In 1978, the year I was born, Dr. José Pantaleón, only 20 years of age, was holding in his hands the first ever collected individual of the elusive Spotted Rail in Hispaniola. Not yet a photographer but a hunter, that was the last he was going to see of the species until 35 years later. I have a wicked theory that Panta, as we call him, probably wont like, but the reason this bird eluded him for so long, is no other that the punishment for his hunting years. The sentence was bitter and cruel, I agree, but finally the good doctor can set aside his sorrow and add another hard-to-find species to his impressive and extensive gallery.
A recognised cardiologist, Panta as all nature photographers, has an obsessive personality. He will go on and on until he achieves his target and is willing to sacrifice almost everything in the process. This is something very familiar to me, since “obsessive” seems to be the first word used when describing me no matter who you asked… specially my wife.
As I posted before, I had my glorious encounter with the Spotted Rail thanks to my friend and master birder, Miguel Landestoy, who is not but should be considered a doctor as well. Miguel and I discovered the bird together (thanks to his knowledge and my obsessiveness) and ruined Panta’s Christmas celebration when posted the images on Flickr adding fuel to his fire. After getting over the initial surprised, Panta called and we agreed to visit the site together after the new year celebrations. But honestly, after traveling with 3 kids, taking 3 long flights back home and a sleepless week, I had totally forgotten our conversation. Until last friday at 8pm, I received a call from Panta confirming the earned pardon-to-be next saturday morning. – Oh shit – I thought. I had family duties to comply with, but I was not willing to deprive this man of his redemption.
We agreed on sunday and there I was picking him up exactly at 6:23am to head to the wetlands of Monteplata. Panta was excited and so was I. This guy has beautifully photographed almost every species of bird in the island and to be responsible to fulfil the long time dream of his, was a big honor.
We arrived at the site and after some coffee offered by some very nice locals, we walked into the water for the expected encounter. It was a good morning, the bird complied and cooperated. We observed three individuals, two of them photographable. It was a good morning indeed. There were plenty of purple gallinule all over and even a juvenile that walked inches away from our feet while we hid behind a mash cover. Besides the shots taken that day, we observed interesting behaviour of this species, that eventually will end in a full report. We vowed to go back and at the same time, set expectations for our next target: the Black Rail. The Doctor got his photos, redeemed himself to the bird gods and I was lucky to be a part of it.