Edited to Add (2/12/2012): This was posted to the local birding list today, about the situation at Boundary Bay where the video below was shot:

About 4:30pm a woman from [a rehabilitation society] up the road was seen walking out to the various groups and very kindly asking them to retreat back to the dike. She was very successful in doing so … she said that two owls had been brought in recently suffering from an ailment that they attribute to stress … They were both underweight and both owls died. Therefore, they are now going out on a regular basis to request that people stay on the dike and allow the owls to hunt normally.

I’m very glad they’re out there, but it should never have come to this. I realize it’s impossible to consistently patrol other photographers’ behavior, but I think those of us who work hard to abide by strict wildlife photography ethics, need to make sure that when we’re around, we at least try to educate on why wildlife photography ethics are important. I’m still surprised by the photographers standing by in this video without interfering. Can’t for the life of me understand that complacency, although upon further viewing, it looks as though they’re waiting for the owl’s reaction.
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I’ve seen my share of questionable behavior out in the field, but this video got me worked up tonight. It was posted by a local birder who videotaped the madness that’s hit the Northwest as a result of the Snowy Owl irruption:

I can’t tell if the other two photographers are saying anything to Mr. Egregious, but if not, what th–? If I’d been there, that guy would have never cleared the tree without some intervention. Oh wait — I wouldn’t have been there, because the sign on the path clearly says that no one should venture into the habitat to disturb the owls.

Apparently, this type of behavior has been going on all season as a result of Snowy Owl fever. I’ve read accounts of respectful days between owls, birders and photographers. And then I’ve heard stories like the one shown above. I usually stay away from birding frenzies for this reason. I’d like to see the Snowies while they’re here, but have been torn about joining the melee.ย The owls are sticking around, despite the human intrusion. I hope they’re fattening up for their migration.

Think I’m a hard ass? Or think I’m justified?

The reality is that ours is a shrinking world in terms of habitat. It’s a growing world in terms of human population. It’s a bigger field in terms of who owns gear. And there seems to be an increasing sense of entitlement by humans (not just photographers), toward wild animals. I personally don’t think it’s that difficult to hold back and give the animal space. It does require resistance to temptation, and you will lose some shots. Often, though, the shots appear precisely because you sat and waited and didn’t encroach.

I always say that no photograph is worth the compromised well-being of the subject. I think it’s especially unfortunate when photographers go to these lengths for an image, when we, as a group, can be such good emissaries for the wild animals who literally depend on the good sense of humans for their survival.

Respectful photographers and birders — albeit many — observing owls from the path at Boundary Bay (Photo ยฉ John Biehler/Flickr):

Photo ยฉ John Biehler – Flickr Creative Commons

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