Midtown Reader to Host “Wild Florida” Author

Midtown Reader to Host “Wild Florida” Author

On January 18th, The Midtown Reader bookstore will hold an in-store event featuring acclaimed Florida-based biologist, conservationist and photographer Kirsten Hines. During the event, a discussion with Ms. Hines will be moderated by Julie Wraithmell, the Executive Director for Audubon Florida (the State’s leading voice for conservation) focused on Hines’ newest release, Wild Florida: An Animal Odyssey.

The event will take place at The Midtown Reader – 1123 Thomasville Road – from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

During a recent interview with Kirsten Hines, she noted the idea for Wild Florida was born after realizing there wasn’t a comprehensive photography book on Florida’s wildlife. In Kirsten’s newest release, she shares her passion for Florida’s wildlife in a collection of photographs and essays

The Midtown Reader notes that “Kirsten Hines aims to inspire nature appreciation and conservation action through wildlife photography and writing. Florida based and globally traveled, she lectures, leads photography workshops, and guides wildlife experiences, sharing insights from her years as a biologist and environmental educator. Her writing and photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibits. Her previous books on Florida nature include three on South Florida’s national parks and the award-winning gardening reference, Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens.”

According to the book review by Midtown Reader, “Hines takes readers along with her on excursions through swamps and into camping stakeouts, sharing experiences such as watching the movements of Florida’s black bears for months to capture the perfect shot of a mother bear with her cubs. She introduces an array of species that call the state home, from the red widow spider to the loggerhead sea turtle and even invasive species like the Burmese python. The pages feature Magnificent Frigatebirds from the tropical environments of south, beavers from the north, and animals that live within the gradual blending of environmental-borders between these climatic across the peninsula.”

Additionally, Hines’s book features Florida’s native animals, her adventure crisscrossing Florida, simple steps everyday Floridians can take to protect wildlife, and much more.

An Interview w/ Kirsten Hines, author of WILD FLORIDA: An Animal Odyssey

1.     What was the origin of this book?

It was somewhat serendipitous in that I reconnected with the editor of my Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens book at a Native Plant Society conference. I had some of my images on display and she said she’d love to publish more of my photography and asked me to submit a proposal. It didn’t take me long to realize that there wasn’t a comprehensive photography book on Florida’s wildlife, and so the idea for Wild Florida was born.

2.     You are both a writer and photographer, how do your essays and photography reinforce each other?

For me, weaving words and images together is part of the magic of storytelling. It’s a process that begins already as I’m wandering through the woods. I’m paying attention to details, waiting and watching for a hook that might bring my storyline to life. Sometimes I’ll see a behavior that sparks snippets of prose, other times text will pop into my head and I actively look for scenes to photograph to exemplify that idea. The writing and photography riff off one another and reinforce one another, allowing me to tell a fuller, more multi-dimensional story. 

3.     How would you describe your photography?

As a conservationist, I feel it’s important to portray the world naturalistically so that people don’t have inflated expectations about what they may see or experience on their own. My goal is to tell accurate stories with my photography so I minimize my post-processing, never adding or removing elements from the scene. I try as much as I can to capture the moment within the camera as I’m experiencing it, often sharply but sometimes taking advantage of motion and blur to convey a more emotional message. I’m always looking to capture moments where artistry and biology intersect in the hopes of providing an intimate and perhaps slightly different window into the natural world. 

4.     You also are a biologist, how does knowing an animal’s biology impact your work?

My biology background serves as a wildlife photography super power of sorts. It gives me the upper hand in knowing where and how to find animals, and allows me to get better images once I’ve found my subjects. I spend a lot of time interpreting behaviors to identify routines, predict interactions, and assess how closely I can sneak in without disturbing my subject. Understanding how close I can get is particularly important because the more comfortable an animal is with my presence, the more opportunities I have to capture intimate images of natural behaviors.  

5.     As a conservationist, what are some of the threats Florida’s wildlife face?

Habitat loss is probably the biggest threat to wildlife. Development is rampant in Florida and is often undertaken at large-scale with little consideration for ecological concessions. It’s a problem that could be vastly improved with just a little oversight and planning. Given that roughly 30% of Florida’s natural areas are under protection, something as simple as providing water recharge areas and landscaping with a diversity of native plants could preserve essential biological corridors throughout the state. 

6.     Your book emphasizes how biodiverse Florida’s animals are. Why does Florida have a such a high level of animal biodiversity?

It’s all about the state’s biogeography. Northern Florida, particularly the Panhandle, has been connected to temperate North America through the ages and still has a direct connection to the Appalachian Mountains through the Apalachicola River. That region is a hotspot for temperate biodiversity with some of the highest numbers of amphibian, reptile, and plant species for its size anywhere in North America. Central and southern Florida have fluctuated in size and connectivity with other regions as sea levels have risen and fallen through history. Central Florida’s unique sandhill habitats are former beach dunes now isolated inland and housing several endemic species that occur nowhere else, several, including the Florida Scrub-Jay, originated from the American southwest. Southernmost Florida, particularly the Keys, are in some ways an extension of the Bahamas and Cuba, sharing much of their geology, plants, and animals – a tropical biodiversity hotspot within the continental U.S.A. This makes for a unique mix of temperate, tropical, and endemic species that have blended across modern Florida to provide the state’s incredible biodiversity.

7.     How does the ecology of Florida’s wildlife in the early 21st century differ from that of just a few decades ago?  

Florida, like the rest of the planet, has undergone many changes over thousands and millions of years – giant ground sloths and mammoths used to inhabit these lands. The last century has been no different, other than a considerably faster rate of change and largely due to human activities. Some of these changes have led to extinctions; the Caribbean monk seal, for example, was overhunted, and habitat loss led to disappearances of the Carolina Parakeet and Dusky Seaside Sparrow. On the flipside, landscape and climate changes in the last few decades have brought Cave Swallows, Coyotes, and Cattle Egrets to Florida. Accidental and intentional releases of nonnative species have also shifted the composition of Florida’s wildlife in the last several decades with Burmese pythons, South American parrots, and African lizards now on the list. We can expect to continue seeing changes, but it’s my hope that with a little awareness and management, we’ll be able to prevent future extinctions. 

8.     What are some of the challenges that Florida’s wildlife face due to climate change?

Climate change comes with myriad challenges – more frequent and intense hurricanes, for example, pummel the natural habitats where animals live in much the same way as human communities. Some of that recovers with time, but sometimes habitats change completely as different plants regrow there. It’s important to remember that climate change is a complicated issue that differentially impacts species, and not always negatively. Leatherback Sea Turtles, for example, are benefiting from an increase in their preferred food, jellyfish, which has been on the rise because of changes associated with rising sea temperatures. There are of course other species negatively impacted by the increase in jellyfish, but the good news is that many species are proving more resilient than we might’ve given them credit for. Concern for Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills, for example, rose when they began abandoning traditional nesting grounds around the Everglades and Florida Bay. While the underlying issues leading to the abandonment is still worrisome, Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill populations overall remain steady – they’ve found new places further north to nest.  

9.     What are some of the animals people would be surprised to learn live in our state?

People generally think of Florida as tropical and so are surprised to learn that animals more typically associated with more northern, colder climes – beavers, for example – live in the state. I think people are also surprised by some of our invertebrates. Did you know, for example, that Florida has the highest diversity of firefly species in the nation? Or that we have a beautiful, ruby-colored version of the black widow spider – the red widow – that lives only in Central Florida? There are a lot of animal treasures in Florida! 

10.  How hard was it to document 150 species of Florida’s animals photographically?

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I doubted my ability to complete this project after hours of hiking through the woods without seeing so much as a cardinal. Fortunately, just about every time I hit a mental low, I’d find a legless lizard in my path, or a posse of baby Everglade mink would tumble across the road. This was a much larger and more challenging project than I’d ever imagined, but the challenge wasn’t so much in documenting 150 species – I’m currently working on a photographic field guide to the Birds of Florida for which I’ve photographed over 300 species in the last couple of years – it was that I was targeting species with important stories to tell, which included a lot of rare and elusive species. Harder still, my goal was to photograph them in Florida’s wilds. In retrospect, it was a monumental task, possibly even a little insane to have undertaken.

11.  Were any of the animals less than cooperative or proved elusive when you tried to take their photograph?

Definitely! None of them exactly just posed for me, but bears made me work the hardest. It took a couple of years of sitting in blinds, dousing myself in foul-smelling-human-scent-blocking-potions, stalking fresh tracks, and even camping out at a house where bears visited regularly for days at a time before my luck changed. I was seriously starting to take it personally! When my luck finally did change, it was one crazy day – five up-close and personal bears in less than 24 hours, including a mating pair. I coasted on adrenaline for days after that. 

12.  Florida is known for its alligators and crocodiles, yet astonishingly, these animals nearly disappeared during the early 20th century. How did humans orchestrate their remarkable recovery?

Both of these species were heavily hunted when early settlers began living in southern Florida. Fortunately, their declines were noted before it was too late and first alligators, then crocodiles were listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act in the 1960s and 70s. Those listings not only stopped hunting, but also enabled conservation lands to be set aside for the recovery of the species. The Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern Key Largo, for example, continues to be an important nesting area for American crocodiles. There’s been a lot of research, monitoring, and advocacy over the years, but protecting these species under the Endangered Species Act is really what set the stage for their recovery.      

13.  What animals currently are most at risk in Florida and how do we help? 

The animals that are most at risk are those that depend on specialized habitats, like Central Florida’s sand scrub or South Florida’s rockland forests, as well as animals with large home ranges, like the Florida panther or the indigo snake. For animals such as these, it’s essential that we protect remaining patches of habitat and ensure that biological connections remain between patches. This not only protects at-risk species, but all plants, animals, and even humans as it ensures continued ecological services for a healthier Florida into the future.

14.  What advice do you have for people who want to experience Florida’s wildlife?

Get outside! Actually, they don’t even have to do that. If people landscape with native plants, the wildlife will come to them and they can experience wildlife from inside the comfort of their own homes by just looking out the window. Additionally though, Florida has an incredible network of parks, many of them with accessible boardwalks so that a wide range of people can experience Florida’s wilds. And in many of these parks, especially wetlands associated with water treatment facilities across the state, the wildlife is quite used to people and so can be observed at close range.

15.  What advice do you have for people who want to capture photos of Florida’s wildlife?

For those just getting started, it’s best to hone your skills in areas where the wildlife is comfortable with people and will stick around for photos. Several of the parks and boardwalks I just mentioned, including water treatment facilities, are wonderful for this. Even for people at ease with their gear and techniques, these are great places to capture intimate moments not easily observed further afield where wildlife is likely to be wary. An important thing for photographers at all levels to keep in mind is to stay as quiet and motionless as possible while interacting with wildlife. If you disturb the animals, they’ll leave – let them come to you. Not only does this allow for better images, but it’s more rewarding and healthier for the animals.

16.  Your book is about the wonders of Florida’s wildlife. What do you hope the reader will take from this book?

Creating this book ended up being an enlightening journey for me, one which gave me an even deeper appreciation for Florida’s unique and diverse natural history. I hope it does the same for readers. I hope it’ll inspire them to get outdoors, to meet some of the incredible animals we share this state with, to fall in love with Florida’s wilds, and maybe even to help protect some of its treasures.

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