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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

In Other Words: Backyard Explorers Discover Some Amazing Images

The Fort Thomas Forest Conservacy hosted a photo contest - Here's the "Best Overall" by Gayle Pille.

By Chuck Keller

Here are some fun facts: According to the University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife there are over 10 thousand species of insects, over 350 species of documented birds, 56 species of reptiles (10 lizards, 32 snakes, and 14 turtles), 57 amphibian species (35 types of salamanders and 22 frogs and toads), 27 small mammal species, 16 species of bats and 24 large mammal species.

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So why don’t we see more of them on a daily basis?

We don’t look. Really. We just don’t look. It’s amazing what you will see when you pause and look.

The Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy (FTFC) wants residents to be amazed by the unique and amazing creatures they have living right in their own backyards so they hosted The Great Creature Hunt Photo Contest. The contest urged that participants spend an hour outside looking closely at nature and photographing all of the species they found. Then, they were to enter their favorite photo to be judged in three categories: Best Overall, Best Find, and Best 12 and Under photo.  And the results are in.

 “People rarely take the time to stop and really look closely at the ground, tree trunks, flowers and underneath rocks and leaves to see how much diversity, especially in insects, is in such a small space,” said FTFC board member and contest organizer Trisha Schroeder.  When she and her family went outside, they found 42 different creatures in less than an hour.  “I was particularly fond of the leafhoppers that we found, one was ghostly white, one had golden eyes and another looked very grumpy.

Ken Weidinger was equally amazed at the diversity he found in a patch of Appalachian Mountain Mint he planted last year. “On sunny days, this patch of mint literally hums with activity as the pollinators show up to do their work. Inspired by the photo contest, I spent 60 minutes over two days observing this small space with my camera. During that time I photographed at least 10 different species of bees and other insects.”  

Best Find by Ken Weidenger

His keen eye and persistence landed him the winning photo for Best Find with a Camouflaged Looper decorated in brown mint leaves. Ken said, “The looper I photographed was so well camouflaged that, had it not moved while I was watching, I wouldn’t have even known that it wasn’t a part of the plant. To be honest, I still wasn’t sure when I submitted the photo. What a wonderful little bit of creation they are.”  

The camouflage looper likes to decorate itself with whatever plant it happens to be on. It does this by eating a little and then sticking a little to its back allowing it to blend in nicely with its meal. As it walks off the plant, pieces of the plant rub off its back, and it is ready to redecorate itself according to whatever is up next on the menu. That’s a cool survival technique.

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Gayle Pille entered to pay homage to Bill Thomas, one of the founders of the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy. She captured some amazing photos and won the Best Overall category with a raccoon peeking out of a tree cavity.  Her photograph of a Snowberry Clearwing Moth, often called a Hummingbird Moth, was a close runner-up.

Best Overall by Gayle Pille

She says “I always look out my bedroom window while putting on my shoes and think that those cavities in that sycamore would be perfect for owls.  I always keep an eye on them.  One day … a raccoon is looking out the cavity.  It was a beautiful site, especially with the light colored sycamore tree trunk.  She was up there about 70 feet … and watching her climb that tree was terrifying to watch.  It would take her forever to climb it and she'd have to rest about two-thirds of the way up.” It’s a great shot that captures the wide-eyed curiosity of the animal.

Gayle Pille

She adds that “I don't get much sun so it's really a challenge to photograph them because you have to shoot at a fast shutter speed with lots of shade.  Was lucky enough to use my car as a backdrop on a few pictures which threw some good light on the scene.  And fortunately my car was clean so when I cropped the pictures it looked like a clear blue sky.  Who knew?” 

The Best 12 and Under category was won by Anna Grace Philippe, only 8 years old, who discovered a katydid.

Best 12 and Under by Anna Grace Philippe

Her mother, Wynne, recalls that “We were just out in our little backyard pool, and we noticed this guy hanging on the screen by the backdoor.  AG first thought there was a leaf hanging on the screen.  The girls were pretty fascinated, but wanted to keep their distance.  He had some seriously long antennae! We took some pictures there, but then decided to move it to the garden where it would be safer. We watched it again in the plants and snapped some more pictures. Then it scared the pants off us because it made its sound and jumped. AG and I both just about fell off the retaining wall!  We had a good laugh about that.  We then did a little research on katydids so she would know what she had been looking at!” 

And that thrill is what nature discovery is all about.

The contest is over but the great outdoors awaits discovery. It’s a wonderful world out there and it’s good to share it with each other. And, yes, there will be another contest next summer.

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