When I first moved to Arkansas, I was still a hunter.
Every year, on the day after Christmas, I would go out into the Ouachita mountains and hunt for deer on public gamelands. Over time, I realized that the hunting was just an excuse, a cover story, to get out in the woods.
I stopped hunting for deer a few years back. The idea of hunting and killing another living thing became increasingly inconsistent with the rest of my life.
Rather than force myself to accept a custom that I wasn’t consistent with what I believed, I decided to accept that I had changed as a person, and that while I enjoyed hunting and enjoyed the people I hunted with, and am cool with others hunting, it’s just not for me.
This year, I tried a different kind of hunting. I drove around central Arkansas with my cameras. Originally, I was hunting for a flock of pelicans I had seen while running along the Arkansas River the day before.
When I got to the place I saw them, the pod of pelicans was gone, replace by a gulp of cormorants in the same spot.
The double-crested cormorant is a social and gregarious waterfowl, and they’ll hang out with just about any type of bird. Due to heavy use of pesticides in the 1960s, Arkansans nearly wiped the species out.
The US Government stepped in and brought them back, placing the double-crested cormorant under the protection of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972.
Today, they are threatened again.
In 2004, Arkansas wildlife officers had a rootin-tootin good time blasting 80 baby double-crested cormorants and their parents out of their nests; their guns destroyed 193 birds, with the unbelievable short-sighted goal of “reduc[ing] cormorant impact on sportfish resources and reduce damage to cypress trees on Millwood Lake.” You can read the full story here.
In 2018, in an effort to protect the massive profits of the baitfish industry, the Trump administration issued permits to kill 15% of the double-crested cormorant population in the US.
After photographing the double-crested cormorants on the Arkansas River, I headed towards Conway, Arkansas, driving along backroads through Maumelle and Mayflower, Arkansas.
I stopped at Lake Conway to photograph some great blue herons that were gingerly walking across the ice looking for food. One heron explored some litter sitting atop the frozen lake.
Litter is a constant here in Arkansas. While litter is everywhere in the world, Arkansans are the biggest litter-bugs that that I have seen in 51 years, 9 states and 5 countries. (Germany, Turkey, Australia, Ireland and Korea).
From Conway, Arkansas, I drove out to Bigelow and Wye, Arkansas, and then back into Little Rock.
Part of the experience of hunting was the feeling of being alone and quiet in the woods. I had a lot of time to think of the year behind me, and the year ahead of me. There were portions of time on the photography “hunt” where I had that experience, but I did spend a fair amount of time driving.
Perhaps next year I will leave the car behind and hike through the Ouachita mountains with nothing but my camera.
Click on the first photo to see the complete photos in gallery format.