Watching Wildlife

 In no way should I ever be considered an expert on anything, especially watching wildlife and/or photography. However, I've been a keen wildlife watcher for as long as I can remember. And as for the photography thing...Well, I'm learning all the time.

One thing I do know is that if you want to photograph wildlife then it really helps to have an understanding of the behaviour of different species. When you begin to see where creatures bask, bathe, hunt, and mate, you'll have half a chance of second guessing of where they might be, and what they might do next. Basically, the more you watch, the more you'll learn, and the more prepared you'll be when photographic opportunities arise. I also find that having a little understanding of the ecosystem around me, makes me feel, and reminds me, that I'm part of that ecosystem.

The wildlife watcher 'rules' are quite simple really, and most people, I think, would instinctively follow the more obvious ones. It goes without saying that whilst you're sitting in the garden, hopefully enjoying a quiet coffee or a glass of wine, it's a perfect time for wildlife watching.

1) Be patient

   I can't say this enough. Be patient. There, I said it again. It's undeniably frustrating when, after an hour or two, you've only seen a couple of pigeons and a greenbottle, but be patient. And I've said it again. All together now...Be patient!

2)  Be still... and if you can't be still, be slow

This is as about as obvious as it gets - Don't draw attention to yourself. Most people naturally stand still when they unexpectedly see wildlife appear in front of them. But why not be still in preparation? If you're constantly fidgeting or waving your arms about to scratch your head, it may not trouble the sparrowhawk as it flies overhead but just everything else will keep a wide berth from you. I assume that you're a human, not a statue, so when you need to move - do it slowly. Whilst you're sitting there watching wildlife, live your life in slow motion.

3) Be quiet

This is also quite obvious - Don't draw attention to yourself. Imagine that you're in a cinema and every noise you make is like the crackling of sweet wrappers. Keep your phone on silent, and if you have to speak, whisper.

4) Disguise yourself

What I must look like to an insect
  Fake nose and comedy mustache are entirely optional. Nonetheless, try to dress in natural colours so that you blend in with the picturesque scenery. It's the entire opposite of road safety. In all honesty, I'm usually quite rubbish at following this concept. It's one of my 'quirks' that 99.9% of the time I'm to be found wearing a white t-shirt. It makes me anxious to go without one. So, in summer I'm usually found wearing a green shirt over a white t-shirt. Warm, to say the least.

   If you've reached the point of serious wildlife watching, then you could try and disguise your presence by breaking up your very human shaped outline. You can do this simply by tucking small leafed branches into your clothes. It's a good excuse to wear a leafy hat. It sounds daft but it does help to make you less obvious to the animal eye. If dressing up like a bell-less morris dancer isn't really for you, then why not try a portable hide. As I live in the city, I don't feel remotely comfortable setting up a hide. Like an animal, in the city I like to be alert to what's going on around me, and I doubt Southward council would be especially enthusiastic. Luckily, as I (currently) predominantly photograph insects, being disguised isn't so much of an issue for me. Regardless of those facts, now that I have a shed, I yearn for a hide.

5) Blow wind blow

  If you're out in the countryside, and are really serious about watching wildlife, try and stay downwind of your intended subject. Humans are smelly and many creatures have very sensitive noses. At worst, one whiff of you on the breeze and they'll be off and out of sight. They certainly won't behave as if you weren't there.

How to get close to insects

   It doesn't take much to frighten away an insect. It often seems that you only need to look at them a bit strangely and they're off. Nonetheless, there are some simple steps you can take, (and it is all about the steps you take), to increase your chances of a closer view.

   For some reason, unbeknown to me, insects 'prefer' you to step in a straight line towards them. It's really tempting to gallop on in there, but I find that the key to getting nearer insects is a stop/start motion. Being mindful of not to cast a shadow, take a small and gentle step towards your 'prey', and then pause. The pause is really important. During the pause, insects will accept you as part of the scenery, effectively 'forgetting' that you just moved a step closer. Repeat this stop/start/'I'm just a pretty flower moving in the breeze' type of movement until the insect either flies off/crawls away, or you get the view that you were hoping for. Worry not if they fly off before you get to have a good gawp at them. Remember that insects fly off when their timetable suits them. It doesn't always mean you've startled them. Some species are more skittish than others so don't take it personally.


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