A Day In The Scrub

Mark Kosinski

Mark Kosinski
Landscape and Nature Photographer

I've been photographing scrub-jays now for a few months.  I've read many things about the birds and talked with a few people that either manage the areas populated by the birds or research the birds.  I've read and heard the birds referred to as boisterous.  I would whole heartedly agree, they definitely make themselves known.  I've also read and heard people refer to the birds as curious.  Again I agree, they are very inquisitive creatures from my experience so far.  I've read and heard friendly...  This is where opinions differ.  I agree that in environments where the birds are very consistently exposed to people and the habitat is well managed the birds do seem to be very friendly and show absolutely no fear of humans.  I tend to frequent environments where the birds are not in contact with humans on a regular basis and the habitats tend to grow to the 12 to 14 foot height before being burned.  My experience so far is that scrub-jays in less managed areas or habitats seem a bit more stand offish and although very curious will keep their distance from humans.

Now, all that being said, yesterday I was in the scrub pretty much all day.  The scrub seems to have become my second home.  Walking along a sandy path on a particularly windy day I noticed as I have many other times no visible scrub-jays.  I could hear them, but they were not perched in the scrub oaks and long leaf pines as I would see on calm cool days.  Not being very strong flyers I can understand why the scrub-jays would choose not to be perched in higher places on a windy day.  My method of photographing birds is to walk short distances, listen, watch closely for activity on the ground as well as in the scrub and trees.  Stop in places where I pretty much blend in with whatever is behind me and watch for a while.  As I was doing this yesterday a scrub-jay appeared on the ground kicking up sand as it hopped.

I always get excited when I see scrub-jays, call me weird, but it is what it is.  I took a quick shot of my little friend as it hopped through the sand.  I watched it hop right into the scrub.  I very carefully and quietly followed.  As I followed the scrub-jay into the scrub the scrub-jay would stop, look toward me, make a couple of short but loud squawks and wait for me to take a step before it moved further into the scrub.  You don't really understand just how thick the scrub is until you actually go into it.  I was amazed that I was able to move and get through.  It seemed my little friend, acting as a tour guide was picking a route it felt I could navigate through.  I continued on into the scrub with my scrub-jay guide taking me to an area where there were rather short scrub-oaks, prickly pear cactus and lines of saw palmetto.  I could hear another scrub-jay as I approached the area.  The call from my tour guide changed slightly, I'm assuming it was communicating our arrival.  
scrub jay in sand
perched scrub jay
As I got closer there was indeed another scrub-jay perched low in a oak scrub.  The two scrub-jay seemed to be communicating with each other.  The one that was my tour guide seemed to have quite a lot to say.  The other scrub-jay sat perched responding.  In the area I was at the scrub-jays always seemed pretty standoffish and would fly at the slightest hint of movement toward them.  Today I was able to get within ten to fifteen feet without them flying.  They remained very vigilant and watched my every move but seemed to be accepting of my presence.  This was the first time in an area not frequently visited by people that I was able to get this close and photograph and observe the scrub-jays.  In all I believe I counted a total of five scrub-jays in this area.  It dawned on me that I was observing a family of scrub-jays.  How excited that was to realize.  Although I very much enjoyed the experience I wouldn't recommend that anyone just hap-hazardly go wandering into the scrub.  I remained vigilant for spiders, snakes and other hazards as I forged through the scrub.  As I said previously, it is an extremely dense growth with lots of thorns, branches and other plants growing low that also have thorns.  If you're wearing shorts you will certainly be less than happy with the experience.  There are places with fairly high concentrations of scrub-jays that are accustomed to having people around and seem to enjoy people.   I believe the behavior of the scrub-jay when in contact with people is partially out of curiosity and also a learned behavior.  My experience yesterday with the scrub-jays was no less than awesome and taught me how to get close to these birds in settings where there typically are very few people.