I OFTEN SAY (to readers, and to myself) to slow down and look closer—past the obvious big blue hydrangea, or ripe tomato, to the outdoor picture’s finer points. Better than merely saying to, John Dunstan shows us how, discovering incredible, intimate moments in “perhaps the last place you would imagine finding interesting nature,” he says: Jersey City, where he has lived since 1990. That’s where John watched a raven try to sidle up to a snowy owl, and where he is taught endless science lessons by a diversity of insects (below).
Birds are a particular passion, and bugs. “Instead of gardening, or lawn mowing,” says John, a native New Zealander and amateur filmmaker, “I find it far more interesting to treat my backyard as a habitat for the remarkable highly specialized but very small animal life that general goes unnoticed by most of us.”
His images quickly bring scientific concepts like predation, mimickry and symbiosis to life—and though admittedly less technical, you get to see the real meaning of a “hairy eyeball,” too, all up close and personal.
But what in the world was going on between those two big birds up top, anyhow? Ever-curious John thought the person to ask would be the raven expert and author Bernd Heinrich—who impressively had a look and wrote right back.
“I think the raven was having fun, and then also starting to have some respect, because this big white thing was NOT going to cooperate and be its toy,” Heinrich said in a portion of his feedback. You can see all of what Heinrich had to say on the video’s Vimeo page, where it resides along with all of John’s films.
It’s actually because of Heirich’s comment that I found John—while doing a Google search for something about the esteemed biologist. (It’s the “other” web of life, you know: the Interwebs. We are all connected there, too, apparently.)
John shares his Jersey City environment with his wife, two children, three dogs (including bulldog Tommy, who has a cameo in the video below) and two cats. He is currently building a pond for dragonflies in his backyard, which thinks of as an “insect habitat.” Not a bad synonym for “garden,” come to think of it.