Many people enjoy photographing wildlife but sometimes don’t seem to know where to go to find the opportunities. It doesn’t need to involve going to exotic locations or spending big money for a guided trip. Oftentimes, some of the most accessible wildlife is found if not literally in your backyard, then close by. In this quick tip for the beginner wildlife photographer, we advise you to get out and go to the park.
Living in an urban setting doesn’t mean you don’t have access to wildlife. In fact, much of the wildlife found in urban settings, give photographers an advantage over their more rural counterparts – they are more approachable. Any animal that is more acclimated to humans, tends to be less skittish and will allow closer interaction. In local parks, there are people walking, riding bikes, jogging, fishing, boating, playing, etc. and due to this increased human activity, the animals tend to recognize our behavior as less threatening. They recognize things that are out of the norm and will heighten their alert mechanisms only when something is different.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The next time you see a hawk on a wire or fence post, if you drive by it, there is a good chance that it will not fly off. However, if you slow your car down or if you stop completely, it won’t take long for it to fly off. A couple years ago, I came across a northern harrier that tends to repeatedly hunt in the same area of a local park. I found that if I was walking, I could walk very close to this particular bird, but if I stopped, slowed the pace of my walking or if I turned to face it, it flew off immediately. Still, this bird was so used to people, it let you get far closer to it than the average northern harrier will. Here is a photo of a jogger giving the harrier a look as the harrier watches him run by with no more than 8 to 10 feet between them!
The bird never flew off since the runner never varied his pace or his course. This bird has learned to recognize human behavior just as we come to recognize animal behavior as we spend time watching wildlife.
Local and national parks become sanctuaries for wildlife, a safe place for them to roam. Spend some time at your local parks and you will find birds of various kinds, foxes, coyotes, deer and critters that are unique to your “neck of the woods” so to speak. Some of those subjects can be found as you drive through the park, so be sure to take a bean bag as we recommended in an earlier tip. Other times, photographing in a park might require you to take a short hike. I always need the exercise anyway and even if I don’t find any great photo opportunities (hey, it happens often), then at least I have enjoyed the time away from the television and electronic chains, er, devices. I have a small, light folding stool that I sometimes take with me and will set up in an area, say with flowers, that I will focus my attention and lens on. The flowers, might bring in butterflies, finches or hummingbirds. The longer you sit still, the closer they will approach you.
Sometimes a local park gives you the unexpected, in fact, our local photographers have had a surprise visitor that has hung around for the past few years.
This mandarin duck belongs in Asia, not in Colorado, and is most likely an escapee from a private collection. However, since it is an exotic, it should have a band or wing clip but this duck has neither so no one is completely sure where he came from. We are just glad he is here, has taken up residence with a group of mallards and seems to be holding up fine. Keep in mind that every spring and winter, migration will bring temporary visitors and you never know what you might find, so visit your local park soon and see what surprise it has in store for you. However, don’t be disappointed if there is no big surprise, but instead, you might find an average, plain subject that catches your eye like this common mallard hen in some nice spring blooms.
Don’t forget that another good place is nearby National Parks, for me, Rocky Mountain National Park provides coyotes, elk, deer, big horn sheep, moose and an occasional bobcat or bear.
Each national park has its own resident wildlife, for instance, Yellowstone is known for bison, wolves, elk, bear, big horn sheep and eagles to name a few commonly seen residents. Glacier National Park is known for mountain goats and bears. You get the idea.
Take a drive to the closest park, stop by the visitor center if there is one, and ask around about what can be found in the area. If there is no visitor center, talk to the people walking or hiking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and ask me what I am photographing and then they often proceed to tell me what they saw on their walk as well as where they saw it. Spend some time in the early mornings and late afternoons and if you do it frequently, you will find like all of us, many of nature’s animals are creatures of habit. Learn their habits and it makes it easier to find and photograph them. Enjoy the beauty that nature offers, get outside and go to the park!