- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

WEST MINERAL, Kan. (AP) - Two cereal box tops and 50 cents in the 1940s paved the way for a hobby that has taken Emmett Sullivan through prairies, around strip pits, along roadsides and in and out of state parks in search of flora and fauna to document.

“That’s what it cost me to buy my first camera, a tiny thing with a tiny roll of film,” Sullivan said from his tree-shaded yard in tiny West Mineral, Kansas.

Binoculars at his side, he watched as birds came to visit: first a Eurasian collared dove, then a downy woodpecker, hummingbird, red-headed woodpecker and Northern flicker, The Joplin Globe (https://bit.ly/1MGVKQs ) reported.

Sullivan, now 75, was just a kid when he got that first camera - he sent off for it in the mail - but still remembers vividly tiptoeing out to the chicken house with a flashlight in an attempt to take a photograph of the sparrows roosting for the night in the rafters.

He also recalls taking note of where killdeer built nests in his family’s pasture, then sneaking up on them at night when they were on the nest to try to capture them on film.

Growing up in a time when families gathered to help one another when it was time to thresh the wheat and boys rushed home from school to explore the creek bottoms, Sullivan was rarely indoors. As a student at Columbus High School in 1955, he joined a photography club and bought his first Kodak Brownie camera. When he joined the military in 1960, he bought his first 35 millimeter and carried it everywhere until he returned from Germany.

But it wasn’t until a colorful plant on a Kansas roadside caught his eye that he got serious about capturing images of flora and fauna.

In the 1970s, Sullivan was working on Big Brutus, the world’s largest electric coal shovel, which today stands as a museum that’s a 4-minute drive from Sullivan’s 100-year-old farmhouse. He and his wife, Ruth, also raised a family. It wasn’t until he retired that he and Ruth had the time to go on leisurely country drives.

“We began noticing flowers along the road, and one of them in particular caught my eye,” he said.

Research told him the brilliant orange specimen was butterfly milkweed, a native plant. That experience led to him joining the Kansas Native Plant Society, and now he has a knee-high stack of field guides and an encyclopedic knowledge of wildflowers.

That, in turn, would lead to an interest in learning to identify birds, and he became a charter member of the Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society.

And he began his quest to document in photos all that he could find, and then some.

These days, his camera is much more high-tech than that box-top camera he ordered by mail: He uses a digital Canon with several specialized lenses and, when finished, uses a laptop to post the images in albums on his Facebook page to share with friends, family and fellow nature enthusiasts across the country. About 40 of them have been published by the Kansas Native Plant Society.

For each photograph, he uses field guides to meticulously identify each plant or animal by common and scientific names, as well as the date and location the photograph was taken. His photos, which now number in the thousands, have become a record of not just where he’s been and what he’s seen, but of the natural world of Southeast Kansas.

“Now I know where things should be blooming and when, so I can go hunt for specific things,” he said. “This month, I know the Downy Gentian, a little blue flower, will bloom. The only place I’ve been able to find it is Prairie State Park at the end of September.”

His photo-taking also has been a catalyst to try to find species he hasn’t seen.

“Just the other day at Schermerhorn Park in Galena, I got a photo of the blue mistflower,” he said. “That’s a new species. I found it going up the hill.”

Each season, he attempts to improve on his images, technically speaking.

“Right now I’m also on the trail of white snakeroot. I’ve still not gotten an image I’m really satisfied with. I’ll go back out when the season is right, go to where I’ve observed them before, change my camera settings and try to get a really clear one.”

Because he goes to great lengths to share specific details about each photo with family and friends, they then have the information they need to go see and photograph the wildflowers, too, he said.

His favorite places to see flora and fauna and take photographs?

In addition to Schermerhorn Park south of Galena, his top spots are Prairie State Park near Minden, Missouri; the Mined Land Area in Cherokee County, Kansas; and a couple of prairies southwest of West Mineral.

“I’d rather be out here doing this than anything,” Sullivan said.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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