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Forests Across the Panhandle

By Elam Stoltzfus



Forest Sunset

A 90 second video sponsored by WUSF on forestlands in Florida

I love hiking through the woods. Whenever I am walking through the piney woods of northwest Florida it is a chance to slow down and observe. It a place of sanctuary, a vista to rest my mind, and a spot to communicate with the Creator. Just padding through the forest with my Australian shepherd, Buddy, and a camera is relaxing, and I can take pictures at my leisure.


Recently I learned about how to manage woodlands.  My wife and I own 20 acres of old forest in the Florida panhandle. Part of the forest had mature pine trees and needed to be harvested.  So…how could we harvest the pines without destroying the integrity of the land? The chief of the cutting crew told me that we would do a “seed cut” of the lumber; this means that they left some mature pines standing and, if burned within a few months, new growth will start to come next summer.

Here in northwest Florida large tracts of forestland, although primarily planted commercially for timber harvesting, have other benefits: they are a refuge to wildlife, protect river watersheds, and provide a natural filtering system to purify water. Many tributaries to rivers begin in a forest area flowing through marshes, creeks, and swamps.


One of my favorite places to hike through is the Apalachicola Bluff and Ravines Preserve north of Bristol, (locally known as the Garden of Eden).  It is a three mile hike to the top of Alum Bluff which stand over 130 feet above the Apalachicola River.  The trail skirts several steelhead ravines, unusual terrain for Florida. In the spring there are blooming dogwoods, azaleas, and other stunning forest flowers.  Fall brings an array of colors, fall flowers and the unique smell of autumn.


Spring at Alum Bluff

Just north you can find Torreya State Park. With a series of hiking trails, a river overlook, and a nice camping area, this is a great place to explore.

One of the greatest gifts you can give this Christmas season is take your friends and family outdoors to hike, go bird-watching, and discover what is in your backyard. Memories are gifts that last a lifetime; get outside and connect with nature.

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: