How to make the most out of your Audubon experience
Mukul Soman is a photographer, a CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) lighting artist and an audubon extraordinaire based in Washington State. Mukul grew up in a small town in Southern India, and always dreamed of being surrounded by wildlife.
“I used to always look at the pictures from the National Geographic Magazines that my school library used to keep, and wondered how these images might have been taken by a photographer.”
Mukul has plenty of experience visiting National Parks for Audubon, with some favorites being Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National park and Olympic National Park. He is an active member of Eastside Audubon, and The Western Washington Birders and Pacific Northwest Birders groups on Facebook. Experience Park Tours interviewed him to find more information on how we can make audubon experiences most beneficial for our guests.
- Catch the right timing.
In National Parks, the key to bird watching is to pick out and plan your trip early in the season and to keep yourself educated about etiquette when it comes to photographing in sensitive ecosystems. Mukul usually prefers birding in the Winter to stay away from crowds and to see raptors trying to feed on the carcasses that are left over by other predators.
“Just a couple of days ago I photographed a Golden Eagle snacking on a coyote at the Yellowstone National Park and it was an experience unlike any other to watch a top predator feed on another predator.”
One of Mukul’s golden rules when it comes to timing is to be out at first light, or head out about two hours before sunset. This will give you the perfect amount of time to see the wildlife in their active state. Birds get active early in the morning or late in the evening and these are the perfect times to go out and look for them. If you are traveling with a group, make sure that the rest of your group has organised plans on catching the best hours possible.
- Carry your binoculars with you at all times.
Even though Mukul uses long lenses on his camera that can sometimes see even further out than binoculars, he always carries binoculars with him. It’s easy and quick to look through binoculars to see a bird than working with a big lens. For any birder, binoculars are a crucial tool for scouting and watching.
A common mistake that Mukul often sees is people getting too close to birds while trying to photograph them, and in the process scaring them away. One tip that Mukul lives by if you want to inch closer is to try to move really slow and in a zigzag manner rather than in a straight line towards them. In any case, try and maintain a distance of at least 30 yards between you and your subject- then just wait for the action.
- Blend in.
Wear clothing similar to the color of the foliage in the area where you will be birding. Bright colors that contrast the environment catch more attention from birds and other wildlife. They might get spooked by your presence and stay far away. Mukul recommends wearing brown or green shades depending on the area you are visiting. If there are birds that you want to photograph nearby, stay close to bushes and shrubbery when you can so that your silhouette does not stick out and scare the birds away.
‘‘The trick is to realize that Audubon is not about you the photographer grabbing images and walking away…it’s about your subjects accepting you into their space and then gifting you those images that you can cherish forever.’’
- Keep your ears open.
Keep listening to the calls of various birds and try to identify them. This is where birding with fellowbirders has helped Mukul learn so much more about different species and their calls. Knowing the sounds that certain birds make takes a majority of the guessing out of Audubon. Listening to calls helps in tracking birds so that one can look in the direction of where the call came from and hopefully see a glimpse of the singer.
- Get involved!
Become a member of your local National Audubon Society Chapter to better your understanding of birding and help conserve your public lands. To Mukul, this is really what it’s all about. If you are a lover of birds, then the best thing you can do to further your passion is to become a part of a community that feels the same way. Getting involved with an Audubon society allows you to go on bird walks with like-minded people and interact with them to learn more about the world of Audubon.
“When you learn more, you can be a more powerful agent of change by spreading the message of conservation of our parks and wetlands so that local wildlife can thrive and maintain a healthy ecosystem for us and many more generations to follow.”
Take a look at our Audubon itinerary.
All photos by Mukul Soman