[CT Birds] Long Beach Snowy owls - some suggestions

julian hough jrhough1 at snet.net
Mon Dec 4 15:51:58 EST 2017

Thanks Brian,
To follow up on my earlier post, and prompted by some responses, I thought I should add insome points that I have found may be of help when photographing owls,especially if there are other photographers around. I shouldn't assume that otherpeople know what other photographers know, especially if they are starting out.

Keep low - whether on your knees or on your belly and makeslow movements. Placing your tripod ahead of you and slowly inching forwardsseems to work. Letting the bird get accustomed to you is key. It may take you ½an hour or more to move to within a reasonable distance.

If there are a few people moving together, move as close tosingle file as possible. It will help conceal the number of people and keepmovements down to a “unit”. Approaching from one direction is way better thanthree people encircling an owl – it will almost certainly flush if it feelsapproached, or corralled. Talk with other photographers present and agree on anapproach so everyone benefits.

As far as etiquette goes, and this has happened to me - ifyou see a photographer who is on his belly, getting what you assume must befabulous photos, you can assume he’s taken his time to get where he is…and willprobably need a skin graft on his knees or a chiropractic adjustment for hiseffort. Please don’t close that distance faster than he did and walk right upto those people. Standing tall against the skyline is likely to spook a bird andit is likely the bird will flush by your fast approach. Doing that will not winyou any friends.

I find it is best to quietly ask the photographer if you cancrawl up behind them. They will invariably say yes, and at that point, if thebird flushes for some reason, they will have “opted in” to your approach.

If you have a cell phone or a point and shoot camera, youcan’t get better pictures than me with my several thousand dollars worth oflenses and bodies. If you could, I wouldn't need my gear. This mostly appliesto the general public – they need to be stopped (in the nicest possible way) fromapproaching an owl. It’s just common sense that often escapes people.

Sometimes when large groups of people occur at high trafficSnowy Owls, some photographers won’t even try and work a bird– even if it is afairly cooperative bird– since it will create some negative perception, andnobody wants to be “that” person. 

Despite the number of negative posts, I’ve witnessed nothingbut good behavior at many CT Snowy Owls and I think with a bit of understandingand etiquette, photographing owls will be the amazing experience we all want itto be. CT has some superb photographers, who are also really nice people, and are usually happy to share their knowledge

Anyway, that is my contribution to the list and hopefully a more constructive one than the usualpoint/counterpoint that usually arises when the word “owl” and “photographer” occur inthe same sentence.

Good birding,

 Julian Hough New Haven, CT 06519 www.naturescapeimages.wordpress.com 

    On Monday, December 4, 2017 2:19 PM, Brian Ahern-Wilson <bahernwilson at gmail.com> wrote:

 Hi Julian.
In my honest opinion, that was an excellent response to the situation in general.  I truly hope that others will read these words carefully and approach things with less confrontation and more education.  
We are not born knowing these things and therefore have to be educated and care in order to understand and improve.
Thank you.
Brian Ahern-Wilson
On Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 11:13 AM julian hough via CTBirds <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org> wrote:

To follow upon Julie's post, I had arrived around 11 am after the female had been flushed. The other bird, likely a male, was chill and obliging allowing many people to see it and take some photos. As with many Snowy Owls over the years, I have found most people to behave themselves, but before we get into the photographer-bashing mode, a couple of points might be worth noting and considering before the emotionality of people kick in (it's only December, so it could be a looonngg winter!).
First, you never know when one particular bird may be accommodating or skittish, and typically they will fly off before you get within a reasonable distance, a sign that this bird will not be obliging. Most photographers I know recognize that this is a sign of a bird that will not be cooperative, and will often leave it alone. I have certainly experienced this, along with many other respected photographers. This does not mean a bird is harassed.
One problem at Long Beach that I have seen over the years when there is a bigger group of people (and therefore more judgement), is a lack of fieldcraft being evident. A group of people, instead of moving up slowly, low, in a tight group will approach a bird, in a standing position, spread out from all sides and essentially corralling a bird  - this will surely cause even a cooperative bird to flush. Basic fieldcraft and approaching these birds is key to getting nice pix AND allowing them space. And people trying to get close with point and shoot camera's should be bludgeoned with their own gear. On the spot. Instantly.
I wasn't there yesterday, so I can't attest to whether this woman was being selfish, or whether it was just someone overzealous (I've been one of those people too!) and clueless from a fieldcraft point of view. 
It is up to seasoned birders and photographers present to help, not by being confrontational, but perhaps being helpful in suggesting a better approach or by using better fieldcraft techniques.
Respectfully, Julian Hough New Haven, CT 06519 www.naturescapeimages.wordpress.com

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