Sven Začek - Flight over a winter landscape


Roy’s picture of a Great Grey Owl remainded me of my time with this bird. I was on my Wild Wonders of Europe mission in Finland and my goal was to photograph these owls in the winter landscape. Later it turned out me and Roy had photographed the same bird but at different times. Even though this was my first and last time to photograph owls with baiting it was still an enjoyable experience, because these large owls are really magnificent. I learned that it is usually the females that respond to baiting, because in the end of winter the breeding and nesting season is about to start and the female are set to lose up to 30% of their bodyweight while incubating. That means in preparation they have to hunt activelt to build up fat reserves and this is the reason they start hunting also during the day and come closer to households, where there a more rodents. I was hoping to start a discussion about baiting for photography. What do you think? And if it is are there certain rules?

Location: Finland

Tags: finland, great grey owl, strix nebulosa, sven zacek, wild wonders or europe

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  1. Knut-Sverre Horn said:

    23/04/2011 11:10

    Nice picture, flying into the light....

    Baiting is OK as long as the mice don't suffer, but it is not OK to be dishonest about how you get a picture. That goes for all kinds of baiting, luring, playback, provoking etc. I don't require everyone to state this in everey caption regardless of the context, but you should at least be open about it when it might have influenced the behaviour of the subject, or when you discuss nature photography as such.

    I love the kind of honest captioning that is the trademark of National Geographic Magazine; they will for instance make it clear when a tiger reacts to the scent of the photographer.

    And when it comes to my own pictures, I am no doubt most fond of - and proud of - the ones that I made without having recourse to any kind of baiting, luring etc.

  2. Jaak said:

    24/04/2011 01:15

    I agree partly with what Knut-Sverre said. There are different kinds of baiting in my opinion. One is baiting for photography only, like this or the eagle/bear/etc hide maintainers do. Second is for example feeding small birds in winter at your window sill and that also attracting sparrowhawk. Third is planting a rowan in your back yard so that after ten years waxwings and such will stop at it for a feast. Fourth is some food excess dump where some animals are finding their food in hard times.

    I feel that only deliberate baiting to get a bird or mammal your way must be mentioned and can be considered dishonesty if not mentioned. The rest are... distant in a sense that not mentioning it in the firsthand info cannot be called dishonesty. NGM cannot afford to act otherwise, but all others I think do not need to mention for example that grandfather was lazy enough to build a proper WC and now grandson is world famous dung beetle photographer :-).

  3. Bruno said:

    24/04/2011 19:05

    @Sven: Many thanks for starting this discussion!

    @Knut-Sverre, I fully agree with you for what concerns the appreciation of full disclosure in wildlife photography and of images taken without interfering with the animal behaviour.
    Surely, I can tell that not only photographers, but sometimes also editors and magazines tend to conceal the fact a picture has been taken with baiting, in captivity, etc. despite the photographer stating it, as if this would diminish the value of the image itself.

    For what concerns myself in respect to baiting, I think first should come the welfare of the subject, always. And this means carrying out only practices, which are not deeply affecting the normal animal behavior. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules, but only experience and precaution. To assess what is OK and what not, it is fundamental to know deeply the biology of the species we are trying to photograph. For example, if one feeds vultures with carcasses (which have been previously tested to be free from parasites, chemicals, etc.) only occasionally and in different spots, IMO this doesn't do too much harm to the species. On the other hand, I don't think is OK to habituate large carnivores, like bears and wolves, to feed always in one spot and get used to people presence. A fed bear is always a dead bear, as far as I know.

    I am very sensitive to the topic of live baiting and in no case, I second its use. I don't think a picture of a rare species is worth the life of another one, nor that one species can be considered more valuable than another. But, once again, unfortunately there are no strict guidelines about this, only shades of grey and personal perspectives...

    Maybe, it's time for the EU to set out some rules for wildlife photographers!

  4. Jaak said:

    24/04/2011 21:04

    Bruno, please do not spread the word about your last remark about EU rules. These will be made by people that sometimes think out insane things, like if you have food in your fridge you probably are baiting...

  5. Bruno said:

    25/04/2011 10:34

    Jaak, or maybe we could be the ones making some proposals...;-)

    Of course, mine was just a provocation, I think we can find our way by ourselves! ;-))

  6. Sven Zacek said:

    25/04/2011 10:42

    Great to see that this has provoked a discussion. For me it was a somewhat strange opportunity to photograph owls which were baited, because with a couple of days I got all the same pictures that I had got of my Ural Owls in a couple of years. I liked these photos too, but it is not hard to guess, which have left a deeper impression to me.

    However, I do believe that some baiting sites for Eagles, bears and wolves are essential. Not for photographers, but for general people, who would just like to see these elusive animals up close. The first time you see an Eagle, bear or wolf clearly and large in your viewfinder gives you a feeling that you will never forget. And I think this is one way to make people care more about these animals and not only see them as predators. What people know and have seen up close will be closer to their heart and make easier to protect these animals.

  7. Bruno said:

    25/04/2011 11:03

    Sven, I agree that seeing a large animal in nature can be a big thrill for many and likely to trigger their emotions. Still, I do agree only partially. In my opinion watching a wolf/bear feeding on a pig carcass, someone placed there, from the comfort of a heated hide after having paid a certain fee is a bit like (allow me a strong metaphore, here) pornography and can be misleading.

    I believe, finding a big bear footprint in the mud along a forest trail, listening to the wolves howling on a winter evening, watching an eagle soar above the highest mountains gives more justice to the real essence of these marvellous creatures and can boost our fantasies farther and in a more educative way.

    These are just my 2c and I am sorry, if I get so temperamental, but , you know, it's a touchy story for me...

  8. Sven Zacek said:

    25/04/2011 11:18

    Yes I know and I agree with you completely. To find a bear track on your own footprint that you left just a few hours earlier makes you tremble a little bit. Well, a lot actually ..:)

    I was just trying to point out that for some people it is not possible to see these animals in the wild. They don't have the knowledge and don't have the time, but they might be in influential places when it comes to legislation and giving money or sponsorship towards nature conservation.

    But I do agree that such places should be very limited and they should move their positions around and use natural bait whenever possible. And we know that it is not always so. So there is a lot of room for improvement.