All about Hoofbeats & Footprints

Building Trust

Being a wildlife photographer requires one to have infinite patience and to become a behaviorist and naturalist.

Certainly one of the first lessons is to understand the habitats, seasons and habits of the species you are wanting to photography. Where will they be? When will they be there? And what will they be doing while they are there. These three questions help guide you for your photographic outings but don’t guarantee success if you don’t have the next skill.

Understanding the bird’s behavior and how to introduce your presence into their environment to be the least disruptive. This is a infinitely challenging task and even when you think you’ve got your skills down, some members of a species can be more skittish than others.

Knowing the clues they give you will tell you whether or not they are on alert and might take flight.

Over the years my garden is becoming more of a wildlife habitat and even though the birds see me daily, that doesn’t mean that they stick around to get their picture taken. A few particular species are especially shy including the Blue Jay and the Red Bellied woodpecker.

It helps that there is a human presence in the garden many days each week and establishing a routine of when I throw out bird feed has helped to desensitize them. Yesterday was a snow day and I sat on my covered porch with my tripod and long lens and covered myself with a blanket to keep warm. And then I waited.

At last, the temptation of fresh unsalted peanuts drew in the Blue Jays on a snowy day. They were quick however and would land just a moment before grabbing their chosen peanut and taking off. One did stop and investigate me a little to make sure it was truly safe.

A few other species aren’t quite as shy and frequently landed on my perch stick and posed beautifully.

There were a few other visitors in the garden that aren’t regulars. Many of them sat high in the tree, knowing that I was sitting on the bench. Uncertain whether it was safe or not, they’d send an occasional scout to check it out.

The ultimate garden bird I’ve been wanting to photograph but just can’t as he is always so shy of me is the Red bellied woodpecker. It always sees me from a distance and is long gone. I’m not sure what happened this time, but perhaps the several times that I’ve sat there for a couple of hours at a time in recent weeks has finally rewarded me by earning his trust.

And the squirrel? HA ! The Buddha squirrel. Well, those peanuts are giving out in small numbers and they are now quickly responding to “Hey Squirrel…Come Here…Come Get your peanut.” Within two weeks I have one that will take the peanut from my hand. Now that is truly an earned trust.

11 replies »

  1. Love it! After so many years together, the wildlife in my yard sees me as benevolent. But you’re right. Trust is something that must be built over time, so that they can expect my behavior won’t be off-putting. That trust always pays dividends through photos! Your portraits are just amazing, Emily.

  2. I put out peanuts every morning. There is usually one Blue Jay watching me and he sounds the alarm. About the time I get back in the house a flock of Blue Jays are dive bombing the deck to get those peanuts. A lucky squirrel may get one or two, but those Blue Jays scarf them up quickly!

  3. Great comments, that trust is such an amazing thing when it happens. A wild creature that accepts a human’s presence. Your images show your ability and concern for the subject.

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