Encountering and dealing with unfriendly people while iNatting

It seems every day I’m losing faith in humanity, I want to discuss ways to deal with people who are either strongly against naturalistic activities or have other reasons to interfere iNatting with unfriendly intentions without obvious reason. Today I met another man without sense of boundaries who insulted me (it was insane) cause I refused to take pictures of his dog ‘cause he shouted and scared woodpecker I was looking at, it was very unpleasant encounter and in place that I thought was safe from such possibilities. Now I’m afraid to go out (especially the fact it was a middle aged man who is a physical threat to me) and had to go home crying, the only good thing is today I’m moving to another place.
I want to hear your stories and if you have suggestions on how to deal with it both physically (should I go there next time I can or not?) and emotionally. It was partly discussed in other topics, but I’m sure having one dedicated to it is essential.


I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I can only say that you’re not alone. Work aside, I’m out most days taking photos of plants, although I don’t post all of my observations. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me what I’m doing. I’ve had people park their car in the middle of the road to block my car (that’s confronting!) It can be threatening, I agree. I usually just tell them exactly what I’m doing – taking photos of plants – and start talking about the plant species in the immediate area. Their eyes usually then glaze over and they just nod and move on. I don’t know why people feel it’s necessary to ask me what I’m doing, but I’ve come to accept that they will. Although I find it threatening and I end up feeling guilty sometimes (for no reason, I’m on public land after all!) I try to just move on. It’s hard sometimes and I also sometimes feel like crying. In your example, I’d just take a photo of the dog and start talking about the plants and animals in the area.

Should you go there next time? If it’s not private property then absolutely go there again. Don’t let other people’s irrationality ruin what you enjoy. I know it’s hard to think like that, I struggle after being confronted for taking photos. But at the end of the day I’m doing nothing wrong and it’s the other person’s problem, not mine.

I’m afraid to go out sometimes to places where I’ve been confronted, and I’m a male (Edit: I only mention my gender because you mentioned you were intimidated by a middle-aged male). The encounters go over and over in my mind sometimes. But I (and you) have every right to enjoy what we do. I hope that makes sense


That’s horrible! Fortunately, I’ve never experienced such thing. Most people I see while doing birding or such thing just ignore me, and those who do notice me are nice and are curious about what I’m doing. I’m really sorry for what happened with you. Take care please…


Thank you! I answer when I’m questioned properly. But this guy just started talk aggressively, I didn’t answer on his first statement about my camera, I was busy after all, then he asked to take pic of his dog, also shouting and in manner as if I had to obey him and I’m not a servant (I’m asked to take pics of dogs and people all the time, even though I can’t physically do it.). I love to explain what I’m doing to polite people, but if I’m standing looking busy and don’t answer some random phrases, maybe I am busy after all? I’m not that ongoing with random men coming by and I am tired of comments about my camera, so I just try to avoid that. I didn’t write what exactly he was doing and saying, it was chaotic and is left with me for my whole future life. I can’t just talk after bird that I could get a good picture of, flies away, I’m just trying to go away from that person, so no nature talk from me for one who did it.

It’s going well with my last visit to my hometown when I got a bus ride with a person constantly asking me pretty silly questions, all while I was fully turned to window sitting as close to it as possible. Starting with basic questions about what I’m doing, what I’m photographing, is it a hobby, who I am working to, is it possible to print wallpapers with my pics, which matrix my camera has, how he’s working in X and saw Y, 20 minutes of me showing no interest at all in this conversation.
Yes, your words make all sense! It just really hard as it was a place I spent childhood in and now it’s not even a forest with no people but a little park full of dogs everywhere, so it was a last step of destroying it for me. Maybe I’ll go and look for some birds I can, but I really hope I will find them in another place and wouldn’t need to go there.
I’m glad you went fine from those confronting situations, blocking car is very threatening and not something a regular person would do! And don’t feel guilty, it sounds you’re doing it all right!


It’s not really fair, is it. The reason I said this:

is that because I have been confronted, many times, in a work capacity as well. In those situations it’s easier to deal with – I gave them my card and told them to call my employer. It’s the casual encounters that I really struggle with. I don’t feel I need to explain myself to other people when I’m on public property either, and my usual tactic of starting to talk about the native plants and animals isn’t because I feel obliged to, it’s because I’ve found that it usually makes people shut up :) The time the person corralled me with their car I explained what I was doing and they moved it. I’m not really sure what I’d have done if they didn’t calm down and moved it. Told them I’d call the police? I don’t know. That might have escalated the situation, so I can certainly empathise with how you must have felt being spoken to aggressively. I’m looking forward to other people’s replies to this because, in my experience at least, it’s not uncommon.


My suggestion to you would be try to not go out alone, these days unfortunately it is a wise precaution to take a companion.

1 Like

Sadly it will mean I won’t ever go out at all, here my parents won’t do that and my husband is working almost every day, so it’s not possible (plus not like he wants to).


Wow, I’ve never had one that bad. Personally I hate pet owners on public land, they all seem to treat it like it’s their own personal backyard where their little fufu can do what ever he wants. I guess thankfully, I run into more idiots and annoying people than actual jerks when I’m out.

One I ran into a few weeks ago at work, I had just checked a site and another car was pulling in as I was leaving. I had this feeling that I really needed to go back to check them, when I pulled back into the parking lot, I was shocked to see a woman with SIX dogs off leash disappearing down the trail. I had to chase after her and let her know that that was not only illegal but discourteous to anyone else who might show up. When we were walking out, she remarked that I had a lot of balls to run up to someone with 6 dogs. All I could think was, you know that and yet you thought it would be a good idea to go on public land with six dogs.


Unfortunately that’s not always an option for me. And being with a companion doesn’t always work either. I mean it might make me feel safer, but it doesn’t stop other people being aggressive for no reason. In all but one instance when I’ve been out doing a survey for work I have not been alone. Of course, when I’m out casually I’m usually alone because I prefer it that way.


No, please keep going out. Surely there’s a way to be alone and safe at the same time as well. Maybe it’s different wherever you are, and if so then fair enough. I’m in Australia. I’ll keep going out alone and I’ll keep trying to deal with people asking me what I’m doing. I’m certainly not going to start going out in company because I enjoy being alone


I encountered a very vocally aggressive young man recently (though not while iNatting)–I turned and walked away as soon as I realized the person was not interested in a calm, rational conversation. I couldn’t sleep for several nights afterwards. So I know how you feel. My thoughts are that these encounters are rare and very, very, very unlikely to lead to physical violence. And that the non-human hazards of being outdoors are greater than the human hazards. Where I live, venomous snakes, thorns (leading to infection), and wild hogs are far greater hazards. I hope this way of thinking may ease your mind some.


Thank you for saying this! Even though we only have a single venomous snake which is very rarely fatal and quite calm.) It is calming to know these people mostly are not an actual physical threat as you say!


Every now and then I’ll get people who come up to me and ask what I am doing. Usually most people ask because they are generally interested but I also get people who who glare and stare at me like I am some sort of weirdo. Like what has been previously said, just talking about the wildlife or what you are taking pictures of usually results in them nodding and moving on but sometimes I’ll bump into people who are rude and unfriendly. I have never had any physical altercations and have never heard of any occurring where I live in Australia, only verbal altercations with unfriendly people.

Once I was setting up a moth sheet between two trees at a caravan park/camp ground when an old couple came up to me and my dad and started abusing and swearing at us, demanding to know why we were putting up this light. All we could do in that situation was politely explain to her what we were doing and reach an agreement with her over when we would turn the light off (Even though we didn’t have to) as to not escalate the situation. I felt a bit upset after that confrontation but I also walked away from that determined not to let a rude person ruin my day again. I have every right to enjoy taking photos and if people have a problem bad luck.


That might be a good de-escalating action. Yet, I think I would not take a photo with a threatening person as such could be a ploy to get someone’s phone or email addy (‘Oh, that’s a good picture, send it to me, here’s my number’’?)

There used to be a company (‘Model Mugging’) in my area that taught children and women how to first attempt to de-escalate a situation, or worst case, fight off an attacker. The idea was to give women confidence and the knowledge they were not helpless if confronted.

@melodi_96 If there are not similar organizations nearby, I would imagine there could be helpful self-defense videos on YouTube, etc.


I didn’t say I’d give them a copy of the photo ;) You’re right

Like many here, I have not been confronted by aggressive people. But I’m male, and in Canada, and for the most part people are pretty polite. My biggest fear is walking near a play structure with a camera and someone mistaking me for a paedophile. I know the fear of confrontation follows women all the time. Marina Hyde, a brilliantly sarcastic columnist for the Guardian wrote this vivid column a month or so ago that I feel captures that fear well (some objectionable language involved) - What happened to me was nothing – the nothing women know all too well | UK news | The Guardian


If they asked for a copy of the photo then of course that’s a different situation :) Edit: and in that situation I’d refuse. But I’d take the photo. If they asked for a copy of the photo then it’s a whole different thing

It might not be fair, but please do what’s needed to keep yourself safe! We would miss you terribly if anything ever happened to you!

I find it weird that a random stranger would demand that you photograph his dog? I don’t think I’ve had anyone ever ask me to photograph them or their pet, while I was out inatting at least. In social settings it might be different…

Most often, it is a case of someone seeing you with a camera and being nervous that you are surreptitiously watching or spying on them. They might be land owners that are concerned at your motives or purpose… and they might be people that are concerned that you might inadvertantly (through your photographic documentation) stop them from being able to do something that they wish to continue doing (such as the walking of dogs in an area). Sometimes just acknowledging those concerns is enough to reassure them that you don’t have that intent. In fact, I think a lot of the engagement they will have with you is kind of aimed at assessing what your motives are.

Also, people out in nature are just weirdos! Everytime I’m approached by a member of the public asking weird questions, I just think to myself how weird they probably find me to be!

I think as soon as you find yourself feeling unsafe, you have to trust your gut instinct. Find some other locals near you that might have a similar interest, and make it a habit to go in pairs. I have a similar situation here in Gisborne NZ, but as an unfit middle aged man, my big concern is having a heart attack out in the bush, or falling down a bank… it’s still a feeling of concern about personal safety that I have to take seriously. So I reach out to other inatters and try to go out as a group whenever possible.

And I don’t care how different you might perceive yourself to be from everyone else… there will be someone that has similar interests that you can buddy up with and do what you do safely!


I’ve been asked many times what I was doing. But, yes, demanding a photo of a dog is pretty damn weird


I am asked a lot to take photos, by groups of men or dog owners, I have no idea why, they probably think if I have camera it means I’m a superb portrait photographer, but they ask it with a smile, not coming from my back and saying “get picture of my dog”. It was one of short but still craziest situations, mostly I run into mentally unstable but old people, so I know they just want to shout, but what this guy wanted, I didn’t get it, some special attention it seems.
I sent one person his photos on his email, he never answered, it was weird, I also mentioned my iNat account a couple of times again without outreach to me, so yeah, probably my info is out there in hands of people I don’t know.

1 Like