Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Snowy Owl & photography ethics

There was a brief discussion on our Colorado birding listserve this week in which several of us expressed our concerns about the impacts of birders and photographers on the Snowy Owl. Sadly some folks have no tolerance for views that are different than their own and one birder made sarcastic derisive remarks about those who have expressed concerns. Over the years I have seen similar discussions and not uncommonly similar attempts to bully those with concerns into silence. Some discussions with a professional nature photographer from California caused me to remember another professional nature photographer whose photography I admire and who is outspoken about the of photographing Snowy Owls. With his permission, following are his principles-I think they are great.

"My approach to snowy owl photography is based on these principles:

1. I don't use food to get a better picture (I don't give them mouse, real or fake). It's a personal choice, but I must admit that I love mouse, squirrel, and etc as much as I love snowy owl.
2. I will always try to take photos from a comfortable distance, using the appropriate equipments (ex: Canon 500mm + teleconverter 1.4).
3. I approach them quietly and silently and monitor their response to my presence. I want to avoid to disturb them and that they fly away because of me (energy thing - remember).
4. If the snowy owl goes away because it does not like to be disturbed, I may have fail to detect their comfort zone. I will then stop photographing this bird and come back another day.
5. I don't photo-hunt the snowy. PERIOD. If the bird wants to be alone and fly away, do not follow him from spot to spot. Some people like to take picture of the bird in flight and will start a pursuit. Remember that while you do that, the snowy don't hunt, and worst than that, it is spending its energy not to survive but to get away from a photographer.
6. I don't scare birds or animals to get a better picture. If everybody start doing that, it will make the birds and animals harder to approach for the photographers and it some case, like the snowy owl, it may be life threatening.
7. I also recommend that if you join others photographers on the field, that you respect them: talk quietly, verify with them if you can join their group, don’t scare the bird that everybody watch just to get your own photos of the bird flying away.

Nature photography is about respecting and imaging the nature." from Richard Dumoulin's Flickr site where his beautiful photos of Snowy Owls and other nature photographs can be viewed. SeEtta

Monday, January 18, 2010

SnowyOwl: one more video clip

video This is the best of the video clips I have as the Snowy Owl turns its head several times as it looks around and appears to scratch an itch on it's back with it's beak. I apologize for a few quality problems that are a result of the fact that I only recently got my camera for this and learned to use it. I am handholding the camera against the scope until I assess whether I want to invest in a device that might produce video with more consistent quality. SeEtta

SnowyOwl: videoclips

videoThese are video clips of the Snowy Owl that I took using the technique of 'video-scoping'--holding my point and shoot camera against the eyepiece of my spotting scope, thus enlarging the view. The top video clip shows the owl turning it's head to look around while the wind blows it's feathers.
videoThe bottom video clip shows the owl doing some more head turning and it's feathers are also blowing in the wind. All my video clips were taken from about 200 feet from the owl. SeEtta

SnowyOwl: more digiscoped pics

Though many photographers choose to show only the frontal view of birds, I think that backshots are worthwhile and so I often include them on this blog. These are both the same pic with the bottom being an enlargement that shows the tail feathers and one of it's toenails a little better. I have failed to mention so fare that this is an immature owl. SeEtta

SnowyOwl: digiscoped pics

These are some of the digiscoped pics I took of the Snowy Owl last Saturday. Though it flew twice while I was there, it dropped down behind the houses so those of us watching only got brief glimpses so all my photos were of the owl on the ridge of one of the homes it used for perches. All my digiscoped pics were taken at about 200 feet from the owl.
These are all backlit pics which shades the facial features but I think provides some interesting effects. The bottom pic is an enlargement of the middle pic. SeEtta

Snowy Owl: the watchers

I took these photos of the birders and photographers watching the Snowy Owl in eastern El Paso County, Colo last Saturday. After several discussions on the Colo birding listserve about the etiquette and ethics of watching and photographing the Snowy Owl, I took these photos of the birders and photographers who were watching the owl last Saturday when I was there (by the way, I don't know any of them but I think the pics are sufficiently distant). I took these pics with my point and shoot.
I agree with the saying that 'a picture is worth a thousand words'--and I think these photos show 'how to' watch a rare owl in a manner that is considerate to the owl, the neighbors and the other watchers. Everyone was standing/sitting and their vehicles were parked out of roadway (and on one side of the street) but not trespassing on private property, giving the owl the space it needs to conduct the activities of daily living with limited impacts by the watchers. The owl is out of view in the top pic and barely visible in the other two where it is the the small thing sticking up the right side on top of the house roof.
I included the bottom pic as it gives a better perspective on the very rural nature of this subdivision which is located in an area with large/larger acreage home-sites with a lot of fields/meadows/grassland that has not yet been developed. Unfortunately one person posted on the listserve that the "bird is in a human subdivision for crying out loud! He is obviously used to people coming and going!" I think this is quite misleading. The lots in this subdivision are about 5 acres and as can be seen there are hundreds of feet between the houses. And several of the lots are still vacant as are several of the houses so the Snowy Owl has a lot of space and is not being subjected to close contact with people. It perches on rooftops and antennas on top of roofs, which remove him from proximity with people and their pets by at least 20 feet and often much more and provides it with not only a good place to view it's surroundings (for prey and danger) but with safety from coyotes, dogs running free and other threats. SeEtta

Sunday, January 17, 2010

SnowyOwl: one more pic

This is the only photo I took with my Canon xti camera with 400 mmm lens besides the ones in my first post of the owl on the antenna that I felt was good enough to post. Though I might have gotten some better pics if I had the 1.4 extender that I forgot, I think that digiscoping often lends itself to better pics of birds at a distance. This was taken from about 200 feet from the owl. SeEtta

Snowy Owl: real perspective

When I woke up this morning I realized that posting the photo taken with my digital camera lens equivalent of 640 mm does not really provide most people with an idea of what the Snowy Owl looks like without the benefit of super telephoto lens combos or spotting scopes. You see that 640 mm is more than 12 times magnification. So here is a pic I took with my point and shoot camera at close to 'normal' view (approximately 50mm). In fact, this is a totally unedited pic without not only the cropping that most of us do to enlarge the view but without the other tweaks like improving the lighting.

Because of the lack of enlargement it may be necessary to double click on the pic to enlarge it for better viewing of the owl (which is why photographers enlarge their pics). The owl is on the ridge of the rooftop just to the right of the jog in the ridgeline. It is on a different house than the one in the post below and the view from the street where we were standing was about 200 feet so, though visible with the naked eye, it is very small. SeEtta