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Nature Photographer Bill Portlock to Present His Work in ODU Natural History Series

Bill Portlock

Bill Portlock, Senior Educator for the Bay with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and an award-winning nature photographer, will deliver Old Dominion University's annual Lytton J. Musselman Natural History Lecture on Thursday, April 16.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Mills Godwin Jr. Building auditorium.

Portlock, a Norfolk native and ODU alumnus who now lives in Caroline County in north central Virginia, has worked for three decades as a naturalist and field biologist. Before joining the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 1981, he served as a State Park Naturalist and curator with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Photos taken by Portlock have appeared in numerous publications, including the foundation's Save the Bay magazine, as well as in several books such as "Chesapeake: Exploring the Water Trail of Captain John Smith," written by John Page Williams and published by National Geographic Books in 2007.

He will present a slide show of around 150 of his photos during the ODU lecture. A short audio-visual program on the Chesapeake Bay's environmental health will also be part of the lecture.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History has an exhibition of 40 of Portlock's photos through April 26 at its Jamestown, N.Y., facility. The exhibition, "Nature Revealed: The Photographs of Bill Portlock," includes images from Virginia of landscapes, marshes, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Last year, the Peterson Institute, named for the author/artist who created the well-known field guides on plants, birds and animals, gave the photographer its Blanche Hornbeck Award for outstanding work in nature education.

The Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation, in association with the Smithsonian Institution, honored Portlock in 2005 with the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education. The citation commended his "inspiring, lifetime work as an environmental educator and bay naturalist."

Portlock has led hundreds of politicians and policymakers on field trips to give them firsthand knowledge about the Chesapeake Bay. His field investigations and courses have been attended by more than 5,000 teachers and school administrators, and 75,000 students. He often uses his photos in his educational programs.

As a teenager in Norfolk, Portlock acquired an Instamatic camera and begin teaching himself to take photographs of plants and animals. With a better camera, he became an accomplished photographer during his years pursuing a biology degree at ODU. More recently, he has focused on hunting for images on river banks, beaches and marshes where the water meets the land. "I try to capture that critical moment in animals' lives without intruding on them," he said, "to capture that and share it with people and get them to go experience it for themselves. Then, armed with greater knowledge and appreciation for the natural world, they will become better stewards of the Earth. "

Lytton Musselman, the Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany at ODU and for whom the lecture series is named, was one of Portlock's instructors nearly four decades ago. Musselman remembers Portlock as an "absolutely enthusiastic field biologist," and someone who proves ODU success in training field biologists.

This is the sixth annual lecture in the series, which is supported by an endowment. The effort to build the endowment was led by Michael Pitchford, an ODU alumnus and former biology student, who now serves as president and chief executive officer of Community Preservation and Development Corp. in Washington, D.C., and supported by a substantial gift from Pitchford and his wife, Sue, an ODU alumna. He said he looks forward to a lecture by Portlock that "will be a mix of celebration of wildlife diversity of the bay and caution about its fragile ecosystem."

This article was posted on: April 13, 2009

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