Most species of wildlife are naturally wary of people. Animals that ignore bigger animals risk making the transition from wildlife to food.
I mostly use a 300mm or 500mm lens for photographing wildlife, the magnifying effect of the telephoto counteracting shooting distances of ten metres or more. Very occasionally you get the opportunity to get closer; rare times when the animal is distracted, oblivious or disinterested enough to let you within touching distance. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve experienced an unusual number and variety of such close encounters with the local wildlife.
The types of wildlife that most often tolerate a close approach are micro fauna such as insects and spiders. Apart from the blood sucking species that regard us as a food source, most invertebrates don’t pay much attention to lumbering humans. Volcanos aside, we don’t spend a lot of time wondering what a mountain is about to do, so I guess it makes sense that your average moth isn’t too fussed about us.
A few minutes with the patio light on is enough to attract a flood of insects. This Christmas Beetle crashed into my head before landing on the chair for a quick snapshot.
Moving up in size to birds, reptiles, mammals and fish, there are some circumstances where they’ll allow a close approach. One is where individual animals or populations have been around people for long enough to realise that we aren’t fast, smart or interested enough to turn them into a meal. In many habitats Purple Swamphens are flighty and keep a wary distance from people, but around metropolitan ponds such as Centennial Park will march their chicks right past your nose if you sit quietly enough.
One situation where wildlife populations are highly tolerant of people is where they have had little or no exposure to humans. Naive wildlife is normally associated with isolated islands with few native predators, but can also apply to places where people and hunting have been prohibited. Wianamatta was a western Sydney defence site with strict limitations on public access. Parts of the site have recently been opened to the community, exposing the resident Emus and Eastern Grey Kangaroos to significant numbers of people for the first time. An early morning visit provided a rare challenge for wildlife photography, getting enough distance between camera and subject to get the whole animal into the frame. Every time I spotted an Emu and raised my camera than ran towards me, filling the frame to bursting. I eventually gave in and just took portraits of the curious birds.
Wianamatta also contains Eastern Grey Kangaroos. Some were timid, mostly the ones with the ear tags that indicate they’ve been sterilised as part of a population control program. Others seemed more interested in finding a stalk of succulent grass than hopping away.
Sometimes you find a situation where wildlife are so engrossed in what they are doing that they simply ignore you. I found a Golden Whistler at Wianamatta that was so busy proclaiming its attractiveness to any passing female that my photo of it in song was taken within touching distance.
Yellow Tail Black Cockatoos don’t like being watched and will take flight if you continue to stare or move closer. I was surprised to find a trio of Yellow Tails in a low banksia at one end of the busy walkway along the Coalcliff Seabridge. Walkers were passing within a couple of metres of the feeding cockatoos while they energetically demolished banksia cones. I got within range of a couple of closeups before they noticed the attention and took to the wing.
Nocturnal wildlife are a bit of a special case when it comes to tolerating people. Many nocturnal species, notably the gliders, are incredibly fast and agile. However a sorting spotlight will often confound them, and sometimes they will ignore the light and go about their business as though nothing out of the usual is happening. Walking along the Hacking River at Audley I watched a Ring Tail Possum methodically searching tree hollows.
A little later I watched a Sugar Glider that seemed entranced by a moth attracted to the torchlight.
Tawny Frogmouths take indifference to another level, so comfortable in their camouflage that they will outstare any observer.
Olive Backed Orioles spend the night curled into a tight ball and hope nothing recognises them as food.
My final close encounter of the week was the also most unexpected. Kate called me over to inspect a prickly profile poking above the embankment behind her study. It was an echidna, snuffling its way around the backyard in search of ants and termites. Their eyesight is terrible and hearing not that much better, so as long as you are move slow and quiet Echidnas don’t take a lot of notice. If they do figure out that someone is nearby they claw into the dirt, arch the spiny back and tuck their snout under the tummy. Sit down a metre away, wait quietly and they will soon uncurl to continue on their way.
I like being ignored by wildlife. It is not just that it makes it easier to get close enough for an interesting image, it is also the reminder that not everything revolves around us. Wildlife are out there doing their own thing, and sometimes we just don’t factor into those lives.
Odds and sods of the week