Camera Allergy

It's the doing of the thing that makes for good work; the sharing of it that makes for good writing.

Taking photos of a thing can affect its behavior. This introduces a number of ethical conundrums in the line of psychological studies, anthropology research, the state and condition of one's soul. There are those who make it a point to avoid falling under observation. Birds, especially, have evolved a defense against the pop culture practice of fixing all things digitally*; that is, they avoid it for the good of their health. I call this camera allergy and it is one reason why wildlifers make absolutely no money. Until, maybe, they nail that one-in-a-million shot and make a great lot of money in a single go.

Much like cholera, camera allergy is especially difficult to treat in birds. Clever devils that they are, birds sport a special pseudo-eye just under their bills**. It resembles a similar photoreceptor in cockroaches, who have a multitude of false eyes around their true eyes***, picking up certain waves of light before their true eyes can, and then their brain gives their legs enough notice to scuttle away before the light falls upon them and a shoe heel squashes the parts attached to those legs and eyes. In birds, this pseudo-eye allows them to detect refracted light bouncing off camera lenses, permitting them to hurriedly blur themselves before the observer snaps a decent shot, and therefore getting what it wants. Which, in the animal kingdom, it is rarely a good thing for a smaller animal to see that a larger animal has gotten what it wants when it's attention is fixed on the smaller animal. And so, the evolutionary justification behind this new discovery checks out.

Ultimately, this is why bird biologists are rife with "fishing tales" of marvelous birdies doing impossible feats of agility and anthropomorphic quirks that we are persistently incapable of proving because -although we swear it happens all the time in the field- no photos memorialize it. That's camera allergy for you.

In my 119 days biologizing prairies about & between abandoned farmsteads and many, many dead things, I have encountered camera allergy. Despite this, here are a few deacriptions of unprovable natural delights that suffer, regrettably as a from camera allergy, and are unrelated to the photos I was able to score while I'm out, biologizing.

~ The same Short-eared Owl has, on at least 6 occasions, landed and stared me down. Often within 10 meters, which is close enough to be declared criminally genius, considering I can predict when it will drop by to chat because I will have decided against bringing my camera bag that day.

~ A pair of Northern Harriers courting, culminating in the female sitting prettily in the couch of a hay bower-like structure, watching the male flourish his small jack rabbit prize, and then give it to her with a grateful screech from both of them while they mated, then air-danced again before the lady bird drove the male off to score another, notably larger, prey item for herself.

~ An Upland Sandpiper landing atop a Black Angus sow, piping with eye-crossing effort and then scratching its face with its little foot while the sow smiled, I assumed, at the wall of thunderstorm clouds arching toward all three of us from the west; adding a layer of weatherized drama to their untaken portrait's backdrop.

Camera allergy is inextricably real. Ask anyone who biologizes, and one cure is simply to share the fun you do have.

Be good,


*refers largely to the "Pics or it didn't happen" phenomenon: AKA, Hawthorne Effect

** this is not true

***this is a disconcertingly well-established fact