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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Last winter while walking along the Boiling River at Yellowstone National Park Juan Pons and I spotted three common goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) floating down stream. There were two females and a male and we hid and waited among the sagebrush. Its smell, which I adore, filled every ounce of space around me and stucked to my clothes and skin for hours.

These birds are very easily scared and are very hard to get close to.  I managed to hide very well and patiently in the bushes and after a few failed tries snatched this shot. I specially like the fact that the photo pays tribute to the bird’s name: “goldeneye”.


Now that I have been deeply involved with photographing nature for over a year, I decided to look back at my pictorial work from 1997-2006 with a different perspective. Maybe, I thought, I would now look back and find new caves in my work and maybe, just maybe, find the energy to get back to the studio and in front of a new blank canvas.

It turns out I did. I remember writing my thesis back in 2000 and having in mind subjects like maps, constellations, identity struggles, geography, socio-political events… but back then, nature was not part of any of my themes or concerns… but it was always there. In almost every painting or drawing nature was alive and breathing. From the organic lines to the few figurative elements in some of the paintings to the animal-like expressions of daily objects… actually those hair clips that I drew over and over in 02 and 03, today look like birds to me. Don’t they?

It is hard to get back into the painting mind frame, but I do feel the hunger in my eyes to interpret with charcoal and acrylics everything I see. Is it a cycle? Was this absence from painting necessary? Is it just a business hangover effect? I’m not quite sure, but today I looked at a Cy Twombly painting and felt the same overwhelming emotion I did ten years ago. I think tonight I’ll unearth the Francis Bacon books and Robert Motherwell’s writings. I think today something happened… I am sure it did, because today I feel like painting again.


photo by Juan Pons

I move in a lot of circles. I can glide, most times comfortably, among the hippies, the musicians, the jocks, the business people, the average dudes, the millionaires… after all, excluding the latter I’ve hanged out as a part of those groups at some point in my life. Today I have a very broad variety of friends but really, my life is built around my family, my company and nature. If you know Dominican Republic you are then aware that this is a small country, and somehow, even though we are 10MM, we know each other. Well, not everyone, but at least in Santo Domingo, we all know each other, specially if like me, you attended 5 different high schools and at some point were a swimmer, a rock climbing aficionado, a wine amateur, a painter by profession, an entrepreneur, a tennis lover… well, you get the point “an inch deep but a mile wide”. One thing that has always been present is my love and admiration for nature.

My mom raised us that way. We would go camping, we would learn the names of flowers, butterflies, we would (well, she would) sneak in unknown peoples gardens and steal fruit or a flower, she would smuggle an olive tree from Israel and plant it in her backyard, she would teach us how to search for free range chicken eggs, we would unearth yucca roots for breakfast in the weekends, we would play in our treehouse… you can say my mom was a disguised flower child, and we were all little Tarzan wannabes.

After a brief but successful career as a fine artist I started an advertising agency with a partner and as of today we are among the top 5 of the country, remember this is a small country, so I am not a millionaire but I do well enough to afford my photography equipment and an occasional photo trip. After 10-12 hours a day in the office it became really hard for me to lock my self in the studio and paint, so I chose photography. It presented an opportunity to be outside and close to nature and at the same time have an artistic and creative output. – Yes but why birds? – is the question everyone keeps asking me. I can’t really tell. I guess is one of those things you secretly dreamed about but then thought it was just too far fetched to really happen. But here I am, reading about birds, learning their scientific names, their behavior patterns, watching them, stalking them with my lens and enjoying it like nothing before.

Birds are such a big part of our history. They are the modern day dinosaurs and most of them can fly.. and that is just amazing. They inhabit every kind of habitat, they are so different from each other but at the same time they are all unmistakably “birds”. Their feathers are perfectly designed, their beaks have evolved depending on their food source, their size goes from a few centimeters to a few meters… they are marvelous creatures and honestly I can’t get enough of them. I think a lot about birds. More than my business partner and clients should know about. I think about the best time or place to observe them and sometimes I dream about to discovering any missing link or a deep secret they might be hiding… Well, there is no specific answer to the “why birds?” question, just a very hard to explain obsession that has taken me to far away places, that gets me to camp in very remote locations and offers a whole world to discover. Try birding some time, you just might surprise your self.

I don’t know about you, but most birders or bird photographes have a thing for owls.. hey, most people have a weakness for owls. At least I know that I have a special love for owls. They are both cute and gruesome, mysterious and yet spread all over the world. They are agressive when defending their turf yet tender with their own. Maybe is the fact that most species are nocturnal and we tend to be captivated by the dark and the creatures that habit in it. Maybe is the fact that they, like us and unlike most birds, have a forehead above two front-facing eyes or is it just the idea of a bird that can twist its neck almost 360 degrees. Whatever it is, I prefer owls over any bird, any animal or any other living thing… including most humans I know.

I have made it a point to photograph as many owls species as I can, but in 2011, I was only able to photograph 3: Burrowing owl (athene cunicularia), Snowy owl (bubo scandiacus) and the Hispaniolan 
endemic and beloved Ashy-faces owl (tyto glaucops). Next month I’ll be in Finland trying to expand that list hopefully with good shots, but like everything when wildlife is concerned, there are no guarantees. If you happen to know where an owl is nesting, breeding or hanging out, please drop me a line. If it’s in my power and financial possibilities, I’ll sure stop by and try to get the shot.

When I first started photographing birds (not very long ago) I usually ignored common birds. Egrets, hispaniolan woodpeckers, palmchats, mockingbirds, etc.. Counting species was more important than a good photo; a very common sin among bird lovers. But one day while in Salinas, something changed. I somehow ended up paying more attention to the beauty of a very common bird and tried hopelessly to capture it. The responsible was none other than reddish egret, a very common bird in the Dominican Republic and one that most birders ignore.

The water was calmed, the sun was shining and everything seemed in-synch. The egret was walking on shallow water in the search for food. It’s reflection was magical and it immediately won me over. Since then I’ve always looked for a good shot no matter the bird, but to this day egrets, herons and other members of the ardeidae family have provided more beautiful images than most birds around. Hope you enjoy them!


When you think of Yellowstone, images of grizzly bears and packs of wolves immediately come to mind. Or maybe just long and wide landscapes, beautiful geysers, snow covered peaks and swirling steaming rivers. That is what defines Yellowstone, no doubt. And that is what my first 5 days in the park where like. In order for the rest of this post to make sense I must before state that I am a sucker for birds. I rather observe a house sparrow than a gray wolf any day of the week. I rather track an eagle than a bear. Birds are magical creatures; their colors, feathers, their reptilian ancestors, their flying skills… few things in life give more joy than watching birds. But while in Yellowstone I had very little expectations for birdwatching since in winter most birds migrate and the few that stay are very hard to photograph satisfyingly in the area that I was about to explore.

The first day of my trip I asked Juan if he had ever photographed or at least seen waxwings on Yellowstone. – Not once in 10 years – he said. I decided not to let that get me down and enjoy the wonderful mammals that roam in the park, after all it is called “the Serengeti” of North America.  During those five days I was able to take great shots of the American Dipper (cinclus mexicanus), the common goldeneye (bucephala clangula), townsed solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) and some very poor shots of a bunch gray-crowned rosy finches (Leucosticte tephrocotis) and the golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos),. I was happy to have some birds in my CF card. I was really happy.

The days went by very fast. We drove from Gardiner to Cooke City, passing by Lamar Valley over and over again in the search of wildlife. We drove to Jardine Rd. to take shots of the night sky, we had some local beers at the Blue Goose and ate a lot of fat-filled food. It was awesome!! But my last day on the park started very lousy. There were no animals in sight besides the regular bison resting over the snow. Not eve a coyote had showed its face. This was a very sad way to say goodbye to YNP. After a few hours we decided to hike along Boiling River in hopes to find river otters (which we did) and maybe some more rosy finches since I had not gotten one good shot in my last session.

We had just parked, my camera was still not mounted on the tripod and when a large bouquet of finches rapidly landed on a juniper tree… I rushed to get my camera ready, get everything out of the car, get the setting right, point to the tree and…. surprise!!!! They there were; an earful of over 3000 bohemian waxwings (bombycilla garrulus) instead of finches. I was euphoric!! Before I could press the shutter they all flew at the same time, in a gorgeous coordinated movement to a near-by tree. I grabbed my tripod, camera and climbed a small and steep hill to reach where they had just perched. I got the best shots of my life from these birds and without a doubt the most memorable experience in Yellowstone. We followed the birds for hours and gracefully they let us come close enough to watch them eat, bathe, rest, bicker with each other, get attacked by a Merlin (Falco columbarius), eat some more, drink from the river and finally fly away leaving us breathless and amazed. Cars driving by could not quite understand what we were looking at. There were no bears, no wolves, no elks nor any other mammal for that matter… We must’ve looked very crazy to the average Yellowstone visitor but I enjoyed myself immensely. Nothing in the prior six days provided such a wonderful and unique experience as watching those amazing birds do their thing. I love going back to that moment constantly, looking at those pictures and remembering exactly every shot and every setting I chose for each one. Every pose of every bird, every tree they chose and every berry they swallowed. I love remembering the astonishment I felt, the disbelief…. I might be a bit nuts, I went to Yellowstone and could not care less about the wolves but only about pretty little birds.


If you enjoyed these pics you can check out more at www.mariodavalos.org