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Focal Point

After a career protecting wild Florida, Bob Pace looks through a new lens

Pace was thrilled to capture this crested caracara, a type of falcon listed as a threatened species but common in parts of central Florida.

Pace was thrilled to capture this crested caracara, a type of falcon listed as a threatened species but common in parts of central Florida.

As children, we tend to perceive everything larger than actual size. Trees we climbed seemed miles high then. Worn shortcuts through empty lots looked like jungles. For Bob Pace, the woods near his childhood home in Massachusetts afforded a natural experience that stayed with him. “Walking through these woods was not as awe-inspiring as a trek though the Grand Canyon, but to a child, a trail of a few hundred yards can feel like an adventure,” recalls Pace.

His career choice was also a natural: 37 years spent protecting natural environments, first surveying wetlands in Puerto Rico and later spearheading projects to recover threatened and endangered species and restore habitat from his home base at the Vero Beach office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “When you envision a career in this field, you are dreaming about close encounters with wildlife, but in order to be effective, you have to go to a lot of long meetings and write reports. It sounds mundane, but we can do more there.”

For Pace, it has always been about protecting the habitat. If the right conditions exist, wildlife will thrive. Currently, his focus is on retirement, but he won’t be sitting in a chair binge-watching television shows. “Now I have time to study the fauna that has interested me for so many years. I’m seeing insects I have never seen before and thinking, ‘What is that?’ I look them up and learn something new.” Pace is capturing his longtime love of nature on camera, photographing birds and insects going about their business, seemingly oblivious to the man crouching in tall grass or lying on his back to get a great shot. At McKee Botanical Garden, as he lay under a fire bush with camera at the ready, waiting for a pollinator, he was mistaken for a statue by people walking past. “It’s not comfortable sitting on Oslo Road in August waiting for the perfect picture, but that’s often what it takes.”

In winter months, Pace frequents several favorite haunts for his best birding opportunities. “One of the places I like to go is Overstreet Landing on Lake Kissimmee. Walking away from the pier, I nearly stumbled on a bald eagle about 12 feet away, at eye level, sitting on a fence post,” he recalls. “I never expected to get that close; I had to back up to get the photo. It was a thrill.”