The California Legislature yesterday honored wildlife photographer Joshua Asel of Sebastopol with a resolution declaring his image of the life-or-death battle involving three species as the California Wildlife Photo of the Year. The photograph, presented on the Senate floor, captures the death-grip of a great blue heron as it clenches a garter snake, and the snake’s last-ditch diversion of releasing a shrew that it had just taken moments before.
The fascinating image took the grand prize of the annual contest, presented by Outdoor California magazine and California Watchable Wildlife, and sponsored by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Senator Mike McGuire (Second Senatorial District), chairman of the joint committee on fisheries and aquaculture, and Assemblyman Marc Levine (10th Assembly District) jointly authored the resolution. The announcement on the floor of the Senate marked a high point in the week as seven photographs from the contest hung in the Capitol outside the Governor’s Office.
The resolution commends Asel for founding and serving as director for Wild Expectations, a wildlife conservation group that strives to “ensure a positive future for California’s ecosystems by sharing its wildlife through multimedia driven resources for public education.” In addition to Outdoor California, magazines such as Defenders of Wildlife, National Geographic Education and National Geographic have published his works.
“The photography of Joshua Asel illustrates the beauty and vital importance of California’s wildlife and natural environments, and he serves as a worthy model for all aspiring environmental stewards,” the resolution states.
This month marks the sixth anniversary of the competition, but Asel said 2016 was the first time he’d entered. He learned of the competition after seeing a copy of Outdoor California at a local wildlife area. On the day he took his photograph, Asel had no particular subject in mind. He was strolling along a beach near Bodega Head at Bodega Bay when he turned and found the scene unfolding before him.
“I’d spotted the garter snake in the field a couple minutes earlier so when I focused on the great blue heron I knew exactly what was going to happen,” Asel said. He took a series of shots that has the heron whipping the snake around before the snake pitched the shrew away. He believes the snake tried to confuse the bird, to offer it something else and perhaps to get the heron to release it. “I didn’t know I had the exact shot with the shrew in the snake’s mouth until I was home where I could take a closer look.”
Troy Swauger, CDFW Education and Outreach, (916) 322-8932