Saturday, December 31, 2011
Great Gray End to 2011 - 28 Dec 2011
This bird was first reported a few days before Christmas on the Ontario Listserve. Kingsville is approximately half-way between Windsor and Leamington (Pt. Pelee), or a little over an hour's drive from our house in Wyandotte, MI. Robin and I were enroute to Lakeland, FL at the time, so naturally I was pulling my hair out that I was driving away from one of the most sought-after birds in North America. As a bird photographer/digiscoper I was also crushed to see that the bird had flown to within 10' of fellow birders and had provided gallery-quality images to those lucky enough to have cameras on-hand. I had expected that the bird might be gone by the time we got home (27th), so we were happy to learn that it was still being seen in same general vicinity for more than a week now.
out of its normal winter range and is presumed to be under some stress from having to fly so far to apparently new foraging grounds. An owl of this grandeur is also going to garner a lot of attention: both good and bad. Birders, birder/photographers, and photograhers are going to flock to see this bird, and the potential for additional stress is almost assured. In the end, we decided to go. With Dad in the hospital it might be a nice pick-me-up to be able to report that we saw the bird, and (possibly) were able to photograph it.
Josh Haas and his friend happily photographing the owl from approximately 60' away. The bird was hunched over its meal and nonchalantly eating small bites at a time. Its eyelids were half-closed the entire time, so it appeared not to be adversely affected by our presence. A van was parked on the side of the road directly across from the bird, and a group of 10 - 15 folks were crowded on either end. Overall the group was well-behaved and most were savoring views of a life-bird.
First, I believe that everyone needs to read the American Birding Associations Code of Birding Ethics, whether you are a birder or a photographer, or both! As for the following:
Flash photography - we've all read stories of birds being blinded by a flash unit, or spooked, or even stunned only to be taken by a bird of prey, and for this reason it is important to evaluate whether the use of flash will harm the bird in any fashion. A single flash, or a synchronized, multi-flash flash setup for a hummingbird coming to a feeder in the summertime is acceptable, in my opinon, so long as the bird is not scared away from the feeder. However, once October/November rolls around, and rarer, migrating hummingbirds (such as Anna's or Allen's) appear in our area I believe that flash photography should not be used under any circumstance. As for owls? A single flash is acceptable and usually results in no detriment to the bird, even in total darkness. The problem comes in when 10 photographers are present and single flashes result in a strobe effect that could momentarily blind or disorient a bird, and simultaneously cause it to flush. Therefore, when more than one photographer is present it is best to avoid flash photography altogether. On a bird tour it is best to ask the guide whether the use of flash is permitted or is acceptable (also keep in mind the effect it may have on other birders' chances for missing a potential life-bird).
Noise - we're all guilty of this one. Large crowds produce alot of excitement and a lot of noise. We should not underestimate its negative effects on a bird. Please keep conversations for the bar afterward...
The presence of this owl is undoubtedly a major highlight of everyone's year. We can only hope that everyone will be on their best behavior and keep the bird's best interest in the forefront.