I have always found Great Spotted Woodpeckers to be a very nervous and shy bird. Whilst they visit the feeders in my garden at home, they are easily spooked and quick to leave. Earlier this week, I spent a morning photographing a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest as the adults feed and encouraged their two young to fledge. The nest being just off the path in a local wood, the Woodpeckers had become accustomed to the close presence of humans and went about their business as I photographed them without having to introduce a hide. As the morning wore on, I was joined by a young film cameraman who was working on a TV project. As we photographed and filmed, one of the Woodpecker chicks fledged; the second, despite the encouragement of its parents steadfastly refused to leave the safety of its nest hole.
Whilst I frequently make use of hides, and for some subjects they are a necessity, it is far more enjoyable to work without one. In the open, not only do I find it easier to work but, far more importantly, I have a greater connection and sense of belonging with my surroundings.
I had literally stumbled across this nest the previous afternoon whilst out looking for potential fox earths. As I walked down the path towards the nest I came across a group of three photographers standing directly under the tree where the nest is located. A fourth photographer, clearly upset and close to tears (for reasons that sadly became all too apparent), sat some distance away from the nest. As the three photographers crowded under the nest, the chicks constantly called from inside the nest hole for food. The adults were clearly visible flying around the area responding to the calls for food but would not come into feed their young due to the three photographers under the nest being far too close.
Despite being politely informed that their behaviour was causing distress to the Woodpeckers and preventing the young from being feed, the three photographers steadfastly refused to move away from the nest. In response their behaviour became increasingly aggressive. As justification for their behaviour, they stated that they could not afford long lenses and had to get this close to get their images. As further justification, one of the photographers pointed out a nearby Treecreeper nest and stated that other photographers had been even closer to that nest – I later learned that the Treecreeper had as a result abandoned this nest. As the three photographers refused to accept that there behaviour was unacceptable and given the aggression they were displaying, I left with the fourth photographer who had also tried unsuccessfully to persuade the group to move away from the nest.
As a nature photographer, my aim is simply to make images of nature with the hope that they will be used to further conservation. In so doing, the welfare of my subject is paramount. No image is more important that the welfare of the subjects I work with. To try and justify unacceptable behaviour on grounds that long lenses are too expensive or that other photographers have behaved just as bad is not acceptable. Given that the photographers in question were using cropped sensor cameras and had reasonable long lenses, given the effective increase in magnification and with a little cropping, they would have been able to make acceptable images by moving back away from the nest. In so doing, the Woodpeckers would have come in to feed their young and the three photographers would have been able to make the image they were after. Alternatively, a hide is a very cost effective way of getting close with causing distress. What made this situation even more ludicrous was that the light at the time this all occurred was terrible, the nest is best photographed in the early morning or on a bright but overcast day. What also surprised me was the age of the three photographers, at least two were well past retirement age.
As nature photographers there is much that we can, and should, do to promote the conservation of the subjects we photograph and that of the wider environment. This could be seen as a moral obligation. Alternatively it is simply a little pay back for the pleasure that nature gives freely for no charge.