Roughly an hour away from Santo Domingo is Parque Nacional Caamaño. A dry but diverse chain of mountains heading southwest of the island. I like to roam around and hike trough it. I like to ge there before dawn and listen to the songs of birds and with luck, get some nice shots.
A few months ago I discovered three different couples of burrowing owls and their respective burrows. I spent long hours in front of them, gaining their trust and hoping to get closer every time without disturbing them. Eventually I managed to ge as close as 7 meters to one of the couples. They would just stare at me with resignation and I got some nice shots. But one of the other couples was a bit more cautious and protected the burrow fiercely, and every time I got to close instead of going back into the burrow for security it would fly away, hoping to lure me away from its home. I was able to get some nice shots as well, but most of all, i began to understand the behaviour not only of the specie, but of each couple of owls, which by now, I consider my friends.
“Obsessive” is a word that will certainly find its way into any description of me. Whatever it is I choose to do, I do it with passionate obsession until the goal is accomplished. This usually means learning a new skill or another mission where success can be measured with a definitive absolutism. I welcome this obsessions of course, since I see this curse as an efficient way to get things done and scratch things out of the “bucket list”. I see nothing wrong with my obsessive behaviour even though movies and mainstream social culture portray it as enough reasons to deserve a residency in a mental home.
Owls, as you may already know, are a target of this disorder. I am completely obsessed with these birds. I guess I am not the only one, since humans seem to be fascinated with owls, and I don’t mind. My obsessions don’t have to be original nor exclusive. Whatever the reason may be, I am planning to photograph as many species of owls as I can in my lifetime, after all, what better excuse to travel the world!
Recently three of my Ashy-faced Owls (tyto glaucops) photos were published in the “Owls of the World” photographic guide by Heimo MIkkola. This sole fact has fuelled even further the determination of having a face-to-face moment with as many owls as possible. I am aware that photographing all species is an impossible task. I’m OK with that, in the words of Eduardo Galeano:
“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance”
I had already gone to bed. It had been a long day with a failed attempt at photographing golden eagles just the day after I had flown from the Dominican Republic to Oulu. I was extremely tired and my legs where a bit numb from sitting around in a hide all day. As I lay in my thin and hard bed in the Oulu Airport Hotel and started to wonder how in the world did I end up in FInland. I was in a different continent, with a different weather and exactly 5,300 miles away from the Caribbean island I call home. Excited about the adventures ahead I could not help think maybe I was a bit crazy… at least all my friends said so when they found out I was traveling alone to Finland with the absurd mission of photographing birds.
A bit tipsy, already dozing off, I heard a loud knock on my door. I jumped violently out of bed, startled and confused only to find Ari, my guide standing outside. – Get your camera, the lights are out -. I still could not figure out what he mean but I quickly threw some pants on, a jacket and grabbed all my camera equipment. The Northern Lights where a big goal in my trip even though it was not a living animal.. or so I thought.
Earlier we had had more than a few drinks after dinner and neither of us where in any condition to drive, so we walked about a mile, maybe a tad more, to get away from the city lights. This was not the magical spot I had imagined to admire the Aurora Borealis, but it had to do.. The weather had given us one clear night and we had to take it, even thought I rather been in Kuusamo or Rovaniemi, where we could photograph the lights against snow covered trees and beautiful landscapes. This was only my second night in Finland, but as it will turned out, it was going to be my only chance to see the lights. At the beginning I just saw a washed and timid green hue in the sky, and I asked myself – is this it?- but the color intensified and the movements became faster, more rhythmic. The quantity of green in the sky was just overwhelming, this thing was like a serpent or a bird moving on top of us. I can perfectly understand why the natives thought of them as spirits, it was exactly the feeling I had; spirits moving over our heads, watching us from above. I could not control my excitement and I moved quickly and certainly clumsy to try and capture it before the spectacle ended.
Maybe this was not the perfect scenario or at least it was not the background I had in mind, but the show was something I’ll never forget. I felt privileged and unique just to be there. The photographs aren’t either what I had in mind, but they are evidence and proof of my encounter with one on the most magical and mysterious phenomenons on earth.