Giethoorn a friend of nature

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Wallaceburg photographer Herman Giethoorn takes aim with his camera at Peers Wetland. The life-long nature advocate was recently awarded the Sydenham Field Naturalists’ Friend of Nature Award for 2024.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Herman Giethoorn’s life-long passion of photographing nature brings him joy.

That passion has taken the Wallaceburg resident around the world and most recently saw him receive the Sydenham Field Naturalists’ Friend of Nature Award for 2024. 

“I love nature,” Giethoorn said in a recent interview. “Over the years I’ve photographed everything from wild birds to wild elephants.”

A founding member of the SFN in 1985, Giethoorn is the longest serving member of the club’s executive and is also the group’s official photographer.

Weather permitting, Giethoorn can be found outdoors most days, documenting all aspects of flora and fauna.

“I’m still going strong,” the 79-year-old said. “I’m still active and I like to get out as much as I can.”

Born in Dedemsvaart in the Netherlands, Giethoorn emigrated with his family to Wallaceburg in 1956. He attended D.A. Gordon Public School and Wallaceburg District Secondary School. He acquired his first camera in the mid-1960s and started shooting professionally in the 1970s. 

Along with photographing the rich biodiversity of Southern Ontario, Giethoorn’s love of nature took him to West Africa in 1975 where he had the opportunity to take pictures of wild elephants. 

In 1980, he took a two-week cruise to the Galapagos Islands to get a first-hand look at animals and plants in the unique environment.

Giethoorn has been all over Canada shooting nature, and has made trips to the United States, including stops in California and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. A member of Valan Photos, his professional work has appeared in countless publications around the globe. He has an extensive home library and is keen on identifying the wide variety of species he encounters.

Closer to home, Giethoorn has photographed a number of species of rare birds such as the yellow-crowned night heron. Native to the southern United States, Giethoorn said it must have arrived in Chatham-Kent after being blown off course in a hurricane.

While Giethoorn said it’s hard to choose a favorite plant or animal that he’s photographed, shooting minke and humpbacked whales in Quebec was a highlight. 

Rondeau Provincial Park and Pinery Provincial Park continue to be regular stops for Giethoorn, as is Point Pelee National Park. 

However, Peers Wetland just outside Wallaceburg is his favourite local spot.

“That’s a fantastic place. I’ve photographed thousands of pictures there over the years,” he said, adding the Roberta Stewart Wetland along the Syne River is another gem.

Giethoorn advises those who are interested in helping nature to get involved, and joining the SFN is a good start. The group regularly undertakes projects to restore natural habitat and hosts work parties to do things such as planting trees and eradicating invasive species.

“There are a lot of volunteer and educational opportunities where people can learn about nature,” Giethoorn said of SFN. “You can meet people who share your interests and that’s an important part.”

Over the years, Giethoorn said he seen attitudes towards nature improve, but there are exceptions including a lack of respect in natural areas.

“ATVs and snowmobiles ruin things,” he said. “They run over everything.”

Those wanting to see more of Giethoorn’s work can visit the Wallaceburg and District Museum. The photographer has an exhibit there until April 30, showcasing 40 framed shots in a show called “Flora and Fungi.”

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