Jonny Armstrong is an Assistant Professor in Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University and a Greenbelt Land Trust volunteer.
You have seen many of Jonny’s amazing wildlife photos and videos in our newsletters and online since 2017, when he moved to Corvallis and began volunteering with us. We were pleased to recognize Jonny’s many contributions with the 2019 Volunteer of the Year award. We recently asked him a few questions about how he gets these amazing images and why he volunteers for Greenbelt.
Q: When did you first get involved with Greenbelt Land Trust?
In 2017 I met Matt Blakeley-Smith at my daughter’s daycare. I had just moved back to Oregon and I was looking for local spots to camera trap. Matt mentioned the land trust and we both were excited about the possibility of using camera traps to exhibit the wildlife that benefit from Greenbelt’s conservation.
Q: What’s your favorite Greenbelt protected land?
I love Bald Hill Farm because it brings joy to so many folks in our community (as evidenced by the full parking lots) while also supporting a wide variety of wildlife. Elusive species such as bobcat thrive at Bald Hill despite all the human traffic. On a trail camera we set there we captured a bobcat waiting for folks to jog by on the paved path, crossing the path, and then returning a short while later with a rabbit in its mouth. I also love watching the Harrier hawks and Kestrels, looking for newts, and trying to find the humming birds that are often calling along the path.
Q: How and when did you start camera trapping?
In 2011 I was doing my PhD research in Bristol Bay, Alaska, where there are lots of brown bears.
At the same time, I was learning how to better use lighting in photography and I started dreaming of taking lit portraits of bears. I was doing a fair amount of fiddling with electronics for my research, so I got the idea to make a motion-triggered camera trap, so that I could set up elaborate environmental portraits without having to be there in-person to take the picture. It turns out there’s lots of online tutorials for hooking up a motion sensor to trigger a camera, but I had to go through a lot of trial-and-error to figure out how to keep everything powered up in the wild. Since then I have camera trapped a diversity of critters, ranging from leopards in Kenya to Douglas squirrels in my backyard.
Q: Favorite capture on Greenbelt protected land so far?
My favorite image remains my first success with Greenbelt. Matt and I set a bunch of trail cameras (which I use to scout areas to determine where to set up a fancier camera trap) in 2017, but we actually did rather poorly, getting a lot of deer and turkey, but few of the carnivores we were after. After moving the trail cameras around, I found a broad shallow spot in a stream, with a game trail leaving on both sides. I knew this would be a good spot and sure enough my trail camera captured video of a plump bobcat.
It took me a while to find time to set up my fancy camera trap, but when I did, the cat came through with a litter of kittens.
I was thrilled with the image of the bobcat family. The composition was great with the mother crossing the log in the foreground and her kittens along the stream in the background (including one crossing in a different spot). I love how the lighting of this shot looks natural but it’s accomplished by adding artificial light to the scene. That sun is actually a flash that I hid in the background and it’s what makes the glare on the water, so that you can tell this is a creek. I sent a narrow beam of warm light over the bobcat’s shoulder that just brushes the right side of its face and balances with cooler fill light that comes straight-on from behind the camera. I still can’t believe how perfectly this shot worked out, and it really captures everything I love about camera trapping: studying animal behavior, experimenting with light, and having nature surprise you.
Bobcats and mountain lions are unbothered by the cameras. The shutter click briefly piques their curiosity and sometimes they’ll look over as though they are wondering if they heard potential prey. They don’t seem to notice the flash, perhaps because it lasts less than 1/1000th of a second and does not need to be very bright, due to the sensitivity of today’s camera sensors.
Q: What’s it like bringing your kids with you to check or set up a camera?
In February I wanted to give my wife a break, so I took both kids with me to check a camera trap I’d set for cougar. My 3-y old Hayden was in a terrible mood and I forgot my 1.5-y old Rya’s shoes and socks, so we were a real mess. I zipped Rya into my jacket and we set off, but then Hayden insisted on hitching a ride as well, so I had to hobble a non-trivial distance to my camera with two kids dangling off of me.
My kids cheered up fast once we were outdoors and they had fun playing on the log my camera was aimed at. A few days later a cougar came through and my camera captured her jumping onto the log. That’s pretty much how camera trapping goes for me. I set the camera by myself usually (that’s one thing I can’t do with kids dangling off me), but every time I swap batteries or adjust the camera I have one or both kids with me. It’s a really nice way to spend time with them; they love being in the woods and Hayden loves helping with the batteries.
Q: Why do you support the work of Greenbelt?
The Willamette Valley is a significantly better place to live because of the work of Greenbelt Land Trust and its partners. If you look at the Willamette Valley on Google Earth, the dominant features are industrial timber and agriculture. But living here and being on the ground, it doesn’t feel this way. Greenbelt makes it easy for folks to get lost in nature in their own community. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to drive less than ten minutes to a place where I can track bobcats with my kids or watch them play on a log that I know a mountain lion will step on a few nights from now.
Due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus and in an abundance of caution, we have decided to cancel this event. Look for a re-scheduled event later in the year, and we hope you will be able to join us!
The Wonders of the Night! At this evening presentation and walk at Bald Hill Farm, you will gain a hands-on glimpse into the amazing diversity of moths and bats found in our own backyards after dark. The shadow of dark offers us a good time to attract moths to light-stations, and use bat detectors to listen for bats!
There’s much more to these night fliers than meets the eye. Besides being extraordinarily diverse in color, shape, and size, moths are also important because they pollinate plants and feed birds, bats, and even people around the world! And bats are just the coolest – more than 1,390 species of bats around the world are playing ecological roles that are vital to the health of natural ecosystems and human economies by consuming insects, pollinating valuable plants, and dispersing seeds.
Lending his expertise on all things ‘moths’ is Dana Ross, an entomologist in Corvallis who serves as a volunteer Curatorial Associate with the Oregon State Arthropod Collection. He has pursued butterflies and moths throughout Oregon since the early 1980s.
And representing the bat world is Stuart Perlmeter, who has worked with bats for nearly 30 years. During that time, Stuart has also run successful field biology programs for students from the Springfield School District in bat and watershed science research, as well as founding The WELL Project (Water and Energy Learning Lab), a science program that supports hands-on science instruction in the areas of water and energy science.
This event is full. Please email email@example.com to be added to the waitlist.
Greenbelt is partnering with Intel, Oregon’s largest employer, to restore floodplains along the Willamette River. This project is expected to restore 41 million gallons of water per year within the Willamette system, by reconnecting the exchange of water between the Willamette River and a historic oxbow of the river during the critical winter rearing period for native fish.
This connection will provide habitat for critical fish and wildlife species. Intel’s global initiative launched in 2017, to restore 100% of its water use by 2025, is led by partnerships with local nonprofits like Greenbelt to restore local watersheds throughout the world. We’ve planted nearly 100,000 trees over the last five years at Horseshoe Lake—Intel’s investment is the missing link to our restoration vision for this dynamic site.
This mix of Oregon White Oak woodland, meadows and riparian forest is a haven for wildlife and native plants. Join local naturalists Lisa Millbank and Don Boucher on an exploration of this hidden Willamette Valley gem. We’ll have the chance to see a diversity of wildlife such as Blacktail Deer, Western Gray Squirrels, woodpeckers (including Acorn Woodpeckers and many other common species), White-breasted Nuthatches, Hutton’s Vireo, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier and more! We may also spot signs of Bobcat, Coyote and Gray Fox!
We hope you can join us for this inspiring walk through Owen’s Farm.