Monday, June 6, 2011

Part One: The challenges of documentary making at the Four Canyons Preserve

Production still from the Four Canyons Preserve
Fran with Chris Hise, Director

Bob has been in the television business for over 30 years so he has experienced just about every challenge in the business or so one would think but it is a never ending series of 'keeping on one's toes' and being able to change on a moment's notice with a new strategy when the unexpected pops up. On this Oklahoma documentary the only location we had been to previously was the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art so there was no location scouting ahead of time and since we were doing a lot of outdoor shooting and interviewing of people I had only spoken to on the phone there were a multitude of unknowns. I have a series of stories for you in the upcoming blogs about mishaps, making accommodations for all kinds of unexpected events and even a near death or severe injury experience.
We followed Chris Hise to the remote Nature Conservancy Preserve called the Four Canyons Preserve.
Chris Hise is totally dedicated and enthusiastic about this unique spot. He does all the work on the preserve by himself except for controlled burns which are critical to preserving this prairie, grassland habitat where trees were traditionally only in the ravines. More about our story there below this information on the preserve.

The Conservancy's Four Canyon Preserve encompasses 4,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie, rugged canyons, and floodplain along the Canadian River in southern Ellis County. Scenic prairie ridges traverse the landscape, dissected by deep chinquapin oak-lined canyons draining to the river. These prairies provide habitat for a number of rare grassland birds, such as Cassin's sparrow and Swainson's hawk, and additional species of concern including reptiles like the Texas horned lizard, as well as numerous state-rare plants. The cool, wooded canyons stand in contrast to the surrounding prairies, and provide habitat for birds like red-bellied woodpecker and painted bunting. The Canadian River on the preserve provides habitat for the federally endangered least tern, the threatened Arkansas River shiner, as well as stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds including the sandhill crane.
Biodiversity Threats in the area include habitat fragmentation and loss, invasive plant species such as eastern redcedar, saltcedar, and old world bluestem, hydrologic alteration, and incompatible land management practices.
What the Conservancy is doing now will restore ecological function and integrity to this landscape. Following an initial rest period, prescribed fire will be used to control the spread of invasive eastern redcedar and to manage the habitat for wildlife. Efforts are underway to remove exotic plants such as old world bluestem from native prairie areas and to clear saltcedar from the Canadian River floodplain.
In time, the Conservancy will work cooperatively with other area landowners to conduct prescribed burns aimed at enhancing prairie habitat across the region. The critical habitat in and around the Four Canyon Preserve is home to one of Oklahoma's last remaining populations of the imperiled lesser prairie chicken. Successful management for this species will help sustain healthy populations of some of North America's most threatened grassland birds.

At the preserve we transferred all our gear to the fire truck for the preserve in order to get around the rugged terrain and back dirt roads.
It is a rugged and magnificent beauty and is Chris's cherished landscape amongst the diverse areas in Oklahoma. We did not get to see too many of the endangered birds and hope to get some stills from the Nature Conservancy. In order to get closeups of wildlife, photographers and scientists spend hours waiting in blinds hoping to see the wildlife without being seen.
Because of the drought we saw less wildflowers but there were still some exquisite ones upon looking closely. Ironically one of the biggest jobs is to maintain the native grasses and prevent the spread of trees except in the ravines which is the only place they were originally in this rugged prairie.
There is a sense of massive space, vista and sky there and I love talking to ecologists and scientists as knowledgeable as Chris.
We are down in the plain of what was once the Canadian River before it was impounded upstream by a dam. The river flowed all the way to the foot of the cliffs behind us. What a spectacle that must have been.

site of some controlled burn
Chris shows me a hillside of shinnery oak which I had wanted to see. This hillside may all be one plant as they grow by spreading rhizomes underground. Chris told us this will be a hillside of bright red in the fall. Go to the end of this scientific explanation to hear about our big mistake at the Four Canyons.
Quercus havardii (common names include shinnery oakshin oak and Havard oak) is a deciduous, low-growing, thicket-forming shrub that occupies some 2 to 3 million ha in the southern Great Plains of North America.[2] Clones may reach hundreds to thousands of years old, although aboveground stems typically live only 11 to 15 years. Shinnery oak stems are usually 1-2 m tall and codominate the plant community with mid- and tall-grasses which are usually taller than the oaks.
The specific name honors U.S. Army surgeon and botanist Valery Havard, who contributed much to the knowledge of southwestern plants. The word "shinnery" seems to be derived from chĂȘne (French for oak), and not from the height of the plant.[3]
Form: A low shrub to 2 m or occasionally a small tree, Q. havardii forms large clonal thickets by extending rhizomes through the sandy soil where it is usually found.[4]Rhizomes range from 3-15 cm in diameter and are concentrated in upper 60 cm of soil, although penetration depths of 9 m has been reported. Lateral roots and woody rhizomes are widespread near the soil surface. Ninety percent or more of shinnery oak's biomass is under ground, and fortuitous root grafting is common. These underground stems commonly spread to form plants 3 to 15 m or more in diameter. Single clones are reported to cover up to 81 ha and to achieve ages over 13,000 years.[2]
Flowers: Shinnery oak is monoecious with both female and male flowers borne separately on the same plant.[1] Male catkins are densely flowered, 1.5-3.8 cm long, and hang downward. Female catkins are 3-7 mm long, contain 1 to 5 flowers, and are usually axillary on young shoots. Shinnery oaks are wind pollinated, and flowering occurs in the spring.
Acorns: Acorns develop in 1 year, maturing in the autumn. Acorns occur alone or in clusters of 2 or 3, and are 12-25 mm long by 14-18 mm wide. A scaly cup covers about 1/3 to 1/2 of the nut. On average, acorn crops are produced in 3 out of 10 years.[4]
Foliage: The leathery, highly variable leaves are grey green to olive green, have a lustrous upper surface, and are whitish and densely hairy below. Leaves are alternate,simple, with variable shape (oblong, ovate, or elliptical), and with wavy or shallowly lobed margins. Length is 2 to 8 cm and width 2 to 4 cm.[3]
Twigs: Twigs are brown or grayish, 1-2.5 mm diameter, glabrous or densely covered with short grayish or yellowish hairs, that are lost with age. Buds are dark red-brown, somewhat spherical, about 2 mm long, and sparsely pubescent.
Bark: Bark on the larger stems is light gray and scaly.
After a long day in the sun and wind which Chris told us was fairly calm (it rivaled anything we experience in New Mexico), we returned to the preserve headquarters, transferred our gear back to our van and headed to Lawton late in the day. It was several days before Bob realized that he could not find our boom or shotgun mic. Then he began to think back and thought that the most likely place is that it was still in the fire truck at the Four Canyons. We called Chris and it was not in his truck and he said he would be back up at the preserve in several days and would check the fire truck. In the meantime we hoped we would find it and wondered how we were going to do a number of interviews in rapid succession in Tahlequah having to put a lav mic on each person. Luck was really on our side on this trip. Chris found it in the fire truck and was going to meet Bob Hamilton the day before we were interviewing him at the Tallgrass Prairie preserve and so it was hand delivered all the way across the state of Oklahoma. Thank you Chris and Bob! It requires great organization to keep gear together when you are traveling a lot and as you will see from all my stories to come we had many angels on our shoulders. I need to remember this in my life in general.
In the distance you can see a derrick from a 6 acre fracking operation right at the entrance to the preserve. Unfortunately the Nature Conservancy does not own the mineral rights under the preserve so we hope this operation does not extend into the preserve but fracking requires millions of gallons of water so I don't see how there can't be an impact anyway. Oklahoma is heavily into oil and gas and we saw many drilling sites and derricks, pump jacks etc.
Shotgun microphones are the most highly directional. They have small lobes of sensitivity to the left, right, and rear but are significantly less sensitive to the side and rear than other directional microphones. This results from placing the element at the end of a tube with slots cut along the side; wave cancellation eliminates much of the off-axis sound. Due to the narrowness of their sensitivity area, shotgun microphones are commonly used on television and film sets, in stadiums, and for field recording of wildlife.

Boundary or "PZM"

Several approaches have been developed for effectively using a microphone in less-than-ideal acoustic spaces, which often suffer from excessive reflections from one or more of the surfaces (boundaries) that make up the space. If the microphone is placed in, or very close to, one of these boundaries, the reflections from that surface are not sensed by the microphone. Initially this was done by placing an ordinary microphone adjacent to the surface, sometimes in a block of acoustically transparent foam. Sound engineers Ed Long and Ron Wickersham developed the concept of placing the diaphgram parallel to and facing the boundary.[16] While the patent has expired, "Pressure Zone Microphone" and "PZM" are still active trademarks of Crown International, and the generic term "boundary microphone" is preferred. While a boundary microphone was initially implemented using an omnidirectional element, it is also possible to mount a directional microphone close enough to the surface to gain some of the benefits of this technique while retaining the directional properties of the element. Crown's trademark on this approach is "Phase Coherent Cardioid" or "PCC," but there are other makers who employ this technique as well.

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