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North Carolina Photographer Wins NANPA Nature Photography Day Bioblitz Grand Prize

By September 17, 2021No Comments
Photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in flight © Sam Ray
Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Sam Ray

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Back in June, many photographers joined in the NANPA Nature Photography Day Bioblitz, an eleven-day citizen-science project. A bioblitz is an event created to find and identify as many species as possible in a given area over a limited period of time. All observations are uploaded to an iNaturalist project. During the NANPA event, participants made close to 10,000 observations of over 3,000 species, 97 of which were threatened species. All this data is now available to scientists and researchers. To add a little excitement, several of NANPA’s generous sponsors contributed to prize packages. North Carolina-based nature photographer Sam Ray won the random drawing for a Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens.

Close-up photo of a dew-covered dragonfly. Sparkly Female Widow Skimmer © Sam Ray
Sparkly Female Widow Skimmer © Sam Ray

About Sam Ray

Sam Ray didn’t seriously get into nature photography until he was about 44 years old. Then he started working on his composition skills with his iPhone and started making a little extra cash selling his shots on Foap, an app that allows users to upload photos from their smart phone for sale to commercial clients. By 2018, he’d received his first camera that wasn’t a point and shoot device and he was off to the races. He sells some stock images. “It pays for coffee but I’m not making a living from it,” he says.

Instead, he’s an agricultural engineer for the USDA doing agricultural research on air quality as it pertains to crops. He always has his camera nearby as he walks through the wide-open fields of the university farm where he works. He’s also a frequent visitor at two local parks, (Crowder County Park and Historic Yates Mill County Park) where he volunteers (mostly during his lunch hours and spare time) as a photographer, taking photos of the various animals, insects, plants, and other organisms he encounters, identifying them through iNaturalist, and sharing with the park staff, who upload his findings to the county’s Natural Resources Inventory Database (NRID) that the parks use to track organisms over time. As a volunteer, he’s permitted to go off-trail and explore all the nooks and crannies, documenting little-seen places. He’s always excited to find new species not previously recorded in the parks. “That becomes addictive,” he said. He’s been working a lot lately with a macro lens, getting a feel for its advantages and limitations, especially for insect photography.

Close-up photo of an Eastern Box Turtle sticking its head out of its shell. © Sam Ray
Eastern Box Turtle © Sam Ray

iNaturalist, NANPA, and a bioblitz

Sam is a big advocate for citizen science and his Instagram posts are full of information about the critters he’s photographed. Since he was already using iNaturalist, the Nature Photography Day Bioblitz seemed like a natural fit for him. So, out he went and contributed 80 observations. Winning the Tamron lens was a surprise, as he hadn’t even known there was a drawing.

He’s a relatively new NANPA member. He routinely hashtags NANPA’s Instagram and was pleased to see one of his images featured there. He investigated and found that NANPA was a lot more than pretty pictures or a feature hub. “It is,” says Sam, “the perfect marriage between nature photography, conservation, and preserving of our precious natural areas.” So he joined. Then came the announcement of the Bioblitz, which was right up his alley.

After he heard about NANPA’s The Nature Photographer Podcast on Wild and Exposed, he started listening and got hooked. He’s even gone back to the very first Wild and Exposed episode and started going through the back catalog of episodes.

Photo of a Luna Moth on a blade of grass. © Sam Ray
Luna Moth © Sam Ray

What’s next?

The first order of business is to use that new Tamron lens. The 100-400mm range is something Sam didn’t have before and will be perfect for the bird photography he’s doing more of lately. So far, he’s really happy with the way the lens is performing and the images he’s getting. He’s finally looking forward to the winter, when many birds migrate south. He’s also looking forward to using it for wildlife when he feels comfortable traveling again.

Sam is also a co-founder and administrator of @bestoftheusa_leavenotrace, an Instagram hub promoting Leave No Trace principles and highlighting individuals who exhibit and apply those tenets. The hub recently featured The Wild and Exposed Podcast Instagram account.

If you missed NANPA’s Nature Photography Day Bioblitz back in June, don’t despair. iNaturalist has other Bioblitzes, so sign up for your own iNaturalist account. It’s an easy and effective way to get involved in citizen science. And maybe we’ll see your photos in a future NANPA-iNaturalist Bioblitz.

See more of Sam Ray’s work:

Instagram:    @samjray105
                        @bestoftheusa_leavenotrace Feature Hub