A Memorial Tribute to Lincoln P. Nutting, 1922-2014

by Wayne K. Gall, Ph.D., March 15, 2014

       I am honored to provide some reflections on my friendship with Linc Nutting, a cherished association that extends back approximately 32 years.  I would like to focus my reflections on Linc's gifts as a naturalist, photographer, and educator.  In Linc these talents uniquely converged in one man -- tall and distinguished, soft-spoken, proud but humble, with a keen intellect that fueled an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, and a passion to capture his observations of nature on film and share it with others.        

       I became aware of Linc when I started attending meetings of the Buffalo Audubon Society at the Buffalo Museum of Science in 1982.  I can still hear the late Sheldon Merritt, President of Buffalo Audubon at the time, extracting reports from officers during the business portion of those meetings.  Sooner or later he would call out the name of Linc Nutting, and ask if Linc had any update on Rose Acres Audubon Preserve, since Linc was refuge manager of that natural area for many years.  I later came to realize that Linc had served as President of the Buffalo Audubon Society from 1975-1977. 

       Speaking of Sheldon Merritt -- a man of relatively short stature -- I also recall him joking how he always felt safe on field expeditions as long as he was accompanied by his 'big-three' bodyguards -- Bill Townsend, Norm Zika, and Linc Nutting.

       In late spring of 1982 my wife, Sue, and I, accompanied by our 11-month old first child, Jeffrey, attended our first Allegany Nature Pilgrimage in Allegany State Park.  Here was this same guy, Linc Nutting, teaching nature photography.  I think it was about two years ago that I asked Linc about the number of years that he had attended the pilgrimage.  In his usual understated manner Linc recounted that he and Barbara had missed only two or three out of the 54 annual events that had been held since the pilgrimage was initiated in 1959.

       It wasn't long after I was appointed the Buffalo Museum of Science's first Administrator of Tifft Nature Preserve in early 1983 that I came to realize that one of the Preserve's prized educational assets was a 16 mm film that documented the creation of the preserve.  And the person behind the lens when this film was shot between about 1975 and 1978, none other than -- Linc Nutting.  This was no ordinary nature story, for Linc captured in celluloid the remarkable recovery of this disturbed landscape from its earlier days as a transshipment terminal at the end of the City Ship Canal, and later an industrial and municipal dump, all in the shadow of the grain elevators along the Buffalo waterfront, and the Buffalo city skyline looming above it three miles to the north.  This was indeed a captivating story of nature's resiliency, aided by creative human intervention and management, and all immortalized on film by Linc Nutting -- who, I might add, invested hundreds of volunteer hours filming and editing this work.

       During the fall of 1983, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Museum's newest affiliate organization, what was soon renamed the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society.  Among the other charter members -- Linc Nutting.  In 1984 I became a member of the Buffalo Ornithological Society.  Who had been on the membership roll of the BOS since 1962?  Linc Nutting.  As our circle of interests in nature continually overlapped, a pattern was emerging -- this transplanted New Englander and I had a lot in common. 

       I soon came to appreciate, however, that Linc Nutting was more than just a birder or wildflower aficionado or nature shutterbug -- he was the consummate naturalist who grasped the ecological interdependencies between these biotic elements and their environment.  Good lord, he was even interested in insects, and just a few years earlier I had earned a Master's degree in entomology!  Needless to say, Linc Nutting and I became fast friends, our mutual interests transcending a generational age gap.   

       I believe it was in early 1985 that Linc approached me with the idea of producing a second film about Tifft Nature Preserve.  Since his first film  largely documented the creation of the preserve in the 1970s, his new concept was to focus on the plants and animals that had colonized this recycled landscape, and to follow the fauna and flora through the seasons.  Linc again dedicated hundreds of hours of volunteer time filming at Tifft during all seasons from 1985-87.  It was my pleasure to work with Linc on this project, coordinating some of the logistics, and writing the script for the narration. 

       One of my favorite memories of this project was helping Linc roll, end over end, his bulky, stilt-legged, observation blind, into the preserve's 75-acre cattail marsh from its south end.  It is worth noting that Linc's ingenious fabrication of equipment such as this viewing blind was a hallmark of his projects, undertakings borne not only of New England frugality and self-reliance, but of necessity since many of the devices that he created were custom, one-of-a-kind, not available off the shelf.  In any event, clad in chest waders, and with much huffing and puffing, we rolled that wooden blind through cattails and across the mucky bottom of the marsh maybe 25 yards. 

       Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a phenomenon that I had not seen before nor have I seen since -- a least bittern, spread-eagle, its feet clutching cattail stems, its neck and bill pointed upward, swaying with the motion of the cattails, a nest woven among cattail stems nearby.  Gritting my teeth like a ventriloquist, I emphatically pointed and said in a low tone ... Liiiiinnnnnc ... least bittern!!!  We quickly ceased moving operations, I remained stationary, and Linc waded back to shore to get his 35 mm camera.  He captured some superb still shots, we righted the blind in that spot, and over the coming days and weeks Linc captured magnificent footage of least bitterns raising their young in this nest.  In my biased opinion, this footage was a highlight of Linc's second film, "Through the Seasons at Tifft Nature Preserve," that was completed in 1990.

       Our collaboration continued after I was appointed to the Museum's curatorial staff in 1989, and continued my Ph.D. studies at the University of Totronto.  I would like to summarize our other joint projects and their outcomes:

1.   "Underwater Monsters" -- Linc and I spent a memorable day photographing live aquatic insects along Quaker Run Brook in Allegany State Park.  I collected specimens with an aquatic net and shuttled them to Linc stationed at a miniature aquarium resting on a homemade stand, again, custom equipment fabricated by Linc.  With his tripod and camera set at a comfortable height on the bank, Linc took multiple photos of each subject at different shutter speeds.  Then I shuttled the live specimens back to the stream.  The resulting slide show, "Dragonflies, Stoneflies, and Other Underwater Monsters," premiered as a tent program at the 1990 Allegany Nature Pilgrimage.  Subsequently I presented this program to a host of groups.  When audience members would ask if Linc took the photos with an underwater camera while wearing a wetsuit, I would smile, then explain the brilliant dry-land photographic technique that Linc had developed.

 

2.   "Western Conifer Seed Bug" -- While preparing a manuscript that documented the first record of this household invader in New York State, Linc photographed this and a related species, including closeups of the diagnostic hind legs of the two species.  This paper was published in the journal, Great Lakes Entomologist, in 1992.  The editor selected one of Linc's photos of a live bug resting on a pine cone for the cover of that issue of the journal.

 

3.  "Backyard Monsters" -- In anticipation of the Museum's 1993 traveling exhibit of that name, I wrote short essays of "The most asked about insects and other arthropods in Western New York."  These essays were collated and published by the Museum as a large fold-out pamphlet in the Topics series.  Linc contributed photos of western conifer seed bugs, paper wasp nests, and cecropia moth and cecropia caterpillar to enhance the text.

 

4.  "Winter-active Insects" -- Linc accompanied me on several field trips to photograph insects on snow from January to March -- winter stoneflies, snow scorpionflies, snowfleas, etc.  Only a staunch naturalist like Linc Nutting would brave the cold for hours on end and find enjoyment in such a pursuit. Then we got the bright idea of collecting these insects in the field, transporting them alive on ice in a cooler, and photographing them in the comfort of the Nutting basement studio on East River Road.  Only problem, I had to repeatedly run up the cellar steps, proceed outside on the Nutting's deck to collect fresh snow, rush it down to the basement, then quickly stage and photograph the insects before the snow melted under the photo lights.  Thank God Barbara was as tolerant as we were eccentric!  I presented a program on winter-active insects at a conference at the New York State Museum in Albany in 1998, and subsequently at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, among a number of other venues.

 

5.     "McLean Bogs Caddisflies" -- In advance of preparing a presentation for a conference at the New York State Museum and an international symposium on caddisflies in Germany in 2000, Linc photographed a large number of pinned caddisflies that I had collected during a biodiversity survey at McLean Bogs Nature Preserve near Cortland.  Linc also accompanied me to the preserve to take photographs of collecting caddisflies at a mercury vapor light and white sheet after dark.  Only Linc Nutting would be willing to drive three hours each way with me to photograph drab, moth-like insects, along the edge of a bog in the dark!

 

6.   "Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly" -- Linc parlayed his longtime interest in the monarch into a short film on its life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.  This film was put on a video loop and was enjoyed by hundreds of museum patrons who visited the second iteration of the traveling exhibit, Backyard Monsters, during summer 2001.  

 

7.   "Day-flying Caddisfly from Acid Mine Drainage" -- After I left the Museum in 2001 to accept a position with the NYS Dept. of Health, our last project involved a return to the Nutting basement.  Linc photographed pinned and spread specimens of a rarely collected species of day-flying caddisfly that I had collected along a small stream acidified by mine drainage in east-central Pennsylvania.  Linc's photo was published in a paper that I co-authored in the journal, Northeastern Naturalist, in 2009.

     One of the most gratifying aspects of my relationship with Linc Nutting -- a retrospective view that thankfully I shared with him in life -- was that our joint endeavors invariably culminated in useful finished products.

     Getting to know Linc Nutting -- gifted naturalist, photographer, educator, volunteer extraordinaire -- and having the opportunity to collaborate with him on a range of projects over many years, were treasured experiences indeed.