The Jaeger that wasn’t: my decline into wildlife snobbery

By September 11, 2014Wildlife Blog

There is beauty in the ordinary

Juvenile Ring-Billed Gull

Juvenile Ring-Billed Gull

It didn’t look like a regular ole ring-billed gull to me. I thought these large, white and grey marbled birds that were gliding across the calm water were something ‘cool.’ A Parasitic Jaeger popped into my brain, and I was sure the birds were indeed this ‘rare in Alberta’ specimen. Even their calls were exotic sounding, with a tin-like quality that echoed through the trees. So I crouched down on the shore of the lake, focused on the large birds and fired off a bunch of frames. I was ecstatic later to see these frames resulted in one of my ‘favorite ever’ bird in flight shots.

The chance of seeing Long-toed Salamanders is what actually brought me to the edge of the lake. This little lake, just off highway 1A (west of Banff) has an information sign that says the population of salamanders (that disappeared after they stocked the lake with fish) is now recovering. I would love to see a salamander! I had stopped at this spot a few times before, but I’m always nervous about getting too far into the woods on my own in bear territory.

This time, I was brave. The fact that I had seen nothing but the odd squirrel on my morning drive so far pushed me to put aside my fears and do the short hike to the lake on my own. I had bear spray and yelled out every one in awhile to reduce my chances of surprising a bear. No bears and no salamanders, but I thought I captured a Parasitic Jaeger, so I was pretty excited.

‘Sorry, Kerri, this looks like a juvenile ring-billed gull,’ was the basic gist of the email response I got back from a Calgary bird expert. Disappointment set in. ‘It’s just a common gull,’ I thought. ‘Too bad this beautiful flight shot I got means nothing now.’

I shook my head immediately when I realized what I was feeling. Who am I to say a common gull cannot be the subject of a beautiful image? When had I become a such a wildlife snob? I felt ashamed of my thoughts, but of course, they got me thinking even more…

There is no doubt that the rarity of a sighting is proportional to the level of excitement I feel as a wildlife photographer. I believe that’s part of the art of photography, and maybe even art in general. Artists strive to capture unique perspectives or circumstances that few others have seen.

However, this ring-billed gull incident made me realize it is not smart to associate the uniqueness of a scene with the rarity of the animal. But it is really easy to do, and I do it all the time. With the gulls, if I had known initially that they were the common ring-billed variety, I honestly don’t think I would have bothered taking any images. I would have missed out on what I like to think is a great flight shot.

My photographer friend Jamie – Crzy Cnuk Photography – has a knack for capturing wildlife displaying unique behaviors in interesting settings. He has many photographs of ‘less-common’ animals, but for the purpose of this post he has allowed me to share some of his ‘more-common’ subjects:

The Columbian Ground Squirrel that needs a nail trim

The Fluffed up Robin

The Black Capped Chickadee nest excavation

Another amazing example is top Canadian Wildlife Photographer John E. Marriott’s awarding winning Fluff-up image.

I love these images. A ground squirrel, robin, chickadee, raven – they might be common creatures that are relatively easy to find, but these are all such beautiful shots. They all show a little piece of the life and personality of the animal, and that is a beautiful thing!

My recent ‘gull I mistook for a jaegar experience,’ along with Jamie and John’s amazing images, have inspired me to get beyond my wildlife snobbery. I need to remember that a commonly seen species does not automatically mean a boring image. All creatures have the potential to showcase their intrinsic beauty in interesting ways. It is up to me as the photographer to watch for the details and not let preconceived notions about what makes a good photograph get in the way of capturing true beauty.

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