Familiarity Breeds Contentment

Gee, I’ve been out of town for nearly a week for work and now I have a back log of blog entries. But today I want to talk about another important aspect of wildlife photography that I encountered today – familiarity.

In my mind, there are two categories of wildlife photography, at least when it comes to location. The first is the exotic location – somewhere far from where you live and the animals and habitats you photograph there are different from what you typically photograph. These trips are great, but usually mean $$$. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be in Alaska photographing brown bears and hopefully one day I will be. But photographing the things you don’t typically get to photograph does cost money and also requires considerable time and effort.

The second category involves photographing wildlife ‘in your own backyard’. This can be taken literally or figuratively. I’m really fortunate to have a 15 acre ‘backyard’ consisting of a large beaver pond surrounded by forest. Heaven! And there’s plenty of wildlife in and on it. But you don’t have to live in the country to still have access to wild places nearby. Local conservation areas, natural areas and reserves are perfect.

Ok, so maybe your ‘own backyard’ doesn’t seem as rife with adventure as going to Alaska. But it’s a lot cheaper and convenient. And you have the benefit of visiting that nearby place over and over again, which brings me to the point of today’s post – familiarity.

Photographing in a place that you visit frequently has some big benefits. Namely, that you become familiar with the species you’re likely to encounter at that location and also, that you’re likely to find those species in certain areas at certain times. This provides a level of predictability, which can be extremely helpful when there are certain species you want to photograph and it might take several outings to get those photos that you want or need.

An Eastern Towhee serenading me (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

For example, last week, I walked to an open area along the dirt road that we live beside. Using my iPod, I played a few bird songs briefly just to see who was out and about. I’d heard and seen a Chipping Sparrow and so played his song to see if I could entice him out for a photo. But in the process, I heard the call of another bird. I wasn’t sure what it was so I played the songs of a few different likely candidates. I got lucky. A beautiful Eastern Towhee flew over to me and began singing his heart out. At that point I stopped playing his song and just sat and watched him sing to me. It was a really grey day and so the dull skies didn’t make a very good background, but I wasn’t going to miss this great photo opportunity just because of some grey skies. I did get a few photos that I’m happy with.

Checking out who the intruder is (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Today, a week later, Ray and I hopped on the ATV and went for a ride down the dirt road just to have a look around and scout out some wild flowers. On the way back, we stopped at that same place so that I could play the Towhee’s song and see if the pair was still around. This time of year there are a lot of migrants passing through and so you don’t know who’s passing through and who’s here to stay for the summer. I only had to play the Towhee’s song for about 5 seconds when I heard him answer back. I didn’t have my camera with me. But I did learn that both the Towhee and the Chipping Sparrow have territories at that spot and so now that I’m familiar with this, I can go back again and again to take photos. On the way back, I realized that I know the location of several species (Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Swamp Sparrow) territories along that road. This familiarity will allow me to maximize my chances of getting some good images since I know where and when to find these species. And that makes me content.  :o) So, familiarity really does breed contentment…


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