Local photographer uses his skills to promote conservation

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 1/14/20

Warren's Butch Lombardi "retired" more than two decades ago — though he has certainly not slowed down. The wildlife and nature photographer, avid golfer, and volunteer Osprey nest monitor …

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Local photographer uses his skills to promote conservation


Warren's Butch Lombardi "retired" more than two decades ago — though he has certainly not slowed down. The wildlife and nature photographer, avid golfer, and volunteer Osprey nest monitor worked for the phone company since graduating from CCRI in 1966. Two years later he bought his first SLR camera.

"I wanted to do something creative, but I didn't have the patience to paint," he said.

For the next 30 years he worked hard, raised a family, played sports, and took pictures, when he could. Slowly, he taught himself the craft. In 1998, in his early 50's he took a buyout offer from his employer.

Two years later, his began photographing in digital format — and generating a lot of great images. "Them my wife asked my what I was going to do with all of it," he said.

Mr. Lombardi started attending craft shows and gallery shows, with mixed results. "I learned that art shows can be very subjective," he said. His landscapes sold well, which he appreciated. "The greatest compliment is when someone purchases one of your photographs to hang in their home," he said.

His wildlife shots, on the other hand, did not attract as many buyers. "I love photographing wildlife, but wildlife doesn't sell," he said. "But I didn't cut down on what I shot — just what I exhibited."

In the meantime, he got involved with the Audubon Society, providing images free of charge for uses that promote the society and their conservation efforts.

"As a wildlife photographer I feel I have an obligation to help with conservation, so if my work can be used towards conservation in any way, I'm happy," Mr. Lombardi said.

Hope Foley, who handles media relations for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, it grateful for Mr. Lombardi's talents and commitment. "Butch is always so generous in allowing us to use his photography to support our programs and mission," she said. "He feels strongly about allowing his work to be used to promote any type of conservation cause."

This year, Mr. Lombardi's photography reached an even wider audience after he entered 10 photographs in the 2018 National Wildlife Federation's annual contest. Though he did not win, two of his photographs were selected for reprint as holiday cards: a New Hampshire landscape for a Thanksgiving card, and his image "Snowy Owl Wonderland" was selected for both a Christmas card and the NWF annual calendar, as well as Audubon's annual calendar.

But it was in his role as a longtime volunteer helping monitor Osprey nests in the area that Mr. Lombardi has had probably his most gratifying experience in all his decades of observing and photographing wildlife.

Osprey monitoring is a Audubon Society of Rhode Island program that runs annually, from about April to July. Volunteers are assigned a nest or two, and they visit weekly, to see how the nests are doing, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings fledge. Mr. Lombardi monitors several nests along the Palmer River, many that are only accessible by kayak.

Several years ago, in August, after the fledge, Mr. Lombardi got an email from Rob Bierregard of the Academy of Natural Sciences, one of the world's foremost Osprey experts. Mr. Bierregard had tagged a young Osprey, dubbed "Lizzie", which had fledged in New Hampshire, but stalled her migration at one of Mr. Lombardi's Palmer River nests.

"This usually means they are dead," said Mr. Lombardi. "But they knew she was on the river and asked me to check on her. She happened to be in a nest I could access through a friend's property. I could see the sun glinting off the transmitter, so I knew it was Lizzie. I started going every day."

Over the next 2 weeks Mr. Lombardi observed the young Osprey, using his camera to take notes on her behavior as she moved into a strange next and called for other Osprey parents to bring her fish (which they did.)

Then one day, an email from another Academy of Natural Sciences researcher, Iain MacLeod, alerted Mr. Lombardi to the ominous fact that Lizzie's transmitter had not moved in 24 hours. It took 3 visits before Mr. Lombardi found Lizzie, dead in the eelgrass.

He thinks a Peregrine Falcom, captured on camera a few days prior, may have killed her.

In 2016, based on the research and photographs conducted by Mr. Lombardi, Mr. Bierregard published a paper in the Academy of Natural Science's Journal of Raptor Research, titled "Long-distance Nest Switching by a Juvenile Osprey." Mr. Lombardi and Mr. MacLeod are listed as co-authors. The article includes an image, taken by Mr. Lombardi, of Lizzie tangling with the nest's rightful occupant over a fish.

"Imagine that," laughed Mr. Lombardi. "A dummy with no science degree and my work is published in a science journal."

Locally, Sachuest Point is one of Mr. Lombardi's favorite places to shoot. This time of year it's known to host a Snowy Owl or two, but ironically, the local Snowy Owl meccas are, according to Mr. Lombardi, Logan Airport, and to a lesser degree, Green. "It mimics the arctic tundra," he said. "A big square of flat open land."

It's not just birds that Mr. Lombardi enjoys photographing — a recent wilderness canoe trip to Maine yielded images of a bull moose in velvet and several otters. But even if birds aren't always easy to capture on camera, they're everywhere. "Go out any day," he said, "and you will see some kind of bird."

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