Nature Watch: Nutting’s death is a great loss for region’s naturalists - The Buffalo News
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Nature Watch: Nutting’s death is a great loss for region’s naturalists

One of our finest Western New York naturalists died on March 11. Lincoln Nutting belongs to the important tradition of this region’s natural historians that stretches back through botanists like Norm Zika and Patricia Eckel, birders like Harold Axtell and Harold Mitchell all the way to George Clinton.

In stature Lincoln, or Linc as he was universally known, was certainly appropriately named, for I remember how easy it was to pick him out of a group. He always stood a full head taller than those around him. Despite this, I also knew him as a retiring, very soft-spoken but friendly individual.

My first memory of Linc was on a Niagara Frontier Botanical Society field trip to the Bruce Peninsula. I came across him stretched out on the ground photographing a tiny, rare orchid. He explained how he was finding the best lighting to show the plant’s characteristics. I immediately knew that I was in the company of an expert.

Thankfully, at Jim Battaglia’s suggestion, Bruce Fox has converted almost 500 of Linc’s beautiful color slides of wildflowers and posted them on the “Flowering Plants of Western New York” website: This site is a veritable museum of regional botany. At this time of year, you can review some of our vernal blossoms before going afield to find them.

But Nutting was equally well-known for his films about regional nature. In his lovely tribute to Linc, which I have posted at, Wayne Gall tells about their work together on some of his projects.

“History of the Tifft Nature Preserve” documents the transition of this area from a transshipment terminal, to an industrial and municipal dump to its current status as one of this region’s finest natural history areas.

“Through the Seasons at Tifft Nature Preserve” describes the wildlife of the sanctuary. Gall describes one episode when he and Linc were deep in the cattail marsh when they came upon 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. 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 addition to those films, which hopefully will be translated to digital form by the Buffalo Museum of Science, Linc contributed to these photographic projects:

“Dragonflies, Stoneflies and Other Underwater Monsters,” about life in ponds and streams. Remarkably these photos were not taken underwater as they appear to observers but in a home-made aquarium.

“Winter-active Insects,” about winter stoneflies, snow scorpions and snow fleas. Wayne describes how they worked: “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. Only problem, I had to repeatedly run up the cellar steps, proceed outside on the Nuttings’ 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 goodness Linc’s [late] wife, Barbara, was as tolerant as we were eccentric.”

Also, “Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly,” which served as a Buffalo Museum of Science exhibit, and “McLean Bogs Caddisflies,” which contributed to conference and museum exhibits in Albany and New York City.

The Nuttings’ friend Dick Christianson accurately describes Linc and Barbara as “contributors and supporters.” Each had been president of the Buffalo Audubon Society and had attended more than 50 of the society’s annual Allegany Nature Pilgrimages.

This year’s Allegany Pilgrimage is scheduled for May 31, June 1 and 2. You can learn more about the program and register at Although the Nuttings will no longer serve as fixtures on the program as they did for so many years, their roles will be taken up by dozens of other naturalists.


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