Situated along the Rio Grande River, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge covers more than 57,000 acres and is a major wintering ground for cranes and waterfowl. In November, large flocks of snow geese and sandhill cranes will be present. At night to escape predators, the birds flock to the marshes and shallow pools. With dawn, the snow geese and other waterfowl rise in mass from the wetlands and sweep overhead on their way to nearby fields to feed. Each day we will spend the early morning and late afternoon hours at the refuge photographing birds and many other species of wildlife which are present at the sanctuary.
Equally as impressive, we could find wild turkeys roaming wooded areas, coyotes hunting for waterfowl, dabblers and divers feeding in the ponds and early morning mule deer. We could see kit, red and gray fox or get really lucky and witness an elusive bobcat. Following is a link to a comprehensive list of wildlife on the refuge, https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/BDA2008_WildlifeList.pdf.
New England Cable News report on a moose that drowned because it was frightened by excited tourists. (Screenshot)
Earlier in September, a moose drowned in Lake Champlain, Vermont, because of tourists. Not directly: people didn’t go up and kill it. Rather, it died as a result of what people did, or didn’t do. After swimming from the New York shore to Grand Isle, in the middle of the lake, the moose came ashore. Unfortunately, it came onto the island near a road and tourists, excited at the sight of a moose so close, got out of their cars and started snapping photos with their phones. Sadly, the commotion frightened the moose back in to the lake. Tired from its swim over from New York, the moose didn’t have enough energy left to cope with wind and waves and drowned shortly thereafter.
Galapagos flycatcher landed on my finger because I was the tallest shrub around, Santiago/James Island, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador.
I love being close to animals. Their proximity reaffirms the fact that we are a part of nature, another thread in the tapestry of life, rather than something separate or apart from it. If my youth is any indication, this is an affinity we are all born with, but it gets lost if it’s not exposed to the right stimuli, wild stimuli. The first wild stimulus I’m aware of in my own upbringing was bears. My family was visiting Yosemite when I was three, and in those days the park had an open-air dump where bears would scavenge. Upon seeing the large animals, I set off running towards them, yelling, “Doggie, doggie!” My parents managed to overtake and control me before the bears could be traumatized by an overly enthusiastic toddler, but it was a near thing.
Being close to animals remains an incredibly precious experience for me, and it makes no difference what the species is—butterflies or bighorns, sea turtles or snakes, mice or moose (they’re all doggies to me). In Baja, I laid in the path of an approaching tarantula just to see what it would do, and to get some wide-angle shots, of course. After a few tentative steps on my arm, which was dry, flaky and hairy, the spider decided it did not care for the terrain and retreated to walk around me. Now approaching any creature closely is not something to be taken lightly. There is an element of danger involved any time you are near a wild thing, more for the subject than the photographer, for even if it’s the photographer who is injured, the animal will almost certainly be killed. And that’s one of the reasons NANPA decided to come up with some guidelines to help photographers make wise choices, ethical choices.
My degree is in Wildlife Biology, and I have worked at getting close to critters of all kinds for more than 50 years—50 years! Boy that makes me feel old—but even with that background, I know I would’ve benefitted from projects the Ethics Committee has tackled. In my early days as a nature photographer, the images I was trying to capture often took on a life or death level of importance to me. I’m sure I stressed subjects more than I should’ve and trampled things under my boots that I should’ve been more aware of. Three decades ago, there was rarely another person anywhere around me, so the impact I had was relatively light. Today, where one photographer goes, hordes are likely to follow, and our potential for disturbance and disruption is correspondingly greater. It’s been 20 years since NANPA first came out with a code of ethics for nature photographers, but the game has changed. And not only because there are so many more of us, but because newer research shows some of the old practices have the potential to harm the landscape or the creatures that live there. The original code of ethics is kind of paltry compared to the guidelines listed in the latest Ethical Field Practices, another indication of how much things have changed. Check it out. It’s worth looking over regardless of how experienced you are and how many covers you list on your resume. An ebook on ethical nature photography is also scheduled for release in the near future, and, with any luck, it will be out before the summit next February.
Another issue the Ethics Committee has worked on is the accurate captioning of images. At one time, this was something that pretty much only applied to editorial photography and contest entries. It was important to know if an animal or plant was captive, and if the photo had been manipulated in some way. There was a definite temptation to fudge the truth a bit just to get published or win a prestigious contest, and that temptation is still there. Not too many years ago, the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was caught using a captive subject for his winning image. At a time when we could have used both the money and the fame, my wife, Cathy, and I passed up an opportunity to have the cover of Defenders magazine by letting the editors know the wolverine they wanted had been photographed at a game farm. Not only was it the right thing to do, it wouldn’t have looked good for the person who wrote the original Truth in Captioning article for NANPA, as well as sitting in on the Truth in Captioning panel at the 1997 summit, to be caught cheating. Those were the early days of Photoshop, and its limits were still being tested. Today there is literally nothing that cannot be done to an image during processing. Between the incredible possibilities in photo manipulation and a new awareness of the nuances that exist between wild and captive, the Truth in Captioning Document is considerably more detailed than the one we arrived at back in 1997. Again, this something all of us should check out and be aware of.
These issues were not approached with the idea that NANPA is going to be a policeman or play referee, watching over all of our work to slap us down if we cross the line. The completed projects are there to help nature photographers better understand some of the implications of what they’re doing. We did not get into nature photography for the money or fame (if you did, you’re really barking up the wrong tree). We picked up a camera because we love nature, we love wildlife, and any help we can get is welcome, especially if it makes life easier for the wild landscapes and wild things that mean so much to us.
I was reading a thread on a well-known photography website about a landowner shutting down photography on his lands. Why? The story presents two sides but no one really knows why the property is off limits except the owner but are we sometimes guilty of bad or less than courteous behavior? I have seen photographers ignore railway no trespassing signs at Bosque to photograph early morning cranes on a wonderfully located pond, and the pond was drained as the result of these trespasses. Many have seen the chaos that occurs at the Oxbow Bend Overlook during the fall with photographers failing to act in a courteous manner. I could go on and on about these types of stories, and we have all experienced such actions by others and maybe we have been less than courteous ourselves. Continue reading →