Wildlife photographer pictures another world
Wildlife photographer pictures another world
November 11, 2007 — DANSVILLE — John Adamski is standing in the foyer of his magnificent Adirondack lodge-style home high in the hills near where Livingston, Steuben and Allegany counties meet.
"This is my business suit," says Adamski, who is dressed from head to toe in camouflage.
His grin is the kind that a man who is living a good life grins.
Because not only is camo his business attire, the 1,000 acres of wilderness that Adamski lives in is his office. A place that easily qualifies as "God's country." Where this youthful 64-year-old wildlife photographer, writer, horseman and sportsman can work and play.
Adamski owns five acres at 1,200 feet elevation but has the run of a swath of Southern Tier encompassing private and public land connected by abandoned logging roads.
Fueled on snack bars and water, he can walk sunup to sundown and not see a road or another person. But he will see wild animals, many traveling a forested corridor called Poag's Hole free of human encounters.
Often times, Adamski merely has to sip coffee at his kitchen table and peer out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of his great room to see wildlife.
"A lot of my pictures are taken right through these windows," he says.
And who are the stars of his private nature show?
Lets see ... Black Bear. Whitetail deer. Bobcat. Turkey. Coyotes. Mink. Ruffed grouse. Fox (gray and red). Squirrels (red, gray and black). Chipmunks. Hawks (red tail, broad-winged and Cooper's). Raccoons. Opossums. Woodchucks. Skunks. Skinks. Snakes. Newts. Salamanders. And as for birds "you name it."
Adamski's son, John, 37, shares his dad's love of nature and works as a herpetologist at the Seneca Park Zoo. But the elder Adamski lives in one.
In the spring and fall, he heads west to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to photograph bugling elks, moose, grizzly bears and bison. But any day in any woods is a gift.
"If I can spend a day in the woods and bring back one excellent picture — it can be a chipmunk or a moose — then I've had a good day," Adamski says. "I call it hunting with a camera. If you are a hunter, you've got 90 percent of the skills you need to photograph wildlife and there are no bag limits or seasons."
The popularity of wildlife watching is on the rise nationally, but Adamski discovered the therapeutic, educational and affordable joys of observing nature as a boy growing up in Irondequoit.
It was his studious approach to the outdoors that landed him a job as director of fish and wildlife management for Whitney Park in the Adirondacks.
"I was in the woods every day and it didn't take long to realize I better be carrying a camera with me," Adamski says. "I'd see stuff all the time, some really fantastic whitetail bucks up there."
While working a second career in construction, raising a family and operating a charter boat service, Adamski's interest in outdoor photography went dormant, only to be reawakened in the mid-1990s when he remarried.
Barbara Judd shared a passion for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and photography with Adamski and their adventures took them across New York, out west and into Canada.
Building a wilderness dream home so they could live the lifestyle on a daily basis became a race against time once Barbara was diagnosed with colon cancer. She'd come home from chemotherapy and apply finishing coats to the interior knotty pine and only got to enjoy the views for nine months. She died in 2003 at age 52.
"It was a real love story, just too good to be true," Adamski says. "I wish she was here to share this with me but I cherish every minute we had. This place was a gift to each other. She smiled every day up until the day she died."
No doubt she smiles down as her soulmate continues to walk their woods, camera in hand.
While observing wildlife can be as easy as enjoying birds at a backyard feeder, seeing heart-pounding big game like deer, along with mystery species such as bears, coyotes, river otters and bald eagles will take effort, skill and a rudimentary knowledge of wildlife biology.
Hunters, the biggest wildlife watchers there are, know that in order to see a wild animal you must think like a wild animal. What does it eat? Where does it find shelter? Where are the food and water sources? When is it most active?
"The main thing is paying attention to the wind," says Adamski, whose work is available in gift shops and at www.jbadamsgallery.com. "Every wild animal, his most important sense is the sense of smell. Hearing and sight are second and third depending on the species."
Adamski tricks those senses with cover scents, ground blinds and wildlife calls. And as a rule of thumb, impatient, talkative people see less in the woods if anything at all.
"If you sit and be quiet, something will come along," says Adamski, who is working on a wildlife photography book geared toward beginners. "Give yourself 20 minutes after entering the woods. Suddenly it will all start coming alive."
Adamski's portfolio of 10,000 stunning images is testimony that he practices what he preaches. From bears to butterflies he has captured it all with a gifted eye fine-tuned over the years by the gracious friendship of other notable local wildlife photographers Charlie Alsheimer and Bill Banaszewski.
An American bison suns itself near a calm stretch of the Yellowstone River. A young grizzly digs the ground 100 feet away from Adamski's lens. An angry cow moose threatens to charge in Montana.
Back in New York, a magnificent 10-point buck hides in a cornfield in Wayne County. A fawn nuzzles in the grass. A Great Blue Heron soars gracefully over Keaney Swamp, one of Adamski's favorite places where the wildlife there never cease to surprise and amaze him.
Like the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly he zoomed in on resting on a milkweed blossom. You can see its eyes.
Then there are the black bears. They knock over his woodpiles searching for bugs and leave claw marks near his doors. Adamski, who assists the DEC in its den research, photographed two cubs on his deck last year as mama bear looked on.
Before the wonders of digital, Adamski shot 35-millimeter film and the selection of telephoto lenses was limited.
"Now I can see a deer's tonsils from 50 yards," he says while holding his powerful camera unit mounted on a gun stock with shutter trigger.
Adamski witnessed traffic jams of wildlife watchers at Yellowstone for the first time this year, recalling the scene of 25 cars pulled over to see a moose.
We don't have those kinds of traffic jams. But it's now common to see sizable numbers of deer, turkey and Canada goose while driving, or red tail hawks eyeing dinner from guardrails.
As we walk the logging roads near Adamski's home, two whitetails jump and run off but not the 8-inch yellow spotted salamander. Adamski frames it on a giant leaf fallen from a cucumber tree. Another of nature's wonders preserved in pixels. Another good day in the woods.
||-Leo Roth, Sports Writer
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle