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Saturday I took daughters Nell (3) and Eldridge (5) to see the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Eldridge borrowed mommy’s camera for the day and took more pictures of the mermaids than I did. We watched two mermaid shows. One performance was an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, of course. The other was a new show that focused on the ecology of Florida springs, including the harmful effects of nitrogen pollution from fertilizers. The girls and I also swam in the spring, which they kept calling a pool because it is so clear. I kept telling this “pool” has been flowing here since long before there were people in America. Then we floated in tubes down a short stretch of the spring run. We were there on a Saturday with at least a thousand other enthusiastic Floridians and tourists from around the world. Looking forward to taking them swimming in other springs throughout the state when they are a little older. #weekiwachee #springs #Florida @fl_wildcorridor @fl.stateparks #LoveFL #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild

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Another ghost orchid photo before the weekend because there still a few blooming in the swamps of south Florida, so why not? This ghost is growing from the side of a pop ash tree in the northern reaches of the Fakahatchee Strand within Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. I visited this same orchid for three successive summers starting in 2016 is a quest alongside @macstonephoto and @peter_houlihan, who have been working elsewhere in the Fakahatchee and in Corkscrew Swamp, to try solve some of the mysteries of pollination. I fell in love with this orchid in particular, and even more so the swamp where it lives. The pop ash, pond apple and cypress trees (cypress trunk and knees in the background here) set the stage for a primordial world teeming with life — including the highest diversity of orchids and other air plants in America. I saw this orchid this summer too, but not blooming, so I’m fortunate to have this portrait from 2017 to share with you today. Wherever you are this weekend, try to get outside and appreciate the diversity of life around you. @ghostorchid #orchid #swamp #floridawild #keepflwild

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Long morning shadows while hunting cows, Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation. #nativepride #KeepFLWild

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During shipping season, ranchers across Florida ride out in predawn darkness to gather their herds. In the five days I spent with the Seminole Tribe at their Big Cypress Reservation, the cattle from each morning’s first pasture were already driven into the cowpens well before sunrise. That’s when the real work begins. Time to sort and part the cattle. Most calves are sold to the market, some are held back to replenish the herds, others are kept to raise as show calves by students in the 4H club. These photos show Seminole cattle foremen @dre_jumper and @marshjunky working in the pens with @civilizedoutlaw @ctommie @justingopherr and others. Dre Jumper, who played as a linebacker for the FSU Seminoles, said that sorting cattle through the hopper (the funnel before the chute) felt like football practice in August. Bringing cattle to the pens is also the time to get head counts. Ranchers who have pregnancy checked their cows the previous summer know how many calves have been lost. At Big Cypress, some calf losses will have been to coyotes, bears and panthers. Without ranches there would not be enough habitat in Florida to support wide ranging animals like bears and panthers. We as conservationists need to support policies that allow panthers to be assets to ranchers, not just potential liabilities. In rapidly developing Florida, both panthers and ranchers are endangered species. Investing in the land conservation needed to keep the Florida Wildlife Corridor intact is the best hope for preserving ranches and the continued recovery of the panther. @fl_wildcorridor #seminole #ranch #pathofthepanther #floridawild #keepflwild

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The Seminole Tribe’s Big Cypress Reservation is adjacent to the Big Cypress National Preserve and directly connected to millions of acres of South Florida Wilderness. Sometimes the cattle can as wild as the land. There were a few last week that had evaded cowboys for years. The dogs helped locate the wilder cows, but they wouldn’t follow the tamer cows to the pens. So two different cow crews joined forces and rode out together to cover more of the pastures and cypress heads. The ranchers eventually rounded up most of the cattle. They had to rope two of them. Catlen Tommie lassoed this three-year-old steer after riders flushed it out of the cypress. Dre and Blevins Jumper helped hog tie it so they could return to load it into a livestock trailer. The action happened fast and my infrared converted Sony A7Rii with a 24-70 was all I had in my hands. In the pioneer days before logging and fences, Florida cowboys were called cow hunters because their job involved literally hunting wild Spanish cattle out of the Florida woods and native prairies. Sometimes modern ranching reverts to that. @ctommie @dre_jumper @_blevynsjumper @justingopherr @marshjunky #seminole #nativepride #ranch #pathofthepanther #floridawild #keepflwild

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Ahnie Jumper is a multi-generational Seminole rancher, rodeo champion and college athlete who I photographed last week working in the cow pens with her family at the Big Cypress Reservation during the Seminole Tribe’s annual cattle sale. I am thankful to the Jumper family for allowing me to document their lives and connections to their land and heritage. Because they love and protect the land, Florida’s wildlife and citizens all benefit. @ahniejumper #nativepride #seminole #pathofthepanther #floridawild #KeepFLWild #FloridaWildlifeCorridor @fl_wildcorridor with @2j_jump @dre_jumper @_blevynsjumper

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Last week, while photographing friends from the Seminole Tribe of Florida gathering cattle at their Big Cypress Reservation, I decided that experiment with infrared. I love color, but as the day goes on and the light harshens, there’s something nice about the unifying qualities of black and white. Here are a few photos of Seminole ranchers riding out to gather a herd, using dogs to bring back runaway cows, eventually sorting cows and calves in the cow pens and loading up to move to the next pasture. #seminole #Everglades #cowboys #floridawild #KeepFLWild #Everglades

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When the gobblers fight, sometimes the hen just flies away. Ok these photos weren’t really capture in that sequence or even the same day. But this trail at @corkscrewswamp sees a wide variety of wildlife. My camera trap is set for Florida panthers but also shows the diversity of life that depends on the panther’s domain. #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild @audubon_fl #KeepFLWild #turkey #gobblers

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>> Swipe right for two more photos of the same beautiful Florida black bear that graced me with her presence last week on Green Glades West Ranch next to Big Cypress NP. She came quite close! Both of these shots at 600mm f/4 with no cropping. As someone who works extensively with camera traps, it was a privilege to observe this bear with my own eyes! #bear #Everglades @alligatorronbergeron @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild @ilcp_photographers

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Blevyns Jumper (@_blevynsjumper), a Native American of Seminole Tribe of Florida, adjusts his lasso by the shipping pens at the Big Cypress Reservation last week. Here I’m starting to experiment with studio lighting in the field. There’s single strobe and reflector my assistant is holding off to the right that helps fill in the shadows and balance the exposure with the bright sky, dirt and water. What do you think about the look? Check the alternate frame in my story. I am thankful for Seminole friends who are living out connection to the land over millennia and have shared some of their world with me. #Seminole #NativePride #showtourpassion #floridawild #KeepFLWild

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I enjoyed a beautiful moment with a Florida black bear yesterday afternoon in its pine and cypress habitat on a cattle ranch next to the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation. I followed the bear down a narrow trail into a cypress head and she gave me a fleeting glance through the vegetation. I’m thankful that bears in this part of Florida have millions of acres of connected public and working lands where they can live as they have for thousands of years. I’m also concerned that if we don’t protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor, development will cut off these bears from the closest adjacent bear population in the Northern Everglades. Wide ranging animals like bears and Panthers can show us what we need to do to save wild Florida for them and for us. @fl_wildcorridor #bear #ranch #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @alligatorronbergeron

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Illuminated by moonlight early this morning, Seminole Tribe member Chis Green ( @civilizedoutlaw) rides out in the dark to gather a herd of cattle at the Big Cypress Reservation. In addition to protecting crucial habitat for the Everglades and Florida Wildlife Corridor, the Seminole Tribe’s ranches keep alive centuries of heritage raising cattle in wild Florida. #nativepride #showyourpassion #ranch #seminole @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #KeepFLWild #bigcypress

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Chasing Ghost [6 of 9] > What pollinates the ghost orchid? Find out tonight! Follow @carltonward @macstonephoto @peter_houlihan @natgeo @biographic_magazine @grizzlycreekfilms @jeffreedfilm @bendicci @stbedard and @douglas_main for breaking news! Answers coming very soon! #chasingghosts

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Chasing Ghosts [5 of 9] > Ghost orchid blooms. Ephemeral white flowers that sometimes emerge during the summer from rare leafless ghost orchids hanging from trees above water in the deepest corners of South Florida swamps. These flowers, and the magical places where they live, have been the focus of my obsession for the past three years. @macstonephoto @peter_houlihan and I joined forces last summer in our converging quests to try to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the Evergaldes — what pollinates the ghost orchid? Look at the bloom on the left and take note of the long the tubelike structure dangling down and right from the back of the flower. This is the nectar spur. It contains the sweet liquid that lures a moth to bury its head into the flower cup and reach its tongue called a proboscis as deep as possible into the spur to reach the most nectar. The ghost orchid nectar spur is long, suggesting that the the moth species that pollinates it would have a proboscis that is equally long. The giant sphinx moth has the longest proboscis is all South Florida moths leading to the widely held theory that it is the sole pollinator of the ghost orchid. But there is no visual evidence to validate this claim. Using camera traps and lots of patience, we set out to try and capture the first-ever photographs of pollination. What species of creatures are we to keep coming back to these orchids summer after summer? This is a question for another time and place. Whether a rare or common species, I know I’m not alone in being enchanted and possibly controlled by these mesmerizing flowers that embody so much history, controversy, mystique and undeniable splendor of Florida at its wildest heart. Please continue to follow this journey as it unfolds in the coming days. #chasingghosts #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo @natgeoimagecollection @ilcp_photographers #floridawild #KeepFLWild #ghostorchid

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Chasing Ghosts [4 of 9] >> While I was paddling deep into the Fakahatchee (previous post), @macstonephoto and @peter_houlihan were climbing high into cypress trees at @corkscrewswamp, all of us seeking the answer to the same question. Like me, Peter and Mac are both National Geographic Explorers. Peter has received National Geographic grants for his research on orchid pollination, including years or ghost orchid monitoring in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Mac just received s prestigious National Geographic storytelling grant for his work documenting the last old growth swamps of the American South. Old growth means original forest that has never been cut down — extremely rare for cypress, or any trees really. Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples protects the largest old growth cypress forest remaining in North America. There are two known ghost orchids surviving at Corkscrew, both living high in old growth cypress trees. Corkscrew’s most famous attraction is called the Super Ghost because it is huge orchid that produces as many as a dozen blooms at once; and more than 40 blooms in some years. By comparison, the most blooms I’ve seen on a ghost in the Fakahatchee is three at once and five during a year. Mac designed his camera trap to for the super ghost, which required him to climb on a rope 50 feet up into the orchid’s old growth cypress host to deploy a camera trap system that could be suspended safely from the tree. See @macstonephoto for more. In the first photo, which I captured with a drone, Mac (white helmet) and Peter are configuring their super ghost camera trap. The second photo, also from a drone, shows Peter using a white sheet and a blacklight to attract and sample insects 90 feet up in the old growth canopy. While light trapping last summer, one moth species they attracted was a giant sphinx. Please stay tuned for more of the journey. #chasinghosts #oldgrowrh #cypress #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @audubon_fl @fl_wildcorridor

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Chasing Ghosts [3 of 9] >> I tried again during summer 2017. Most of my camera traps were busy monitoring panther trails ranging from Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to Babcock Ranch. But I set aside one camera trap to paddle back out into my favorite swamp and focus on ghost orchid blooms hanging low from a pop ash tree with a forest of cypress knees rising from the water in the background. I managed to capture one series of photos of a little green moth visiting one of the flowers (will share in a future post). It was far too small to be a pollinator, but it did prove that my technique was working — that a laser trigger aimed precisely above the lip of a flower could capture the fleeting movements of an insect. The ghost orchid blooms only lasted a couple weeks and no other moths came. But I had seen the potential for success. When I came back in the summer of 2018, I was armed with three camera trap systems hoping to improve my odds. Hurricane Irma had devastated South Florida in September 2017, snapping limbs and trees throughout the Fakahatchee. But Irma also brought record rainfall, which I believe the swamps enjoyed. When I paddled out for the first time the following summer, I noticed more light shining through the wind-shaken canopy, but was relieved that my favorite ghost orchids were thriving. I glided through lanes of cypress and beneath twisted arches of pond apples and pop ashes, excited to continue my summer ritual and motivated to complete my mission. At the same time, @macstonephoto @peter_houlihan began a parallel quest to test Mac’s original idea from four years before and try to photograph ghost orchid pollination. They chose a site high in the old growth cypress at @corkscrewswamp and we joined forces in our quests to illuminate the mystery. Stay tuned to my next post for photos of Peter and Mac at work. The second photo here shows me paddling away from a swamp camp we set later in the season. #chasingghosts #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @yoloboard @warbonnetoutdoors

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Chasing Ghosts [2 of 9] >>> My life has been shaped by these three ghost orchids during the past three years. Each of these three photos was made from a camera trap, but instead of the laser trigger taking the photo, I pressed the shutter myself to capture moments of twilight and weather in the swamp. The seemingly impossible task of camera trapping a moth pollinating an orchid gave me an excuse to revisit these orchids over and over, and I developed strong connections to their homes in the swamp. The process was therapeutic for me. During the previous three years, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expeditions had given me a phenomenal opportunity to trek more than 2,000 miles through Florida’s wildest places. But we always kept moving, rarely camping in the same place for more than one night. After the 2015 expedition, I had a disticnt longing to go deeper into places. The Path of the Panther project gave me that chance. And my ghost orchid distraction pulled me even deeper into a single place — the Fakahatchee Strand — a stronghold for the last puma in the east and the highest diversity or orchids in America. It’s an enchanted place that still holds many mysteries waiting to be discovered. My camera traps gave me a portal into this world and an excuse to explore it. I can close my eyes now and see every detail of the paddling trail leading me into these magical swamps thanks to repeating the journey dozens of times in every kind of weather and light. #Fakahatchee #Everglades #ghostorchid #chasingghosts #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @FL_WildCorridor @insidenatgeo

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Chasing Ghosts [1 of 9] Here is the first of a short series about a distraction that became an obsession over the past three years. In summer of 2016, I moved my Airstream trailer to Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to begin my Path of the Panther project with National Geographic. I had four dSLR camera traps on loan from NG and started building four more of my own. My purpose was to capture evocative photos of the elusive Florida panther; to tell its story as an emblem of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and need to protect this lifeline of habitat connecting public lands is the Everglades north through the Florida peninsula. Panthers were my priority but then I got distracted. I met a team of scientists and students living in the trailer across from mine who were in the second year of new project surveying and monitoring ghost orchids across the Refuge (these teams have now documented 500 mostly undiscovered ghost orchids). And one of the biologists was trying to get the first-ever photo of a ghost orchid being pollinated using an off-the-shelf trail camera. They took me out to a remote pond in the Headwaters of the Fakahatchee Strand to see their camera site. I knew their camera wouldn’t be fast enough to capture a flying moth but I happened to have a dSLR camera trap and new precision laser trigger at camp. That’s when my obsessions took hold. My friend @macstonephoto had proposed the idea of camera trapping ghost orchid pollination back in 2014 but I got the first chance to try. I was certainly motivated to help solve the mystery of ghost orchid pollination but even more so I was drawn the swamp. Checking on my ghost orchid camera gave me a weekly ritual of driving my UTV intro the Fakahatchee until the water got too deep and then paddling a couple miles further into darkly shaded pond apple and pop ash sloughs. This journey, as often as every few days, was my escape from grind of wires, chop saws and soldering irons in the oppressive heat that went along with camera trapping panthers on dry land. I got no moth photos the first summer, which gave me an excuse to try again the next year. Pics 1 & 3 FPNWR biologist Mark Danaher. To be continued...

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I love knowing that this healthy male Florida panther is patrolling his territory in the cypress swamps and pine woods of southwest Florida. He walks through this camera trap at Babcock Ranch about once a month, only half the time facing the camera and mostly at night. Once or twice a year I get to see him like this, with some daylight adding depth to the scene. This time there were water drops on the lens port. I still like the photo, knowing it will be another year or more before a similar moment comes again. I’ve known this panther, through my camera traps, for nearly three years. I’ve seen him heal from battle scars, recover from a limp, and persistently court the first female panther documented north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973. I also seen kittens who were probably his. I’ve never seen a panther in this part of Florida with my own eyes. Only through tracks and photos do I have a glimpse into the panther’s secretive life. Knowing this dominant male panther is patrolling and defending his territory gives me hope that we can use his story to defend the greater territory of his species from the expanded roads and development that are currently targeting Florida’s last wild places. Rancher Cary Lightsey told me “the panther is going to have to help us save Florida.” I believe his words and that the panther can help inspire a movement to save to Florida Wildlife Corridor and achieve balance for wild Florida and ourselves. I’m going to keep photographing and filming panthers — and the land they represent. And we’re going to use the story to promote new conservation policies that empower landowners seeking alternatives to development. Please stay connected with me in the coming months and check out some of the links in my bio, including the sign up for my Path of the Panther newsletter. #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #pathofthepanther #floridawild #KeepFLWild #panther #puma @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo @ilcp_photographers

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July 4th brings back memories of the Gulf of Mexico. Long days with family and friends, boats and fireworks. These two photos of the Gulf are from edges of then Florida Wildlife Corridor in the FL panhandle. The first Santa Rosa Beach. The second Gulf Islands National Seashore. This afternoon i’m headed to my childhood home of Clearwater to get back out on the water! #FloridaWild

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Swipe for panoramic >> Now that it’s July, we’re entering the peek of cattle season in Florida. Ranchers from across the state will be gathering their herds for the annual sale of calves. I’m looking forward to getting back out there, including a week with the Seminole Tribe mid month. In addition to being one of the top producers of cattle in America, the Seminoles also raise quarter horses. I’ll never forget this morning a few years back at the Brighton Reservation when this train of horses came thundering out of the fog and then disappeared. @fl_wildcorridor @carltonwardgallery @natgeoimagecollection #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild #horses

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I am in love with Florida’s gulf coast and am mesmerized by patterns of the estuaries from above. This is the mouth of the Suwannee River photographed during a helicopter flight in January (thank you @hyper.heli). #gulfofmexico #suwannee #floridawild #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor @natgeoimagecollection @ilcp_photographers

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5 photos >> I was hanging from the side of a pine tree on a cattle ranch ranch in Highlands County photographing a young Florida black bear when it suddenly stood up, looked around, and then scrambled high into a pine on the other side of the clearing. Then I saw a much bigger male bear was coming down the trail. The young bear stayed draped over the lowest branch, still higher than my tree stand, and patiently waited for the the big bear to move on. Then the little bear slid down the tree and scurried away. This was 2013. Four years before, I was hanging in another pine on an adjacent ranch when my friends Joe Guthrie and Wade Ulrey were hosting a bear workshop at nearby Archbold Biological Station. I was spending each dawn and dusk in my tree stand trying to photograph bears and then joining the workshop during midday. Colleagues were planning the future and implications of the bear research that Joe and Wade had been leading since the tragic loss of their professor Dave Maehr in a plane crash while tracking bears the year before. During this bear workshop is when we first officially proposed the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign based on bear science and the Florida Ecological Greenways Network science by Tom Hoctor. In essence, the black bears living on the nearby ranches, and their wide landscape movements illuminated by my friends’ research, showed us how we could save wild Florida. Now, more than ever, we need to accelerate the pace of conservation to save the statewide Florida Wildlife Corridor for bears and other wildlife. @fl_wildcorridor @joeguthrie8 @archboldstation @wade_ulrey @tom_hoctor_gnv #Bear #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #KeepFLWild @ilcp_photographers

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>> 7 photos >> Yesterday I took my 5 year old daughter Eldridge to join a tradition of gathering cattle on my family’s ranch in Limestone, Florida. Eldridge shared the saddle with granddaddy (my dad @wardsr.carlton who started working at the ranch during summers when he was 13). They were part of the cow crew with uncle David Ward Jr, ranch foreman Gene Drake, and cowboys Ed Perry, Will Haney, Scott Wiggins and Mario Tarango. I’ve been photographing Florida ranches for 15 years with professional cameras. Yesterday I decided to have some fun and shoot the round up with my phone and the #tintype app (thanks @coryrichards). What do you all think? See my story for more photos. My favorite thing was seeing Eldridge connect with the land and her 9 generations of Florida heritage. The last photo is Eldridge with me in the cow pens by my field assistant @leyoho. #Florida #ranch #floridawild #keepflwild

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One of my favorite things about using camera traps is seeing the diversity of wildlife that use the same trails in the forest. While my aim for this location was photos of the endangered Florida panther, I also captured some nice images of its smaller cousin — the bobcat. Shot #onassignment for @nature_org and for my #PathofthePanther project with @fl_wildcorridor and @insidenatgeo. A male Florida panther has a home range of up to 200 square miles. Protecting land for one Florida panther also provides habitat for thousands of other species. #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild

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A burrowing owl snacks on a mole cricket on a cattle ranch in the Everglades Headwaters region of the Florida Wildlife Corridor near Orlando. Cattle ranches throughout the Everglades and other Florida watersheds provide crucial wildlife habitat and keep a statewide network of public and private lands connected. #owl #florida #floridawild #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor

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This is my Florida Wild photo column in this month's issue of Flamingo Magazine (link in bio) — The first time I went camping in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands in 2001, I felt a sense of wildness and solitude I had only known from the Serengeti of Tanzania, the Amazon of Peru and the outback of Australia. The landscape was familiar — mangrove islands that I’d experienced in remnant patches as a kid growing up in Clearwater, or as a teenager fishing in Charlotte Harbor. But the scale of the undeveloped nature in the Ten Thousand Islands was like nothing I’d experienced in my home state. Florida’s southern fringe, from Everglades National Park through Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, makes up the largest protected mangrove coastline in the Western Hemisphere. The context makes the mangroves even more impressive. If you are camped on an island like Panther Key and watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, you are surrounded by nature in all directions. In front of you and to your left, mangrove islands and wide-open water reach all the way to Mexico and Cuba. Behind you, Everglades National Park and the largest sub-tropical wilderness reserve in North America stretches dozens of miles east toward Miami. To your right, the Fakahatchee Strand and Big Cypress National Preserve anchor a wildlife corridor that reaches all the way north to the Everglades headwaters and beyond. A few years ago, I had a chance to return to the Ten Thousand Islands for a photo shoot from a small airplane. My goal was to capture the seemingly infinite labyrinth of the watery landscape and tap into that feeling of awe that had changed my perception of Florida on that first Everglades camping trip 15 years before. #Everglades #Mangroves #Islands #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @theflamingomag @theflamingomag @natgeoimagecollection @carltonwardgallery @sealegacy

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The Last Green Thread >> swipe for trailer >> a short film about the Florida Wildlife Corridor presented by REI, premieres today! Please click The Last Green Thread link in my bio for streaming! Thank you @rei @fl_wildcorridor @danny_schmidt @bendicci and @grizzlycreekfilms for shining a light in this important story. Please view and share! #KeepFLWild @mallorydimmitt @joeguthrie8 @3bearsmedia @alexofthewild @saraofthewild @jmk_outside

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I love the color of new cypress needles in the spring. It’s my favorite color of green. This pair of photos is from Babcock Ranch this May. The ten thousand acre Telegraph Cypress Swamp is the defining feature of the 70 thousand acre state preserve that is managed as a working ranch and farm. I was there doing some sunset filming with @bendicci — just us, a few birds and several hundred alligators. The gators were relatively concentrated in a pond during the late dry season. It’s hardly rained in Florida since then so I bet the gators are really stacked up now. #cypress #gators #floridawild #keepflwild @natgeoimagecollection @ilcp_photographers @fl_wildcorridor

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Yesterday was a good day for the Everglades. These photos and videos show a one mile section of US41 aka the Tamiami Trail that has been elevated into a bridge to restore natural water flow. An additional 6.5 miles of bridging have just been funded. News from Everglades National Park: “On June 3, 2019, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced that they will be granting $60 million to Everglades National Park through the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program to complete the Tamiami Trail Next Steps project. Completion of the Tamiami Trail project will remove the water flow impediment into Everglades National Park, address a key regional water flow imbalance and sustain a critical transportation link between Southwest Florida and Miami. This federal highway funding will match a $43.5 million commitment announced last November by then Governor Rick Scott, and subsequently fully supported by Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislation. The combined $100 million federal and state funding will provide for the raising and reconstruction of the remaining 6.5 miles of the eastern Tamiami Trail roadway to allow the water to flow into the park. The park has been deprived of its fresh water for many decades and this project will allow water managers to significantly increase water flows rehydrating the 1.5 million acres of park lands, including Florida Bay.” #everglades #restoration @evergladesnps @evergladesfoundation @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild

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The only thing not beautiful about this fire is that I accidentally started it and had to stomp it out myself to save the embarrassment of having to call in reinforcements. It cost me a camp towel that is filled with holes and soot and melted the glue holding the soles to my leather boots. And my truck smells like a campfire. Rainy season needs to begin soon. #fire #florida

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After my last three posts about habitat loss, I'd like to offer a more hopeful image. This photo from 2017 at Babcock Ranch shows a male Florida panther pursuing the first female Florida panther documented north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973. Their potential offspring could help start to reclaim the panther's historic territory in the Northern Everglades, and eventually north of Interstate 4 and into the Florida panhandle. I know firsthand that the path to the panther's recovery exists (swipe right for map) — the Florida Wildlife Corridor is still largely connected. The question now is whether we can protect enough of the missing links in this statewide habitat network to provide a future for the Florida panther, and with it wild Florida. The panther is doing its part. Rural landowners are doing their parts — ranchers and farmers representing millions of acres are stuck on lists waiting for conservation easements that can give them alternatives to the development that they know is eventually coming for their lands. But for the past decade Florida lawmakers have continually chosen not to make land protection a priority even though in a 2014 constitutional amendment 75 percent of voters asked them to do so. Before the next legislative session we must persuade lawmakers to accelerate the pace of conservation to steer development away from Florida's most sensitive wildlife habitats and headwaters. Please sign up for my newsletter (link in bio) and follow me and @FL_WildCorridor to stay informed as we develop a call to action in the coming months. #PathofthePanther #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild #hope map by @tampabaytimes @fl_wildcorridor and @myfwc

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One more depressing series of photos. I promise to most something more hopeful tomorrow. This is the scene that drew me to the site at the side of the road from my last post. Swallow tailed kites were foraging among the wreckage of former forest by Immokalee Road in eastern Naples. I was headed to Audubon’s @corkscrewswamp a bit further east. Seems like each time I go the houses and shopping centers keep cutting their way closer to the last wild places that makeup the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Kites rely on cypress and pine trees in Florida for nesting. They forage in wetlands nearby as they store up energy for their annual migration to Brazil. When they come back to South Florida forests, there’s no guarantee their nest trees will still be standing. Please see my last post for more about the pressures. I watched the kites in these photos for about 45 minutes. They foraged above the areas where trees once stood before flying back toward the adjacent property that was still forested, at least for now. Pinch and zoom, there is at least one kite in every photo. Time to accelerate the pace of land conservation in Florida to balance and steer development away from our must critical wildlife habitats. Please see the links in my bio and sign up for my Path of the Panther newsletter to learn how you can help. Check out the link to Avian Research and Conservation Institute to see satellite tracking of kites flying between Florida and Brazil. #Kite #development #habitatloss #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #pathofthepanther #floridawild #keepflwild

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The hard line between forest and land just cleared for houses in eastern Naples. Last week when driving to service a camera trap set for panthers at nearby @corkscrewswamp, I was drawn to this site by swallow tailed kites that were foraging amongst the piles of bull dozed trees. Based on the time of the year I knew the kites were probably nesting in other trees nearby. Perhaps last year they were nesting on the land that is now cleared. Next year when the come back from their annual migration to South America, who knows what else will have changes in the South Florida nesting grounds that are so important to their epic journey. These drone shots could be a kite’s eye view. Florida loses more that 100,000 acres of natural and rural land to development each year. Time to make land conservation a priority and keep the Florida Wildlife Corridor connected while we still have a chance. Florida can help set a global example by protecting more that 30 percent of its land by 2030. Just under 1 million acres to go. If we start protecting at least as much as we develop each year, we will get reach the goal. #Campaign4Nature #FloridaWildlifeCorridor @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild #pathofthepanther @insidenatgeo

CarltonWard

I consider myself pretty well connected to wild Florida. But when I transitioned from working in Africa back to my home state in 2005, I had no idea that Florida had populations of black bears living almost entirely on private cattle ranches and orange groves in the center of the state. And more importantly, that bears throughout Florida, and all of the other land animals that share their lands, are becoming isolated to smaller and smaller tracts of land, with fewer connections to neighboring black bear populations. The beautiful female Florida black bear in this photo was thriving in the pine forests on a cattle ranch in Highlands County. I was introduced to these bears by @ArchboldStation and research by @joeguthrie8 and colleagues at @universityofky. They were using GPS collars to discover how the bears utilized the land -- in many cases traveling large distances throughout a wide network of public and private lands. These movements, combined with the science of Florida Ecological Greenways Network by Tom Hoctor, inspired me to propose the Florida Wildlife Corridor (@FL_WildCorridor) campaign in 2009 (the same week I capture this photo). These bears and other wide ranging species need our help. Most of the lands where they live are threatened by development that in the next 50 years will consume 5 million acres of wild Florida, and most of the missing links in the Florida Wildlife Corridor -- if we don't start making serious investments in land conservation. And now there are new toll roads proposed for this region that will only intensify the losses. See road map via link in my bio. The only way wild Florida can withstand the pressures will be protecting enough of the Florida Wildlife Corridor to keep that's state's existing green infrastructure in tact. Please raise your voice about these issues to make sure we invest in green infrastructure and not just pavement. #Florida #bear #FloridaWild #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #KeepFLWild #PathofthePanther

carltonward

There are few things that stir up youthful excitement in me like paddling around a bend in a river to discover a rope swing waiting to be tested. Thankfully, with more than 11,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 4,000 miles of state-designated paddling trails – Florida has no shortage of places to get some hang time. I captured this photo during a Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition as team member @joeguthrie8 perfected the art of the pendulum. We were paddling upstream on the Suwannee River towards its headwaters in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This magical waterway flows 240-miles from the Okefenokee and gathers water from numerous springs on its way downstream to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key. @VISITFLORIDA #LoveFL #sponsored #ropeswing #adventure #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild.

carltonward

The Everglades is America’s largest subtropical wilderness and the largest protected stretch of mangrove coastline in the Western Hemisphere. There are nearly four million acres of contiguous public conservation lands in the Everglades of South Florida, often quite close to cities like Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Naples. I captured this photography from a Cessna 177 airplane near Everglades City, which is one of my favorite basecamps for Everglades adventure. Its where Everglades National Park meets Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and wild lands and waters extend for dozens of miles in every direction. For those who want to immerse in the Everglades, the 99-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway included marked paddling trails and camping sites that connect through the mangrove fringe from Everglades City to Flamingo (closer to Miami). Everglades National Park has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. @VISITFLORIDA #sponsored #LoveFL #Everglades #Mangroves #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild

carltonward

I love the energy of Florida’s southwest coast, especially Boca Grande Pass, where the tidal waters of Charlotte Harbor mix with the Gulf of Mexico. In the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms often drift seaward. Here, at the edge of gulf and bay, there can be a magical tension between sea breeze waves mixing with outgoing tides and cool clouds colliding with the warm light of the setting sun. On this memorable afternoon, late afternoon rays scattered through an approaching storm to color a rainbow over the palm studded shoreline Cayo Costa State Park, where 9-miles of undeveloped beaches are waiting to be explored. You can only arrive by boat. Launch your own boat from Gasparilla Island or Pine Island, or catch a regular ferry from Captiva. @VISITFLORIDA #LoveFL #sponsored #CayoCosta #BocaGrande #rainbow #floridawild #keepFLWild

carltonward

The Florida Wildlife Corridor — a 16-million acre network of connected wildlife habitat — is hidden in plain sight for most of Florida’s 21 million residents and 125 million annual visitors, and same could be said for the Gulf of Mexico. But America’s forgotten coast is here to be discovered. My favorite place for adventure is the area between Tampa and Panama City where the Florida Wildlife Corridor and Gulf coast converge. This photo was made among tendrils of the Chassahowitzska River delta. I wanted to add perspective to the magical sunrise, so I set my camera on a tripod, started the interval timer and paddled off into the fog. From this area, you can explore Florida’s 1,515 mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail or swim in world’s highest concentration of freshwater springs. #ForgottenCoast #GulfofMexico #Adventure #FloridaWildlifeCorridor #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @VISITFLORIDA #LoveFL #sponsored

carltonward

The Last Green Thread has been accepted to #MountainFilm2019! Congratulations @grizzlycreekfilms @danny_schmidt @bendicci @3bearsmedia @saraofthewild. Now we can share the story of the Florida Wildlife Corridor with new audiences with and communicate the need to accelerate the pace of land conservation and save fragile wildlife corridors in Florida around the world before it's too late. Check out the link to the National Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act in my bio. 📷 @AlexoftheWild. @FL_WildCorridor Expedition Team: @mallorydimmitt @joeguthrie8 and me. #mountainfilm @mountainfilm #keepflwild

carltonward

Today I got to share the wild side of Florida with nearly 2,000 people live in NYC during the official launch event of the OnePlus 7 Pro. Thanks to @NatGeo and OnePlus for the awesome assignment that allowed me to push the boundaries of smartphone photography with an exciting new device that shoots raw files and has full manual controls. Stay tuned to their channels for more results in the coming days from “Inspired by Nature” photo shoots by me @andy_bardon and @krystlejwright. And thanks to talented graphic designer @rubyzhang0523 for capturing these photos of me on stage, and while preparing my talk beforehand. #FloridaWild

carltonward

A herd of endangered desert elephants makes its way through a scrubby acacia forest around the edge of Lake Banzena in the Sahel of Mali. Early in my career I spent two months tracking and photographing these elephants with @savetheelephants and @wildfoundation. The project taught me about the importance of protecting large connected landscapes for wildlife and people — and inspired much of my thinking at the core of the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign @FL_WildCorridor. The Mali elephants also deepened my reverence for nature. The elephants were not accustomed to seeing vehicles. This required us to approach only on foot. Looking up from the desert floor at this towering herd made me feel very alive and very small. It’s hard to believe an animal as powerful as an elephant is also so vulnerable and endangered. #mali #elephants #sahel

carltonward

My time in the Sahel of Mali was formative to the way I understand conservation. In a sparse and difficult land where dry season temperatures reach nearly 50 degrees C (120 degrees F) in the shade, the relationship between people and nature is stripped down to its bare essentials. The absolute daily need for water is not mitigated or disguised by an urban or suburban life far from an anonymous water source, and it’s easy to see how people and wildlife share common fates that hinge on the immediate availability or absence of nature’s most essential gifts. Over the centuries, the nomadic Tuareg people watched the wild herds of desert elephants to know when it was time to migrate because rains had begun in distant foraging and watering grounds. This man, Elmehdi, was an elephant conservation ranger back in 2005 when I was working in the Sahel of Mali with @wildfoundation and @savetheelephants to document a remnant elephant herd that is the northernmost in Africa and makes the longest annual migration. Following Mali’s elephants through the Sahel helped me understand how much land large animals need to survive and how intimately all life is interconnect. These lessons stayed close when I started the foundations of the Florida Wildlife Corridor project the following year. #sahel #mali #portrait #natureandculture #tuareg

carltonward

Last week I had a short and crazy assignment for @NatGeo that allowed me to visit some of my favorite places in wild Florida. It was a nice change of scenery from the swamps that have been my nearly exclusive focus for the past 3 years. One stop on our tour reminded me how much I love the Gulf coast. Here’s a shot from a couple years back of a black skimmer fishing by dragging its lower bill through still waters in Charlotte Harbor. #gulfofmexico #floridawild #keepFLwild #skimmer

carltonward

Earth Day provides an opportunity to think about how all life is interconnected, and the land, water and air on which all life depends. This photo shows Juniper Creek winding though Blackwater River State Forest north of Pensacola. In Florida, the relationship between land and water is especially close. Most of the state’s freshwater supply is drawn from underground aquifers that are only recharged by rain percolating through the land above. And most of Florida’s surface waters, such as the Everglades and St Johns River, originate from headwaters within the state. In fact, there is no part of Florida that is not part of a watershed. And during the summer rainy season, most of the state is a wetland. Our great need on this Earth Day is to adequately invest in both land and water conservation. I applaud leaders who are making Everglades water a top priority. I ask them to consider that in addition to engineered water filtration projects, the best way to protect and restore the water is to protect and restore the land, so that it can naturally cleanse and store water, while also safeguarding critical wildlife habitat. Consider that the Everglades Headwaters is also the next frontier in the northward recovery of the endangered Florida panther. #landandwater. We can’t protect one without the other. If we look at the big picture, it is all connected, and the more we connect with these places, the better we can love and protect them, for Earth and ourselves. @fl_wildcorridor #KeepFLWild #pathofthepanther

carltonward

Today is Everglades Day, which honors the birthday of Majorie Stoneman Douglas — the woman who inspired the movement to save this American treasure. I am thankful for the conservation leaders like her who helped protect Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the nearly 4 million acres of contiguous public land in South Florida. Without the vast wilderness in the Everglades, the Florida panther — the last puma surviving in the eastern US —would have likely gone extinct. Panthers were exterminated and extirpated by people everywhere else east of the Mississippi River. Today, in large part because early Everglades conservation, the Florida panther is at the brink of recovery. Our great challenge of the 21st Century is protecting enough additional land to achieve balance for our planet. In Florida that means conserving more of the Florida Wildlife Corridor from development to give panthers access to the additional territory they need to return to sustainable numbers. It also means connecting Everglades National Park to its headwaters near Orlando to restore the land and water. The alternative is letting the Everglades become an island cut off from its headwaters and the rest of the America. If we want so save the Everglades forever, the time to act is now, and we can look to the Florida panther and it’s path to recovery to show us how. Thanks to my friend and tireless Everglades champion @macstonephoto for reminding me that it’s #EvergladesDay. #Panther #PathofthePanther @fl_wildcorridor @nature_org @evergladesfoundation @insidenatgeo #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @flapanthers

carltonward

Deep in the Fakahatchee Strand, a Florida black bear pauses at the edge of a slough and dips a foot in the water. Another cooperative bear. Still waiting for a cooperative panther at this site. #pathofthepanther @insidenatgeo @natgeoimagecollection @natgeo @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild #bear #swamp

carltonward

This week I had the privilege of photographing a prescribed fire at The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve — an important conservation and restoration area in the Everglades Headwaters. The only thing more inspiring than the professionalism and dedication of the fire crew is that they were all female. The first thing I did when I got home is share these photos with my daughters. The fire crew assembled from all over the state, from as far away as the Florida panhandle and Florida Keys and executed a textbook perfect burn of a few hundred acres of restored longleaf pine and wire grass savanna — an ecosystems that thrives on frequent fire. I am thankful for these land managers who are caring for a valuable piece of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and protecting the Everglades Headwaters from over development. Longleaf pine ecosystems can support as much species diversity as tropical rain forests and are important steppingstones in the northward recovery of the endangered Florida panther. Part of my #pathofthepanther project with @insideNatGeo @nature_org and @fl_wildcorridor. @fl.stateparks @natureflorida #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild.

carltonward

Check out my #FloridaWild column in the current issue of @theflamingomag - With concrete seawalls and high-rise condos dominating the landscape of my youth, scattered mangrove islands near my home of Clearwater represented a rare wildness where a boy with a boat could still get lost. When my family first visited Charlotte Harbor to fish in Boca Grande Pass, I was immediately drawn to an unbroken ribbon of mangroves standing guard at the water’s edge. Parts of Charlotte Harbor feel like a journey back in time. Coming through Captiva Pass toward Pine Island, a mirage will take shape on the watery horizon. As you draw nearer, a small cluster of stilt houses will rise above the grass flats and oyster beds and begin to separate from the mangroves beyond. Once I found these historic structures, I returned to photograph them many times. At sunrise, at sunset, during afternoon thunderstorms, the stilt houses take on a different character in different light, always evoking a sense of heritage and mystery. This photograph was captured looking east just after sunset over the Gulf. In the right conditions, the final rays of sunlight scattering through the earth’s atmosphere will cast purples and pinks on the sky. The stilt houses are markers of Charlotte Harbor’s commercial fishing legacy. Many were built before World War II at a time when a railroad from Punta Gorda connected nearby fisheries to northern markets. Some shacks housed fishermen for weeks, and others were ice houses owned by fish companies. The camps and ice houses became less relevant as boats became faster in the second half of the 20th century and catches could be taken quickly back to port. Some structures were burned down by natural resource officers. In 1991, ten of the buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and families who own them, on land leased from the state, rebuilt to historical specifications after Hurricane Charley destroyed most of them in 2004. This photograph was made the following year. #saltwaterheritage #KeepFLWild @natgeoimagecollection

carltonward

Thank you to the Florida Panthers Foundation for unveiling a massive #PathofthePanther mural in their home arena last night to raise awareness for the endangered Florida panther as ambassador to save the Florida Wildlife Corridor and #KeepFLWild. Last night was Panther Conservation Night at the @thebbtcenter. The main photo in the mural is of a male panther from one of my camera traps at Babcock Ranch. The mural’s messaging focuses on the importance of for panther territory for conserving Florida’s nature and culture, from black bears to cowboys and the Everglades water we drink. The mural is 14 feet tall! I can’t wait to see it in person! Thank you @torilinder for representing our cause for the media and @bobbyneptune for capturing these photos! @flapanthers @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo