Back to the Bog 23 February 2013
Home range, for most animals, is different than territory. Territories are defended, sometimes with great hostility, but home range is a wider span. Home range is a land of wandering and exploring that an animal comes to know well. Home range is not restricted to the core of the animal’s life. As large mammals, humans are peculiar in territory and home range. We are more like birds.
We travel in social groups, our home ranges overlap significantly, but we retire to our small dwellings, homes we defend vigorously and seldom invite others into. Our nesting territories are tiny in comparison to our home ranges, and there is significant overlap in the places we seek our favorite resources. Like flocks of waxwings and winter finches, birders and photographers sometimes migrate for the good stuff, congregating together to feed up on a temporary treasure. We tolerate each other in large groups, we respect each other, and we enjoy each other, laughing, sharing, learning, and building our flock. It isn't perfect, but it works.
Wildlife photographers are usually less like humans, less like birds, and more like wolves. If birds at all, we are more like eagles and less like social flocks of finches, more like camouflaged certhids, scouting and probing things out alone. We hold more territorial turf in our home ranges, jealously guarding the secrets that help us make art. We spend countless hours scouting and roaming the back wilds and undiscovered wildlife. We are usually alone or in a small pack. But we cannot escape our own humanity. There are times we flock together with great joy. And there are some who are so generous, so giving of their secrets, that the rest of us can migrate long distances and land with certainty within a few feet of a rare Boreal Chickadee or a Hoary Redpoll. These generous people are scouts and artists who freely invite others to feast from their own territories. We treasure them greatly.
I once cheered aloud when Steve Martin uttered three special words in the movie, “The Big Year.” He said, “Sax Zim Bog”. Maybe it was Owen Wilson, or maybe it was Jack Black uttering the magic phrase. Whatever the case, a celebrity read a line that spoke of a place I know and love. It is a place where I was once a wolf, a loner in a lonely wilderness. It is now a treasured destination for thousands of birdwatchers.
The etiquette has change a lot in 20 years. Birders politely follow ABA protocol and keep the opportunities for others alive and well. It is less thigh deep snow, less bitter cold challenge, and far more certain. Thanks to some very dedicated birders, the bog now has permanent feeding stations that draw rare birds to plain view. Less work, less solitude, more birds. It is a social experience now, and, while vastly different from what I once knew, I’ll gladly take it.
Great Gray Owl
Admiral Road, Owl Avenue, Spruce Road, and other rustic, gravel road places among the bog trees make for some outstanding wildlife photography, birding, and nature observation. All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D and my usual Canon 300 f4L IS lens. The day began and ended along the North Shore of Lake Superior. As the season draws dangerously close to the end, I can say with a smile that this has certainly been a REAL Winter!