Learning to spot natural camouflage

People are always asking me how I’m able to spot so many amazing animals in such random places. The answer isn’t exciting: I’ve learned not only where to look, but how to look.

This screech owl blends in with its surroundings, making it hard to spot by its prey, as well as for beginning bird watchers. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
This screech owl blends in with its surroundings, making it hard to spot by its prey, as well as for beginning bird watchers.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

The next time you take a walk, take time to really look at the trees, along their branches, and inside their holes for movement and shapes or outlines that don’t match the rest of the tree. When you’re looking at an open field, don’t just look for big animals towering over the grass, but into the grass itself for all the animals that take refuge there. It’ll amaze you when you start to see what has been right in front of you the whole time.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t spot anything right away. Nature has been designing animal camouflage for hundreds of thousands of years. Camouflage allows otherwise visible animals to become invisible to all but the most highly-trained eyes. Many species blend into their environment specifically to keep them hidden from predators, while the predators themselves use camouflage to sneak up on or ambush their prey.

What does camouflage look like? There are so many designs, colours, and techniques that it would be impossible for me to describe them all.

The colouring of some owls allows them to blend in with the trees they live in (like the screech owl in photo at right), while the fur on arctic hares changes colour to blend in with the snow or the forest depending on the season. Many fish have light-coloured bellies so that predators looking up have trouble seeing it against the sunlight, while the same fish’s back is a darker colour to make it harder for birds of prey to spot it amid the water’s dark reflections.

So, do I actually have secrets for spotting animals? When I took the screech owl photo, my adventure began with a tip from a friend that an owl was in the area. After heading to the last known spot where the owl was seen, we took our time looking up, down, and sideways along a nearby fence. Soon my eyes wandered up a tree behind the fence, and I said “Oh my goodness, there he is!”

It wasn’t his shape, colour, or movement that gave him away, but rather two bright yellow eyes staring back at me. Lee and I shook our heads in amazement as we appreciated how perfectly the screech owl blended in with the tree and how close we came to missing him.

Lee and I have a habit of naming all the trees where we find owls. In addition to my favourites – “wedding tree” and “poop tree” – we now have an “oh my goodness” tree.

Photographer Ann Brokelman returned in winter to find this screech owl. She was happy to spot it, but thinks the bird might have been taking the winter camouflage a bit too seriously. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
Photographer Ann Brokelman returned in winter to find this screech owl. She was happy to spot it, but thinks the bird might have been taking the winter camouflage a bit too seriously.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer – naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca


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4 comments

Ann continues to treat us with her talent and dedication!

I have spent many happy hours watching her art with the camera!

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