William J. Deml

Joined: May 20, 2022 Last Active: Nov 30, 2023 iNaturalist

Growing up in southern New Jersey and southwestern Pennsylvania, U.S.A. in the 1960's and 70's, I always had binoculars, magnifying glass, and guidebooks in hand, with parents and relatives eager to teach plant and wildlife identification and observation. Many hours in the old sand roads and bogs of the Jersey Pine Barrens conveyed a sense of magic and awe in natural places to me as a child. The Will-of-the-Wisp we once saw in the Pines was both a ghost lantern haunting an ancient crossroad and a fascinating natural phenomenon. I admired the authors of books we had at home such as Gerald Durrell (The Overloaded Ark, The Drunken Forest), Rachell Carson (The Edge of the Sea), and Jacques Yves Cousteau (The Silent World), whose films that aired every few months on TV were events not to be missed in our house.

Summer trips to visit extended family around Medford, Wisconsin, and Naples and Fort Myers, Florida, broadened my exploratory horizons, with Aunts & Uncles that each was a sort of Park Ranger and Guide to their farms or homes, and the many State Parks and private lakeside cottages they took us to. We had a collection of National Geographic magazines from World War Two onwards, and many many non-fiction books to foster our curiosity.

In highschool I started joining organizations and learned at the feet of experienced amateurs and professionals in the Audubon Society, and in the National Speleological Society, where I experienced and participated in real science being conducted by Entomologists, Geologists, and Wildlife Biologists. I was involved in studies involving Bats, Blind Crayfish, and cave adapted Insects, as well as geology, hydrology, and cartography. I also learned to SCUBA dive and joined the Washington County Underwater Search and Rescue Team which involved training in all manner of freshwater habitats with specialised gear (like Poseidon Drysuits and two way underwater voice communication systems), and even once a year traveled to the Florida Keys to practice our techniques in somewhat better(!) visibility.

A year at George Washington University in the District of Columbia taught me mostly that I had too many interests to focus on any one of them exclusively. I returned home and found work in the local hospital as an Orderly, a non-professional in the Nursing Department. This allowed me to truly help people in a direct way, and supported my hobbies of nature study, and increasingly, photography. I soon became a licensed Paramedic II working on ambulances part time, and a Critical Care Technician full time in the hospital Emergency Room, with occasional extended periods in Intensive Care Units and the Operating Rooms.

Marrying and moving to Gainesville, Florida in 1989, I worked there in the E.R. of the University of Florida teaching hospital. In Florida, I pursued my interests with the many university town resources, briefly served as President of the Florida Speleological Society, discovered, mapped and named several interesting, mostly air-filled, limestone caves. I had my first observations, photographs, and written articles published in N.S.S. "Grotto" magazines and newsletters. Here I made the first recorded observations of an American Alligator spending months at a time in a completely dry cave miles from any open water. After this was published, similar crocodilian behaviors were described in Madagascar and elsewhere. We also helped conduct ground penetrating radar studies for the government, and worked closely with Biologists and Paleontologists at the Florida State Natural History Museum.

In the field, I had many memorable wildlife encounters - with carpets of cockroaches in bat caves, poisonous snakes in the bush, a remarkable baby Screech Owl and soft pink baby Armadillos, and beautiful giant spiders. On one caving trip in Levy County, Fla., my companions and I were literally treed by a bull sub-Saharan Cape Buffalo that someone had on their farm! That same day, surveying an unexplored cave, I came around a bend in a low crawlway and became the first person to come nose to nose (well, arm's length) with an Alligator in a constricted underground cave passage, a long torturous way from daylight. It turns out, I was more alarmed than the cool reptile. It just backed up one step and layed back down. I scampered backward and tried to convince my smiling colleagues what was ahead! Only then did we notice the footprints in the sand we had been crawling on!

A photograph I took underground of an unusual fossil vertebral column I found in a cave (that I was the first human being to enter) led to our excavating what I was later told was the world's largest collection of Eocene age complete fossil fish skeletons ever found (now in the Museum). I also volunteered at the Lubee Foundation, taking care of a large research population of rare captive Pteropodids (Giant Fruit Bats from the islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans - about 200 individuals of 6 species, including Pteropus vampyrus and Pteropus pumilus). Here, unique discoveries in basic biology and behavior were first made in these fascinating and important endangered animals.

My medical job broadened to training to run the large hyperbaric chamber built by NASA for the Apollo manned Moon landing program, now used for inpatient Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Our ER staff became the contracted emergency medical team flown to Cape Canaveral to cover all the NASA launches of the Space Shuttle (from an underground bunker close to the pad). My photographic skills improved, and I really began to challenge myself with photography - underground, of lightning, astrophotography, and of wildlife, including birds and macro closeups. At that time I had a 500mm mirror lens in my kit bag, and shot mostly Kodachrome 64 film. I've since scanned many of those colorful slides.

I eventually returned to Pennsylvania for family reasons, and went back to school for a degree in Secondary Education to be a Middle School Science Teacher. I took many extra courses in Geology, Meteorology, and Wildlife Management, in which I helped researchers mist net and band song birds and cave bats (with Merlin Tuttle's ingenious harp traps), trap and examine Black Bears (including blood draws and tooth extractions), and set up tree, small mammal, and invertebrate population surveys.

Over the years I have traveled from southwestern PA mostly to (the caves of) Greenbrier County, West Virginia, all over North and Southwest Florida, Taylor County Wisconsin, the White Mountains of New Hampshire; and overseas, all the southernmost counties in England in the UK, and once to southwestern Italy. In future, I think I would most like to study birds and other wildlife in Puerto Rico, England, Polynesia, Japan, and the Philippines.

I now look after my elderly mother, and don't have as much time outdoors as previously, so most of my newer observations will likely be in or near Washington County, Pennsylvania, for the time being. For photography right now (other than the occasional iPhone snap) I use a Canon EOS Rebel T3i digital S.L.R. camera, usually with a 55-250mm zoom lens. I use a tripod whenever possible, even if it's just as a monopod, for sharper images. I occasionally add a Hoya +1 or +2 diopter on the lens for extreme closeups (flowers and insects). I admire the lanscape and widlife photography of John Shaw. I also enjoy making high quality wildlife and environmental stereo audio recordings with an Australian made RØDE Stereo Videomic Pro microphone attached to the Canon camera body, shooting video, with immersive, satisfying results.

I am delighted to discover iNaturalist as a way to share and contribute something valuable, and finding myself surrounded by like minded observers.

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