Author Archives: Robert King

About Robert King

I wonder who in my family picked up my camera and snapped this unposed shot? I do appreciate it because photographers have few pictures of themselves and for me, I'd rather it be informal. My Father and Mother gave me a very deep compassion for animals. Through the years I expanded that love to include all of nature. My Father’s family gave me the experience of the log cabin in Salem, Maine. When I say log cabin I mean hand-hewn logs notched and fitted on-site, with oakum chinked into the joints and covered with quarter round. It was used mostly (but not solely) as a hunting camp. So, the many years of woodsmanship and hunting came from my Father's side. In my early years I spent more time than anybody I knew slogging through the often-wet Maine woods chasing White-tailed deer. "Slogging" is apt because I was more-often-than-not soaked to the skin while chasing those deer all day long in steady rain or wet snow. This all happened well before GORE-TEX technology appeared. So when I say soaked, I literally mean that oftentimes 100% soaked clothing contacted every square inch of skin. But the woods were so interesting that all I had to do was keep moving. If I stopped, hypothermia would set in. But those days are long gone. Now I love New Mexico. That is becoming another story, maybe a book. My BS degree in Wildlife Management was earned at the University of Maine at Orono. By that time I already had about 10 years in the Maine woods. As a Wildlife Biologist I have supported (and still do) a hunting heritage for all sportsmanlike hunters.....not the ones who enjoy killing for the sake of killing (they are out there alright) or who hunt for the sake of a trophy. Personally I do not enjoy killing things. Love the stalk and the peacefulness of the woods. But the experience of killing an animal during the hunt was traumatic enough to me that I stopped hunting. It's that simple, and I don't regret it a bit. Oh, if you are wondering about my intake of slaughtered, commercially processed animals, yes, it is very limited and has been for decades. So as it turned out, when Ma and Dad married I would gradually become imprinted with a legacy that will prove to be my strongest interest for the rest of my life. I cannot express how grateful I am for this and pity those millions of kids who never get that chance. In the 70's I worked as a seasonal Wildlife Technician in northern Maine and in 1974 I bought my first camera (a Minolta SRT 101) and recorded my first image of nature. For the last 29 years I have shot with Nikon, but Canon is just as good. Each system has its pros and cons. I've been a stock photographer with Gamma Liaison International (formerly Getty Images). Agents and sub-agents around the world have purchased "One-Time North American Rights" to the images of nature I have archived since that beginning in 74. As the photographic years passed I found myself enjoying photography for photography, not only recording experiences and sights in nature. Because I love animals I enjoy photographing domestic animals too and recently, people's faces. I have begun to notice some real characters in people's faces. At one time or another, I have been on almost every square mile of North Maine Woods, with the exception of areas around Jackman. Although I tried with all my heart I was not to become a Wildlife Biologist for Maine's Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife. I blame it on internal politics and competing with advanced degrees. You cannot build a solid, diverse knowledge of nature while you are inside writing for refereed journals and competing with your peers for professional publication. But years later I would spend a lot of time at Travis Caruso’s camp in Chesuncook Village, bringing back those memories of the northern Maine woods. Eventually I landed a wildlife job in Florida. I spent over 10 years working with Southeastern wildlife in the Everglades and Georgia (almost exclusively in the field). It was here that I met the people I worked with and built memories with in the wildlife field: Tom Brooks, Mike Brown, Lance McClellan, Mark Robson and Jim Rogers PhD.. While living on the JW Corbett Wildlife Management area I enjoyed a lot of nature photography. My daughter Carie has enjoyed time working "firsthand" with the wildlife I photographed. She could not have gotten that in a classroom and the imprinting lasts a lifetime. My book on the American alligator is close to appearing as an e-book (I believe). It is done and it is packed with the fascination that is nature. Hope you enjoy Robert King robertleeking@gmail.com

America’s Lawn Obsession: Killing the Terrestrial Food Web

Letter to the editor: To encourage native plants and insects, let’s grow wildflowers instead of grass

Virtually 100 percent of the energy in any land-based food web is manufactured at the bottom of the energy pyramid by the primary producers through photosynthesis, the most vital biochemical process on Earth. The entire yearly energy budget of land ecosystems is manufactured here, and made available to the primary consumers.

But these two trophic levels have been virtually wiped out in suburban America.

To attain a 100 percent grass lawn, Americans have used herbicides to poison all primary producers: the native herbs that grasses compete with and that Americans now call “weeds.”

They have also nerve-poisoned all insects with insecticides that are lethal to all animals. Veterinarians advise owners of some dog breeds not to allow the dog to walk on any lawn.

As a former federal and state (in Maine and Florida) wildlife biologist, I find the sight of a perfect lawn deeply disheartening.

It represents the killing of all native wildflowers; all insects, including all butterflies, bees and lightning bugs, and our beloved American toad, along with all native songbirds, which must feed their nestlings a diet of over 90 percent insects. No insects, no songbirds!

Americans have become perverted by the turf industry. When I was a boy in Portland, I saw lightning bugs, toads and songbirds; I looked down at lawns and saw a variety of native herbaceous plants that were kept low, simply by mowing. They are gone.

It is time to ban the poisoning of our terrestrial food web. Lawn companies can transition to assisting people in converting lawns to wildflowers. Please join me by converting much of your lawn to native wildflowers and using no pesticides at all.

Robert King

Portland


Bringing Nature Back to Suburban America

an Opinion Posted on September 5, 2013 in the Maine Voices of Portland Maine’s Press Herald: Where have all the butterflies gone? . Portlanders can bring them back. The insects will return if residents restore habitat, plant wildflower lawns and stop using insecticides.
By Robert King
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PORTLAND – Over several years, I have noticed a decline in butterfly numbers in Portland. So starting this spring, I began stopping and visually scanning residents’ flower gardens and the wild meadows remaining in town.

I searched the entire summer and did not see a single butterfly. I did see many of the exotic white cabbage moths, and I do see butterflies outside Portland, in the countryside.

A decade ago, there was a diversity here: Eastern tailed-blues, pearly crescentspots, an occasional red admiral, tiger swallowtails, viceroys, several skippers (including the least skipper), mourning cloaks, etc.

Why have butterflies vanished from Portland? Several reasons come to mind:

• Use of neonicotinoids: “Neonics” are a group of water-based, nicotine-based insecticides. One neonic, imidacloprid, is the most commonly used poison in home and commercial insecticides worldwide. If you use insecticides to protect plants around your home, odds are you’re using imidacloprid.

Neonics are applied as seed dressing, soil saturation, plant injection or foliage spray. Because of their high water solubility, neonics are systemic, absorbed and circulated through the plant, becoming intrinsic with plant tissues.

Unlike contact insecticides, systemics supposedly can target only insects that eat the treated plant’s tissue, and so are marketed as environmentally friendly. But if the toxins are systemic, then how is it that pollen and nectar escape the toxin? They don’t.

Neonics are highly toxic to adult bees and adult butterflies, as well as, of course, the butterfly larvae (caterpillars) that eat the plants. Also, bees and butterflies inadvertently spread toxins when visiting flowers.

Please Google “Chensheng Lu in situ CCD” to read only the short abstract from this conclusive research on the effects of imidacloprid on our honeybees. Chensheng Lu, Ph.D., is an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment.

To read three articles relating to neonicotinoids, please Google “George Monbiot neonicotinoids” and “Neonicotinoid Wiki.”

• Loss of butterfly habitat and fragmentation: To support butterflies, habitat must have wildflowers for the nectar-feeding adults and the plant-eating larvae (caterpillars). So if we remove patches of wildflowers, it’s possible to eliminate enough food sources to ensure the local extinction of butterflies.

If enough wildflower meadows have been removed regionally, butterflies may not be capable of repopulating wildflower meadows when they’re restored.

But considering the effects of winds, I doubt that this has happened here. Coincidentally, our native butterflies don’t damage the plants we consider desirable, and so our native butterflies aren’t considered detrimental to our interests.

• Lawn obsession: Many are obsessed with their lawns, and nature pays a price for that. First, why would you allow routine applications of insecticide to your lawn when you do not have a problem in the first place? Unless you have a specific problem that you have positively identified, you’re wasting money and damaging nature at its base.

Insects are living animals with nervous systems, and death by nerve poisoning is a horrible death. How can you consider yourself a responsible steward of the nature you have dominion over if you’re killing with nerve poisons?

I have refused to use insecticides on my land, yet I’ve never had a problem with any insect. I do spot-apply the herbicide (not an insecticide) glyphosate, and then only to the persistent Oriental bittersweet.

We should be revering nature, not destroying it for our vanity.

The answer is planting wildflower lawns. In spring 2014, I’ll be following the lead of some nature-thinking Portland residents with an esplanade full of native wildflowers. And folks are beginning to establish native perennials on their lawns, too. If planned properly, you can reduce mowing time and still have it look maintained, because it is!

Over the years, the word “wildflower” has been replaced with “weed.” But after years of mowing anything we could in Portland, within the last few years we’ve allowed nature to reclaim some of what’s hers, reverting to the native species in early successional stages.

Most of us, including me, thought that would have been enough. Though perennial wildflowers have returned, however, butterflies have not. Maybe if we change a few things, they will return.

There’s hope. The other day I spotted a mourning cloak butterfly flitting through my yard. Wouldn’t you know it! And since mid-August, I have started to see a very few butterflies within Portland. Of course, all this does not take into account the impending monarch migration through Portland.

Robert King is a resident of Portland. He can be contacted at robertleeking@gmail.com, or visit his website at www.itsaboutnature.net.