Tag Archives: wildlife

Steady As She Goes

September 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He’s part man, part machine, and all Steadicam operator. And he’s cleaning up on the screens and streets of New York.

This summer (or any season for that matter), just when you thought it was safe to shoot with a handheld camera, Omaha expatriate Kyle Wullschleger is waging an all-out war on shaky video footage with an iso-elastic arm and inner geekness. And he’s doing it for productions such as Saturday Night Live, Project Runway: All Stars, and Chopped, to name a few.

Not bad for a Heartland kid who originally wanted to be a zookeeper.

“Coming from a wildlife background, I never really was a filmophile,” Wullschleger, 28, says about his recently budding film career from his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment. “It was more about the nerdiness of using a camera and just sort of dorking out about it.”

Before the technophile discovered the power of filmic gadgetry, Wullschleger says he developed a fascination for nature while growing up on his family’s former Christmas tree farm. It was there where the self-described animal lover says he would watch beavers build dams at the edge of his parents’ property and monarch butterflies migrate through the mulberry grove in his backyard.

And it was there where he says he also developed his work ethic.

“Not only did I learn to stop and smell the roses, so to speak,” Wullschleger writes about his childhood on his work-related website, Tree Farm Cinema, “but since trees don’t completely grow themselves, I learned the importance of working hard to create something you’re passionate about.”

While Wullschleger spent the rest of his salad days glued to Marty Stouffer’s PBS animal-documentary series, Wild America, it wasn’t until he says he got a job at Henry Doorly Zoo right out of high school that it occurred to him he could observe animal behavior in a different light.

“While I was at the zoo, I had access to all these amazing animals and that’s when I actually started to pick up a camera,” he says. “The wheels were definitely turning then.”

One thing led to another and Wullschleger suddenly found himself in New York shooting a dystopian spoof about an Andrew Garfield-played character being pursued by government agents for badmouthing a Beyoncé Knowles song and a satirical ad for testicles cologne with Andy Samberg for SNL. It hasn’t been quite the sort of animal behavior that Wullschleger originally had in mind, but it’s afforded him the chance to pursue what he says has probably always been his calling: animal documentaries.

“The hope is to take my experience and connections and decent living and start creating some of my own projects that are more nature-based, because that’s what I really want to be doing,” he says, citing work he’s done with great white sharks and sandhill crane migrations. “To get something started that shows what I’m capable of and what I could do if someone gave me a budget—that’s…well, that’s the big dream.”


For the Birds

November 26, 2014 by
Photography by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

Fall is the perfect time to make a 40-minute road trip north to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge and get the family back to nature for a couple of hours. You may end up witnessing a pelican feeding frenzy, beholding the mind-boggling sight of tens of thousands of mallards flocking together, or even spotting a “convocation” of eagles. Every day brings new wonders, says Tom Cox, project leader for the refuge.

“This time of year is prime for seeing different wildlife on the refuge. All wildlife will become more visible but the main reason—the purpose of the refuge—is that it is an inviolate refuge for migratory birds,” Cox says. “The numbers and species will continue to diversify as we continue through fall.”

The refuge, established in 1958, is located in the migratory bird corridor of the Missouri River floodplain and serves as a habitat for resident, migratory, and endangered species. The grounds cover 8,365 acres in both Nebraska and Iowa, “a mosaic of floodplain habitats that includes wetlands, forest, bottomland forest, and grassland/prairie,” Cox says. Visitors can enter the grounds 30 minutes before sunrise and stay until 30 minutes after sunset year-round, and the visitor center
is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

“For regular family visitors, weekends are a great time to come. If you have binoculars, you should bring those along,” Ashley Danielson, visitor services specialist, says. “And if you really want to see large concentrations of wildlife, early in the morning and later towards the evening is the best time; anywhere up until 10 or so in the morning and 3 or 4 in the afternoon.”

The DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is one of the top-visited refuges in the region, but the welfare of the wildlife always takes precedence, so visitors won’t get as close to the fauna as they might expect, Cox says. The tradeoff is being able to observe migratory and nesting birds in an entirely natural habitat.

“It’s a natural area, so the wildlife should act accordingly. The national park system is set up with more of a philosophy that it’s for the people; our core philosophy is that a refuge is where wildlife comes first. We are a federal entity set up to protect species that are protected by the federal government,” explains Cox. “We manage the wildlife that is either threatened or endangered or migrates across state lines.”

Plus, it’s a natural outdoor classroom that has a lot to teach students through established, year-round partnerships with Blair High School; the West Harrison school district in Mondamin, Iowa; and Omaha Public Schools’ Edison Elementary.

“I think the education program is one of the best in the nation,” Cox says.

“We really try to take what they’re learning in the classroom and take it to our outdoor classroom,” Danielson adds. “We really try to make it so that coming to the refuge is not a field trip; it’s school outside.”

The staff strives to ensure that other school groups get a meaningful learning experience when they visit, too. That means less lecture time and a more hands-on, interactive experience.

“We offer a variety of things for our one-time visitors,” Danielson says. “We have a curriculum-based activity guide that the school can use inside the visitor center. With a lot of our programs now we’re trying to use inquiry-based learning, where the students have the chance to experience nature and study it from their own perspective.”


Nature up close

August 7, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

With only a handful of part-time and seasonal employees, the very survival of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. (NWRI)—and the thousands of creatures who receive rehabilitative care from the organization every year—depends on the contributions of nearly 70 volunteers.

“Not everyone comes to us with animal skills per se, but what we’re looking for are people who are dedicated,” says NWRI Executive Director Laura Stastny. “We need them, and more importantly, the animals need them in order to be returned to the wild. It’s not easy work, but it’s really, really rewarding.”

The Easterday family exemplifies the best in volunteerism, Stastny says. Anne Easterday and her 16-year-old daughter Zoë, who will soon be joined by 22-year-old son Colin, help out at the NWRI wildlife center in Louisville or in their home with tasks from cleaning and maintenance to caring for litters of baby opossums around the clock. And the relationship with NWRI has really become a family affair; three more Easterday siblings (there are seven total) are too young to officially sign on as volunteers, but they pitch in where they can with tasks like changing cage bedding or helping build enclosures.

“That family is fantastic. There’s nothing that phases them and they show all of the qualities we look for. They show true dedication and they’re willing to not only take the education they’re given, but to educate themselves and really work in the best interest of the animals,” Stastny says. “They’re amazing and we’re thrilled to have them.”

The Easterdays first connected with NWRI through a Google search after finding a stranded wild water bird.

“I had found a pied-billed grebe that had gotten knocked down in a storm and was running down the street in my subdivision. I didn’t know what it was at the time, just that it was a bird that was unable to fly. So I picked it up and brought it home and tried to find somebody to take it,” Easterday recalls. “It was actually fine. I didn’t know that a pied-billed grebe has to have water in order to take off.”

Later that summer, the family turned to NWRI again after finding a fledgling grackle with an injured wing. “We called again and turned it over so somebody could take care of it, and my kids and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we actually knew what to do to help these things?’” Easterday says. It was Zoë who first suggested volunteering for the organization.

“I just really love animals, especially wild ones, and the idea of taking care of them and help them was amazing to me,” Zoë Easterday says. Although NWRI volunteers can help with tasks like answering phones and assisting with fundraising efforts, she and her mother signed up for the basic wildlife training program together to become qualified to work directly with animals. “I didn’t actually really know what to expect,” she says. “It can be a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it.”

Unfortunately, not all injured and orphaned animals survive to be re-released, and that’s just one of the life lessons the Easterday family has learned in their time with NWRI, says Anne Easterday.

“It really brings home the impact that human beings have on the lives of creatures that naturally live around us,” she says. “The kids have really learned and understand that these aren’t pets; they’re wild animals and there’s a difference.”

“The mission of Nebraska Wildlife Rebhab is two-fold: the first is to rescue, rehabilitate and re-release into the wild native wildlife and migratory birds. The second part of our mission is a very strong educational mission,” Stastny says. “The majority of the wildlife that we get comes to Nebraska Wildlife Rehab due to interference by human beings, often unnecessary interference. It’s only by education that we are going to teach people to live in harmony with wildlife.”

Wild animals are not suitable for adoption, Stastny says, which is why the group focuses on returning animals to their natural habitats and doesn’t keep animals in activity for educational purposes. “There are so many reasons for this but if nothing else, it boils down to the fact that it’s illegal for someone without a permit to have a possession of wild animal. So let’s start there,” she explains. “And while wild animals may be cute when they are really young, they mature and start thinking of things mature animals think about, and they can become really aggressive.”

Eastern cottontail rabbits are the species seen most frequently at NWRI, followed by songbirds and bats. Other creatures indigenous to Nebraska and seen at NWRI include opossums, raccoons, squirrels, woodchucks, red foxes, coyotes, bobcats and badgers, Stastny adds. Certain species or creatures from other parts of the country (usually transported unintentionally) may be referred to more appropriate organizations such as the Nebraska Humane Society, the Nebraska Herpetological Society or the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. These and other animal organizations also bring referrals to NWRI.

Zoë Easterday says that her favorite NWRI experience so far has been helping usher Canada goslings to one of their first swimming expeditions. Anne Easterday says her most meaningful assignment was assisting with a great blue heron receiving medical treatment after an encounter with fishing line.

“I got to hold this great blue heron in my lap and grasp its beak,” she says. “For me, it was really special. I’ve always personally loved animals, since I was a child. I feel incredibly blessed to have such close contact with things you usually only see from a distance.”


Rolling down the River

It’s summertime and that means parents are driving themselves crazy looking for fun, unique ways to spend a day outside with the kids. Gretchen Klimm has found her summer paradise. She loves soaking up the rays of summer while tubing down the Elkhorn River with her kids.

“It’s a great time because the river offers lots of exploring, both on and off the water. Kids are never afraid to jump in and pull you through the shallow water either,” Klimm says.

It is a trip made possible thanks to Brock Beran and his outfitter company, Tubing & Adventures. Besides providing a great experience for families, Beran says, he considers safety and protecting the environment his top priorities. “I want everybody to have a good time, but I also want everybody to be safe and take care of the river and not litter. Our company provides the tools and knowledge to do so,” he says.

“When we are on the water, Brock is just a phone call away in case of an emergency. And he has a way to get to you fast, if needed. As a mom, that’s very comforting,” Klimm says.

Beran has an airboat always “at-the-ready” and a lifetime of experience after spending his childhood summers at his family’s cabin on the Platte River.

Beran’s, who works as a civil engineer in his “day job,” recommends the “short float trip” as ideal adventure for families because groups float in a different part of the river from other, more rowdy groups. “It’s a good option for families who don’t want to be on that party scene,” he says.

Tubers meet at the designated parking lot along the river. From there, they are bused to the entry point. “Hop off the bus, hop in your group of tubes and start floating,” Beran says.

Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the chance to spot a lot of different critters during the float. “There’s a lot of turtles, a lot of fish. There’s also deer and bald eagles, blue herons, frogs and toads,” he says.

Klimm says that floating is all about having fun with family and friends on the water. “When the moment arrives that we spot the sand cliff off to the left, it’s game on. First one to the top wins! As challenging as it is, it’s a ton of fun,” she says.