There are few things more relaxing and beautiful than an early morning walk through nature.
The air is crisp. The leaves are glowing. The ground may be a little muddy, but the big puddles can be side-stepped.
But when your guide has National Geographic, Discovery Channel and the BBC on his resume, the stroll is a little more special.
Wildlife behaviorist and central Pennsylvania native Buck Wilde joined members of ClearWater Conservancy on Sunday for a photo safari through Rothrock State Forest’s Bear Meadows Natural Area. Wilde advised the participants on camera handling and framing that perfect shot.
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“For me, all there is for this photo essay is that it’s Bear Meadows,” Wilde said about the theme of his current project. “It’s a special place. From there, I just let the quality of the photo opportunities further define the theme.”
Wilde has spent 26 years working as a photographer and filmmaker in Alaska, he said, working with the bears and wolves of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. His work eventually led to the Discovery Channel and BBC series “Great Bear Stakeout” and earned him the nickname “the Bear Whisperer.”
He’s been working increasingly with organizations like Discovery Channel and National Geographic, he said, doing more work in front of the camera thanks to his expertise regarding these animals.
“As you photograph a subject, after enough years, you become an expert on that subject,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff I end up on the camera for.”
He said he’s recently made trips to the eastern front of Yellowstone National Park in Montana to photograph the wild horses in the Pryor Mountains.
“That’s a whole lot of fun,” he said, “working at about 8,700 feet at the top of the mountains with a couple hundred wild horses.”
While no bears were found in Bear Meadows on Sunday, the opportunity for landscape photography was unrivaled, and Wilde was quick to give suggestions in capturing the fall foliage and the forest environment.
“A good photograph, as far as landscape goes, is one that portrays depth,” he said. “And minimize the sky. Most of the time it’s just a bunch of blue that doesn’t add anything to the color of the trees.”
Bear Meadows is recognized by the National Park Service because of it’s features, ClearWater conservation biologist Katie Ombalski said. The area is surrounded by two ridges comprised of two different kinds of sandstone. The peat in the bog also causes the water to be highly acidic, turning the water a dark color which supports a unique plant community.
Fruit lovers may know the area for blueberries, she said, which residents come up to pick each summer.
Wilde said he picked the area to start doing a photo essay about a year ago. He’s since taken photos during the fall and winter seasons, but still has to catch the meadow in spring and summer.
“It’s nice to have such a pro with us,” ClearWater Marketing and Communication Manager Chris Hennessey said. “He’s been to so many exotic locations. It’s great having him in our backyard.”
The photo safari was part of ClearWater’s Adventures in Conservation outings, according to the conservation. Active for about three years now, Hennessey said, the program seeks to bring people out to public land for various human-powered activity like hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.
The whole idea, he said, was that they can’t just conserve land and water — you have to have people out and enjoying it.
“Organizationally, we believe you can’t just conserve land and lock it up,” he said. “You have to have people in the landscape. You put people out on public land and they start to appreciate it and they’ll want to conserve more public land.”