I am, at heart, a city girl, originally from London and then Chicago, and it wasn’t until we moved out to our current location that I really thought much about the joys of wildlife photography.
Up to that point, the only birds to which I could reasonably put a name were sparrows and pigeons and the only animals with which I had come into limited contact were the mice that we occasionally caught in cunningly concealed traps laden with cheese and peanut butter, and squirrels that darted kamikaze-like, from time to time, in front of the car.
So when my neighbor thoughtfully informed us about the many excellent nature centers in our area, I gathered up such photographic equipment as I possessed, donned a rather expensive photojournalist’s vest, purchased in a moment of misguided enthusiasm at The Banana Republic and headed out with the intention of coming back with shots that would make even the most experienced and successful safari cameraman sick with envy.
The only thing that wandered across my line of vision that day was a crusty looking crayfish that I think might have been suffering from sunstroke. Galvanized into action by this sudden burst of activity, I recorded the wretched creature’s every move, firing off the entire roll of film as it staggered jerkily across the path, hurling itself gratefully into the few inches of murky green water – all that was left at the bottom of the little pond that it called home after a scorching summer – and sinking slowly out of sight, I could have sworn, with a wave of its claw.
Of course, nowadays I have a better idea of where and when to look for the local fauna but nature can be a very unpredictable thing. There are those times when you can, without any effort whatsoever, see dozens of things running around practically falling over each other in an attempt to be photographed, and others when you are lucky if you come across as much as a tardy ant that is rushing to catch up with the others.
And here’s the thing; I’m never quite sure what approach to take when I go on these expeditions; the stealthy, creeping-around-the-bushes technique or the noisy, see-if-I-care method.
I have tip-toed silently through the undergrowth, hardly daring to breath for fear of scaring away any prospective subjects and not seen a living creature, only to drive out into the roaring traffic of the busy main street and pass a family of woodchucks sitting impassively by the side of the road, as though trying to thumb a ride, and looking at me as much as to say, “Sorry, we didn’t know you were looking for us. You should have called!”
Then there was the time when, having unsuccessfully crept around the nature center for several hours looking for deer, my mother, who sometimes accompanied me on these jaunts, and I, decided that enough was enough and reverted back to our normal speaking voices, chatting noisily of this and that, laughing and nattering all the way along the wood-chip path leading back to the entrance until suddenly I just happened to glance back over my shoulder.
Grabbing Mum’s arm and giving a rather brilliant impersonation of a ventriloquist, I whispered through barely moving lips, “Stop! Don’t make any sudden moves.” We both turned around slowly and there, amazingly, standing almost within touching distance was a deer. It must have followed us all the way down the path as though eavesdropping on our conversation and was looking at us with such intense interest, as if to say, “Go on. Don’t mind me,” that it even allowed me to raise the camera and get a couple of unhurried shots before, tiring of the whole experience, it turned around and ambled off.
Naturally there are times when silence is golden. How else could you hear the rustle of a snake making its way through a drift of autumn leaves or the furtive scurrying of a chipmunk foraging for whatever it is chipmunks forage for?
But, by and large, I’m beginning to suspect that it really doesn’t pay to sneak about like some burglar making off with the family silver. Just be yourself, make as much noise as you want and like the song says, “You’re sure of a big surprise.”