Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reality or Fake?

 Great Grey Owl near Kingsville

First off, I want to thank my friends Rodney, Randy, and 
Jerry especially for introducing me to a new buddy, Kevin.  I did have 
a great time yesterday photographing the Great Grey Owl.

Listening to all the bickering amongst all the birders and
other photographers was pretty brutal, but the
positive experience of viewing and taking images 
of this amazing creature was overwhelming.

Too many people there?  Not really, with all the people 
scattered about a a fairly busy highway, the traffic was 
forced to slow down, which ultimately
provided a safer environment for the bird.  This very 
nervy and confident species was flying west all day 
along the country road.  At times it would be cruising only 
a few feet above the asphalt, putting itself in danger to speeding cars.

There were people photographing the bird inside of
20 feet.  Not nature photographers, people with small 
point and shoot cameras.  The GGO was complete 
and totally unconcerned.  The owls that migrate south 
from the boreal forests during winter months feed on voles and
mice that spend their winter in swampy low lying
areas, as the ditches along this road provide good habitat
for the rodents.

I arrived early in the am, finished shooting at dusk. To my
knowledge, the bird enjoyed at least 4 rodents.
Watching this owl fly to various perches, and hunt
the entire day was an excellent Real nature experience.

For me, there are 2 concerns - the owl getting hit by a car
and baiters showing up with garbage store bought rats.  Most
people know now that releasing different species of rodents
to a new area is illegal in this country.  The concern goes
far beyond that.

Hand feeding wild animals and birds is completely unethical
in my opinion.  When photographers go out of their way to
create photographs using these non nutritious rats
are making a mistake.  This is not nature photography.

Birds and animals should never be habituated to humans
in such a manner.  After witnessing several baiting
sessions, I have seen owls follow and approach people
looking for food, and getting far too close!  Also, flying across
roads to get closer to people in almost a begging manner.

I have seen owls aggressively approach someone who is baiting, trying
to take the bait out of the persons hand, before it was released.  This is simply not
natural.  A Northern hawk owl had hundreds of store bought
rats hanging in the trees around its one time hunting grounds.  This bird
does not know when to stop taking this junk.  After all the baiting, it
doesn't need to hunt for weeks!

Baiting is for the lazy and selfish.  In my opinion, people who bait are
absolutely not concerned about the birds welfare.  I have many good friends who
have been involved in baiting, this opinions do not reflect a personal
dagger to anyone. I just simply do not agree with what they do!

None of my business?  Well, if you saw someone shooting a bald
eagle with a rifle,  you would make it your business... Correct?

Feeders?  That is not hand feeding a wild animal junk.
Road Kill?  Again, animals are not hand fed, and the road
kill is all natural food that will not adversely affect the animals health.

If you are a True Naturalist, and you love real nature, you would
need to learn how to photograph wild birds and animal
in their natural conditions.  It takes time, effort, energy,
commitment, and determination.

Once you capture REAL nature shots, you will have something
to be seriously proud of.  Very unfortunately,  the general public
are not so aware of this practice of baiting. So books and magazines
sell with these images to uneducated fans.

All of this is not a formal study. I am just a photographer
and a true naturalist.  I have made mistakes in the field, doing
stupid things in the past, regrettably.  But the intention here is
to learn, teach, and get better, as a photographer, and one who
respects nature.

Feed your dog, cat, horse, but leave these wild birds and animals
alone please.

Tours to see this bird are available, email below.

Follow up - Dec 28th, 2011

I heard some baiters wedged a squirrel in some branches
yesterday, and the owl just about broke its wings trying to get
it out, and today it hardly flew at all, recovering from this trauma I am sure.

My message to these clowns, throw you cameras in the garbage, and
leave the wildlife alone., please.

There is nothing in wildlife photography that pisses me off more then pure stupidity.

Now, today, this bird  sits on the squirrel all day
until 3 pm, and doesn't move. 

People driving here from all over Ontario and USA, to see what?

When the bird was not being abused by morons, it spent the
whole day flying from perch to perch hunting, and catching 
natural prey.  Again, once the baiters come 
along, everything is spoiled, and I am sure they could care less.  



(please click on the images for a larger view!)


  1. Ray, it is very nice to see you take a stance on this controversial subject, I feel the same way and have missed many chances to get Snowy Owls, Great Greys and Northern Hawk Owls because I knew that if I went out there baiting would be going on. I hope to one day make the trip to participate in one of your workshops. Take care Ray and I hope that you and your family are enjoying the best of the season.

    Wayne Wood

  2. Thanks for such a masterly write-up, really enjoyed it, and the photos.

  3. Hi Ray. Back in the winter of 2004-05, I had a great gray fly right at me when I was in my truck. This was in the Sax-Zim bog of northern Minnesota. He landed on the hood and stayed for more than 20 minutes. I thought it was greatest thing ever. Then, I started hearing how people bait these guys. Now, I know why that bird flew at me and stayed on my hood. He was waiting to be fed! To me, that is very sad. In Sax-Zim bog, I have seen all kinds of baiting, even two people who were using a fishing pole with a fake mouse tied to the line.
    The real shocker to this kind of behavior is that there are so many photographers whose work I admire, are baiting the great grays and the hawk owls in the Sax Zim bog. This is why when I saw your great gray flying towards the camera that you posted on 500px, I was happy to see you say this wasn't baited. When my 11 year old granddaughter and I are looking on the 'Net at owls in flight, we figure that most of them are baited or have been baited when they are flying right at the lens. I have had hawk owls follow me around when I'm walking in the Bog, waiting to be fed. This is why I don't spend much time in the Bog any more. And people wonder why so many owls are hit by vehicles!
    All the best.
    Gerry Sibell

  4. Very well said Ray.. Thankfully baiting hasn't yet caught up large scale in India(yet), and i hope it doesn't... The images are fantastic as usual. :)

    Angad Achappa

  5. Lovely pictures and awesome photography.

  6. I heard some baiters wedged a squirrel in some branches yesterday, and the owl just about broke its wings trying to get it out, and today it hardly flew at all, recovering from this trauma I am sure.

    My message to these clowns, throw you cameras in the garbage, and leave the wildlife alone., please.

    There is nothing in wildlife photography that pisses me off more then pure stupidity.


  7. Whoever baited the great gray owl with the squirrel, you should be ashamed of yourself . You endangered the well being of this magnificent bird of prey. Do you really think your images are natural looking with it sitting on the remains of a squirrel.This owl sat on that bait for many hours , leaving itself vulnerable to being attacked. If you would have been patient and a little more concerned for the bird, you could have witnessed it flying, hunting and catching mice, and perching in places we all dream of photographing birds. But thanks to your selfishness, no one was able to view this owl in the way I have witnessed it for the last week. Many people left today missing what they came here for and heard about because of a few idiots.

  8. Hello Ray
    I always enjoy your posts and of course your wonderful photography. Good for you for bashing the baiters and hopefully a few of them will see your posts and recognize themselves and how they are truly viewed by others in the field. Who knows, you might even get a few to reconsider the effect they are having on these birds. Maybe we should try turning the cameras on them and see how they like being "exposed"
    Happy trails my friend,
    Pamela Creighton Katch

  9. We were visiting in the area on New Years Day and we were thrilled that we were able to experience to see such a great looking bird, something I will likely never get to see again in my lifetime. I am also truly bothered by what level these idiots will go to to get the ultimate picture. Please enjoy the show but leave the photography to the professionals. They are extremely rare in this area and you (idiots)are only putting this poor thing's health and life in danger. I do want to thank you Ray for such great Photos, they are amazing especially when their well being comes first.

  10. I just came upon this post in a search and, along with other commenters here, I thank you for taking a stand on baiting. I'm in complete agreement on this issue and other wildlife harassment and ethics problems. I'm exasperated with what I've seen people do to get the shot. As such, I'm always relieved to read perspectives that match my own in terms of considering the well-being of the animal first and foremost. Thank you.


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