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Chasing butterflies with an Oklahoma photographer

Bryan E. Reynolds is a nature photographer who has spent decades photographing butterflies. You've probably seen his work.
BY KEN RAYMOND Modified: August 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: August 5, 2013

Reynolds' friendship with the college professor, Ronald Royer, continued after the publication of “Butterflies of North Dakota: An Atlas and Guide.” Today, Royer is an adviser to Reynolds' foundation, which focuses on conservancy.

Reynolds and his family left Minot after he retired from the military and moved to Oklahoma about 2005. Reynolds plunged into the state's wildlife refuges in search of more butterflies, emerging with more photos and a better understanding of Oklahoma's ecological environment and challenges.

Butterflies, he said, are a sort of “canary in the coal mine,” an early warning sign that an ecosystem may be out of balance. If certain butterflies aren't where you expect them to be year after year, something's wrong.

That's why keeping track of them is important. Reynolds, who has participated in other counts in the past, has been hired to track a whole season of butterflies in the Black Mesa State Park and Nature Reserve in the state's Panhandle.

It's arduous work, plagued with annoyances such as poison ivy, ticks, mosquitoes, deer flies, briers, mud, horse flies and snakes. (Sometimes, he said, he covers up most of his skin in dense mosquito areas but leaves one patch bare so he can photograph the parasites as they drink his blood.)

“My last trip to Black Mesa, it was already well over 100 degrees,” he said. “Very dry with a lot of wind and dust. I had to be careful with my fluid intake and so on. You get very excited. You see a species, and your excitement carries you through the discomfort, and you get the shot, and then you realize you're just dripping with sweat. You're in danger of dehydration. You need to get water.”

Nearly 200 butterfly species have been documented in Oklahoma. About 80 percent of them, Reynolds said, return regularly. The others are “rare strays” carried into our state because of hurricanes or unusual weather conditions.

“You can have a hurricane near Texas that can bring into Oklahoma butterflies normally found in Mexico,” he said.

The work has been rewarding. Reynolds' photographs have been published in Discover magazine, Mother Earth News, Highlights for Children, Smithsonian magazine, Outdoor Photographer and more. National Geographic has used images he captured of mosquitoes and black widow spiders in their educational materials. His work has been reproduced in textbooks, post cards, greeting cards, field guides and calendars.

Through the foundation, which was established in 2007, Reynolds has spoken to thousands of people about butterflies and conservancy.

“It's very rewarding,” he said. “I love it.”