Mike Blair, well-known wildlife photographer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism, will be presenting his specialized videos via KPTS Channel 8 beginning this Friday.
A rare glimpse into wildlife all around Kansas is coming to the people who live next door it to but may have never seen it before.
Videographer Mike Blair, former writer and photographer for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Magazine based in Pratt, has put together a nine episode series "Wild Edge" featuring Kansas wildlife, weather and land.
Each half-hour episode will air on KPTS Channel 8 on Fridays at 8:30 p.m. starting with the first in the series on Friday, June 23 and repeating on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. with the first on Saturday, June 24.
The first in the series is on nesting Bald Eagles with other episodes on predators, wildflowers, deer, insects, arthropods and the value of outdoor recreational experiences.
What people will see is the result of untold hours of filming across Kansas in a wide diversity of locations to capture what is truly in Kansas' back yards.
Blair has always had an interest in Kansas wildlife. There are popular series on television that cover nature and wildlife. Many, including the BBC Planet Earth series, got good viewer response. But much of what they covered was wildlife in Africa, Australia, Antarctica and in the oceans.
Very little of the nature programming out there covered America and particularly the heartland.
"I have a passion to show folks what we have in our back yard," Blair said. "That's why I go after it like I do."
Going after it may be one of the biggest understatements of all time for Blair. He films virtually every day of the year. He recently spent several days filming a raccoon family out hunting and swimming in the water where the four babies were romping and constantly chattering, Blair said.
What people will see in the series is the result of thousands of hours of work. For his Bald Eagles segment he spent 1,500 hours in 2016 from late January to July capturing video of eagle fledglings to record their lives for a 30 minute program. He has traveled over 1,500 miles filming wild flowers as they are blooming.
Much research has to go into wildlife footage. Finding locations take a great deal of time and a lot of driving time. Knowing when animals will be active at that location then being dedicated enough to spend the time necessary to film in all kinds of weather whether its heat, cold, rain, snow are all required to get wildlife video. If it's a 30 below zero wind chill or 130 degrees inside a blind at a water hole, the videographer has to be patient and let life happen, said Blair who admitted there is also an element of luck in getting what he wants and needs.
In his 40 some years of photographing and taking video in Kansas, he has learned certain rhythms in wildlife and nature that he uses to his advantage. He knows the best time of day to find animals feeding or getting water. It all happens in a very predictable fashion. He also knows when he can get the best lighting, another critical element.
Part of Blair's focus is local to his hometown. A sand pit on the southwest edge of Pratt is a popular stopping grounds for Snow Geese. At times there are 20,000 birds at the pit. Along with the geese are Bald Eagles that will hunt the geese. Blair has filmed Bald Eagles hunting the geese every day they are on the pit.
Blair also uses bird calls to get birds to come to him and get them to come out in better lighting. He has an on-line course that shares how to get close to animals and video methods.
While it takes a lot of time on the road getting to locations and more time on-site waiting for the best images, there is much more to do when the filming is over. Blair carries four cameras including a drone and he takes a lot of footage. That footage needs to be downloaded every evening and night because it takes up a lot of space on his cameras. He downloads and clips the film so it will be ready to go.
During the summer, that means he often finishes at midnight or 1 a.m. then gets up the next day and goes again.
An inspiration for Blair is Leonard Lee Rue III, arguably the most published wildlife photographer that ever lived. He always said, "I've got all the patience in the world. I just don’t have the time to use it."
Blair understands all too well what Rue meant.
Producing these half-hour videos is enormously time consuming. Finding locations, travel time, getting the video, down loading are just the start to create a half-hour episode. Selecting and editing the video, creating audio and editing it in plus all the necessary elements that go into the 26 minutes needed for just one episode takes huge amounts of time. It took Blair a month of hard work to write the video story, create the music and assemble the film. Blair writes his own music for the videos to avoid copyright issues.
When other TV shows on the outdoors run the credits at the end, there are from 10 to 50 people doing everything that Blair does by himself.
But that doesn't matter for Blair. He has a passion for his creations and wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's kind of a labor of love," Blair said.
Blair admits it would be nice to have some sponsorship to help with the costs of producing his films. He covers the cost himself but would enjoy having some financial help, not to make a profit but to help pay the bills. Its very difficult to find a sponsor for his type of video. Other outdoors programs have product tie-ins but there's not much other there for outdoors video.
Besides KPTS, Oklahoma Public Television Network OETA has committed to run the Wild Edge series in early fall. Public television stations in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa are also interested in airing the series.