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Wild Florida comes to Pensacola this weekend

Kirsten Hines
Courtesy photo

An award-winning nature photographer and author will be in Pensacola this weekend to showcase her new book on Florida wildlife.

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Kirsten Hines is a writer, photographer, and conservationist who moved to the Sunshine State to go to graduate school and to be near what she calls the “true tropics."

“The more I learned about Florida, the more I loved Florida,” said Hines. “I confess I actually left and traveled around the world for three years thinking I wasn’t coming back, but I ended up right back here. It’s a great place.”

For her latest project, Hines combined her skills as a wildlife photographer and a writer, and the result is a book called “Wild Florida – An Animal Odyssey," a stunning book, featuring page after page of portraits of snakes and birds and bugs and other critters. Wild Florida is not just a book of pictures. Hines tells a first-hand story about each image in the volume.

“I was trying to figure out how to make (the book) accessible and interesting, because I didn’t want it to be a textbook,” explained Hines. “I didn’t want it to be something that just got put on the shelf, or was only read by academics. I really wanted it to be engaging.”

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As Hines toured the state for months looking for subjects to photograph, she realized she knew a lot about south Florida, and not that much about the rest of the state.

“So working on this book was eye-opening for me and I realized that I was learning a lot doing this (research) and spending all this time in the field, wandering around, looking for these animals," she said.

When she started the book project, Hines immediately began writing text to go along with the pictures she planning on taking. But once she got out into the field, she realized that each of those images had their own story. Telling those stories became her road to making the book more engaging to readers.

“So, I jettisoned all that original text, and with three months to the deadline I rewrote the whole thing in this different style,” said Hines.

Her travels around the state eventually brought Hines to the Pensacola area, although she didn’t spend a lot of that time in the city.

“I spent most of my time in the Black Water River State Forest, which was lovely,” said Hines. “I spent several nights camping there, and then I worked my way through some state parks back toward the Tallahassee area. Then I spent a lot of time, over several periods coming and going from St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. So I did spend a lot of time in that area, but I will confess that I only went into the city of Pensacola once, for a couple of hours.”

As she toured the state, Hines encountered hundreds of species. Some she already knew would be part of the book, but some were unexpected.

“The one that was most unexpected to me was the Everglades Mink”, said Hines. “Because they are so rare and endangered, particularly given the spread of the python. They were not even on my hit list, it never even occurred to me that I would see one.”

Her routine was to park her Jeep before sunrise, roll down all the windows, and just sit there and wait for something interesting would wander by.

“And one of the mornings I saw these little furry balls tumbling across the dirt road. I thought ‘What on Earth is that?’ And I watched for a while and I got out my binoculars and (still didn’t know what I was seeing) until I got close and realized that they were baby Everglades Mink.”

This weekend Hines will be in Pensacola giving a presentation about her journey around the state and showing off images of both wildlife and stranded vehicles.

“I will walk you through some of the behind-the-scenes. I will show you my Jeep very, very stuck in the Blackwater River State Forest. But also I’ll show a bunch of the animals and go through the natural history and talk about why Florida has this amazing diversity of animals and look at the temperate biodiversity hotspot that you guys are in the Panhandle. The endemic biodiversity hotspot that is Central Florida and then the tropical biodiversity hotspot that is in South Florida.”

You can meet Kirsten Hines and see her presentation on Wild Florida at the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Airport Boulevard in Pensacola this Saturday afternoon from 1 until 3 p.m.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.