Photographer behind camouflage
Some traumatised photographers are even going incognito. Photo: ©Natural Images

A view through the other end of the scope

It may surprise you to learn that some birdwatchers openly dislike photographers.

A confronting thought, I know, but there are a surprising number of bin-carrying members of the twitcher gestapo out there who like nothing better than sticking the boot into us ‘snappers’.

They will likely be at the wrong end of life’s sequential order, and in a uniform more akela than Armani. But woe betide the photographer who strays across their bows.

Indeed, some bolshy birders are not beyond open hostility and foul (should that be ‘fowl’?) language when attempting to ‘see off’ a camera-toting type perceived as encroaching on their patch.

Riverside incident

I well recall an incident a few years back at the otherwise thoroughly excellent Stockton Bridge wader roost on the Hunter River (NSW). I arrived at my spot at daybreak – not a soul around – and photographed for several hours while the tide brought the roosting shorebirds (including great flocks of red-necked avocets) ever closer.

Pelicans and avocets roosting on river bank
Close-up views of shorebirds are common at Stockton Bridge. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Although the rising river had reduced my exit options to one track past some waders, the birds had become used to my presence. So, when I slowly wandered off, they showed only casual interest in my departure.

Up ahead were a couple of people with scopes and I bent low to reduce my presence, and to signal that I had seen the birders.

“Great morning,” I offered cheerily on approach, expecting a similarly sunny response.

“You idiot. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” hissed the woman. “You’ve frightened off an extremely rare bird.”

Genuine contrition

“If I have, I’m very sorry,” I offered in genuine contrition. “But the only birds I saw take off were a couple of what looked like greater sand-plovers, and I wouldn’t have thought they were particularly rare.”

“Down here they are,” she spat, and proceeded to read me my pedigree, dismiss all photographers as a danger to the environment, and ignore my there’s only one way out defence.

What I took to be her husband (same outfit anyway) attempted to rein her in, but with little success. Suffice to say, we didn’t part on good terms.

Photographer phobia

More recently, while participating in the nightly birdcall at a well-known sanctuary in Australia that I won’t name, I walked into another piece of photographer phobia.

When I ‘outed’ myself to the person sitting next to me, she launched forth loudly about insensitive photographers, proposing that they should be excluded from all important bird watching locations.

“Don’t expect any help from me when you’re looking for good bird spots,” she announced. I assured her that she would be the last person on the planet I would ask for anything!

Golden bowerbird adjusting bower
A photographer trashed this golden bowerbird’s masterpiece just to record the rebuild. Photo: ©Christine Ross

A bad name

Some photographers definitely do give the fraternity a bad name – like the overseas visitor to my neck of the woods who dismantled a golden bowerbird’s bower at Mt Hypipamee (North Queensland) so he could ‘shoot’ the bird doing the rebuild.

Academics, too, have a habit of disrupting – and sometimes destroying – things in the interest of science. I wonder if anyone at the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) even remembers authorising the canon netting in 2015 and 2016 of rare red goshawks on Cape York?

Endangered red goshawk, perched
Critically endangered red goshawks are likely casualties of canon netting. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Tracking devices

The birds were fitted with tracking devices and the DEHP admitted one “failed due to technical difficulties” within three months. The second bird was tracked for about a year, but our efforts to find out from the department what happened to the two goshawks have drawn a blank. We thus assume they are both dead.

Bird guides are also not above ‘muscling in’ on locations where another photographer is already in position.

Exactly that happened to me while waiting for a Victoria’s riflebird to display. The guide and his clients simply marched in and set up their tripods right in front of me. Suffice to say, they moved.

Greater understanding

As with so many things in life, a little more tolerance and understanding on all sides would be a big help.

Meanwhile, I would say to those birders who would cleans the environment of people like me: If it wasn’t for good photographers and their usually ill-rewarded skill and dedication, our knowledge of birds and their plight would be substantially poorer.

(Written with tongue slightly in cheek and excepting my many excellent birding friends. Tony.)


©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


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