Date: 11/9/21 8:10 am
From: julian hough <jrhough1...>
Subject: [CT Birds] Rarities, crowds and behavior
This topic of mindfulness in the field has become an annual one yet should exist year round.

The simple lesson is one of fieldcraft and etiquette yet I often sense there is a lot of assumptions by people that the owl is scared, hungry, agitated, sick, dying, etc. This is of course often an emotional human aspect mapped onto the bird that often has no basis in a particular situation. Studies have shown many/most migrant Snowy Owls are hardy creatures, capable of hunting offshore for ducks and finding and dispatching various types of prey quite easily.

Birders, photographers, dog-walkers, and joe-public disturb all manner of birds every day. This is true of any rare bird where crowds gather, and not just owls. The odd disturbance by over-zealous birders is unlikely to be detrimental to a healthy Snowy Owl and trying to impose specific distances and timed viewing restrictions, while well intentioned, is a seemingly idealistic crusade. Harassment, and stories where people have been seen flushing owls so there cohort can obtain flight photos is, of course, not what is being discussed here.

I think what has changed post-Covid, is that there are more photographers and birders in CT with access to information. That many more people have found an enjoyable passion is great, but with that beginning of exploring something new, comes a learning curve of fieldcraft and awareness. Some photographers are not birders in the true sense of the word and don't carry binoculars so there will be different expectations of what the 'rules' are between different subsets of observers. More people will show up at Snowy Owls to satiate there own particular enjoyment. That seems an undeniable fact.

I've seen good behavior from many people at the various Snowy Owls at Long Beach in recent years, as opposed to the opposite. Generally it is the camera phone and short lens brigade that often needs coralling who have no idea what 'too close is'.
If there is a crowd 30' from the bird, is nobody there speaking up and asking the collective to move a few feet further back? Is nobody taking charge of the situation to help guide and inform? It doesn't have to be confrontational.  I've seen people politely suggest a different course of action and most people of reasonable disposition will oblige if the request is valid, or if it helps everyone optimize their experience. Sometimes itcan be educational and perhaps avoid an after-the-fact post to CT Birds.

I think it is more a matter of common sense and people speaking up and working together and having some patience rather than trying to shame and put limits on people's enjoyment whether they are photographers or birders. Obviously there's no one answer that fits every scenario.
Good biridng

Julian Hough
New Haven 

CTBirds, a service of Connecticut Ornithological Association - Bringing birders together statewide. Please support COA:
CTBirds is for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut. For list rules and subscription information visit:
Join us on Facebook!