If you are a Birder and Photographer in Ohio, you must deal with many individuals throughout the state who try to control you by any means possible including public shaming on Facebook. There are two forums this occurs in consistently, that I know of. The hosts, at the very least are complicit in this bad behavior since it continues to happen over and over, and we see only the person removed from these sites, is the one being shamed not the one doing the shaming.
If you are a wildlife photographer and you want to get photographs of a rare bird like a snowy owl, they try to use unprofessional tactics to stop you from approaching these magnificent species and getting quality pictures. They believe they set the standard distance a birder or photographer can approach and if you go beyond this they scream at you. They take pictures of you and shame you on social media hoping to control you and in some cases hurt your reputation and or defame you.
They don’t stop there, I witnessed a person in a truck deliberately drive right along the fishing pier in Lorain, Ohio in December of 2017 to scare the Snowy Owl away from a small group of photographers and birders enjoying this magnificent bird. I didn’t make that connection until another photographer told me later, these so-called “wildlife police” are doing this when they feel people are too close. Later after the bird flew to a prime photography spot, they tried it again however, were stopped by a fisherman who would not move their vehicle, so they could drive behind the bird to make it flush. Not getting his way, this person drove in front of the birds in a fast manner hoping to produce the same outcome. How is this helping? It goes against what this self-ordained “wildlife police” with no experience with wildlife say they don’t want the photographers to do, yet it’s ok if they do it. I would not have believed it had I not seen it for myself.
I’m sure the Bullies will deny this, but the photographer who told me about this new low the bullies have stooped to, mentioned it to me through messaging, and after I said it happened that night, the photographer asked me if it was a truck. The photographer had the description of the truck to a tee and were not there when it happened, to me. This kind of bullying and tactics are causing a rift between the two groups. Besides the bad-mannered tactics, they tell lies or half trues to support their mission of bullying.
The sad part is these bullies have gained credence from officials and renowned birders with influence throughout Ohio because many of these people of influence and officials will not speak out against this bad behavior. This is a dirty little secret that they ignore and in some way, they are contributing to these people’s bad behavior. The individuals involved in these tactics are everything decent folks teach their children not to be and not to do. Here in Ohio this has become to new norm in the birding community.
Here is there argument that they use about the Snowy Owl to justify their bad behavior and the hypocrisy in the birding community that many of these same people are involved with:
“These birds have come hundreds of miles and are starving, and photographers are getting too close causing them to flush during the day, which may cause the bird to expend to much energy in turn causing their demise.”
I agree that this is a real possibility however, much of the research done has debunked this argument and researchers have noted snowies are more likely to get hit by a car because they are hunting Median strips and off ramps. I have been to several different snowy owl locations and all the owls were killing and eating prey. Unfortunately, it’s not just rare species they have bullied people over, getting supposedly too close to everyday common species like Barred Owls has happened as well.
Here is the best example of hypocrisy in the birding community and one I have heard from photographers and birders time and time again that has created such a bitterness or distain for one another:
Many of these same bullies, officials and prominent birders support and go to Magee Marsh in the spring. Here thousands of birds, many of them rarer than the Snowy Owl, stop to rest and forage before continuing their journey. At Magee Marsh they are accosted by thousands of people yearly as they make this trek, these birds are no less tired and hungry, and no less at risk of an early demise. Yet this is ok, for big crowds to rush in for a close look at these birds. You don’t hear the bullies standing up for these birds at Magee Marsh.
You see there is a double standard in Ohio, we all have heard it before “do as I say not as I do”. For me I have never liked this kind of hypocrisy and I’m sure I never will.
What these bullies fail to recognize is photographers care about wildlife as much if not more than anyone. Most don’t want the Snowy Owl to fly. They want to do the right thing, but these bullies are denying them their rights and the chance to do the right thing. Yelling at them, bullying them on social media doesn’t build allies. You’ve heard the phrase “you attract more flies with honey then you do vinegar”. There has never been a more truer statement and it applies to this situation.
For me, if I see a photographer make a mistake I will try to calmly point it out and offer some alternatives and hope they learn to do better the next time. There is no perfect way. Each situation or animal should dictate the distance based on it behavior. Just because a photographer gets closer than you would doesn’t make them a bad person or mean they don’t care. It means they have goals and objectives different than yours.
Being a wildlife photographer is a learning experience and mistakes happen. The biggest complaint that I have heard from other photographers is they are being denied the chance to learn and grow in their craft without the threat of being persecuted on social media.
For 2018 my wish is we can all come together for some common goals with mutual respect, to talk to one another and discuss things when things don’t go as expected. If we are all at each other’s throats we cannot focus on real environmental issues that affect us all, human and wildlife alike.