Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

River Otter at Salt Creek with a starry flounder. 

Merry Christmas from the Olympic Peninsula. May the world always bring you the gifts you need.

There are many themes circulating around Christmas, including the idea of peace and hope in the birth of Christ, but the theme of gift-giving is by far the strongest and brightest in America - and we all know how that's exploded into a banquet of excess.

Once again, the natural world reminds us to keep in touch with the necessities in life, and how the Earth can provide for us all. 

What truly matters most? Food, shelter, warmth, love, family, friends, and of course a few indulgences like chocolate or wine. But if we have more than we need, perhaps it's a good idea to just stop, or perhaps share what we have with those who lack. Generosity can be a beautiful thing.

There is enough to go around, and around, and around...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My First Drop-tine Buck

Rutger in 2014

Rutger in 2012 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Black Friday for Wildlife

While hordes of shoppers stormed the shopping malls along Westnedge Avenue in Portage, Michigan this past weekend, I was literally a block away walking along the Portage Bicentennial Trail in search of wildlife. And I might as well have been in a parallel universe given the contrast.

While the rest of humanity was possessed by their material wants (and perhaps some justifiable needs) I was able to capture a couple of fellow creatures completely caught up in their diligent pursuit of some life essentials: A red squirrel packing up on protein for the winter and a pileated woodpecker either hammering away at grub, or chiseling away at a future nest-hole.

That's one of the great gifts of wildlife photography and observation: reminding ourselves of the core essentials of survival and how so much of the material accumulation of life is really just clutter and distraction.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jessica Clark - Life in the Trees

Many moons ago, when I first started my portrait series, MY ANIMAL AND II was describing the concept of the work to a curious barista at a local coffee house, and before I could even ask her what animal, she said with a quiet assuredness, "my animal is a flying squirrel". 

I was thrilled.

First, by the fact she loved flying squirrels, which are downright amazing, and actually quite common but rarely seen and almost never, ever discussed in everyday conversation. Secondly, I have a fondness myself for flying squirrels because one became an instant hit in my urban wildlife documentary, ANIMALS AMONG US, because of a shot I captured of it flying right towards the camera at night. Thirdly, by the fact she knew precisely what animal she identified with, and it wasn't the all-too-familiar top predators, like wolves, hawks, eagles, etc. 

I knew immediately that I wanted to do her portrait, and only after I began work on the collage did I come to realize how thoroughly she was like a southern flying squirrel

"Jessica Flying Squirrel"  Southern flying squirrel photo by Joe McDonald
Many years passed between that first encounter and the creation of the portrait, and during that time Jessica was doing some significant work in environmental activism.

In response to the disastrous 2010 Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, Jessica joined MICATS and began actively working to stop further expansion of the Enbridge pipeline that was the source of what is now known as the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

How did Jessica decide to fight one of the largest energy companies in North America? By doing a tree-sit to halt construction of Enbridge's Line 6B tar sands pipeline in LaPorte Indiana. She tree-sat not once, but twice! On the second sit, her wooden platform was held up by a rope that was tied to a bulldozer, thereby incapacitating any progress on the pipeline (learn more about it HERE and HERE).

Jessica tree-sitting in protest of Enbridge tar sands pipeline expansion in 2013. Photo credit: MI CATS
Eventually deceived by the police into coming down from her tree, Jessica was arrested and eventually appeared before a judge in a La Porte County courthouse where she made a brave and compelling statement explaining her non-violent protest. In the end, Jessica was sentenced to 26 days in jail for two counts of trespassing and one count of theft, all for what she believes was a necessary defense of the environment and everything within it, including ourselves.

All this corroborates Jessica's connection to flying squirrels in a beautiful and profound way. I'll add as well that she's small in stature like flying squirrels, but when she fans out her spirit and persona she's able to glide through life with a tremendous amount of grace and agility. If you meet her, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Great video by National Geographic - although I'll argue they're not weird at all, and let's not assume that's a "he" up there!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pale Male Lives On

Here and Now, the NPR program hosted by Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson, just broadcast a nice piece on Pale Male, the famed red-tailed hawk of Central Park in New York City. The ultimate urban animal, Pale Male continues to reign over the Park at the unusually old age of 24. 

I bring this up not only because of my love of the urban animal, especially through my documentary ANIMALS AMONG US, but because my ongoing body of animal portraits includes a picture of Pale Male, representing the spirit animal of a dear friend and teacher, Jorge Arenivar.

The photo was taken by Pale Male's most inspired and devoted chronicler, Lincoln Karim, who's documented the hawk almost every single day for the past 12 years. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014


For those of you following my documentary on the King Highway Osprey, I had to make a very difficult decision recently to scrap the project. With all the time, energy, and effort I put into the film, the decision was not easy.

For more information on my decision, please visit my blog for the documentary: WHEN HOPE HATCHES.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Vibrant Immigrant

Male Blue Grossbeak 
Female Blue Grossbeak

Female Black Swallowtail 
Cedar Waxwing

A breeding pair of Blue Grossbeaks on the Kalamazoo River lit up the social networks of Southwest Michigan, and drew throngs of people from all around to see this rare and pretty bird. 
Normally more southern, the species is expanding it's range and may soon go from exotic and new to just another one of the gang - albeit a vibrant standout. With our constantly evolving and dynamic landscapes, it's hard to say whether global warming is at hand or some other driving force.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ubiquitous Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit - Kalamazoo Nature Center, Bluebird Trail

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fledging Peregrines

An alarmist fledgling cries out as one of the parents cruises by the falcon's favorite perch: the big "G" tower.
If you love birds, and live in Kalamazoo, chances are you've heard about our downtown falcons four (yes, four!) chicks this year. This was their first successful brood, and they've gone airborne! The Gazette has been following their every move, as well as flocks of Audubonites. It's an historic year for Kalamazoo and Peregrine Falcons. 

I've been following the drama from afar (meaning online) but finally made it down to the parking ramp to watch the early antics of fledging, and snap a few shots.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Check out my other sites...

I've been gradually migrating more and more of my photographs over to my website blog and Facebook page. If you're not familiar with these two other sites of mine, definitely check them out. You'll see plenty of wildlife (including urban wildlife) as well as photographs featuring two-leggeds, or more commonly known at humans.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Jewels from the Northwest

Just returned from a photo tour around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, and I'm essentially speechless. Here's a sneak-preview jewel from that golden part of the country.

Rufous Hummingbird - Kalaloch Creek, Olympic National Park, Washington

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Radiant Turkey

By far one of the planet's strangest creatures. How can you not love the turkey?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Suburban Merganser

Directly behind the Home Depot in Portage, Michigan - where all the Hooded Mergansers go to shop.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The "NO KILL" Campaign

I've been photographing cats and dogs for the SPCA of Southwest Michigan for their "NO KILL" Campaign to increase awareness about the plight of pets in SW Michigan. The campaign was started by SPCA Director, Katie Timber, with the ultimate goal of reducing euthanasia in SW Michigan and increasing the number of adoptions.
It's been hugely rewarding and terribly fun working with the animals, even though it's often saddening to think about the fate of so many cats and dogs at the Kalamazoo County Animal shelter (SPCA does not euthanize as a matter of policy). As you may know, there is a ticking clock for those animals not adopted.

The resulting photographs will be on display for a fundraiser at Tempo Vino in downtown Kalamazoo for the May Art Hop. The winery will also be dedicating a red and white wine to the cause with photos of a dog on the red and a cat on the white. 

Please join me, the SPCA, and Tempo Vino for the event. There may even be a four legged friend in attendance!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wildlife Photography 101

Have you ever wondered how I (or other wildlife photographers) get the shot? Well, if you live in SW Michigan, here's your chance to find out! I'm teaching Basic Wildlife Photography at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) in a four week course that starts April 16th - which is coming right up!

You can register as late as April 15th. Click HERE to learn more about the class and how to register.

This class--and a summer class I'm teaching that focuses on photography from a kayak or canoe--are the last two classes I'll be teaching for an indefinite period of time. I'm shifting towards full time production and exhibition. So, we'd love to have you join us for this great intro into the world of wildlife photography. Now's the time.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Peregrine Missle

Peregrine Missle

The Peregrine Falcons residing on the 5/3rd bank building in downtown Kalamazoo have taken to the nest box the DNR installed last year, garnering a great deal of local press. All this means the falcons are right on target for perhaps their first successful clutch! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

ANIMALS AMONG US Screening at Kalamazoo State Theater

If you haven't seen ANIMALS AMONG US yet (or even if you have), you've got a chance to see it on the big screen at the People's Food Co-op Annual Meeting this Sunday, March 23rd. They'll be screening it at noon at the State Theater in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Click HERE to learn more about the event. 

Thank you to the Co-op Board of Directors for inviting me and the doc to be a part of this great event! Interestingly enough, the documentary, and my pursuit and passion for wildlife, began in large part because of a fundamental food choice I made about a decade ago: my decision to not eat industrial meat. If you come to the event, I'll briefly share the story behind this life changing choice in my life. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Origins of my Art

If you’re familiar with me and my work, there’s a good chance you know me as the guy who did the documentary on wildlife in Kalamazoo, ANIMALS AMONG US. And if you know me personally, you may very well attribute my love of nature in that film to my late dad, Gene Clysdale, an avid birdwatcher and card-carrying Audubonite. 

However, very few people realize it was my mom who not only helped fund ANIMALS, but was the root inspiration for my journey into video and documentary. It all springs from mom and her super-8 camera, and her own exploration into the craft of home movies.

An english teacher by profession, mom left teaching early on in her career to devote herself to raising me and my brother. And for a smart, bold, talented woman, coming of age in the era of women’s liberation, she may have sacrificed some her own simmering ambitions. It's hard to know. 

Having said all that, she loved being a mom and managed to keep her intellect, politics and creativity alive through volunteering and a number of activities, including the art of home movies. Mom loved capturing our early lives with her hand-held Kodak super-8. In fact, the home-movie footage in ANIMALS AMONG US comes straight from mom’s film reels. 

But mom went a little further than most with home movies. 

The early 70’s in America was a period of tremendous racial upheaval, and my brother and I were the first generation to experience busing, a grand experiment designed to integrate the country after years of racial segregation and inequality. My mom, a political animal by nature, was very interested in that effort.

Channeling her political passions and moral compass, mom decided to craft a simple, home-made documentary on the implementation of busing in Kalamazoo. 

So, on the first day of school in 1971, mom not only escorted us to the bus stop for that historic day, she brought along her super-8 camera and filmed the entire event. She focused on the kids, the parents, the teachers, and the picketing protestors who opposed the whole idea. 

The film was low-tech, with credits crafted out of those old plastic letters used on felt boards in schools, and lots of great jump-cuts. In fact, I think the sound-track had to be played on a separate tape recorder. But there was a directness and innocence to the film that matched the smiling children getting off the buses. We were sweet kids of 6 or 7 and pretty innocent to the big picture. Kids both black and white stepped down off those buses and into the sunny day, and mom contrasted that image with the anger of the protesters. There was no narration, just the images and music. And if I remember correctly, she showed the film at school board meetings and/or other community forums as a document of the event and it’s success. It was a simple, cinematic, political tool, all born out of mom's passion for home-movies, politics, and her pursuit of fairness.

Unfortunately, some of the specifics of mom's film remain unclear, and the precious luxury of calling her up and asking is forever lost: my mom, Barb Clysdale, passed on December 19th of 2013, the exact same day my dad passed two years prior.

I’m forever indebted to "Barb" for her exploration into film, as well as her prowess with the english language, her political savvy and instinct, her kindness, her toughness, her love of cinema, her ability to critique a film like no other, and all the other parts of her being that help make me who I am as an artist and person. Thank you mom.

(Mom's passing is why I haven't posted for so long. I'm glad to be back on my blog and look forward to posting again soon.)