It’s a clear morning where the Coast and Middle forks of the Willamette River meet. Fish jump, insects buzz, and a myriad of birds dive and soar for breakfast. One catches your eye. Maybe it’s the green stripes — or the wheels.
Upon closer inspection, you realize: it might share a raptor’s view, but what you’ve spotted above the Willamette Confluence project east of Eugene isn’t a bird at all. It’s a small, radio-controlled plane. Philip Bayles, Conservancy volunteer, is its pilot.
As a child, Bayles loved nature — and remote-controlled planes. As an adult, he became fascinated by the idea of attaching a camera to one. When a friend suggested the images could aid habitat restoration, Bayles' course was set. “Instantly,” he says, “it turned from a hobby into a mission.”
Bayles has been photographing the project for about a year, helping Conservancy scientists plan and track various restoration strategies.
Featuring extensive habitats increasingly endangered in the Willamette Valley, the diverse site includes six miles of river corridor, floodplain forest, wetlands, upland oak woodlands and native prairie.
Unlike maps and landscape images, Bayles’ photos offer views of areas otherwise blocked by invasive blackberries or high water.
So far, Bayles and his fleet of five planes have logged hundreds of flights, with plans to follow the restoration project through its completion — likely about 10 years.
To him, “it’s an inspiring way to look at this important landscape.” To us, he’s inspiring.