Carlton Ward Jr

Fighting to keep Florida Wild | National Geographic Explorer | Gallery in Tampa

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The dry season is settling in and it might not rain again for a few months. I’m always sad to see the water go but also excited for the opportunity to reset camera traps in some special places that rising swamp waters pushed me to evacuate last June. Here I’m testing a camera in early June hoping a panther might still come but accepting that it probably wouldn’t. Telegraph Cypress Swamp at Babcock Ranch State Preserve. #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @natgeocreative @natgeo @freshfromflorida @myfwc


#Repost @fl_wildcorridor
Coming soon...We'll be doing a systematic check-up on the ❤️ of the Corridor—a critical crossroads for water and wildlife in the center of the Florida peninsula. Stay tuned for updates on our 2018 Expedition! #loveFL #KeepFLwild #wildaboutFL


This handsome male panther triggered one of my camera traps set beside a cypress swamp in Southwest Florida. I love the moment as he skirts the edge of the water and the reflection of the trees. But I’m also frustrated because the right flash didn’t fire. The left and background flashes works fine, but the failed right flash made left half of his face deeply shadowed. Do you think that ruins the photo, or does the dramatic effect work? Looking forward to your feedback! #pathofthepanther storytelling project with @natgeo @fl_wildcorridor #panther #everglades #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild



One of my camera traps is set deep in the Fakahatchee Strand on a flooded trail where I hope to capture a panther walking in water. That prospect has become more challenging as water levels have begun to drop. In the last 2 weeks I got 4000 photos of wading birds and they smoked my flash batteries by the end of the first week. I’m frustrated by the birds, this pesky persistent great blue heron in particular. But it did make some nice selfies. #swamplife #heron #pathofthepanther #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @fl_wildcorridor #cognisys #scout


This bobcat visited one of my camera trap sites on a narrow trail by the edge of the swamp at Babcock Ranch. Bobcats live throughout most of the the continental United States plus northern Mexico and southern Canada. Named for their short “bobbed” tails, bobcats range in size from 10 to 30 pounds. They eat mostly small mammals and birds but have been documented taking down full sized deer. Bobcats were endangered by the fur trade in the early 1900s but have recovered throughout most of their historic range. A current threat is habitat loss. Panthers and bobcats once shared habitat throughout America and can do so again if we protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor and other large landscapes throughout the country. #bobcat #pathofthepanther #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild @FL_WildCorridor


More favorites from my 2018 Florida Ranches Calendar. Please see my essay in the Tampa Bay Times (link in bio) about the importance of these lands for saving wild Florida. >> The 2018 Calendar is dedicated to Alto “Bud” Adams, Jr., an iconic figure in both the ranching and environmental communities who died last year. These photos are of the Adams Ranch, which is a priority for protection through Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The Adams Ranch covers more than 40,000 acres throughout Osceola, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Madison counties. As of 2017, Adams Ranch has put 6,290 acres of its ranching operations in Osceola County, on the south side of pristine Lake Marian, under a conservation easement. With the fourth generation of the Adams family overseeing the operation, Adams Ranch remains committed to preserving natural vegetation and wildlife and its Florida heritage. As Bud Adams has written, “Our planning and preparation is not in years, it is in generations.” Pictured enjoying grapefruit with son, Alto Lee Adams, III, Bud’s legacy is his family and their land, which now depends on public investment by lawmakers to be protected from development that threatens to consume 5 million acres or rural Florida by 2070. #ranch #AdamsRanch #legacy #floridawildlifecorridor @FL_WildCorridor #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild.



More favorites from my 2018 Florida Ranches Calendar. Please see my essay in the Tampa Bay Times (link in my bio) about the importance of these lands for saving wild Florida. >> As the sun rises, Blackbeard’s Ranch is gradually bathed in golden light, accentuating the tops of the long leaf pines on the savanna. The 4,500-acre ranch, just north of Myakka River State Park, contributes to an important regional wildlife corridor and is home to burrowing owls, Sherman fox squirrels, swallow-tailed kites, Florida panthers and bears. The ranch protects headwaters of the Myakka watershed, essential to the health of the Charlotte Harbor estuary and Gulf of Mexico. Blackbeard’s Ranch is a working cattle ranch with supplemental sod and timber operations in addition to producing certified wildflower honey. Cowboy David Patton has been running the cow crews for Strickland Ranch and Blackbeard’s Ranch for many years in addition to managing his own ranch. He’s a master at handling cattle and cow dogs. The ranch raises Braford, Brangus and Beefmaster cattle in pastures interspersed with oak hammocks, palms and pines. @fl_wildcorridor @carltonwardgallery @flcattlemen


More favorites from my 2018 Florida Ranches Calendar. Please see the link in my bio for my essay in last Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times about the importance of these lands for saving wild Florida. >> Whatever the weather, the ranch hands of @Lykesbros Ranch west of Lake Okeechobee are devoted to cow-calf operations across most of the ranch’s 337,000 acres. The Lykes family has been in cattle ranching since the early 1900s, and the ranch today includes one of the largest contiguous pieces of land in the state. The descendants of those original ranchers also manage citrus, farming, forestry, hunting, and land and water resource projects like water storage. The Florida black bear finds a suitable home on the Lykes Ranch. Pine stands, the preferred nesting place for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, are part of a proposed conservation easement on the ranch as part of Lykes Bros.’ commitment to #stewardship and #sustainability. #ranch #florida #heritage #floridawild #keepFLWild #floridawildlifecorridor @FL_WildCorridor @natgeocreative @flcattlemen @ilcp_photographers


I am going to close out 2017 with a few favorites from my 2018 Florida Ranches Calendar. Please see the link in my bio for an essay I wrote for the Tampa Bay Times about the importance of ranches for saving wild Florida. >> A vast open prairie dotted with cabbage palms provides a quintessential view of Dixie Ranch, where the land serves a critical role in storing and cleaning water for the Everglades watershed. Founded in 1918, Dixie Ranch is now owned by the Larson family who is committed to preservation of the land, its exquisite wildlife habitats, and its essential place in the long, slow flow of water to Lake Okeechobee. The current 4,700-acre Dixie Ranch is the site of the original headquarters of the ranch, dating back a century. Dixie Ranch joined the Northern Everglades water storage project in 2012. This public/private partnership is now home to thousands of wading birds and waterfowl in addition to a large herd of Brangus brood cows. Florida has lost a million acres of rural land to development over the past ten years. Without increased funding for conservation easements, much of Florida’s ranch land, which makes up most of the unprotected acres in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, will be lost to suburban sprawl by 2070. @fl_wildcorridor @tampabaytimes #floridawild #keepflwild #pathofthepanther #everglades #roamflorida



Happy New Year from South Florida, where as winter begins the swamps are starting to dry. That will open up new territory for camera trapping but also means my favorite wet locations will lose some of their watery magic until summer rains return. Just as polar bears are icons of the arctic and ambassadors for the impacts of climate change, Florida black bears are emblems of our remnant forests and provide a call to action for the importance of protecting wildlife corridors to keep their habitat connected. #swamp #bear @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild


Former professional rodeo cowboy Justin Gopher gets some time in the saddle last summer while moving cattle through the pens at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation. Ranching keeps him connected to his native heritage and nearly four centuries of tribal tradition with cattle and horses (which arrived to FL from Spain in 1521). #nativepride #cowboy #seminole #floridawild #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor #keepflwild #horse #ranch @natgeo @natgeocreative


I spent my birthday checking camera traps at Babcock Ranch State Preserve, an important piece of the Florida Wildlife Corridor east of Ft. Myers. I’ve been working at Babcock Ranch because it’s where colleagues at @myfwc recently documented the first female panther north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973. She’s in the territory of this handsome male, who could become the father of the first generation of panther kittens to be born in the Northern Everglades in my lifetime. Please help me follow this story and stay on the front lines of the fight to save wild Florida from development that is consuming 20 acres or wildlife habitat per hour. Link in my bio. Thanks to @natgeo @nature_org @palmbeachzoo and other partners who have helped so far. #pathofthepanther #panther #floridawildlifecorridor @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild @natgeocreative @ilcp_photographers #roamflorida



I spent the weekend at my family’s place in Hardee County and took the opportunity this evening to fly my drone two miles west across our cousins’ ranch to check out the Peace River, which flows from headwaters in the Green Swamp north of Tampa all the way south to Charlotte Harbor near Ft Myers. The Peace River Valley, in addition to being the heart of an essential watershed, serves as a wildlife corridor connecting millions of acres of land. #floridawild #pathofthepanther #keepflwild #peaceriver @ilcp_photographers


Last photo panther legs. Now a gator tail. You don’t always find what your looking for, but the surprises can still be nice. I am thankful for Florida swamps and the ways they have challenged and shaped me over the past two years as I’ve chased the Florida panther with camera traps. #gator #swamp #pathofthepanther #floridawildlifecorridor @fl_wildcorridor @natgeo @natgeocreative #floridawild #keepflwild @ilcp_photographers


I’ve been chasing Florida panthers with camera traps for the past two years. It’s been the biggest challenge of my career and filled with lessons, such as ‘sometimes you miss and have to keep trying’. My cameras is the swamps of South Florida have suffered fires, hurricanes and curious bears. But this trap has been reset and is waiting to capture the moment, and hopefully a few milliseconds earlier in the frame. #pathofthepanther #floridawildlifecorridor #floridawild #keepflwild @ilcp_photographers @fl_wildcorridor @natgeo



A Florida black bear walks by a 500 year old cypress tree near Big Cypress National Preserve. I set a camera trap here for a year, seeking to show wildlife (hopefully panthers) inhabiting this remote South Florida swamp which is filled with water at least half the year. #bear #swamp #floridawild #pathofthepanther #floridawildlifecorridor @fl_wildcorridor @natgeocreative @ilcp_photographers


Jaun Martinez and Antonio Corona (rear) rope a cow needing medical attention at the Corona Ranch near Okeechobee. The Coronas were ranchers in Cuba before losing their land to Castro. Portions of their Florida ranch are now permanently protected with a conservation easement, ensuring a future for their heritage, land, water and wildlife. This photo is featured in my 2018 Florida Ranches Calendar, which is currently being printed. #ranch #lasso #lariat #heritage #floridawild #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor @flcattlemen @freshfromflorida @ilcp_photographers


Last week while photographing Buck Island Ranch with @grizzlycreekfilms we saw this ambitious red-shouldered hawk land on a fence post with its sizable dinner — looks like a Florida water snake. Thanks @theonlyfrogboy for help with this ID! This ranch, which is the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center, supports a diversity of wildlife and science. @fl_wildcorridor @flcattlemen #ranch #hawk #keepflwild



Caladesi Island has been an inspiration to me since childhood, since growing up Gulf Coast of Florida near the city of Clearwater amidst the most densely populated county in the southeastern US. Caladesi was, and remains, a last remnant of nature amidst a landscape completely consumed by development. I later learned that my great grandfather helped save Caladesi as a state park in the 1960s. Caladesi was the first place in Florida I pointed my lens after becoming a photographer in college, and I can now clearly see how the island has shaped my career and purpose for saving wild Florida. Standing on the north end of Clearwater Beach beside the Gulf of Mexico, it is my favorite place to watch the full moon rise above the pines as palms. #caladesi @fl.stateparks #floridawild #keepflwild #gulfofmexico #moonrise. Please follow me @carltonward for more glimpses of the hidden wild.


>> multiple photos >> Buck Island Ranch, home to the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center, is a living laboratory in the Northern Everglades west of Lake Okeechobee. Generational ranchers raise beef cattle while scientists from @archboldstation study the effects of grazing on grasslands, wetlands, water storage, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Results are revealing the benefits of low density cattle to all of these factors. In these photos, restoration ecologist Dr. Betsey Boughton examines a sample of fish from a study wetland, ranch manager and multi-generation cattlemen Gene Lollis leads me through a broomsage prairie, he and his son Laurent rope a rebellious cracker bull, Laurent catches a stray calf, ecologist and PhD student Wes Anderson listens for wild hogs he is monitoring with radio collars. @fl_wildcorridor @flcattlemen #floridawild #keepflwild #floridaranch with @grizzlycreekfilms @bendicci @jeffreedfilm @3bearsmedia @malia_byrtus @alexjanephoto


A male Florida panther triggers a camera trap set on a trail at Babcock Ranch State Preserve. The Florida panther is the last puma living in the eastern United States. Recovering from as few as 30 individuals, there are nearly 200 today, primarily in South Florida. In order to recover from being endangered, there needs to be two additional populations of 200 or more panthers elsewhere in Florida or the Southeast. The good news is that the Florida Wildlife Corridor still connects the Everglades to the rest of the state and country. But we must act soon to invest in additional land conservation so that the Corridor is not lost to development. This photo was captured on spring of 2017 when the swamps were dry. The water in this spot now is more than a meter deep. To see the next frame, check out @natgeotravel and stay tuned to @carltonward as I follow the #pathofthepanther for the National Geographic Society. #panther #floridawild #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor.


>>swipe for more>> The first cool fall weather means saying goodbye to summer thunderstorms like this band sweeping over Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass to the Gulf of Mexico. In can be magical there when the elements collide; warm sun and sea breeze from the Gulf giving their best resistance to cool thunderheads and outgoing tides pressing seaward from the bay. #gulfofmexico #florida #floridawild #bocagrande #storm


Florida cattleman Elton Langford leads a herd of Brangus cattle across a pasture at Babcock Ranch. Ranchers need vast spreads of land to support their cattle and these same lands are essential to the survival of the Everglades and Florida wildlife. Many ranches are critical linkages connecting public lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. @fl_wildcorridor #keepflwild #ranch #aerial


Sunrise lights morning fog over a pine forest at Babcock Ranch inland of Fort Myers, Florida. I captured this frame from helicopter using a telephoto lens just as the sun was breaking the horizon. #pathofthepanther #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor @natgeocreative #fog #sunrise #forest #floridawild


Most of my camera traps were water damaged by Hurricane Irma. This setup captured a Florida black bear taking the high road through the swamp before rising water overtook the trigger system and lowest flash. Black bears rely on forests and range widely, making them great ambassadors for connecting and restoring large landscapes. #swampbear #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor #floridawild #keepflwild.


Hurricane Irma almost drowned the trailer I use as a base camp for my panther work in South Florida. Thankfully water didn’t come in the door and I was able to tow it to higher ground. A week ago I stepped out at midnight to fuel my generator, saw the Milky Way in the western sky and put my camera on a tripod with a 25 second exposure to capture this frame. The red light is from my headlamp. #pathofthepanther #floridawild @fl_wildcorridor @ilcp_photographers @natgeocreative #keepflwild @airstream_inc


Here are a couple more photos from a recent shoot at Buck Island Ranch in the Northern Everglades. Owned by the MacArthur Foundation and managed by Archbold Biological Station, Buck Island research informs rangeland, wetland and wildlife management for ranches throughout Florida and the Southeast. Cowboy Laurent Lollis (@laurentlollis) is in the foreground of both photos. #cowboys #florida #ranch #floridawild @fl_wildcorridor #keepflwild @flcattlemen @natgeocreative


This Labor Day I am thankful for Florida cattle ranchers, some of the hardest working men and women I know whose commitment to their land and way of life protects the heart of Florida from development while sustaining watersheds and wildlife corridors for everyone else. In this photo Laurent Lollis greets an August sunrise over Buck Island Ranch while gathering a herd of cracker cattle with his father Gene and fellow cowboys. @fl_wildcorridor #BuckIsland @natgeocreative #everglades #cowboy #floridawild #pathofthepanther #keepflwild @laurentlollis


Ghost orchid blooms hang from a pop ash tree in a flooded forest near Fakahatchee Strand. As few as 2000 ghost orchids survive in the wilds of South Florida. Only a small fraction bloom each year and fewer still (maybe 1 in 100 plants) get pollinated. Exploring these enchanting swamps in the summer blooming season is one of the highlights of my year. Check out the new video linked in my bio. #pureflorida #fakahatchee #swamp #adventure #floridawild #keepflwild @fl_wildcorridor #pathofthepanther @yoloboard @pureflorida #pureflorida


In the flooded forests of the Fakahatchee Strand, @malia_byrtus and @torilinder helped me scout for blooming orchid sites. An inflatable @yoloboard made for a convenient platform. #swamp #adventure #pureflorida #keepflwild #floridawild #pathofthepanther #fakahatchee