I have always loved animals. It was all about stuffed animals, never dolls. I loved going to the zoo and watching documentaries. My house is animal themed. No person comes in my home without stating, “Wow, you really love animals don’t you?” But what I have learned in the last year is that loving animals isn’t exactly the same thing as loving wildlife.
My love of wildlife truly blossomed after I received my first camera for Christmas of 2013. Now, to be quite honest, I didn’t want it! “Why in the world did my husband buy me this camera? I cannot take a picture to save my life!” I said to a friend (you know who you are!) My very patient husband explained some things about the camera and promptly took me to the Dallas zoo for my first outing. I enjoyed myself and was so thrilled at what I created that I wanted to go again.
That first year we hit the zoos often and I took photos at In-Sync Exotics where I was a volunteer. Then in 2015, I only used my camera a handful of times as visiting the zoo was getting old. The camera had not yet become a big part of my life; therefore, neither had wildlife.
In February 2016, it was suggested that since I love birds, I start my Bird Life List. This seemed like a wonderful idea and would allow me to use my camera again. I discovered that I enjoyed being in the woods and loved seeing nature in, well, natural settings. I primarily photographed birds and learned to identify them beyond the normal backyard birding I had always done in the past.
In April 2016, a friend added me to Chris’ DFW Urban Wildlife page on Facebook and having finally found an audience of my peers, I got serious about photography much to my husband’s delight. My patient man had been trying for 2 years to get me to pay attention to my camera settings (ISO, aperture, etc) and, in hindsight, I fought him every step of the way until I decided I wanted to learn (sorry Honey!) Yes, I am stubborn, but this is a great trait to have when doing wildlife photography. One needs patience and a stubbornness of will to wait for the perfect shot.
Soon, I was hiking the woods nearly every day. If I missed a day, I became antsy and wanted back into the woods. I felt more peaceful, more grounded and, shock of all shocks, my health actually improved. But alas, this is Texas, it got HOT this summer and the birds, well, they did what any sane creature would have done…they hid in the shadows. Soon, I discovered Odonates (Dragonflies and Damselflies) and these delightful creatures truly changed me. I fell in love…hard! I cannot stress enough that I was never a lover of insects! I was the squealer — the one with arachnophobia. I am embarrassed to admit that I had a horrible fear of crickets (while I still don’t care for them, I will photograph them now.) Suddenly I’m enthralled with an insect and my beloved Odes opened a new world for me…the world of insects.
The next event to change my love of all things wild was when I joined iNaturalist. Not only is it a lot of fun but I love knowing that I am contributing to vital research. I started taking pictures of everything nature had to offer and this is when the world truly opened for me. Yes, girly me was taking photos of grasshoppers and weird looking insects. I started to see beauty in what I either ignored before or feared. Insects are really rather fascinating with all their strange appendages and markings and they are beautiful when seen up close. I cannot take a photo of anything without knowing what it is for, to me, a photo is very personal. I don’t just snap a picture of a critter but I try in most cases to take its personality as well. I began learning to identify every creature I encountered. This is a very daunting task, and although not easy, very rewarding. The more I learned about the things I was seeing, the more interesting they became.
Recently I have started to tackle one my worst fears… arachnophobia! My friend Richard, without really realizing he was doing it, pushed me to address this fear. I took some photos and processing some of them was extremely difficult in the beginning. Now, though, it doesn’t bother me. I stop for all spiders and though I still find many of them creepy (maybe someday I’ll get over that), I have discovered that I really like the jumping spiders. I think they are adorable and interesting. Now I seek them and get excited to find a new type.
So, I go full circle with this article…loving animals isn’t the same thing as loving wildlife. To truly love wildlife, you need to enter their world and embrace all it has to offer. Learn about everything you encounter and tackle any fears. When you can enter their world and slowly walk very close to them and they don’t run and hide, you start to feel what nature has to offer in all of its glory. I can honestly say that if you are fortunate enough to be accepted by them in their world, it is a heady feeling. It is truly a peaceful experience.
I urge everyone to put on hiking clothes and bug spray and head into the woods. Stroll along a creek or just go to your park but instead of quickly walking through, take time to look around. Stop, listen and discover new things. There is a whole world out there I promise you will enjoy if you take the time to notice it.