Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blending In

Birding with friends is just the greatest isn't it? And of course, birding as part of a CMBO guided walk is truly awesome (I know, I know, I'm biased!!) But now and again, just for a change, it's nice to go solo; just you and nature, to see what you can see. For me, such solo adventures often involve an element of "to see what I can get away with"! For many of us, a lifetime spent in a town or city has removed us from all but the briefest close encounters with nature and the skills of 'blending in' and becoming part of the landscape have been lost by much of our society. But despite this, I think that many of us hanker for those stolen moments when we suddenly get an opportunity to be part of the bigger picture. More often than not, such encounters are incidental; more to do with the animal than with us and a matter of us just being in the right place at the right time - like the Raccoon I caught rummaging under a wooden pallet last week, in a bog miles from where he expected any people to be! But that's where I like to test the barriers - to see what I can get away with.

Perceived as potential predators by many species, we have to overcome a lot to get close to wildlife. But it's all about not being seen as a threat. No need to wear camoflage gear - actually, blending in that well is not always a good idea as animals might see you suddenly and without warning which can actually startle them more. Wear muted colors though and try to look as though you're not really interested in whatever it is that you are interested in (if you see what I mean!). Here are a few close encounters I had just this past few days.

One way to be seen as less of a threat is to lie down (getting down is easy, it's the getting back up you have to think about when your joints start to creak like mine!). When you're lower, you're smaller, and thus not so threatening. From a low angle, you'll find you get much more interesting shots of insects. This is a Snowberry Clearwing moth that settled in the dunes at Higbee's Beach. Looks a bit like he's riding a jetski!

Insects are mostly relatively easy to get close to compared to other animals because, in part at least, we are so large that we probably don't even feature in their landscape a lot of the time. A bit like walking past a really tall building and not thinking about it. Dragonflies are a different story however, especially Swamp Darner - our biggest dragonfly in Cape May. I finally got the shot I had wanted for so long when I persuaded one that perching on my hand really was OK. In fact, I took it indoors with me, got my camera, went back outside and found a nice sunny spot to get pictures!

I featured another shot of this Ovenbird nest-building a few weeks ago, but wanted to include it here as an example of a species that is famously hard to see, but is actually quite easy if you put the time in. The secret here was to sit with this bird for half an hour before I even showed interest in her - and of course, I didn't want to get too close when she was clearly involved in breeding behavior. But before long, she accepted me and went about her duties. Kept an eye on me, but resumed her chores. It was only then that I started taking pictures. No photographic blind, no camo gear. Just sitting down, back to a tree, part of the landscape...

One of my closest encounters of late - and one which of course triggered this post - was with this female White-tailed Deer. Once the nose-licking and tail flagging starts, you know you've been seen and the end result is always the same as they turn tail and run. Have you ever tried talking to deer? They seem to quite like it! Having already seen me, this deer proceeded to just walk right on by...

Yep, right on by! Luckily I have a zoom lens as a fixed 300mm would have simply got me an eyeball shot I reckon! I note from the metadata on this photo that I had to shrink back to 135mm to take this head shot and I wasn't even hiding, just standing still, being part of the scenery; blending in. I took this photo on one of the main trails on my lunch break at Higbee's today!

And since it's nearly dinner time as I write this, here are some White Mulberries in our garden, the darkest of which are in a bowl in the kitchen and we'll have with ice-cream tonight! A close encounter with berries? Surely that's pretty easy to achieve? Yes, but there were Cedar Waxwings feeding in the tree while I was picking the fruit - but my camera was indoors! You can't win them all!!

Birding news was a little thin today, but Michael O'Brien seemed to chance upon a small, late fall of flycatchers at Cape May Point State Park this morning. Alder, Willow and Acadian Flycatchers were all present. Higbee's Beach didn't seem to have any migrants this morning, but Indigo Buntings are still present and breeding now and the Yellow-breasted Chat remains faithful to the first field - and actually became a new species for the list of birds I've seen in my favorite tree there!

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