This week we have a guest blog by new volunteer Henry who has been getting a bit of experience working with the visitor experience and communication team. Henry has been visiting the reserve for a few years now and gets some fantastic wildlife photos - so he has written about his experiences of being an ethical wildlife photographer:
I first went to Minsmere in 2013 aged 7 with my great-grandfather (who grew up spending lots of time on the reserve), so my memory is quite limited of my first visit. But I can remember well my first time going back when I was more interested in birds in 2019, when I had my first glimpses of Marsh Harriers and Bitterns. It felt like stepping into another world with so much wildlife that I had either never seen before or never seen up close. I think even now despite the amount of times I’ve been I still feel that excitement going up the drive of what new encounters I’m going to have. When I got my first camera around my 10th birthday landscapes were the main thing I photographed (pretty terrible ones, and I don’t think they’re much better today). But when I started photographing birds I’ve never looked back. There’s a strange combination of thrill and relaxation that I don’t think exists to the same level in any other subject, but in the years I’ve been doing this it’s been impossible not to develop some sort of desire to help conserve the wildlife I photograph, especially the wildlife in this corner of Suffolk and the least that can be done is to minimise disturbance to it. So in this blog I’ll try and outline a few tips for fellow photographers, or anyone with an interest in birds, of how to not only photograph birds but do it ethically.
Getting to know the reserve is important for knowing where to wait for wildlife to appear. Volunteers are always on hand to help with this, and they will give you tips about what wildlife is around when you visit and where it might be. The hides are often good places to sit and wait for wildlife, with South and East hide often offering good views of Avocets in Summer, and Bittern and Island Mere hide being good places to watch Bitterns. Sometimes the wildlife is already there when I arrive in the hides, sometimes I wait for a few hours and it doesn’t appear. Patience is key when working with elusive and rare wildlife on the reserve, but this makes it very rewarding when you have a good encounter.
Getting close to wildlife
When looking for birds you might discover a nest site, birds on or near the nest are particularly sensitive to disturbance so when you find one it’s a good idea to walk away to make sure it’s not disturbed. You may also want to tell a volunteer about the nest if it’s a ground nesting bird in an area that lots of people walk on or near so they can try and protect it. Scaring birds away from the nest means the young are vulnerable to predators, and birds may also abandon it if disturbed so going too close to birds at the nest site can lead to the death of the young which is why it is so important not to interfere with them. This includes tape luring, attracting birds with calls is illegal during the breeding season. A good time to photograph birds is when they are out feeding. Often when you see birds such as Waders feeding on the beach or Warblers in the dunes they are moving in a very clear direction, so you can predict where they will head next, get there and wait, birds are much less likely to be disturbed if you are there before them. When the birds are comfortable like this, and moving towards you, you can also capture much better images than if they’re distressed.
After I spent a while waiting on the beach, this flock of Ringed Plovers flew towards me
When birds are very comfortable with your presence you may be able to witness special behaviour
Things to remember for taking a good photo
As well as the bird and what it’s doing, other things that make a good photo are the background and lighting. I plan my hide visits partly on when the light is the least harsh, and if it is facing onto the area where the birds may appear (this will bring out the most detail in the images). Where possible, I try and be on the bird’s eye level which brings a more intimate look than looking down or up at it. Twitter is a good place to check what has been seen recently and from where, this helps give me an idea of what is on the reserve and what is showing well.
As well as being fun, photography can be a really powerful way of showing people the endangered wildlife we don’t hear about so often. By providing the wider public with a viewpoint into the species at risk, I believe photography has an important role to play in conservation. The plight of birds, insects and mammals in our own country is often overlooked in favour of more attention-grabbing species in decline abroad, so I think (when done right), photography can be a really good way of showing people what Britain has to offer in terms of nature, and in turn making them care more about it. However, sometimes the welfare of birds can be cast aside in the hunt for close views of one or a new addition to a list. This is why it’s vital to consider how wildlife may be affected by your actions, and to make sure that the subject always comes first.
Amazing job well done my good friend Henry I hope you are well my good friend Henry
Excellent points well made. Well done Henry
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