I’m fortunate to have a family chock full of photographers — wildlife photographers, no less.
But what is more important to me is that they respect the wildlife they photograph.
The cast of shutterbugs includes my wife, Karen, son, David P., daughter-in-law, Pam, my granddaughter, Michaela, and my grandson, Matt. Now that the northern migration has started, I have busied myself taking waterfowl photos. I’ve been fortunate enough to take more this spring than I have in all others combined.
But there is a side to photography many people don’t understand, or even realize exists, and that is the animal’s welfare should be considered above that “shot of a lifetime.” Considering that many species of waterfowl are now nesting, or preparing to, unless I can get a decent photo at a safe distance, I forgo taking the shot. Last week, I backed away from a Canada goose on a nest, simply because she became upset as I approached closer and closer. I already have photos of nesting geese, and I would rather take shots of her and her goslings than chase her from her nest, allowing any of her eggs wide open to predation.
As hunters and photographers, this family is used to sitting and waiting — or showing an extreme amount of patience to get the shot they want. My son has often said, “If you stay in one place long enough, you’ll see something to photograph, and when it’s a surprise, it usually is an exciting photo.” He’s right, of course, and his photos prove it.
He, more than the rest of us, is willing to travel a long distance to get a good shot. When he does, he calls and tells me all about his day, the excitement emanating through his voice. I’m proud that he makes such efforts and considers all the other things he could be doing with his time that would not be as thrilling, or rewarding.
Recently, he took a six-hour day trip to photograph a red fox. With Pam and Michaela tagging along, he was anxious to get that perfect photo, although we both know there is no such thing. The family journeyed to a national wildlife refuge, one of more than 555 in the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for the protection of wildlife, and wildlife habitat, and represents the most comprehensive wildlife resource management program in the world.
Areas like these draw huge numbers of tourists every year, and many bring cameras and tripods along with a wide variety of lenses.
“I was excited,” he said, “and almost immediately after entering the area, we saw cars pulled to the side of the road.
“I put my camera on my lap and told Pam and Michaela to get out theirs,” he added. Then came a long pause.
“So, did you see a fox?” I asked.
“Yes, but I wasn’t happy about it,” he replied.
He went on to tell me about the people who literally “crawled” within a few feet of the animals. As with most wildlife areas, feeding the animals is illegal, but these people were feeding, as were many other visitors.
“All you had to do was pull to the side of the road, and a fox would appear, because they’re being fed constantly. They simply come out looking for food,” he said.
I told him I had seen this many times over the years, but I had not seen what he went on to explain.
“They would crawl on their hands and knees so close, then crinkle a bag, or throw their hats up in the air to get them to fight,” he said. “Dad, I had seen photos like these before and wondered how they captured them fighting. I was always awed by the shots, but now I certainly know better.”
Unlike most people would have, my son took one step further: he stopped at the park office and asked if it was legal to feed animals here. After being told, “No, they are not,” he handed the lady the license number of the vehicle. She told him she would call a ranger.
More than a half-hour later, my son stopped back at the ranger station and asked if the people had been stopped. The ranger told him not yet, but as soon as he got some extra time, he would get to it. “Yes, they do it all the time, and this summer, when it gets hot, one of those foxes will bite someone,” the ranger said.
My son said he came home with a lot of fox photos but was disappointed with the circumstances he had found there.
“Oh, I’ll go back because there are a lot of things to photograph there,” he said. “But I was honestly disappointed with what goes on in places that are so wild and beautiful.”
Although problems like this occur outside of the photographic community, with spring here, wildlife needs personal space, just like most humans do. If you observe wildlife closely, they’ll signal when you are getting too close.
Dave Wolf may be reached by email at email@example.com