An interesting conversation with a forum member about the reaction of different animals to his portable hide got me thinking. As a regular blind user myself, the forum member’s comments made me wonder if there was more to the selection of a hide than one would initially consider. I myself normally use 3 different hide configurations when in the forest, notably: lightweight portable netting; netting mixed with natural materials, and lastly a selection of different “pop up” type blinds.
The forum member’s comments concerned how mammals seemed much more aware of his presence when in the hide than say, birds. This intrigued me because I had just changed “pop up” blinds after my favorite had gone for repair, and I had been going through a bit of dry patch for small mammal sightings from its replacement. Like most wildlife photographers I saw a potential opportunity to blame my equipment rather than myself but was I right? Are all hides equal for mammal photography?
As I was desperate to increase my success rate over what it had been lately, I headed into the thorny wilds of the internet to see what information I could find and to see if some the blame did lie with my equipment choices.
I started by considering the obvious – even though a “camouflaged” pop-up blind seemed camouflaged and well-hidden to my eye, what if I was not seeing what other animals saw?
After some erstwhile searching I discovered that humans see colour a certain way because they have trichromatic vision, meaning that three pigment cones blend together to create the huge myriad of colors that we humans can see. This gives us a very wide range of colour perception as well as colour saturation perception compared to many other animals. So I decided my starting point was to look what other animals can see in regards to a colour palette.
Suid studies have shown that pigs see primarily red, green and blue wavelengths. They tend to see objects as solid colors; they may see the blue sky, but not perceive clouds in the sky for example. This leads one to conclude that to “fool” a wild pig, a camouflage pattern type may not be relevant but one should be aware that they can distinguish well for shades of green and red (brown) so if your hide’s greens and browns don’t match the background foliage, you may stand out to a pig’s vision.
Canids see the world in much fewer hues than we humans and research indicates that they cannot readily distinguish between red, yellow, green and orange objects. This leads one to conclude that to “fool” a dhole or jackal with reference to colour, with a hide, should be a much simpler task as it would find it harder to distinguish between the colours that usually make up our hides and the background foliage.
Felids, in terms of colour perception are even potentially more easily fooled. In tests cats responded to the colors purple, blue, green and yellow range. Red, orange and brown colors appear to fall outside cats color range, and are most likely seen as dark to mid shades of gray. Their sight is much more tuned to sensing movement through contrast perception than colour.
Cervids (deer) are essentially red-green color blind. Their color vision is limited to the short (blue) and middle (green) wavelength colors. As a result, deer likely can distinguish blue from red, but not green from red, or orange from red. This is why hunters in the US can wear orange trimmed clothing that make them visible to other hunters but not to deer. One would be disadvantaged in hiding from deer if one had a blue hide for example but orange should not be so much of an issue. It also need to be borne in mind that deer are very sensitive to UV light therefor deer are capable of seeing fabrics and trims containing UV dyes and brighteners.
Bovids - in addition to gray and black, cows (and presumably gaur and banteng) are known to see muted versions of yellow and blue. Unlike human eyes, cows have only two color receptors. They won't see all the possible shades of yellow and blue, especially as they lean toward the green spectrum, but their world isn't totally made up of shades of gray. So patterns and outlines are highly relevant to a bovid’s sight.
Birds see more colors than humans in several ways. Not only are birds able to perceive familiar colors as well as parts of the ultraviolet spectrum that are invisible to human eyes, but they also have better visual acuity to determine subtle differences between similar shades of colour gradations that humans are not able to discern.
When considering these issues and sight characteristics of particular animals one also needs to be aware that other factors can affect how your hide is perceived as well. Birds are a good example of this as many birders shoot in areas were birds are habituated to either a hide or human presence therefore having a certain disregard for the actual hide or for human presence. In addition a certain bird species circle of fear may be very small compared to say a typical mammal’s circle of fear diameter.
As none of these animal groups has a more defined or accurate colour vision than a human, it should be born in mind that they are much more able to see differences in contrast which are hidden to us as we see such a large range of colours it negates the need for high contrast capabilities. This made me think. What do my blinds look like to an animal that can see higher contrast ratios than me?
So I decided to photograph each of my blinds on a forest background (as that’s a normal scenario for my own placement) and look at their different colour channels for high contrast.
Heres the view of the blinds in a shaded part of the forest as we humans see it ........... left to right are a) Karana b) SuperHide and c) Ameristep ........
Heres what the constrast looks like if we only look at the green channel of our vision......
And here's what we see if we had a blue green vision strength .....
And lastly in the red and green channels of sight ........
So the results are quite interesting, but not as conclusive as I would have hoped. One the hides stands out more than the other two for me in most scenarios. My assumption is that this is because of its pattern as well as its higher contrast through the inclusion of the colour black in the hide material and edgings. But this hide may be better than other two at, say, the peak of the rainy season when dark greens and blacks are more prevalent. At the time of writing this we are just going into the dry season so the results are very pertinent in regards to which blind/s I should use in the dry season and the Karana seems to be best all rounder to me based on just this test, with the Ameristep being a probable first choice in a couple of months when its the forest is dry.
Even if its only a small advantage - its an advantage none the less. In the world of tropical mammal hiding it could get you additional seconds giving you the opportunity to get a photograph.