The world becomes even more high tech by the minute, and yet people strive to stay grounded and connected to nature. Some people go hiking and others enjoy rural getaways. A break from the constant barrage of phones ringing and claustrophobic traffic jams can be temporarily forgotten with a road trip to the sticks, but for those who can’t escape the hectic pace of the city, there’s another way to find some solace on foot.
Large numbers of city dwellers are using technology to be one with nature. Photographing nature, identifying and mapping it are quite fulfilling and can help everyone keep tabs on unique plants and creatures in their immediate radius.
Now this might seem too science-nerdy at first for your next Sunday-Funday, but those who are jumping on this nature-lovin’ bandwagon come from all walks of life and interests and say it’s just great.
North Texas king of cool nature shots
Chris Jackson, 50, of Carrollton is a software engineer by profession with a bachelor’s degree in advertising art and a master’s degree in computer science. He balances his work life with his passions — wildlife, photography, graphic design and writing.
Yet, with no formal training in biology or photography, he started DFW Urban Wildlife. By day, he’s writing computer programs, but about 15 years ago, he found a way to combine his interests into one big hobby and by default united a large North Texas following of wildlife enthusiasts.
“I thought it would be nice to put together something that would combine as many of my interests as possible,” he says. “I finally decided to build a website dedicated to documenting wildlife in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex through pictures, videos and stories.”
He created DFWUrbanwildlife.com and started blogging about the topic of urban wildlife.
“That is when things really began to take off for the website. Since then, we have added a Facebook group and an iNaturalist project to provide venues for our readers to participate as well,” he says.
He manually focused in on “urban wildlife” because his life is in the city.
“As I became more involved, I discovered that there were a lot of interesting wildlife-related things going on in the Metroplex. The more I learned, the more I wanted to pursue studying and documenting urban wildlife,” Jackson says.
And despite the hustle-bustle of the city, photo options with wildlife seemed endless. “There are many species of animals that are very well represented in the city. These critters do a very good job of leveraging the abundance people surround themselves with,” Jackson says. “They appreciate the food, water and shelter that can be found in and around human dwellings.”
Jackson says that urban wildlife can actually live longer and have larger broods than their more rural counterparts because of the bountiful food selections left behind in alleyways and trash bins.
Wildlife is getting used to us and that makes for opportunistic photography.
“Urban animals are also often more tolerant of observation, because they are used to people being around. This is key. Just a little less skittishness can make it easier for a photographer to get a great up-close or candid picture,” Jackson says.
Wildlife photographers and naturalists seem driven by curiosity and the art of sharing the moments captured.
“It’s very gratifying to see others become inspired by something that I have helped facilitate. In return, a positive feedback loop is created. The more I do this, the more I want to do it,” he says.
Jackson’s sites are growing. His Facebook site has around 3,600 members and his local iNaturalist project has about 550 members and around 3,400 participants.
iNaturalist for DFW: a whole new universe
Jackson explains that the iNaturalist app was put together by some grad students in California a few years back.
“It is now supported by the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.” he says. “iNaturalist allows individuals and groups the ability to create ‘projects’ that let people record wildlife observations constrained by a certain set of parameters (like ‘mammals in Texas,’ for instance). That is what my DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist project is. It’s a project that I put together with the constraints set to record ‘wildlife in the DFW area.’ There are hundreds and thousands of other projects out there that cover everything from a single person’s back yard, to an African game preserve, to a country or a state.”
If you log onto the DFW iNaturalist page, you can isolate pins of things that thrive specifically in Keller, like the northern and spur throat cardinals, red-shouldered hawks and spotted cucumber beetles.
“These folks have recorded over 140,000 wildlife observations here in the Metroplex,” he says. “That represents over 3,500 unique species of urban wildlife. It’s currently one of the largest and most vibrant iNaturalist projects anywhere in the world.”
Kimberlie Sasan lives in Keller but photographs all over the Metroplex.
“It’s a hobby that started a couple of years ago when I heard about iNaturalist.com for the first time. I. CAN’T. STOP. Yes, it’s VERY addicting,” she says.
Sasan loves exploring nature, photographing and documenting flora and fauna through iNaturalist.
Sasan enjoys teaching people about moths and other night flying insects so much that she started raising them.
On iNaturalist, it states that Sasan has 3,119 observations and has photographed 2,478 species.
“I’m on Cloud 9 in nature,” Sasan says.
Sasan’s photograph of a jagged ambush bug on a sunflower petal is breathtaking.
“One of the things I really love about iNaturalist is the way the community supports learning. On each post there is a comment section. Through these comments other members can do things like describe important visual nuances needed to make a positive ID, or explain the significance of an observed behavior. It’s really a powerful way to learn about wildlife,” Jackson says.
The coverage area for iNaturalist DFW includes Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant and Wise counties. Wildlife observed in Dallas, Fort Worth and the surrounding Metroplex can be reported here. The observations of nature range from the most unique butterfly to a common backyard weed.
Camaraderie in nature
There are many places to go to witness wildlife. Some Keller-area wildlife photographers enjoy taking pictures in Arcadia Trails Park, just south of Keller.
Jackson holds regular meetups with members on his Facebook site. “In those, we get together to explore a new park or preserve, talk shop and take pictures. The last meetup we did was in downtown Dallas, of all places. We made some interesting wildlife discoveries and had a great time visiting some of downtown Dallas’s most important landmarks,” he says.
Jackson also gives wildlife photography workshops in coordination with the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden and does some presentations to elementary schools.
“And those are always fun,” he says. “Kids love to learn about wildlife!”
He says it helps to have good camera equipment, but it’s not necessary these days with the latest cell phones having pretty impressive photography capabilities. Telephoto lenses, for example, can certainly get you closer to your subjects.
“The truth is, any camera will work in a pinch! There are some talented photographers out there who regularly record stunning wildlife photographs using just their cell phone camera!”
There are a lot of observation pins on iNaturalist. People clearly love sharing wildlife images. So, what makes it so addicting? Jackson says the beauty of nature and the thrill of discovery is behind it all.
“For me, I enjoy almost all aspects of it. Wild animals live their lives as stories that are full of drama and challenges. Those stories can be fascinating to watch play out.” Jackson says.
If you ask most wildlife photographers to pick a favorite shot from the area, it’s not that easy. There are many.
“We have some species of wildlife living right here in the city that are as exotic and unique as anything you can find anywhere in the world. Birds like the roseate spoonbill or the wood stork are perfect examples,” he says. “Photographing majestic predators like the bald eagle or the osprey is always a real privilege. I’ve even had the chance to capture those two birds pulling fish out of the water on a couple of occasions.”
A few years ago, Jackson said some “wayward” whooping cranes summered in the Metroplex.
“There are only a few hundred of those birds still living in the wild. Getting to observe and photograph them here in Dallas-Fort Worth was an amazing experience,” he said.
He’s tracked down the rare swallow-tailed kite or the pyrrhuloxia for a cameo or two.
Commonly seen big mammals like the white-tailed deer, feral hogs, bobcats and coyote are fun to photograph, but Jackson says river otters are back in the game.
“They are a charming and rare treat to observe in the Metroplex. Their numbers seem to be increasing,” he says.
If you want to give this pastime a shot, Jackson says to hit the ground running.
“Just start looking,” he says. “Photographing urban wildlife can be done in your own back yard, but first you have to develop the right mindset so that you can tune into it. Soon, you will begin to notice wildlife everywhere in the city.”
Even though the city is all around us, there are incredible pockets that are quite wild.
“Some of our area parks are really special. And there are places along the Trinity River that are as wild and remote as any wilderness you can imagine. It’s an amazing experience to be in one of these places and be completely tuned it to the sights, sounds and smells of nature. It can really carry you away.”
• Website/blog: dfwurbanwildlife.com
• Facebook page: facebook.com/dfwurbanwildlife.page/
• (DFW Urban Wildlife Page)
• Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/726012804182335/
• (DFW Urban Wildlife Group)
• iNaturalist project: inaturalist.org/projects/dfw-urban-wildlife
• Kimberlie Sasan’s Instagram: kimberlietx