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birding

BJ9Q2660Contrary to assumptions, the Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) as other kingfisher species, does not fish. As it name may suggest it is found mostly on dry land hunting for insects, but pretty much with the same strategy that its cousins hunt over water; it will pick a good perch and wait for pray to show up, quickly swooping down in one quick burst only to go back to the chosen perch. While in the Okavango Delta I had the chance to see many Woodlands and most of them in a high perch against the clear sky. But I wanted to achieve a different image, one that made honor to its name and its habits: “Woodland”.  I wanted an image where grass and land played a part and no water was in sight. Woodland Kingfishers are not as shy as other kingfishers and actually are quite aggressive and might even attack a human, even though this happens rarely. But I could get somewhat close sometimes if I was silent enough. The Woodland Kingfisher was definitely not one of my target species, but every time I saw one, which was very frequently, I tried to achieve the image I had designed in my head. Finally I got my chance:  while looking for a Leopard on Victoria Island, inside the Moremi Game Reserve, this great looking individual swoop down to catch an insect only to fail, then staying low on the ground perched over a dead tree. The light was soft and dim and the grass was high, so I composed the image putting the bird all the way to the right, making the atmosphere and the environment a leading part of the image. The story I wanted to tell. I’ve seen amazing action shots of Kingfishers. Just incredible images of birds in the water or already with a catch on their bill in mid-flight, so I know this may not be a fantastic image on that sense, but I am very happy with the mood and the narrative altogether. For more images of my time in Botswana please visit the gallery on my website. 

_MGL1730While vacationing with my family in the northern New York area and given this year incredible Snowy Owl irruption, I took some time to explore around the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. The kids wanted snow and I wanted Snowies : this would turn to be a perfect match.

Guided by Joan Collins, we planned a brief introductory drive trough it’s communities, habitats and natural treasures. You could spend a lifetime exploring the natural wonders of the Adirondacks but in a place like this, even in a few days, beautiful visions emerge. Joan is the most enthusiastic person I have ever met when it comes to birds. She is knowledgable, patient and cares a great deal about the well-being of birds. She also has a prodigious ear and can identify a bird call in the most extreme conditions.

I had seen the Snowy Owls back in 2011 in Barrow, but coming face to face again with these gorgeous and mysterious birds was a real treat that kept me awake weeks before arriving in Lake Placid. As I had very little time we program 2.5 days of birding. One day for Snowy Owls, one day for a Hawk Owl that was wintering in Vermont and more Snowies that afternoon, and half day in the boreal habitat. As I suspected none was enough to capture the amazing beauty of the area. Apart from the Black-backed Woodpecker, we found every target species we had hoped for plus some amazing landscapes images of the farms and barns around the mountain range. I was very surprised of the pride and honor residents feel for the Adirondacks. It’s almost like they feel part of the mountains themselves, and not necessarily a specific town.

I have explored many hotspots within the US, but the Adirondack Mountains are the best kept secret when it comes to nature and the great outdoors. It was indeed a perfect vacation: the kids got to ski, we had great meals together and I got to do what I love the most: capture in images the amazing beauty and power of nature.

For more images of this adventure please visit my website.

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_MGL4967When Columbus first arrived in what is now called the island of Hispaniola, wildlife was rich abundant; manatees thrived in the fresh water streams, trogans could be plucked like ripe fruit and parrots and parakeets where as common as insects in the lush Caribbean forests. Today everything is threatened, including us humans. We have managed to destroy one of the most beautiful places in the world and most of the time feel proud of what we call “progress”. Our greed and disregard for the place we live in, is driving every species to extinction including our own. But in that sad and terrible reality, there are some odd and positive stories.

Such is that of the Hispaniolan Parakeet ( Aratinga chloroptera). This emerald-green and noisy little fellow was heavily hunted down for its feathers and for the illegal pet trade. Along with the Hispaniolan Parrot (Amazona ventralis) the Hispaniolan Parakeet is sold to adorn houses and learn curse words. It is smuggled into US cities where dominicans live to remind them of the beauty back home. It was first described in 1856 by the french ornithologist Charles Souancé, which seems very surprising since such a pretty and obvious bird should have been noted much earlier. It is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List and populations are way down. Flocks of this amazing bird that could be seen flying over the mountains no longer are common… except in the city of Santo Domingo.

For some reason Parakeets have adapted quite well to the noise and activity of Santo Domingo and can be seen everyday flying south-north in the morning and north-south in the afternoon to roost in almond trees all over the city. To see them come in by the hundreds to their roosting spot in Hotel Embajador is a feast to the eyes and a nightmare to the ears (specially for hotel guests). So if you are ever in Santo Domingo, take a moment to enjoy these beautiful birds, and if you’re really into birding, choose to stay at El Embajador, order some dominican rum and enjoy the show.

More of my photos can be seen in my website mariodavalos.org

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For some time now, I’ve been obsessed with owls. I go out of my way to study, watch and photograph owls everywhere I travel. Most of my friends know this and even if they don’t understand my reasons (I’m not even sure I do) they support it. So when some one knows about an injured owl they call me. It is important to note that I am NOT a veterinarian nor I have any knowledge whatsoever on the matter, but I care deeply about birds in general, specially owls. I can’t stand the idea of an injured owl in the wrong hands, so I go where ever the owl is, no matter how far and no matter what time of the day (or night),  take it home and from there to the zoo.

Last night the amazing Kate Wallace (a true birding pioneer in the DR) called me and told me about an injured owl in Zona Colonial. I was tired from a long day at the office and was about to start playing “memory” with my 5 yr old daughter. But I couldn’t avoid it. I had to go. So I told Adriana – mi amor, can we play memory tomorrow? I have to go rescue an owl that is injured – Her honey-coloured eyes lit up.  – Can I come? -. It was almost her bedtime, but what the hell.. I It was a great adventure for her.

So we drove to Zona Colonial where Janette Keys, a really nice  american who runs a website on the Colonial Zone and the parking guy who found the owl. The bird was in a box and when I opened it was clear it was still a baby. It already had some adult feathers but still not an adult. The bird seemed confused and startled, but Adriana was marvelled by the creature and the dark piercing eyes. We had spent hours at home looking at owl pictures together and watching The Guardians of Ga’hoole, a movie about a Barn Owl that fell from the tree before learning to fly, just like this one. We took it home and my two daughters and I made a nest out of news paper and tried to feed it, with no luck. We close the box and let the owl rest until this morning when I took it to the Zoo.

Most likely this owl wont make it back to the wild, which is extremely sad. But with some luck and good care, it might have a decent life and help in the ZooDom education program. Adriana had her first “owl adventure’ but hopefully not her last. I  wish all the others to come take place observing owls in the wild and not rescuing injured ones.

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Short-eared Owl rescued last year after being shot by hunters in Baní. 

In the Dominican Republic owls are hunted due to superstition (they are thought to be evil by some) and ignorance (some people think owl blood can cure asthma). 

photo 2Injured Short-eared Owl rescued last year after being shot by hunters.

As a kid, the St. Louis Cardinals were one of my two favorite teams. The other was Aguilas Cibaeñas, a fierce baseball team from Santiago, Dominican Republic, where my maternal family is from. As a kid I got to watch the games from the dugout while visiting my grand father on the weekends or during summer. I will never forget those days nor the complete lineup of the 1988 team. It may sound cliché, but all dominicans DO love baseball. Is our national sport and I suspect it will soon be on the lyrics of our national anthem or illustrated on our flag. My dad graduated from St. Louis University, and for that only reason and the framed diploma that hanged on the walls of our staircase, the Cardinals where my favorite team in the MLB. I am pretty certain it was my first obsession with birds even thou I did not noticed until now. Both of my teams had a bird as a symbol: eagles and cardinals. Because we don't have eagles in the DR, the very common Kestrel would often take it's role in popular culture, hence the team was called affectionally, -Las Cuyayas- (the kestrels). But Northern Cardinals where no where to be found our tiny island. The intense crimson-colored bird was mysterious to me and at times, I doubted that a bird with such intense color really existed. As an adult, I did not get to see a Norther Cardinal until my visit to The Greenbrier last fall. I had a very short lens ( I am forbidden to take long lenses or tripods to trips with my wife), so I could not capture any good images but nonetheless I really enjoyed watching both a male and a female while hiking the Smoky Mountains. They say good things come to those who wait, and as skeptic as I am, in this case I have to believe. While in Arizona I was able to get very good images from both the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and the Desert Cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus). Shooting all day from a hide arranged by Matthew Studebaker and Dan Behm, I had the opportunity to play with different lighting and composition and achieve pleasant and beautiful images. It was not a target-species on my Arizona adventure nor it was on my priority list, but in retrospective I am certain in was a meeting long overdue with a bird that was a big part of my childhood in those days when birds didn’t matter and the only thing that flew over the cahoba trees on my block was a baseball. _MGL3622 _MGL3677_MGL3602 _MGL2877 _MGL2630 _MGL2292 The Cardinals


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It was almost 18 months ago when I posted about my frustrating struggle with hummingbirds. Since then, I have worked hard to perfect my technique and learn more about these fast and furious little creatures. I am completely in awe with their agility and speed, the two same attributes that makes them so hard to photograph. But it has been 18 months of training, focus and yes, a lot of frustration.

In my recent trip to Arizona I finally got my revenge. I finally got some images that I am proud of. We did drive over 1,100 miles in one week to achieve it, but got the wonderful chance to photograph species like the Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-billed hummingbird, Broad-tailed hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Magnificient Hummingbird and the elusive (and shown here below) Lucifer Hummingbird.  The Arizona  Adventure will take many chapters to tell, but it the meanwhile and as promised november 2011, I want to share with you some of my favourite humming-bird photos. I still have a long way to go, but progess has been made… and smiles are now sharing the same space that was once only filled with frustration._MGL0953_MGL9683

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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.