It was a cold, rainy spring night and Will Michael was on the hunt.
Michael had ventured into the swampy waters on the Terre Haute property in Bethel in order to capture salamanders, not with a net or cage but with his waterproof video camera. Michael of Bethel who is now 29, wanted to document the salamanders laying eggs in their natural underwater habitat for his local access TV show “Connecticut Naturalist.” Though it was dark, wet and cold, the footage Michael got, made it all worth while.
“Salamanders come out once a year at night and they lay their eggs and you'll see them crawling on the land sometimes or walking across the road if you're lucky, (but) when you go underwater and you see all the stuff that's happening it's totally like being in a coral reef,” Michael said. “There are all these different colors and thousands of different species. You have all these insects that most people have never seen before and the leaches come out, then the toads are there and the frogs and giant water beetles. Every species that's there has another species that's feeding on it, or it's feeding off of and it just keeps building and building. When you're underwater you can really have this view into the world that from above the surface or in the daytime is invisible.”
Michael wasn't the only one impressed with the footage. After sending a demo to National Geographic he got a call from Keenan Smart, director of the Natural History Unit for National Geographic. Smart was so impressed with the footage that he tried to get Michael a job on a National Geographic video shoot. However, that was when the economic downturn began and the deal fell through, but Michael's salamander footage wasn't done making waves in the natural history world. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, contacted him and will be using the footage as part of a video that will play at its new visitor center, which will be completed in 2012.
It's all par for the course for Michael, a soft-spoken local version of Mr. Wizard who began writing, producing, directing and starring in his own nature show when he was a student at Western Connecticut State University. At its height the show was picked up by several local cable providers and reached about 300,000 homes. The success of the show helped Michael receive a Meserve grant from the Meserve fund (a local charity fund) to film a documentary on the Old Quarry Nature Center in Danbury. Michaels work on the show also led senator Joseph Lieberman to name him a Youth Hero of Connecticut on his website.
After he graduated college with a degree in Media Communication, Michael no longer had the time to devote 40 or 50 hours a week to creating the show. But he is still dedicated to sharing his love of nature.
“Television and the half hour show is kind of phasing out. We're doing on line based stuff and all my content now is on bliptv and YouTube,” Michael said.
Now married, he works with his wife Melanie and the two of them run the website www.ctnaturalist.org. In addition Michael writes columns on nature for local publications and is in the process of creating a video data base of every species in Connecticut. The ultimate goal is for that data base to be used by schools and teachers to teach kids about local animals in a fun interactive way.
Michael hopes to get people interested in the spectacular natural sights and sounds that are all around us
“In Fairfield County we have among the most diverse wildlife in the world but we take it for granted just because it's in our backyard,” Michael said.
Michael also works directly with kids to teach them about nature. He regularly visits school assemblies and classrooms and he teaches a weekly class at the Children's Adventure Center, a preschool in Newtown. Rose Luizzi, The director of the Center said Michael has a great ability to share his love of nature with others.
“Will is an extraordinary teacher. He brings wonderful creatures and animals and shares interesting facts with the children that they never would have known had it not been for this wonderful young man,” she said.
She added, “The children just adore him.”
When he's not behind the camera or working at a school, Michael can be seen playing sax with the J&B band. He said filming nature combines his love of science and the arts.
“I've always been interested in nature, animals and wildlife and at the same time, I'm a creative person, I'm into the arts, music and video,” he said.
He added, “I just combine both my passions to hopefully be able to make a living doing something that I love doing.”
For more information about Will Michael visit www.ctnaturalist.org.