LBI’s Pelican are 100% shoobie. While there is some evidence that a few Pelicans have built a nest or two near the Sedge Islands, they’ve never laid eggs here. Until they do, they are still tourists. But we love them anyway. In places like Florida, Pelican are as plentiful, common, and up-in-your-face as our Herring Gulls. But here on LBI they are still a treat. Huge, goofy, awkward, and shy, you’ll never find them roosting on the open Beach: except in the early Fall when the crowds thin and they relax a little before leaving us for Southern places. Finding one roosting on LBI’s beaches is rare; getting close to one? Annoyingly difficult.
In case you wern’t aware, wild animals generally don’t like you. Or, let’s say, they’re just too busy trying to survive the moment to have time for human nonsense. This is quite a pickle for people who love to hang around wild animals. There is ancient and unsettled debate concerning who is more irritating and disruptive to wildlife: Birders or Photographers? The reality is they are both annoying, and in both groups, there are morons who consistently, in addition to stressing out the animals, epically fail & spook off the very animals they are trying to get close to. Really, it is impossible for any human get a good look at some wildlife without having some sort of interaction with the animals. And animals usually don’t enjoy those interactions because we, as a species, stink at non-verbal communication.
Wild animals are far more Zen’d out than the average human. They are alert, aware, and present in a way even a Buddhist Monk can only dream of. Add to that the fact that many, particularly birds, have eyesight that would blind us with its power if we could see the world as they see it for just a brief moment. If you’re aware of an animal, it was most likely aware of you five minutes previous. Your behavior will dictate the level of stress the animal experiences and the cooperation is shows you. And your behavior is dictated by your attitude, and hence your thoughts; in some very subtle and surprising ways.
The most common set of skills used to get closer to wild animals are collectively known as “stalking skillz”. Averting your gaze and masking your intentions to get closer, moving slowly, crawling around on your belly, peeking through bushes… all of these things that make Photographers look foolish surely do work, but only to a limited extent. Stealthy stalking alone can backfire, as you can surely look even more creepy and aggressive crawling around in the bushes, eyes locked on your target. Animals have tiny, uncluttered brains so experience very little other than what is happening, right then, right there. There is no use in being clever little humans. They can see right through us.
So instead of attempting to hide our intentions, we should clarify them, always making sure they are the good ones. Ones the animal will like and agree with. Intentions can vary moment to moment, if you’re not extremely conscious and careful, as you oscillate between excitement, frustration, boredom, joy, fear, anxiety, and hunger, just to name a few. It is important to make your intentions very…. intentionally. Because your physical presence is broadcasting them to the world. Many humans miss these signals when interacting with each other, but wild animals read them loud & clear. When a human is relaxed with its attitude in check, it is amazing how quickly even the most paranoid of animals can be put at ease.
It’s challenging for sure. Humans are generally sloppy, disjointed communicators who have become completely blind to their actual presence thanks to too much thinking and an over reliance on verbal language. Our ability to communicate with our whole presence is being further degraded by the Interwebz where our body language and overall vibe is totally hidden from the recipients of our cleverly worded messages. Silent communication is a lost art form.
It might sound like the point here is that animals can read our happy, little, feel-good thoughts in some mystical way. But there is no need to get that esoteric. The simple truth is that our state of mind gets clearly reflected in our physical presence: our appearance, our behavior, our body language. We just stink at seeing that truth because human minds are generally too lost within themselves, too busy being impressed with how smart they are, and always thinking ahead, plotting their next moves.
But animals see us clearly. Most dog owners know this simple truth. Communing with wild animals is a very distinct kind of mirror. A bio-feedback loop. If you are a mess, your body shows it in subtle ways, the animal senses it, and the animal flees. You lose. If you are properly focused on sharing the current environment with the animal in a peaceful and unhurried way, the animal can read that, relaxes, and starts acting adorbz for you. An animal’s postive response relaxes you even more and puts even more focus on enjoying the experience in your overactive brain. It really is that simple. This is beneficial regardless of the end result you’re trying to achieve, be it a photo, an observation, or just chillaxin’ with the creatures.
Hanging out with a wild animal is strongly recommended, and good for what ails us. The discipline of getting ourselves into the proper state of mind and staying there is priceless. If you can put a wild animal that hates you at ease, the experience of relaxing with it is a fulfilling feedback loop, extremely satisfing and awesome. And it surely benefits us to all to practice the art of walking into any environment, focused, with a clear vision of our intentions and an attitude that broadcasts them silently, as opposed to constantly thinking of what we are going to say or do next. And interestingly, the quality and presence of mind required to hang with wild animals is precisely the state of mind that so many humans are so desperate to achieve. Relaxed, open, joyful, focused, and engaged.
Give a wild animal with its tiny brain a little credit, and you’ll be surprised what you can learn.