POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE by Matt Clysdale

I recently returned from an eventful journey to San Francisco and Marin County, including an epic, all day photo safari at Point Reyes National Seashore with consummate guide and photographer, Daniel Dietrich of Point Reyes Safaris.

High fives and hats off to Daniel - an unrelenting rain put a damper on animal activity, but his experience and determination produced sightings of all the major wildlife in the park: bobcat, coyote, tule elk, blacktail deer, kestrel, harrier, and a lifer for me: a wild barn owl, an extirpated species in Michigan. We didn't see any burrowing owls (not for lack of trying) but perhaps that's my excuse to return :) I'm truly thankful for adventures like these. 

Great Horned Owl, sleeping through an endlessly rainy day.

Sleeping Great Horned Owl 

The Female California Quail, often overlooked because of the showier male

Male California Quail being sized-up by a Coyote on the prowl.

Coyote contemplating a California Quail, for breakfast.

Blacktail Deer Fawn

Talking Raven

 

Kestrel Perched

Raven and Landscape

Soaking wet Great Horned Owl, embedded in an evergreen.

 

Great Horned Owl camo

 

BUCKS, BUCKS, BUCKS by Matt Clysdale

Been out in the field for the first, magical days of the rut. Been meeting different bucks every day.

Oil spills and animals by Matt Clysdale

Pastured, bull buffalo - Cannonball, ND

Just returned from Standing Rock, North Dakota, where a friend and I delivered supplies and funds to the water protectors standing strong against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Photography in the camps was very restrictive (understandably), so I turned my lens on a beautiful herd of buffalo just North of the Cannonball River. Not only are the buffalo integral to the cultural and spiritual lives of the Sioux Nations, they're an integral part of the very landscape that would be contaminated by a pipeline break. 

Lest we forget, oil spills impact every living thing in their wake - not just us humans. Just look at the devastation unleashed on wildlife by the Gulf Oil spill, or Kalamazoo River pipeline break. Ending our addiction to oil will be good for all life on earth. A huge thank you to all those on the front lines of this movement.

To learn more about the struggle, click HERE.

MARK AND THE BLACK BEAR AT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK by Matt Clysdale

Mark, a black bear, St. Mary's Lake - Glacier National Park

I was moved to create this portrait of my good friend Mark because of his strong bond with the natural world, spending a lot of solitary time in the woods, camping in National Parks, and generally seeking the solace and comfort that wilderness has to offer. He also tells a pretty mean bear story about an encounter he had with a black bear at Glacier National Park. After hearing that story, it occurred to me that he has a lot in common with them. 

The similarities begin with the physical, starting with that thick coat of black hair atop his head, as well as overall good physical health and stamina, maintained by an intense running regimen that often takes him through local nature preserves. In terms of behavior and MO, you could say Mark's a forager, like the black bear, often wandering the woods in search of wildflowers and other native plants to photograph and share with his students (he teaches high school biology). He's also an avid morel hunter, annually checking his prized, private spots. Mark also practices what I would call a form of social hibernation, where he’ll generally remove himself from the world and retreat into his apartment and private life to deal with and process the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a way to disengage from the churnings of the world, and, in a way, conserve mental/spiritual energy. 

Now, if you ever meet Mark, have him tell you his bear story, because it’s much better in person. When I first heard it we were on a charter fishing trip and he told it with such vigor and emotion he basically became that bear for a moment. He also won the unofficial storytelling contest that day on the boat (think Brody, Quint, Hooper).

He was camping with his teenage son at Glacier National Park in Montana, and emerged from his tent one morning to the surprise presence of a rare, cinnamon colored black bear sleeping directly behind his tent. For some reason, the bear wandered into the campground and chose their campsite as a nice spot to lay down and doze off. Apparently not typical bear behavior at the park. He watched the bear for about a minute until it somehow sensed his presence, turned to see him, and then it’s fear and aversion to humans sent it bolting for the nearest evergreen. Mark says it powered up that tree with unbelievable speed and force. As he describes it, “he was climbing with such force it looked like he was pushing the tree trunk down into the ground”. It climbed about 50 feet up and stayed there for most of the day. Park rangers decided the best thing to do was just give it enough space to feel comfortable enough to climb down, which it eventually did, and then wandered back into the woods.

An encounter like that is pretty special. Despite all the time I've spent in the woods and wilderness, I've never even seen a black bear (at least not yet). That's the kind of animal encounter that stays with you for life, the kind of story you tell grand-kids years down the road. The kind of encounter that poetically affirms the idea that like attracts like. 

Mark and a Black Bear at sunrise at Norris Geyser Basin - Yellowstone National Park

MALIBU BEACH & LAGOON by Matt Clysdale

CHILLIN' by Matt Clysdale

California Sea Lions at the Moss Landing harbor marina.

A GOLDEN HOUR WITH A HARBOR OTTER by Matt Clysdale

Wildlife photographers long for those magic moments when everything aligns just beautifully: the animal is real close but not disturbed, the light is golden, the setting and environment is interesting, and the animal is actually doing something, something other than standing or sleeping (although that is arguably doing something).

Well, one such magic moment emerged on the 11th hour of my recent trip to the beautiful California Coast. It happened with an endangered Sea Otter, an animal I'd never seen or photographed before, AND, it occurred at a marina, making it an animal living around humans - a recurring theme for me.

In addition to dozens of California Sea Lions, a handful of Otters were living in and around the marina at Moss Landing, at the mouth of the renowned Elkhorn Slough. An earlier outing with Elkhorn Slough Safari, clued me in to the sea lions lounging on the docks and some busy otters feeding around the marina. In particular, it was some Otters harvesting mussels next to an older fishing boat that really caught my eye. The boat had a beautiful patina of peeling paint and rust, making it a lush backdrop for photographing the otters. I went back later in the day to fully seize the opportunity. 

One added bonus to my session was a completely unexpected behavior (on my part) from these two Otters. Sea Otters are unique in being one of the very few mammals, other than primates, to use tools. They regularly use rocks on their bellies to crack open clams, mollusks and shell fish, all well documented on film and in photos. But what utterly amazed me--and alarmed me the first time I heard it--was seeing this pair of otters slamming their mussels against the hull of the boat; a couple of forceful whacks on a stubborn shell, and suddenly that golden flesh was entirely within reach. It was brilliant - and LOUD!

After nearly an hour of this, satiated on dozens of mussels, the Otters finally moved on to a different part of the marina. I was left with scores of great shots, all shot in golden sunlight, making it a truly golden hour for me and those California Sea Otters.

GRIFFITH PARK COYOTE by Matt Clysdale

During a recent trip to Los Angeles, I naturally gravitated to Griffith Park, one of the only large green spaces, or parks, left in the city. Home to the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, it's now home to P-22, the infamous, lone mountain-lion roaming the Park. In fact, P-22 was the only celebrity in Hollywood I was hoping to spot. As expected, the stars didn't align for that miracle, but I did have an encounter with a beautiful resident coyote.

THE SPRINKLE OAK by Matt Clysdale

Working on some night-time shots of a beautiful burr oak on the corner of Sprinkle and Romence in Portage, MI. It's a local beauty that we've decided to call the Sprinkle Oak.

The Sprinkle Oak

The Sprinkle Oak

BOB AND A POSSUM by Matt Clysdale

Bob Shimmin with a North American Opossum and it's quarry

Sometimes a relationship with an animal begins with a bite.

An unexpected bond can be formed when blood is drawn. And if no one gets hurt, dare I say it can be kind of funny. 

That’s how it all started with Bob Shimmin.

Bob and his wife live in the country with a cat called Momma-the-Cat, who lives out in the barn. Well, Bob had a Possum that he knew was raiding the cat-food bowl and hanging around the property. When he saw the Possum he'd holler at it and chase it away, but he never felt the need to exterminate it. It was live-and-let-live, with some loose boundaries surrounding the cat's turf.

Well, one day back in the winter of 2013, Bob was concerned about a big snow storm that was heading their way, and thought it wise to fluff the bedding inside the cat's house so she'd be nice and warm. So Bob went out to the cat house in the barn and when he reached in to grab the bedding, he shocked from a painful bite! He yanked his hand out and peered in to see a hissing Possum! The darn thing was sleeping in there.

He left the Possum alone and went inside to tend to his wound. The bite wasn’t serious but it was bleeding, and his worried wife urged Bob to go to the hospital and get rabies shots, despite Bob vaguely remembering Possum aren't actual carriers*). As you may know, rabies shots can be very painful, but Bob went ahead and got them anyway, just to play it safe. For Bob, all this just made the entire experience more absurd and indelible. 

If you know Bob, then you’re aware of his quirky, morbid sense of humor, and understand how an encounter with a Possum would evolve into a good story and recurring theme. Bob became the Possum guy. His fondness for the possum grew and he started calling him Chester. To this day, Bob and his friends post photos and videos of various Possum on his Facebook page. And even though they're usually posted in jest, there's an underlying appreciation for Possum - an appreciation they rightfully deserve. Possum generally suffer from a pretty bad rap. 

When I learned all this about Bob (a fellow photographer) I was thrilled, since I'd asked another friend if he'd consider a Possum for an animal portrait and he absolutely hated the idea. He flat out dismissed them as ugly and nothing more than roadkill. 

Well, not for Bob and others like myself. Possum are really cool creatures. They’re the only native marsupial in North America; they’re one of the few animals who can feign death (play dead), giving rise to the colloquialism “playing possum”; they’re omnivores and opportunists and eat everything from fruits, grains, insects, snails, earthworms, carrion, snakes, mice, and other small animals. They also consume large numbers of ticks, thereby limiting the spread of Lyme disease - THANK YOU!; they have opposable thumbs on their hind legs; baby possum are called “joeys” and after 10 weeks living in the pouch, will climb out and on to the mothers back where they’ll Iive for another month before they head out on their own.

Possum have their rightful place in the animal kingdom and landscape. They're also one of the usual suspects for urban wildlife in cities across America, possibly being one of the first and only wild animals a city person might encounter, along side the Squirrel and Raccoon. So, more power to Possum as they adapt and find their way in a constantly changing environment, fraught with perhaps the greatest threat to their existence: the automobile. It's a rough world out there for wildlife.

* According to the Opossum Society of the United States, “Any mammal can get rabies. However, the chance of rabies in an opossum is EXTREMELY RARE. This may have something to do with the opossum’s low body temperature (94-97º F) making it difficult for the virus to survive in an opossum’s body.”

 

Below is a photo of Chester pilfering cat food, and a photoshopped pic Bob made from an original photo of an old guy with a possum on his back. 

Nikki and a Crow by Matt Clysdale

I've been revisiting my earliest animal collages and creating new versions using techniques I've developed recently. Here are some new renditions of Nikki and a Crow

Nikki and a Crow and the Oregon Coast

MY WIFE AND MY MOTHER-IN-LAW by Matt Clysdale

I'm fascinated by perceptual shifts. How we can shift our focus or thinking or attitude and begin to see something new or different - sometimes things that are right under our noses, except we just can't "see" them.

I strive to create perceptual shifts in my collage work so the viewer has both the pleasure and challenge of perceiving different subjects, coexisting on different planes. I do it because I thinks it adds depth and dimension to a 2-dimensional work, both literally and metaphorically. 

To that end, I've always been fascinated by the famous image, My Wife and My Mother-In-Law and other perceptual illusions.

There's something absolutely magical about those two images existing in the exact same drawing, but never revealing themselves simultaneously.

DIPLOMACY IN ART by Matt Clysdale

When I collage a person and an animal, and perhaps a landscape as well, I work real hard to give each one equal weight. I want each to have the same perceptual presence, because they're all important and it's as if each is fighting for attention. In that regard, I'm practicing the art of diplomacy.