Trevor Pottelberg was not actually planning to enter the Professional Photographers of Canada 2021 Ontario competition.
Too busy with other commitments, he figured.
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He actually forgot about the competition until the final day to enter, and in one short hour before the deadline decided to submit four images that needed to be edited, titled, sized and saved.
He made the right choices.
Pottelberg was awarded Ontario’s 2021 Photographic Artist of the Year Award by the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC).
“That’s the award I’ve been striving toward since I joined the PPOC (in 2014), so that was very exciting.”
The Brownsville photographer also won two Judges Choice awards and two Best In Class awards (Fine Art and Pictorial classes).
Judges Choice awards are selected from the highest scoring images of the competition by a panel of five judges who pick their ‘absolute favourite.’ Two judges chose a Pottelberg image.
WILD CANIDS OF ONTARIO
Known for his award-winning fine art/landscape photography, including a PPOC national Best in Class award in 2020, Pottelberg shifted his focus to wildlife in January 2021.
“I didn’t totally abandon landscapes, which is what I’m primarily known for, and I’m definitely going to come back to those at some point in the future, but my love for nature is what first got me into photography and I wanted to spend not only more time photographing our local wildlife, in their natural environment, but also studying them, documenting them, observing them.”
That led Pottelberg starting a three-part photographic project, The Wild Canids of Ontario, that has become very near-and-dear to his heart.
“Its primary goal is to bring much-needed awareness to these misunderstood creatures. That would include red foxes, coyotes, and eventually wolves.”
This year he started primarily photographing red foxes. Part II will be local coyotes, and a couple years (and miles) down the road he will concentrate on Algonquin-area wolves for Part III.
“For now I wanted to keep it very local, that’s why I’m working with the red foxes and (next year) the coyotes.”
Many of his fox photographs have been posted his social media
“I spent at least two months straight this past year, from about May-June to July, almost every day – hours and hours and hours every day pouring blood, sweat and tears into this, just trying to build up a really good-sized portfolio of the different red fox families around the area, especially in Oxford County.”
It started with a tip from a past student who knew of foxes on a back road in Oxford that she had photographed.
“It took me a few trips and sitting for hours at a time before I finally got to see my first (fox) kits appear from the den. As soon as I saw the first one, I was hooked. It was so cool how playful they were and it just grabbed my attention and my heart. It’s something that I didn’t expect to happen.”
After posting several photos online, he started receiving private message tips from local farmers. He received permission from two farmers to set up a blind that could be used at any time, dressed in camo, sometimes just observing the foxes.
“Sometimes I just watched them and tried to learn about their behaviour.”
When driving back roads, he was always on the lookout for more.
“I went a long time, a good chunk of my life, without ever seeing a red fox in the wild. And for most people, that’s the same. But I found that in the late spring when the kits got to that age between 6-8 weeks old, they are exiting the den and starting to get a little more curious. As they go from 8-12 weeks old they start to venture away from the den a little bit more, so you would actually start seeing them. It wasn’t a lot, but I found a couple other families of foxes just from driving the back roads.”
In total he found four different fox families that he was able to document as they grew up.
He remembers one image in particular, as soon as he took it, thinking that was ‘the one.’
“It was the right lighting, the right conditions, and it was just the right pose.”
That image, he said, scored quite high in the PPOC competition and led to him winning the Photographer of the Year Award.
“That award was really, really special this year because I had completely shifted my focus from what I normally do and what I’m comfortable doing to something completely out of my element.
“It made things come full circle spending all the time out there. It was not all spent geared toward the PPOC competition… everything I am doing is geared towards this Wild Canids project. It’s a personal thing. But when that image came up and I saw it… I knew ‘this is it, this is the one I want to enter.’”
“You definitely put your whole heart into it and you put a lot of days in when you get no results at all. I would sit sometimes 3-4 hours and not get any results. I didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything – and it does get frustrating after a while if it happens back-to-back-to-back days. But I found the more I learned about these animals, it was easier to figure out their locations, their behaviours, when are they sleeping in the den, when are they out of the den and active.”
WILD CANIDS ART SHOW
Pottelberg wants to exhibit his red fox images in a local art show, displaying them next to informative documentation that will educate the public about ‘everything red fox.’ Expect more details in 2022.
“It would be like an informative interactive art show that is based soley on this project, and soley on the red foxes for Part I.”
For coyotes Pottelberg plans to be active this winter.
“I’m hoping we’ll have a lot of snow this year,” he said, noting that will help him track coyotes, identifying areas where he might be able to set up temporary blinds.
“As the winter progresses and they find their mate I will be looking for signs they are getting a den ready (usually some time in February). Depending where this is, then I might find out from a landowner if it’s possible to set up a blind. I want to keep the blinds far enough away… I don’t want the animals to be affected by me at all, and that was the same with the red foxes. I don’t want to be distracting them, or they’re just going to pick up and move, because that would crush me. I’m trying to bring awareness to them, not be part of the problem.”
His plan is to observe coyote pups as they grow.
“The coyotes are definitely going to be more challenging. You hear them, but you don’t see them. So I think it’s going to take a lot of experimentation and it’s going to take a lot of scouting locations.”
Pottelberg is hoping people in the area, who might like to support his Wild Canids photography project, will help him locate coyotes.
“I’m hoping that some people in the local community will step up and do the same thing as they did with the red foxes, and say ‘Hey Trevor, we have a spot where I know we have coyotes and I think there might be a den back in this area…’ We’ll see how that goes. That may or may not happen.”
If you would like to be a part of Trevor’s Wild Canids of Ontario project (contributing tips, land use, locations, etc.), please contact him directly to discuss (firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-933-8999) or through his social media accounts (www.facebook.com/tpottelberg or www.instagram.com/trevorpottelbergphotography) or his website at www.trevorpottelberg.com.
When not working on the Wild Canids project, Pottelberg is photographing local songbirds, waterfowl and birds of prey, as well as local white-tailed deer.
“My favourite birds of prey are the owls.”
Eventually he hopes to expand his wildlife photography – and log some extensive travel miles – to include other Canadian species such as grizzlies, caribou, polar bears, arctic fox and bison.
“Sales of my artwork will go toward excursions to other parts of Canada where these animals live.”