Too close! Note the open bill - the owl was clicking its disapproval and left soon after (with this guy and others in hot pursuit).
Code of Conduct
Adapted from similar information on my site dedicated to Owls, I aim to follow these guidelines in all wildlife photography.
Here are some guidelines for observing wildlife, and particularly owls, in parks and other such areas. These animals are generally more tolerant of humans than they would be away from urban and semi-rural areas. That is to our benefit, but we should still be aware of their needs at all times.
- Never leave anything behind, especially garbage!
- Do not clear or modify vegetation. Some photographers like to clear intruding items for a better view of the subject (a practice sometimes know as "gardening"). This exposes the subject to danger and was probably why it chose the location in the first place.
- Before looking for owls (or any species) do a little research to be sure that you can recognize signs of stress. Never let your presence cause your subject any stress. If there is any sign of stress, back off.
- Keep in mind that they are wild creatures and may be unpredictable - especially in the breeding season.
- You are a guest in your subject's home - do not out stay your welcome and you will be invited back again.
- Stay on the trails.
- Never attempt to feed any wildlife.
- Use a lens of long enough focal length to avoid approaching too closely. Also, remember that the best photos are those that show an animal in its environment - close-ups should be kept for Hollywood.
- If you find a young owl on the ground - leave it alone! It is probably waiting for a parent. Look around and you may find an adult bird monitoring your behaviour. At the branching stage or even after they can fly, it is not uncommon for juveniles to be alone on the ground.
- Be aware of other people. Not everyone has the best of intentions towards wildlife - you may need to move further back to prevent any passing "undesirable" people from detecting your subject (sadly). This can be hard to judge - many a tough guy becomes a softie when nature watching.
- If you are in a group, keep it small (I recommend no more than 5 people, unless professionally supervised). Stay together - never approach from different sides. If you must talk, do so quietly.
- Resist the use of recordings to entice any bird. This practice has its uses, but is best left to the experts. Overuse can stress the birds - especially during breeding season, when they are highly territorial.
For further guidelines you may want to check with local societies or on the web (see references page on my Owls site for some ideas). Consider yourself fortunate that we can observe such wild creatures near to home without the need for special permits. Only by behaving ethically will we be able to retain such privileges. The balance between regulation and freedom of access is, by necessity, very different elsewhere in the world. When we, as a species, abuse our freedom by threatening the survival of other species then regulations become essential.