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Monthly Archives: January 2013

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It happens. It is rare that one gets son lucky, but it happens.

I had been looking for the Short-eared owl for almost two years with no luck. I had looked at every sighting report, talked to every birder I know and had even rescued and injured bird that was taken to me after it was shot in the wing by a hunter. But so far, never ran into a bird in the wild.

A few weeks ago, while visiting a high-end golf resort with my family I decided to go out to the horse stables in search of Barn Owls. I did have my camera and 500mm lens with me, but had no flashlight, no recordings, no tripod and no expectations. I drove past the stable a few times with no luck and then decided to search for night herons at the polo course. Just a few seconds after arriving I saw an owl-shape bird sitting on the ground. At first I thought it was a Burrowing Owl, but Cucús as we call them here, are not reported in the east of the island. And then it hit me! This was my S.E.O. right here.. I jumped out of the car, camera in-hand and spent the next 5 hours trying to get good shots.

Focusing was a challenge since I had no light to shine over the bird. I switched to MF and was able to get some decent shots, even though no fly shots were possible. These birds are considered a sub-species (Asio flammeus domingensis) by some experts. Others don’t agree. Even so, it was a great night for me and my camera. A great night indeed.


CF6A6468Branding a country is hard work, but Costa Rica has managed to own the “eco-friendly” badge among all the country-brands. When you think watches you think Switzerland, cars = Germany, Belgium = chocolate, soccer = Brazil (or maybe Spain?), entertainment = USA… you get the point. But when you think ecological haven, Costa Rica pops to mind immediately. And after spending just a couple of days down there, I say – Well deserved – .

I once wrote that Bosque del Apache was like Disneyland for wildlife photographers, it remains true, but if so, Costa RIca is the Michelin 5-star restaurant you can’t normally afford, only that you can. What they lack in infrastructure, and trust me they lack plenty (their highways are like hiking trails) the make up with lush, natural beauty.

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After I landed in San José we drove for 4.5 hours just to go 150km north to the border with Nicaragua. The jungle is exactly like you would imagine it to be: tall and broad trees, macaws screaming and dawn, birds flying all over, the sound of geckos and frogs singing every night and fruit bats filling the night skies… this is jungle like the jungle is supposed to be.

_MGL7597I stayed at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, a modest but charming lodge in Boca Tapada, where Adolfo runs a tight ship (even though you would never guessed) and where birds are the main attractions. I only had over 48 hours to shoot before returning home, but I was determined to make the most of it…

I got great images of all my target species: Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Brown-hooded parrots and several colourful honey creepers. All but the King Vulture, which we saw perched in a far away tree but never came close enough for a good shot. I also had my brief encounter with the rare and elusive Green Macaw and other wonderful wildlife in the jungle such as caymans and bats. As most of my photography trips I vow to go back (at this point is pretty much impossible to go back to all the places I’ve said I will), since the Resplendent Quetzal is only found further south and I can’t afford no to see that bird eventually.

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CF6A5310Where I am from, mountains are supposed to be green. Exclusively Green. Lush broad-leaf forests and dense vegetation, conifers or even dry forests.. but green nonetheless. Even the highest mountain of the Caribbean, our own Pico Duarte with over 10,000 feet over sea lever is mostly green. Some rare mornings white frost may cover the grasses of Valle Lilís, but that is it.

This winter I traveled with my family to the Colorado. Between snowboarding and taking care of the kids there was little time left, but I made sure to take at least two mornings off to discovered the near by areas. I think I dedicated probably 80% of my lens time to birds, but there is something so special about the other 20%: The Rocky Mountains.

I had read about them in high school, but never before really rationalised it existence much less their true beauty. It’s powerful presence it’s overwhelming The snow-covered peaks and the beautiful creeks that run through them, the ever-green conifers, the marvellous rock formations that are responsible of its naming… there was not enough time to hike or to truly discover what lies up there, but those beautiful giants and all the life that they hold, owe me one… and I intend to collect soon.

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ImageUsually we think of wildlife photography and we think of unspoiled refuges of pure nature. This is often the case and with out one bit of doubt, the most enjoyable scenario. But the reality is I spend most of my time in the chaotic veins of Santo Domingo. So I have learned to look for natural beauty even when I am in a city.. any city or urban landscape.

This is one of the magical aspects of birds: they inhabit every habitat on earth, even the noisiest, the most polluted or ugliest and imprint their feathery charm all over.

I travel a lot. Most of the time for work, some times in family leisure trips and not enough of wildlife adventures. But I always take my gear. Even when on a couples retreat to West Virginia, I took a short lens (70-200mm 2.8 IS II) with me. Looking through the viewfinder lets me appreciate the beauty around me in a more profound and deep manner. It allows me to really observe my surroundings and look for beauty in unexpected places. Hopefully a bird, but also random reflections or other expressions of light.

Beauty is all around us, it just happens that most times we have urgent things to do that impair us from enjoying it.

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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.

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ImageWildlife is unpredictable. Wildlife photography is too. In one hand, there is a lot of planning involved: getting to know your subject, the food it likes, the time of day is more active, what habitats it prefers and so on. There is also skills involved: what exposure to use, how to camouflage correctly but above all, wildlife photography is about persistance and obsessive pursuit; the more you are out there shooting the more chances you have to get that great shot. But at the end of the day, you never know exactly what will happen or where the animal is going to be.

Last week while shooting birds in Colorado at -22 Fahrenheit I had a lucky break. I had just spotted a female Downy Woodpecker on a tree and I hid my self the best I could to give it space. The bird flew into a near branch where the light was much better (first lucky break) and I started shooting away. Maybe 20 seconds later the bird flew away never to be seen again.

When the session finished and I was back in the warmth of the cary, I reviewed the images on my camera screen and noticed that a male Pine Grosbeak had flown by and miraculously  had enter the frame into my photo, in the perfect place to help my composition. I can only take a third of the credit for this shot. The other 2 thirds are equally deserved by two birds that, in the coldest day I have ever experienced, decided to collaborate.

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When I think of the desert, I immediately think of beige sands and dunes, camels and palm trees.

Maybe too much cartoons got to me, but I find my self with a pretty precise image of what a desert should be. So when my mom and I first walked into White Sands National Monument, it was like a cultural warp zone had swallowed us without notice.

We had driven almost 4 hours from Socorro, New Mexico to get to White Sands and we were tired and thirsty. But two immediate surprises shocked us from the beginning:

1. The sand was soft and white as snow.

2. The sand was cold as snow.

So, was it snow? No, it was more like salt just out of the freezer. The light reflected beautiful purple and pink hues and the mountains surrounded a marvellous set of dunes. The space was big and wide. The aire was crisp. But the silence was the most breathtaking element that day, at least for a few hours. Until a military jet flew right above us and let some kind of missile blow up just over our heads. It was scary. Very scary. After 10 minutes silence was back along with the solitude of two people and many footprints.

The sun was falling fast. The sky was purple. The dunes were even more mysterious and strange sounds became present. It was very cold and the pre-conceived notion of what a desert was supposed to be was broken and tarnished forever. Beyond the aesthetically experience, White Sands National Monument provided and deeply soulful experience. A mix of peace, fear, solitude and wonder had taken place in one sensation. It was already night it we were ready to drive back, but not without experiencing our final drama of the day when we could not find our way back to the car. We did after an hour or so and we drove back in silence as the full moon finally rose over the big mountains.

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