All posts by stoltzfusmedia

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

By Elam Stoltzfus



Link to a 90 second interstitial sponsored by WUSF

Travel north from Okeechobee for about 30 miles and you will reach the Kissimmee Praire Preserve State Park. It is a large tract, 54,000 acres, that protects one of the largest remaining stretches of Florida dry prairie and is home to an array of endangered plants and animals. From the entrance it’s a long drive into the park headquarters and the campground, at least 5 or 6 miles.  We usually don’t compare Florida’s landscape to the great plains of the Midwest, but Kissimmee prairie is grassland as far as the eye can see.

During the production of the documentary Kissimmee Basin: The Northern Everglades this area became one of my go-to places to film wildlife. The preserve offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as the Crested Caracara and Burrowing Owl.

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Early one morning, just at sunrise, I was traveling the main road in dense fog; I spotted a group of white-tailed deer foraging in the grass.  In the herd was about 5 bucks with several sporting large antlers. This was a documentary filmmaker’s dream with the glow of morning light, soft fog, and tranquil deer.

Later that morning I filmed a short segment on the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.  This was a rare occasion to have the opportunity to document one of Florida’s most endangered birds.

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One of the best ways to get out on the preserve is take the swamp buggy tour with one of the park rangers.  The ranger provides an is an excellent commentary on the landscape of the Kissimmee river basin, the vast trail system, and first-hand accounts on how the preserve is being managed.

Another great thing to do at the preserve is stargazing. The Kissimmee Prairie’s remoteness makes it one of Florida’s premier locations for stargazing.  This is on my bucket list to capture a series of time-lapse images of the stars across the prairies.

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During the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 the team trekked and camped at the preserve.  After a grueling day, four grubby explorers were grateful for a camping facility with hot showers, electricity and running water.

With lots of things to see and do, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is definitely one of my top ten places to film and photograph in Florida. I hope you take time to explore and experience this unique landscape of Florida.

Turkeys, and Bears, and Deer—Oh My!

By Elam Stoltzfus



A 90-second video sponsored by WUSF featuring turkey, bears, and deer

In autumn many hunters take their bows, guns, orange safety vests and other paraphernalia and head into their mecca, the woods, to scout out the perfect location to nab a prize buck or turkey (it’s illegal to hunt bears in Florida).

As a young buck, I hunted white-tailed deer in the southern tier region of New York.  When I picked up a camera, I traded the gun for a camera.  Hunting with a camera includes the art of stalking: studying the species and understanding the social patterns of the creature.


Here in northwest Florida, white-tailed deer are prolific. After a hearty lunch of corn, some of our furry-tailed neighbors like to swing by my house for a dessert of roses. My wife’s roses are her pride and joy. She loves sharing roses with her friends—and not her furry friends. It is an ongoing battle to outsmart the deer: we have tried everything from an electronic water sprinkler—called a scarecrow—to white plastic rope that you spray with stink-spray to ward off Bambi, to even marking our territory by asking me and Nic to pee around the rose bed. Oh my.

Turkeys take skill to stalk and observe; they have keen eyesight and notice any movement.  Behind our house is a tract of 30 acres of woodland—recently we have observed 7 turkeys coming through to forage and roost.  Trying to film turkeys is a challenge, and if you can get quality footage of a turkey it is a great accomplishment.


Florida black bear is a species I don’t have much experience with.  I continue to learn, observe, and read about the Florida black bear. Once, while up in a tree stand, I observed a mother bear and two cubs looking for food.  They were on a constant lookout for any new smells and unusual movements; it was fascinating to just watch them.

All these species are signature wildlife in Florida.  Turkey, bear, and deer can be observed in many areas across the wilds of Florida.

Elam Stoltzfus wins an Emmy!

By Nic Stoltzfus



1000 miles in 100 days. At the end of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, some people may have thought that the expedition was over and all the work finished. This is not the case. In the making of a film, post-production is one of the hardest stages and takes a lot of time and effort. The team at Live Oak Production Group, spear-headed by Elam Stoltzfus, edited over 90 interviews over a period of 5 months and sorted through over 80 hours of film footage to assemble the completed Florida Wildlife Corridor: Everglades to Okeefenokee. The film premiered on Earth Day weekend in Florida and was released on public television nationwide in June. It has been featured in several film festivals including the Sarasota Film Festival and the Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival. On Saturday, November 23rd at the 37th annual Suncoast Emmy Awards in Hollywood, Florida, it was announced that Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee won an Emmy for Documentary category.

The Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrates the best of television news in markets throughout the state of Florida, as well as markets in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Birds in Southwest Florida and the Secret to Great Bird Photography


When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all.

– Dr. E. O. Wilson

90 second interstitial for WUSF on birds in south Florida

I love filming birds; seeing large flocks of birds fly in unison across the marshes of south Florida is a sight and a sound to behold. Just as spectacular is watching a solitary eagle soaring overhead.


One of my favorite species to document is the American bald eagle. The symbolic image of the eagle is one of power and majesty. The lone raptor flying high, the mother protecting her chicks, and an eagle diving towards its prey are all iconic images.


Another favorite is the Roseate Spoonbill. Akin to a flamingo, but stouter and with a unique spatula-shaped bill, the Roseate Spoonbill gains its rosy pink color from carotenoid-rich organisms in its diet (such as shrimp). They are fascinating birds to observe, especially during low tides while feeding in the mud flats. It constantly moves its head back and forth to find food in the low tide areas.

Some of my favorite places to film eagles, spoonbills, and other birds include Big Cypress National Preserve, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Aududon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

So, you may know what bird you want to photograph and where to go…but what is the secret to photographing birds well?

Ted Below, a former warden and biologist with National Audubon taught me the three-step method to capture images of birds.

1) Move towards the bird as slowly and silently as possible, being careful to not flush or frighten it.

2) Locate the distance that you can take the first image without disrupting the bird, set up your camera tripod, and capture your first image.

3) Pick up the tripod and slowly move in three to five steps closer to the bird and capture another image.

Repeat this method until you capture a close-up image of the bird. If the bird flies away, at least you have several images, even if it is not as close as you desired. Of course, having a long lens (such as a 300mm or 400mm) allows you to snap a close-up without disrupting the bird.


To get wonderful shots of large flocks of birds, set up close by a bird rookery before dusk and wait for the birds to fly in to roost as the day ends. Arrive early in the morning and you will see birds leaving their resting area.

These practices have been helpful to me; I hope these ideas works for you, as well.  You may have you own methods to capture excellent bird images; what is your secret to great bird photography? Please share your comments with us!

Stories Along the Kissimmee

November 11th, 2013

By Elam Stoltzfus

Garden Of Eden

90 second interstitial for WUSF on the Kissimmee River

In early 2009 I was invited to attend a Cattleman’s meeting by a good friend of mine, Kimball Love. The meeting was about how conservation agencies and Florida cattleman can work closer together to preserve their land. This immediately caught my attention: cattlemen as conservationists? I gotta see this. This meeting was the beginning of a three year project leading towards a documentary about the Kissimmee River basin. The Kissimmee River is one of the main arteries that flows into Lake Okeechobee which then seeps into the Everglades. Because of its connection to the river of grass further south, the Kissimmee River basin is also known as the Northern Everglades. As I began gathering historical information and interviews from the community, I realized that the larger story was both complex and controversial. The more I listened and learned, I realized how important it was to craft a solid story for public education; a story of both the past ecological devastation and current steps towards one of the largest wetland restorations in the world.


One of my first interviews was with Okeechobee rancher Sonny Williamson; after I was done with the interview he gave me a few names of other people I should interview. One person led to another, all forming a web connecting people in this region. This pursuit came with invitations to many locations, one being to Avon Park Air Force Range. On a hot August afternoon I interviewed an officer at Avon Park as he talked about the environmental work being done to protect 10,000 acres along the river. This was followed by a military training exercise with a Marines unit.

Another unique opportunity was the opportunity to be part of a cattle drive on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch along Lake Kissimmee.  The Lightsey family and farmhands wake up before the sun rises and work long after it sets. Cattle management in Florida has a unique blend of long proven techniques mixed with modern technology. Old time Cracker horses and Cracker cur-dogs are used to round and herd cattle across miles of open pasture areas; the same as generations past. The updates come in the form of electronic implants in the cattle used to track everything from health records, to date of birth, to current location. This information is logged in a computer and provides important management records.


For more information on the Kissimmee River documentary visit

Flowers in South Florida


By Elam Stoltzfus


Flowers are pixie dust spread by the hand of God covering the world in beauty.


Springtime on my granddad’s farm was spectacular – apple trees, dogwoods, and hedges all bloomed as winter’s frost receded. By the house, my grandma and mother planted bunches of violets at the windowsills. In the garden, there were lilies in late spring. My grandparents’ homestead was inspiration for me; I recall sketching images of flowers with pencils during my early childhood.

As I delve into filmmaking, I continue my fascination with flowers. It’s always a challenge to capture a close-up, catching the best light to highlight the intricate features of a flower.

I have traveled all over the state of Florida and my favorite place to film images of flowers are in the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Fakahatchee Strand Presreve State Park. Flowers across the landscape of South Florida are like twinkles on the icing of your favorite cake – a vast array of colors, shapes, and sizes from the swamp lilies to the bromeliads and to the elusive ghost orchid.


While filming The Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades, Fakahatchee Preserve biologist Mike Owen showed me a piece of Florida that I will never forget. Mike Owen is the ghost orchid expert and has made several discoveries of rare orchids in the swamp. Mike’s never ending knowledge of orchids and his thrill of being in the swamp is catching.  If you get separated from Mike, his famous call is, “Hootie Hoooo!”


On multiple occasions, I schlepped through the muckiness of the Fakahatchee with Mike. My goal was to film the ghost orchid as the flower unfurls into full bloom. The smell of the ghost orchid is like a lady’s perfume, fresh and intoxicating.


One of my favorite treks was a night trek into the swamp. I was hoping to capture on video the sole pollinator of the ghost orchid—the rarely seen sphinx moth. On this occasion, I went with Mike, my son, Nic, photographer Rick Cruz, and park director Renee Rau. We donned mosquito nets, carried the video gear into the swamp, set up lighting, and waited.  And waited.


After hours of patiently waiting–no sphinx moth. But we did capture some great video of the orchid at night and it was an adventure to remember. Last year, I revisited the area with the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team. You can read more about our experience from fellow expeditioner Joe Guthrie’s blog post:

If you have a garden, like I do, and want to learn more about how to plant Florida natives, I recommend checking out I have gotten several great ideas from their site.

Also, if you want to support saving Florida’s wildflowers, consider getting a Florida Wildflower license plate. You can find more info here:

Polk County’s Success Story: Circle B Bar Reserve


By Elam Stoltzfus

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” –Proverbs 29:18

In the late 90s fine art landscape photographer, Clyde Butcher, and I partnered with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program to create an educational video and collect images for them.  One of our focal points was to tell a story about the Peace River, a tributary into Charlotte Harbor. Less than hour from downtown Orlando, , the Peace River is born in Polk County’s Lake Hancock. Early one morning we traveled by airboat to the lake with a biologist from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).   During our tour, he talked about how Polk County, through the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, and the SWFWMD hoped to purchase the ranch on the west side of the lake: the Circle B Bar Ranch. Since this ranch borders the headwaters of the Peace River, it is important for the ranch to stay as close to its natural state as possible. If someone muddies the water upstream, your water downstream is dirty.

I learned that the county and the state wanted to restore this land to its natural state. How were they going to convert pastureland back to marshes? “Good luck with that,” is what I thought at the time.

More than a decade later I returned to this region for an event at Bok Tower Garden in Lake Wales with Carlton Ward, Jr. After the event Florida Wildlife Federation board member Bob Taylor said he had something to show me. The following morning he drove my wife, Esther, and me to Circle B Bar Ranch—now the Circle B Bar Reserve. It had been purchased by the SWFWMD and Polk County in 2000.

What I saw surprised me—they did it!

I saw flocks of wading birds, restored marshes, and stands of pines showing new native growth. At the entrance to the reserve the county built a state of the art Nature Discovery Center with working classrooms, multimedia exhibits, and teaching tools that showcase the local habitats. The grounds have several miles of hiking trails that make this place a perfect location for wildlife observation.

To me, this is a great story where a community had a vision—and followed that vision to make it a reality. Lake Hancock and the surrounding area is now restored and protected—a public preserve for all to enjoy and a “must see” nature spot for Polk County.

For more information on Circle B Bar Reserve visit:

For more information on Polk’s Nature Discovery Center, located at Circle B Bar Reserve, visit:

Florida’s First World Paddle for the Planet


By Nic Stoltzfus

World Paddle for the Planet video. Produced by Elam Stoltzfus. Edited by Joey Dickinson. Script by Nic Stoltzfus.


Parked Paddleboards (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

On Friday, October 9th, Dad, Joey, and I loaded up our gear in our Toyota Sequoia and hooked up our boat (a custom built Scandy White) and prepared to head to Panama City Beach. We were headed to the World Paddle for the Planet event held on Lake Powell and stationed out of Camp Helen State Park. Part of a larger 4-day eco-fest, the main event was a 24-hour paddling event with paddlers from all over welcome to join. The mission of World Paddle for the Planet is “to educate and raise awareness for restoring and preserving the health of our oceans and waterways worldwide.” The funds from this year’s event went to Mother Ocean’s Expedition Florida 500. This is the first year that the World Paddle for the Planet has been held in the United States. According to the website there were going to be some special guests in attendance: Bob Purdy, the founder of Paddle for the Planet, traveled from British Columbia to boost spirits; and Justin Riney, the founder of Mother Ocean and Expedition Florida 500, also planned to paddle the full 24 hours.


Elam Stoltzfus filming at Camp Helen State Park (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

After arrival, we checked into the apartment so graciously provided to us by Richard and Marilue Maris, and headed down to the public boat launch at Lake Powell. The weather outside was lovely––Autumn in Florida is my favorite season––and October in particular is spectacular. When we set out, it was nearing 4 o’clock and we wanted plenty of time to shoot a colorful sunset. A heron was resting on a pine branch as the sun faded in the sky, and the air cooled as a few stars started to appear.


Elam pointing to head back to shore as Joey runs the trolling motor (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Saturday morning we put the boat back in to Lake Powell and headed to Camp Helen State Park where the 24 hour paddling event was set to start at noon. Before we started, the local Native American tribe, the Maskoke (Muskogee), blessed the event. Marcus Cloud offered up a blessing and also an admonition that this is sacred land—and we are charged with protecting it. After Marcus was finished with his speech two men dressed in traditional Maskoke garb passed around a turtle shell with incense wafting from it; a sweet rosemary scent filled the air. Each person waved the smoke toward his or her face, taking part in this sacred purification ritual. It felt like a holy communion; all present now bound together by this beautiful ceremony.


The Maskoke paddle by with Elam filming (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The Maskoke started the 24-hour paddle for the planet in a two-person canoe and the paddlers, around 30, followed behind. The first lap around the lake was silent—SUP Radio host Leslie Kolovich encouraged paddlers to use this first lap to meditate on why they were paddling today.


Joey Dickinson, Elam Stoltzfus, Justin Riney, and Bob Purdy discuss today’s event (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Most of the paddlers who attended the event were paddling in groups, so they would rotate off every few hours and paddle for 24 hours as a team. But a few hardcore paddlers, such as Bob Purdy and Justin Riney, would brave the entire duration.

Evening approached. We parked our boat on a sand spit by the outfall of Lake Powell and walked out to the Gulf of Mexico with our camera equipment to get some “b-roll” (supplemental film footage) of people walking the beach.


(Left to Right) Cynthia Trone, Gabriel Gray, Elam Stoltzfus, Bob Purdy, Nic Stoltzfus, and Leslie Kolovich (photo by Joey Dickinson)

After this we moved back lakeside and the paddleboarders were headed to the outfall for a group shot before sunset. It was the “magic hour” as we say in filmmaking slang, that hour right before sunset when everything turns golden. I half-wished that I wasn’t going to bed that night. It was a beautiful evening—not too cold—and the crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds would be out in throes chattering and providing the music for the night.


The Legacy Continues (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Sunday morning we arrived at Camp Helen around 10 in the morning, two hours before the paddleboarders would finish. To start we took some aerial shots with the remote-controlled helicopter.

About 20 minutes before noon Dad, Joey, and I set up on the Camp Helen shoreline preparing for the paddlers’ arrival. I got into the lake with water up to my chest and Joey was stationed about twenty-foot away at the opposite side of the shoreline knee-deep in the water.


Justin “Florida” Riney and Cynthia Trone look on as Bob paddles his last lap (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Noon. 24 hours was over and everyone paddling was smiling for the home stretch. The exhausted paddlers began hugging friends and family, and feelings of joy buzzed in the air. It was at this point that Bob Purdy announced he was going to paddle around one last lap.

Bob went around and as he came back everyone rose their paddles in the air to form the paddleboarders’ salute, a covered crossing for the warrior to pass under.


The Paddleboarders’ Salute (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The first ever Paddle for the Planet at Panama City Beach was a success, and I plan to attend next year and paddle for the full 24 hours with camera in tow!

To sign up for next year’s World Paddle for the Planet visit:

For more information on Lake Powell and other dune lakes in Florida visit:

The Inaugural Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival: A Beaming Success

By Nic Stoltzfus



Saturday, October 19th, 2013 was the inaugural Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival, and I wasn’t gonna miss it for the world. My dad, Elam Stoltzfus, his intern, Joey Dickinson, and I produced the intro to the film festival; the three of us worked on this project for weeks, and we would finally get to see it on a large 40 foot HD screen.

 After stopping by for fried twinkies, cracklins, and goat tourin’ at Blountstown’s Goat Day, Joey, two of his friends, my sister, and I headed down together to Apalachicola. We would be meeting up with Mom and Dad there.


Elam and Esther hugging after the festival

The fall sun filtered through the pine dust, and I could see beams of light falling on the forest floor as we drove towards the coast. We arrived at Apalachicola Bay around sunset. After we parked the five of us walked to the film festival. Our table was set up to the left of the screen about 20 feet back and by the dockside. I looked down and, through the iron grill, I saw the water lapping under my feet. Viewers relaxed in their lawn chairs and were split by an aisle-way dotted with yellow lights; a movie theatre on the grass. Merrill Livingstone, the founder of the fest, opens the event; by now it is night and a cool gulf breeze is blowing inland. After Merrill’s opening comments the video that Dad, Joey, and I made began rolling. Chill bumps and memories: scenes pass before my eyes as I recall all the places we visited making the film. magical. After it is over I glance over at Joey and his eyes are twinkling, too. We bump fists and grin. We did it.

 The clouds of night parted and the delicate moon shine reached us. It began its arch across the sky and we continued watching movies.

 The first annual Apalachicola Riverfront Festival was a beaming success. I know that when the full moon rises next October I will be out on Apalachicola Bay taking in the salty air and fine movies. 

For more information and tickets for the second annual Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival visit

Cowhands in Florida?

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by Elam Stoltzfus

October 21, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 2009 several ranches in central Florida were featured for the Kissimmee Basin: the Northern Everglades documentary and later in 2012 for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee documentary.  Ranches and cowhands (cowgirls and cowboys) in Florida maintain large tracts of land that are an essential piece for healthy wildlife habitat.

When I interviewed Florida rancher Cary Lightsey, he said, “Florida’s had cattle for five hundred years, …and they had buffalo before that.  To me, [it] is a stationary part of Florida ranchland…  And it’s just a great cow state, and a lot of people don’t realize how great of a state that Florida is for cattle”.


Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditioner, Carlton Ward, Jr., commented, “I want the people of Florida and our country to know that there is this amazing culture of people in the Florida ranching community, who have been on that landscape sometimes for nearly two centuries; and it’s because of these ranches that we still have the opportunity to protect the corridor for water and for wildlife”.


Interviewing Carlton and Cary Lightsey reminded me of my time growing up on a dairy farm. Like the ranching communities in Florida, my forefathers, Amish immigrants from Germany, have been working the land in Pennsylvania for centuries. Growing up on a dairy farm taught me how to work hard and forged in me a respect for the land.

As a young boy, free time was spent exploring the woods, observing wildlife, and fishing in a nearby creek. I first went fishing when I was five, and I used one of my mother’s safety pins as the hook. I guess none of the fish were looking to get pinned, so I came back home empty-handed.  Later, I got myself a real fishing hook and snagged reams of bass and brim (“sunnies” in Lancaster, PA, slang) from the local farm ponds.

Working on a farm takes commitment and hard work, dawn ‘til dusk. Come to think of it, I always had a few chores in the barn in the morning before breakfast and before going to elementary school. Wonder what I smelled like? Hmmm…

Growing up with dirt in my fingernails makes me appreciate and respect the ranchers and cowhands here in Florida.  It was an honor for me to work alongside these decent country folk, listen to their stories, and learn about how they truly are “keepers of the land.”

When you travel across Highway 60 from the coasts, or go from Yeehaw Junction to St. Cloud or south through the counties of Glades and Highlands, take time to slow down and drive back the gravel roads, off the beaten path.  You may see a glimpse of cowhands riding horses and rounding up cattle in the pastures of Florida.  Cowboys in Florida are one of our great state’s “signature images” that represent our past, present, and future.

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For more information visit: