Lenny Ross, the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, wrote weekly Nature Narratives – humorous and educational stories accompanied by 15-20 photos – to share with the community from April 2020 to April 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Lenny Ross, the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, wrote weekly Nature Narratives – humorous and educational stories accompanied by 15-20 photos – to share with the community from April 2020 to April 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Saanich man spends pandemic year capturing Swan Lake in photos, witty tales

Retired teacher Lenny Ross steps into role as nature sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist

It’s near impossible to take a photo of Lenny Ross at the Swan Lake nature sanctuary without a pair of binoculars or a camera blocking his face as he zeroes in on a heron battling red-winged blackbirds or an osprey hunting for a meal – his smile peeking out from below the lens as he gestures in awe.

Lenny Ross, the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, admired the wildlife at the lake early on May 15, 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Ross, a retired elementary school teacher and the nature sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, isn’t new to Swan Lake – he’s there weekly and lives nearby – but he always manages to spot new, exciting wildlife encounters. His secret? Taking time to pause and let nature move around him before capturing the perfect photo.

After five years of volunteering at the Swan Lake Nature House, Ross was saddened when everything closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. He continued visiting the lake for walks and kept track of the wildlife, plants and weather he encountered for the volunteer newsletter.

In April 2020, Julia Dawson, the coordinator of volunteers, created a new role for Ross to share his witty and educational nature tales with a wider audience and the Nature Narratives series was born.

Two bucks butt heads at the Swan Lake nature sanctuary. (Photo by Lenny Ross)

Every week, he would put together a story and gallery of 15-20 photos which Dawson helped to format and post online. The series concluded in April with dozens of entries tracking a year of seasonal changes and “the life and death struggles of nature.”

Armed with a Sony HX80 digital camera set to burst mode and a thermos of tea, Ross would hunker down and wait for the unexpected – an otter taking down a full-grown goose or a heron slipping off a log head-first into the lake.

Sometimes, he’d have an idea in mind, but most often, the story would evolve based on chance encounters, he explained. “I never ran out of things to write about and interesting things to see.”

Lenny Ross, the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, helps release a wayward western painted turtle at the lake. (Photo submitted by Lenny Ross)

The experience helped him see the nature sanctuary with fresh eyes because he was now stopping to observe the goings-on in detail.

Ross never predicted that his educational tales of Swan Lake would end up in classrooms and living rooms around the world. Teachers told him they’d used the stories to teach about the seasons and readers from as far away as Australia wrote to express their appreciation.

“People started to look forward to it and it became part of their routine,” he said.

Lenny Ross, the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary’s volunteer photojournalist, wrote weekly Nature Narratives – humorous and educational stories accompanied by 15-20 photos – to share with the community from April 2020 to April 2021. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Ross hopes others are inspired to rediscover Swan Lake – a tranquil local treasure surrounded by city – and help protect the nature sanctuary by following the rules (no bikes, pets or smoking permitted), volunteering and making donations.

The Nature Narratives will continue sporadically and the whole series can be found at swanlake.bc.ca/online-programs/nature-narratives/.


Do you have a story tip? Email: devon.bidal@saanichnews.com.

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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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