When I lived in Florida I spent most of my time photographing birds on the coast so I didn’t have many opportunities with Barred Owls and usually when I did see them they were nearly hidden in the understory and hanging Spanish Moss. In October of 2008 I spent a morning with a few of my friends at Lettuce Lake Park in Hillsborough County Florida and we wandered the boardwalk looking for birds to photograph. The weather was comfortable and the company was great.
We found this Barred Owl roosting on a moss covered branch near the Hillsborough River next to the boardwalk. It didn’t open its eyes often and the situation called for the use of fill flash which I really don’t care to use, on owls especially. We were patiently waiting for the times that the owl opened its eyes on its own.
But then another photographer walked up to our small group and started playing the calls of Barred Owls on his phone or an iPod. The guy kept playing the call over and over until the owl became visibly distressed and flew away. That guy robbed us all of more photos of the owl and none of us were pleased.
I never use calls in the field and that is a matter of my own personal ethics because I feel that birds have a hard enough time in the wild without photographers manipulating them by the use of calls or baiting the subject. But there are photographers who will use the calls over and over again to draw the birds closer or to bring them into what I call an outdoor studio that has been set up to provide a perch and backdrop and they do this even during the breeding season.
The calls can bring birds out into the open where they are more visible to predators and they can cause birds on breeding territory to expend their precious energy looking for an invisible rival. The birds need every bit of energy they have to breed, brood and rear their young.
In my opinion the over use of recorded calls is selfish and shows little regard for the living subject.
There is never a time when the image is more important that the safety and well being of the subject.
We could have spent more time with this Barred Owl and it may have eventually moved to a better location for us to get photos but because of one person ticking off the owl we didn’t get that chance.