Snip from Yellowstone Live Ep 2

Emmy Award winning wildlife cinema-photographer Jeff Hogan was on the production crew of the 2015 Wild Yellowstone footage and is also featured prominently in Yellowstone Live photographing a beaver dam.

Jeff Hogan Yellowstone Live Ep 1

Hogan provides live commentary, indicating that he can ‘hear the young beavers squawking’.  He does not verbally present his footage from the 2015 production, rather it is co-hosts Elliott and Packham who pass the footage off as ‘a family of beavers  they’ve been following this week’.

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph wildlife knows that wild creatures are unpredictable…they don’t perform on demand. I personally think attempting a live show with wildlife is asking for disappointment…truly wild animals cannot be located on que, let alone photographed doing captivating things which might keep an audience’s attention for one or two hours.

Therefore, it is understandable that the production company would need to have some stock footage on hand for those  moments when their 34 live cameras and 200 crew (if that is indeed true) fail to capture anything at all worth sharing.  If they’ve done their homework, then those moments should be rare AND they should say so…the audience will understand.  The show would have been just as good without the false statements. But to present it as either happening right now or even within the past few days is dishonest.  And this is the impression the audience clearly received. 


In an era where the term ‘fake news’ proliferates and science is routinely questioned, educational programming should be beyond reproach.  Shame on National Geographic and the production company (Plimsoll Productions in association with Berman Productions) for not being more forthcoming in their presentation of wildlife. If we can’t trust what we see on a nature presentation from esteemed National Geographic, then it’s a sad commentary on where we are culturally–that the desire to entertain and fool the audience outweighs the desire for truth and transparency.  How is the public to trust anything else presented?

Watch a 2 minute clip from Yellowstone Live Episode 2 and judge for yourself if you get the impression the footage presented is live/recent from the week or from 3 years ago, links to exact same images from 2015’s Wild Yellowstone follows below:


The full Wild Yellowstone documentary containing the beaver footage can be viewed at time mark 7:45 and 34:00 of




Carolina Trashed: emergence of don’t give a damn naturalists

The modern marker of disenfranchisement has become…littering by nature lovers?

Jordan Lake Reservoir, Bell’s Church Public Fishing Area

I take wildlife photos, so I do quite a bit of hiking around local rivers and lakes.  I’ve always packed a trash bag in my photo bag to wrap gear in case of rain.  At some point, I found myself starting to use the bag to pick up litter along the way.  Nothing spoils a great shot of a natural vista or potentially harms the wildlife living there more than garbage.

Time was, I gathered a half-bag of trash on my photo walks.  Then, a full bag.  Now, I pack two bags–the most weight I can carry with my gear–and fill both to overflowing, leaving behind many, MANY, bags worth more of trash.  I don’t have hard data to show that littering has become worse, just personal observation that at least in my neck of the woods, littering is habitual.

The photos posted here are what I found on just one day visiting 4 locations in the Haw River and Jordan Lake area of North Carolina.  Notable is that this particular watershed (which supplies drinking water to ~300,000 people) is located in the heart of what is known as the Research Triangle–dubbed so for it’s high-tech companies and higher-education research universities.

It is an affluent area–with a median income 25% higher than the rest of North Carolina and a significantly higher percentage of persons with advance education. (Census data source) The quality of life gained from our many natural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities figures prominently in the economic development recruitment pitches for the Triangle region, which leads among the mid-Atlantic states in population growth.  It is also an area with strong environment awareness markers–there’s a robust local market for hybrid vehicles, organic food, farm-to-table, and the state is home to a nearly 100 environmental groups

Why are the demographics relevant?
A computer hard drive, Cell phone, Battery…all oddities found at the bottom of the Haw River dam

Let’s consider why someone would litter a natural area. These litterers are obviously people who appreciate the recreational benefits of nature enough that they chose to go out into it to enjoy what it has to offer…fishing, hiking, swimming, boating, etc.  So if you like being in nature, why then trash it?  People don’t go to sit by a lake to view the garbage…if you trash it, it destroys the very thing you went there to enjoy…so why do it?

Researchers of litter (yes there is such a thing) postulate that people litter because they feel disenfranchised and powerless.  In other words, they don’t feel connected to society or  the land, and hence why it is considered acceptable behavior to trash the landscape.  Yet, does the high-income, high-education Triangle fit that resident profile?  No really.  So what else could be going on.

Jordan Lake area near both Adopt a Shoreline & No littering signS
Sense of personal responsibility lacking?
Haw River where I found worms still alive in a plastic bag.

Another theory of why people litter is that they lack a sense of personal responsibility. These folks litter because they believe others will pick up after them.    That theory might have some traction if you couple it with a dose of down-right laziness.  Think of it:  Do we have a population of people motivated  and intelligent enough to plan an outing, go buy beverages, drive to a lovely natural setting to enjoy what the outdoors offers, yet also lazy and stupid enough to then throw the empty containers on the ground rather than make the effort to take it with them?  If so, that’s pretty darn lazy as it takes less physical effort to take an empty bottle out of the woods than it does to acquire and bring the full bottle into the woods to begin with.

Failure of anti-litter messages?

“Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony, which will lessen tensions.” Lady Bird Johnson

Where do people learn that when you are done with something, you simply throw it down?  Well, it wasn’t because we don’t hear the ‘littering is bad’ public messages.

1964, Keep America Beautiful

While there had been anti-litter campaigns before, it was in the 1960’s that Lady Bird Johnson made anti-littering mainstream by making highway beautification her cause as First Lady.  The ‘don’t be a litterbug’ message took off, sparking a societal stigmatization of littering.  Take a look at the ads from that time and you’ll notice peer pressure and shame were key motivators to not litter.   Children were even encouraged to call down their parents when they saw them litter!

The ‘Keep America Beautiful’ campaign was born out of this new mindset. Who can forget in the 1970’s their iconic public service announcement featuring Iron Eyes Cody, with a single tear falling down his cheek at the sight of litter.  We’ve had generations now growing up exposed to not only the anti-littering message but also the environmental movements educational emphasize on the importance of clean air and water along with preserving wildlife habitat.

Yet the educational plea hasn’t worked and neither has the threat of legal action.  In the places, I go ‘litter is against the law’ signs are everywhere, so when someone litters, they clearly know that it is against the law.  Legal action isn’t a deterrent because state and local municipalities impose fines for littering when a law enforcement officer spots a litterer in action…and therein is the rub, it must be witnessed which is very hard to do as most of these areas are, understandably, not patrolled. In the bigger picture, littering isn’t considered a serious offence especially when there is violent crime to target with limited funding and staff.

So really, people litter because they can.  Even when told it’s illegal and it’s bad for the environment, people still do it.

Just shut up & pick it up?
piles of trash are within view of the UNC ALPHA PHI OMEGA  ‘Adopt a shoreline’ sign

Because the prevention and enforcement sides are lacking, volunteers try to meet the need by picking up litter.  Nonprofit organized Adopt-a-highway and Adopt-a-stream/shoreline programs exist.  Yet the volume of trash is so high, not even these noble efforts can keep pace.   In the Triangle area, formal lake and river clean-ups are typically organized 2-3 times per year, depending on the program, location and sponsor.  A shocking amount of trash is collected during these organized clean-ups.

Unfortunately, the accumulation of trash is continual and happens on far more miles of waterways than these events can possibly cover.  The Clean Jordan Lake nonprofit over the past 8 years has organized removal of over 128 tons of trash along 15 miles of shore…that’s nearly 13,000 bags worth of trash!!  The lake boast 180 miles of shoreline…so simple math shows 1) the potential volume of uncollected trash which may be out there along the waterways and 2) how being able to pick it all up is logistically and economically impractical.  Keep in mind, this data is just from one of the regions many lakes and rivers.

What to do?
Bucket of dead fish: caught & neither released nor eaten but left with the rest of the trash

While I don’t have a magic answer, I also don’t like to present a problem without offering possible solutions. Volunteers can’t possibility pick up all the trash…there must also be deterrence to prevent the litter in the first place.  It’s not realistic to expect increased funding for anti-litter efforts.  And, it’s not realistic to change the mindset of a ‘don’t give a damn’ litterer overnight.  The quickest short term fix is to bring back the shame associated with littering to get people to modify their behavior.

Here’s my brainstorm idea:  While there the many miles of lake shores and rivers banks can’t all be monitored, there are certain ‘hot spots’ of dense litter activity centered near recreation areas.  Mount some trail cameras in these areas and post the photos of litterers on the internet.  Invite the public to tag people they recognize.  In our social media image conscious society, the negative peer-pressure of public shaming is greater punishment than the threat of a $250 fine IF a law enforcement officer actually sees you in the act.  A basic wildlife camera, like the ones used by hunters, costs less than $100 each…as good of an investment for volunteers, donors and nonprofits as the cost of buying trash bags and ‘adopt’ signs.

Additionally, I highly encourage all visitors to our parks, lakes and rivers to bring a trash bag…for your own garbage but also, be kind and pick up what you see around you too.

What ideas do you have?  Why do you think that here in the Research Triangle, a community in which we are supposed to be well-educated and know better than to litter, it’s still done to such a degree?  Is there so little pride in our home area that we don’t think twice about trashing it?  Surely in a region like ours, we can do better…we at least should try.  Let’s discuss below.

We’re not the only ones depending on these waterways: I took this photo of a fishing bald eagle from the same spot where I took photos of computer electronics, beer cans/bottles, fast food containers, dirty diapers, discarded fishing lines & hooks, a grill, two shoes (not matching), a cell phone and oh yes…a scratch-off lottery ticket.