This is the male of the pair of Barred Owls that call #clydeshepherdnaturepreserve home.

Male Barred Owl ‘Standing Guard’ 2022

After skipping nesting in the preserve in 2020 and then nesting in a large dead tree snag cavity in the front part of the preserve last year that drew a paparazzi-sized crowd, the pair has returned to the owl box deeper in the preserve.

Class of 2019
Class of 2021

The box has been outfitted with cameras by @stephenwramsden. The cameras show that the female has laid and is brooding two eggs. There is a 75% chance that at least one of these eggs will hatch, the owlet will fledge, and will start their first year of adulthood in the preserve. 

Stephen and the preserve’s Board are taking proactive steps to up the odds of the owl family surviving the daunting challenge of raising a family in an active, high-use greenspace.

Mom (Photo by @StephenRamsden)

Here is a video of the Owl Box:

In addition to monitoring the female and owlets, instructions (pleas) have been prominently posted cautioning the pair’s fans and passersby to stay on the trails, not to loiter, and keep kids and pets under control. They want everyone to see these marvelous creatures. That is the mission of Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve. The goal is to create opportunities for encounters without disturbing the family.  

The cautionary postings do not single out photographers. Nor should they. It should not have to be said that these cautions cover everyone for all reasons. Smart phone selfie-seekers included. Certainly, photography enthusiasts should not have to be reminded of their ethical responsibilities while in the field. But. Over the last two years there has been a sharp rise in the number of nature photography enthusiasts. At least, that is, a sharp rise in the number of people buying high-end gear and heading to the outdoors as a respite from the Covid blues.

Unfortunately, many are not schooled in field craft and outdoor ethics. And, frankly, many rely on instructors and mentors that are more photography driven – in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ image – than they are outdoors and nature enthusiasts. There has always been a minority of nature photographers that put their ambitions above recognized ethical standards that require photographers do no harm, to the subject or their habitat, to get The Shot that makes the photographer ‘special’, not the bird. It seems to me that this group of outlier photographers, i.e., ones that think we are ‘special’ visitors, is growing. Their reasoning is along the lines of: ‘We are special, we are real photographers, we carry big, real cameras, our Instagram photos have huge watermarks. We have been tutored in a technical understanding of how to get noiseless, ‘sharp as a tack’, fill the frame images. And, we have the money to buy the kit that makes this possible and to go on the workshops that guarantee us to get The Shot.

For a particular damning take on this last behavior read @MelissaGroo’s National Wildlife Federation piece “What’s Wrong With This Picture”.

Adding to the volatile mix of threats that these owls face, they are likely to become some of the most photographed birds in metro-Atlanta. Some photographers will be tempted to use the young family to get The Shot that gets the Likes. As if that’s what nature photography is all about.

I want to pause this rant for the moment. I want to be clear that I am speaking about a small minority. But the birds face overwhelming threats. Many of them have their backs against the wall, or trunk if you will. Literally and figuratively no space to move.

So, for the sake of these owls and all wildlife and wild places, all of us photographers need to learn or re-commit, and then stick with the ethical birding standards set by Cornell, National Audubon, and other birding and naturalist authorities that apply to everyone. A great way to do this is to join #naturefirst and practice their ethical standards.

The Expectant Dad

This shot was taken ~ 30 yards down the trail from the box and ~30-40 yards from the tree in which the male was sitting. It looks close because it was taken at 1000mm ( #olympusomdem1x, #olympus150400mmf45) and cropped in post.

A little blur and noise is a small price to pay so he could keep sleeping and building up energy reserves. He’s soon going to have two more mouths to fill 🙂

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