A lot of times when I talk to people about doing wildlife photography, they immediately think of photographing exotic animals in hard to get to locations all around the world. And while that’s certainly true for some photographers, I spend my time much closer to home. In fact, I spend most of my time at home in my own backyard. I love traveling and exploring new areas, but the fact is that it can sometimes be cost or time prohibitive to do that. And that’s true for a lot of people. So I thought I’d talk a little bit about photographing backyard wildlife, wherever your backyard may be.
Back in June I began volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Durand, IL. It’s been a great experience! I’ve been involved in volunteer work since I was a teenager, but this has been by far the most fulfilling volunteer work I’ve been involved in.
Earlier this month, I volunteered for their annual open house as a photographer and just a few days ago I interviewed the director, Karen Herdklotz, as part of a class assignment. I thought I’d share some of the photos from that event as well as some information from my interview with Karen and some of my own personal stories. Because like the t-shirts say, “Life’s a hoot at Hoo Haven” ;p
Although Karen’s rehab work started out small, the more she learned and the more the word got out, the faster everything began growing. Today there are multiple buildings for housing injured and recovering wildlife. The main building is also home to an aquatic area for water loving wildlife.
Karen describes the growth of her rehabilitation work as an “evolution” that has taken place through increased education and support. She’s quick to credit her volunteers who have made such a huge undertaking possible.
Although cute, squirrels can be surprisingly aggressive. It’s very important to wear gloves whenever interacting with them. And if you happen to forget (like I did once), you definitely won’t repeat that mistake! When they’re disturbed, they’ll start flicking their tails. That’s when you know you definitely want to be wearing nice, thick gloves 🙂
Squirrels aren’t the only ones who bite. Marshmellow is a pelican at the center who often serves as an educational bird. After hitting a wire, he lost most of one wing and can’t be released. He’s generally pretty friendly, but certainly likes getting his way. One day when I was in cleaning his room, he decided he wanted to come out to play. When I didn’t let him out, he bit me in the butt. It didn’t hurt, but it certainly caught me by surprise.
During our talk, Karen mentioned some of the things that she’s noticed being serious environmental concerns. One of these involves removing a species for a supposed human benefit. However, this doesn’t work as ecosystems are highly intertwined, and removing one species will impact all the others.
If a predator like a wolf is removed with the goal of increasing populations of animals such as deer for hunters, the impacts are far more widespread than that. Deer populations can grow so out of control that hunters can’t keep up with them. But deer aren’t the only species that are affected. Coyotes now have the run of things, small animals that were also consumed by wolves grow out of control, and there’s no way humans can keep up with all of that. This is a message people are beginning to understand more and more, but when Karen started her rehab work, she said that this wasn’t as well understood.
“Of all the things that can be manufactured, you can’t manufacture Mother Earth,” Karen said, explaining why she wishes more people would make the effort to set aside habitat for wildlife. She explained that if everyone avoided using just 10% of their land and allowed it to remain suitable habitat, it would greatly improve the space available for wild animals to live and thrive.
The National Wildlife Federation agrees and promotes the creation of backyard habitats through the Certified Wildlife Habitat program. It’s easy to do and can be a lot of fun. Next spring, my husband and I start working on our yard. While we plan on putting in a lot of effort to make our yard a wonderful wildlife habitat, minimal work is actually required to meet NWF standards to provide living space for a wide range of animals.
Karen said her work in wildlife rehabilitation began because of her career in nursing. As an RN, people knew that she understood the art of healing and would often ask for her help in caring for injured animals. Eventually she was able to take a class on rehabilitation with her husband and find mentors that guided her as she became more involved in rehabbing wildlife.
Karen mentioned that when she began, she didn’t really know all of the rules and made a few minor rookie mistakes. But with the help of her mentors, she learned and got better at what she did. Constant learning was a recurring theme during our discussion. “The smarter you get,” Karen told me, “the dumber you know you are.”
Throughout our talk, it was clear that much of what Karen began doing with wildlife rehabilitation was because of the encouragement she received from others. Despite her own doubts, her mentors saw her skill with wildlife and encouraged her to take on new challenges. One of those challenges was to rehabilitate bald eagles and in 2004, “Hoo” Haven became officially certified for bald eagle care.
Although “Hoo” Haven started with just one volunteer and a lot of hard work, today there are many dedicated volunteers and a community of supporters. Hundreds of animals are taken in every year. Their care ranges from complex and costly veterinary procedures to food, shelter, and rest for a while. Some will require lifelong care, unable to survive in the wild on their own. Whatever is needed, the center, Karen, and the volunteers are happy to provide.
There’s no shortage of fun and interesting stories when volunteering at Hoo. Unfortunately it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Watching an animal die, knowing that everything possible has been done, but that it still wasn’t good enough…is very difficult. Still, being able to see the lives that are saved and the good that’s done and being a part of that is more than a little awesome. I encourage everyone to find your local wildlife rehabilitation center and spend some time there. Bring a donation while you’re at it!
As with all the photos I take at nonprofit organizations, I won’t ever sell prints of these images. However I encourage you to use them non-commercially for awareness and educational purposes. If you do use any of the images, do not alter them in any way and credit both myself (“Photo (c) Cyrene Krey”) and “Hoo” Haven (Photo taken at “Hoo” Haven in Durand, IL”). Thanks! 🙂
I just can’t stop myself from noticing every creepy crawly all the time 🙂 Letting the dogs out, I caught this little guy hanging out in his (or her) web right by my back deck. Spider webs are incredibly beautiful and every time I see one, I have to pull out my camera.
I didn’t get out to do much photography this month because of how busy I’ve been with school, so I’m just going to share some photos that are a couple years old (or older!). Enjoy! 🙂
House wrens are adorable little birds. When my husband and I bought our house, the previous owner left the little birdhouse right outside my kitchen window. In the six or so years we’ve lived here, I’ve yet to see it occupied. So I got really excited when I did finally see a bird checking it out. The photos may not be best as I was shooting through my screened kitchen window, but I was more interested in recording it for posterity anyway :p
This is the view of the birdhouse from my kitchen window. It’s a little worn, but still intact and sturdy. But until I saw the house wren checking things out, I hadn’t seen any birds show much of an interest in it. I can’t tell you much about birdhouses, but I do know that different types and sizes attract different species. I’ll probably have a post on that later since I plan on adding a few around my yard either this or next summer (basically whenever I get time for it :p).
These are tiny, cute little birds! They’re only 5 inches from bill tip to tail tip. A lot of times they’ll hold their tail just about straight up while sitting. Telling males and females apart is next to impossible since they look the same, but I suspect this one is a male because they’re the ones who bring supplies to a couple of nest locations to attract females. And that’s exactly what he was doing while I watched him.
While they seem to have decided not to move in, and I haven’t seen any other house wrens around the birdhouse lately, they’re still fun to watch when they show up elsewhere in the yard. They’re such cute, tiny little birds 🙂
Tekiela, S. (1999). Birds of Illinois: Field guide. Cambridge, Minn.: Adventure Pub.