Wildlife Watching from a Hide

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 ........

Human vision wildlife blinds and hides camouflage

Heres what the constrast looks like if we only look at the green channel of our vision......

green channel contrast wildlife blind

And here's what we see if we had a blue green vision strength .....

green blue vision

And lastly in the red and green channels of sight ........

red green channel
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.


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onflipflops's Avatar
onflipflops replied the topic: #4187 17 Jan 2017 00:49
It is interesting to read about the colors certain species can or can not see. I always wondered how e.g. Banteng or Red Muntjacs can survive in a green forest.
But I guess if the predators are not able to see a difference between brown/orange and certain shades of green, it might make them pretty much invisible.

I guess ruling out any chance to scare off your targets is a good thing, even if it is only to give you that slight bit more confidence which makes you stay quiet just a little longer and sit out your hide session just a little longer, which could make the difference between a sighting or no sighting. And maybe you are right that it could win you an extra second that could make the difference between getting a shot or not.
But honestly especially in regards of mammal watching in Thailand, I think that in pretty much all cases when you had an 'unsuccessful' day in a hide, that a different patterned/colored hide would not have made any difference. Maybe I am wrong, but that's my thought.
More likely it simply had to do with being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Thai forests are generally rich in food supply, water sources and other vital places, that it makes hide photography quite a bit harder than in e.g. dry countries where all animals rely on that one waterhole or food source in a large area.

On the other hand, when I choose a shirt in the morning, I often think which trail I intend to walk and which shirt fits best in that habitat, haha. Even though I believe, that even more so when hiking, it makes no difference.
Paul T's Avatar
Paul T replied the topic: #4188 17 Jan 2017 06:25

But honestly especially in regards of mammal watching in Thailand, I think that in pretty much all cases when you had an 'unsuccessful' day in a hide, that a different patterned/colored hide would not have made any difference. Maybe I am wrong, but that's my thought.
More likely it simply had to do with being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Thai forests are generally rich in food supply, water sources and other vital places, that it makes hide photography quite a bit harder than in e.g. dry countries where all animals rely on that one waterhole or food source in a large area.

Of course, I agree with you 100%. But we are dealt the hand we are dealt, living in Thailand. It will never be a great mammal watching country (like those in Africa or the Indian sub-continent) because it is what it is........ but there in lies the key to why I personally love it, its the difficulty that makes it interesting, that makes those small and rare successes worthwhile ;+)
onflipflops's Avatar
onflipflops replied the topic: #4191 18 Jan 2017 11:22
Sure, I totally agree. It's in Thailand that I lost my 'travel bug', because to me Thailand is the most exciting country for wildlife watching in the world. Well I guess I should change that statement to South-east Asia being the most exciting region. All I want is explore this country, but I no longer feel the need to travel to other countries, which was the total opposite before I moved here. I won't say I never will explore other countries, but I no longer feel the need to.

I found Africa rather 'boring' in a sense. More like an open zoo, haha. Amazing and boring at the same time ;-) . In most parks you are restricted to your car, which is a shame. Of course Africa also has species that are hard to find, so I suppose that would keep it a bit exciting if staying there for long, but still I feel like you would soon have seen pretty much everything apart from the small stuff because you won't be able to explore the area on foot.
For example, on my one and only visit to South Africa I managed to 'tick' 6 cat species, even rarities like Caracal and Serval. I guess those two are some of the species that would keep it exciting on the long term for residents. The other big cats are just too easy. In terms of rarity none of them come even close to seeing any of the Thai wild cats apart from maybe the Leopard Cat.
Nothing more fun than having to put effort in it even to find the more common species. Much more rewarding, but I have to admit also occasionally frustrating, haha, especially from a photographer's point of view. Seeing the animals is one thing, returning home with a great shot is another. That's where Africa delivers much easier. You get so many opportunities and there simply is light! Allowing one to become more creative. In Thailand one has to be extremely fortunate to get a clear record shot of most species. In most cases you do not even get the chance to think about a more creative, unique shot.
But maybe in this, hide photography would offer the highest chance to get unique shots. It just will take a LOT of patience (and maybe the right colored/ patterned hide ;-) )

"Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius." > Edward O. Wilson

"An understanding of the Natural World and whats in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment." > Sir David Attenborough

“Climb up on some hill at sunrise.  Everybody needs perspective once in a while, and you’ll find it there.” > Robb Sagendorph


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