[CT Birds] Snowy Owl thoughts (photography related)

Joseph Cala Joejr14 at aol.com
Wed Dec 4 19:30:47 EST 2013


I was reading all of the Snowy Owl comments today on lunch but was 
unable to type a response as I'm not able to access my personal email at 
work--and there was simply too much I wanted to type to try and do that 
on my phone.  I have to admit that I've been a little frustrated lately 
with some of the posts--or more specifically how they're coming across 
to me.

I certainly do not want to create some long winded birder vs 
photographer debate here, as that will solve nothing and only create 
more argument---however I do get frustrated when I read comments that 
imply (or come right out and say) that these birds are mainly being 
spooked by photographers.  As many of you have probably figured out from 
my posts I consider myself photographer first, birder second--I'm the 
idiot you see out at Milford Point or Sandy Point in August/September 
crawling around in wet sand to try and get those up close shorebirds 
shots.  I manage to get up close shots of many birds because of how I 
act--the approach specifically, but also because I think it's pretty 
easy to read how any animal reacts. Whether strictly birding, or out 
taking pictures, it's common sense to back off when your subject shows 
signs of distress--and the vast majority of folks do that.  I want to 
point out that there are of course idiots in all groups--birders and 
photographers alike that can make the rest of us look bad.  That being 
said, it *IS* possible to get close to birds (Snowy Owls included) 
without stressing, agitating, or spooking the birds.

There was a post about the Snowy Owl at Hammo that was 'spooked' by 
photographers--well I'm not sure what day this supposedly happened, but 
I was down there Monday photographing the bird from the beach and I can 
tell you that the bird appeared to be totally unfazed by the 10 or so 
folks that were photographing/scoping the bird.  I was able to 
photograph and observe the bird on the jetty for 15 minutes before it 
flew away---not from a photographer--but because of harassment from a 
pair of gulls.  The Snowy Owl at Seaside Park was assumed to be flushed 
by a photographer--but why?  A photographer in the area doesn't 
necessarily mean that they spooked a bird.  I think Sophie's quote is 
fantastic: "If we respect the personal space of wildlife we can 
eventually get an image or sighting. If we don't we often get the tail 
end leaving and that defeats the purpose!"

I hesitated to post this, but I was able to photograph the Snowy Owl 
that I found Tuesday morning at Milford Point with very close views--and 
the bird again seemed totally unfazed.  I crawled to acceptable 
photographic range (or what I consider to be acceptable range) and took 
about 50 shots in exactly 4 minutes.  During that time the bird spent 
probably 2 minutes looking around the marsh (scoping out a pair of 
harriers) and with it's back to me.  Of course I can anticipate the "you 
don't know if it was fazed" comments--and to that I'd suggest that any 
animal that is disturbed or feeling threatened doesn't turn it's back to 
you for 30 seconds at a time, or remain on the same exact perch during 
approach, during photography, during retreat, or for an additional hour 
and a half after I left.  I feel it's also worth mentioning that most of 
these Owls are presumably young birds who in many instances have never 
seen a human before---and are inherently unfazed by onlookers.  This 
theory holds true with many Great Gray Owls from up north, especially 
during irruption years.  Anyone who photographed the Pine Grosbeaks last 
year in Simsbury can attest to this--the day I was there the birds were 
coming to close to my setup (within feet) that I had to frequently back up.

I apologize for the long winded response, but I would encourage everyone 
to refrain from the 'blame game' when it comes to this in general, but 
specifically with the Snowy Owls--as it appears there will only be more 
of them this winter.  If you see someone acting stupid, by all means, 
educate the person when appropriate--whether that be birder or 
photographer.  However please also keep in mind that a view you find 
acceptable, such as a Snowy Owl from 50 yards, someone else might not 
consider acceptable.  This does not mean that the person wanting a 10 
yard view is wrong--they simply have a different opinion.  If at the end 
of the day, that person does the bird no harm....I say no foul.  I'll 
end my diatribe with a quote from the ABA website... "1(b) To avoid 
stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and 
caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming."

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