I have always had an interest in birds. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by their different sizes, shapes and colours. Learning to identify them by sight and sound has been something I have spent many hours doing. I have also put in a lot of time learning what type of habitat each species lives in so that I can go looking for specific birds. Over the years I have taken my birding more and more seriously and a result have been adding more species to my life list. It wasn’t until two years ago that I took up photography, as a way to capture my moments in nature so I can relive them over again, as well as share them with family and friends. I am a birder first and a photographer second. I always put the well being of the birds first and also take into consideration the feelings of others. I see far too many photographers who will do anything to get the shot without thinking about how it effects the birds or other people.
The classic example of this behavior is taking place all the time with this year’s Snowy Owl irruption. I have read many times and witnessed with my own eyes the various actions of these photographers from baiting to walking within a few feet of the owls before they fly. I have already covered my thoughts on baiting in a previous blog, but would like to share my thoughts on disturbing the birds.
Snowy Owls have travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometers south during this year’s irruption. Many of these owls are young birds that have wandered from their territory in search of food. Birds that have travelled these distances are fatigued, hungry and are already under incredible stress. Being chased from their perches by humans only adds to their stress.
During a recent drive I noticed a Snowy Owl sitting on top of a hydro pole. I pulled my truck off to the side of the road a safe distance back so as not to disturb the owl. I pulled my camera from my bag and proceeded to take some photos out of my truck window. I knew I could get better shots if I was closer and positioned myself at a different angle to the sun, but I could see the owl was uneffected by my presence, so I respected the owl and kept my distance. A few minutes passed and by this point three other cars had stopped to watch and take pictures. Everyone was keeping their distance and the owl’s mood did not change. Then one man decided to venture from his van to get closer. As the man approached the owl became restless. It raised up on it’s legs and began looking around with rapid head movements. The mood of the owl had clearly changed from when it was sitting puffed out with very few head movements. The man walked right up to within 15 feet of the pole when the owl took off over the field and eventually landed on the roof of a farm building, too far for decent photos or even a view with the naked eye. In fact if I didn’t see where the owl landed it would be virtually unnoticeable from the road. This man clearly had no respect for the bird and the fact that he was causing it stress. He certainly didn’t care either about the other three vehicles of people that arrived before him who were enjoying the owl. What about others that may have come across this owl at the side of the road while driving by? This particular owl would go unnoticed except by the extremely observant passerby. To think this man’s selfishness would deny others the chance of seeing such a wonderful bird upsets me.
The message that I am trying to spread is pretty clear. When out birding or photographing birds ( because many photographers I wouldn’t class as birders) be respectful. Look around, pay attention to those around you that may be enjoying what you see too. Keep your distance and everyone can enjoy nature together. More importantly respect the birds and the fact that you are in their environment. They don’t come into your home and disturb you, so don’t do it to them. You wouldn’t walk to within a few feet of a tiger or bear for a picture so what makes it okay with a bird? I read a quote a while back and I ask you to remember it next time you are out, “If your behavior changes their behavior, you are too close.”