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Birds

A very common but beautiful bird, the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) is very meticulous when it comes to preparing his lunch. Rollers will beat an insect violently against a branch and toss it in the air several times to rid it of some limbs or stingers before swallowing it whole.

As I drove in Central Kalahari searching for the lions I had been following for a few days, I notice this Roller had just caught a huge roach so I knew what would happen next. I set up my camera settings over exposing by 1 1/3 due to the bright sky behind and waited.... and so I got my shot.

It took this bird nearly a minute to swallow his snack, and from nearly 65 shots I took in that minute, this one is my favourite.

_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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The main reason I decided that Arizona was going to be my second adventure of the year was the owls. I appreciate all birds, but I have a special soft spot for owls and Arizona presented a good opportunity. Matthew Studebaker and Dan Beam where my guides and scouts for this adventure and they did a great job. Of course, owls are not just hanging outside your hotel door, so it was hard work.

Of the possible 8 owl species we had planned to shoot, we found 5 but I was only able to photograph 4 of them: Great Horned Owl, Western Screech Owl, Mexican Spotted Owl and Elf Owl. The Whiskered Screech Owl was spotted, seen and heard, and even though Matt and Dan were able to photograph it, the day I was up there in Mount Lemon the wind was strong and loud and it was impossible to get a shot.

I have to admit that the night we were searching for the Elf Owl in the cactus-filled rocky hills of Catalina Park, I was thinking more about not running into a Rattle Snake than the owls itself, but persistence was bigger than fear and the images were achieved.

One year ago I set out to photograph as many owl species as possible and to this day eleven species have been captured by my camera plus hundreds of other bird species just as wonderful. Hopefully this year I’ll add a few more to the list, and if I play my cards right the Spectacle Owl will be in it.

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There is something particularly fascinating about white. Maybe it is that we associate the absence of color with purity or maybe is just all the cultural meanings attached to it, but white, specially white birds are fascinating to watch. In one hand, we love colourful birds, like those found in the tropics, but on the other and entirely white plumage is as appealing as any amount of coloured feathers. Also white birds are not easy to photographed, To capture the purity of the plumage in the perfect exposure requires knowledge and experience, specially if the bird takes up a lot of space in the viewfinder. These are just some shots where white triumphs in the image. In many others I have failed to capture its essence, usually by underexposing it. When color is not the main attraction, composition and image quality become more important. Color, even though beautiful, can sometimes become a distraction, both for the viewer and the photographer. Decoration can opaque poor structure. IMG_5717_MGL7699IMG_5286    

CF6A3279Few birds are as graceful and charming as flamingoes. Despite the harm done to their image by Florida’s horrifying plastic statues, these birds are gorgeous and stylish creatures. Their pink feathers and their unmistakable beak, along with their long legs, make the American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), one of the true wonders of nature.

Their habitat selection is pretty specific, so this is not a bird you run into, but a bird you have to seek. In the Dominican Republic we are lucky enough to have two or three sites where they nest or feed with certain regularity, so that november morning I set out to find them and hopefully get some nice images.

It was before dusk and I was driving in the main road towards Salinas, and right there, in the pond next to the road, their magic and long silhouettes appeared against the first pinkish light on the Caribbean winter.

Of course Flamingos are skittish birds and getting close to them is not easy, so I had to crawl among the bushes and the sand to get somewhat close. I recently read an Anselm Adam’s quote that when something like this: “good exposure does not make up for bad lighting”. I am sure I am getting it wrong, but that’s the idea. That morning the light was perfect though! So coming up with the right exposure was not as hard as making a great composition; every time I thought I had it the birds moved or flew away.

These are indeed the best shots of that morning. Not necessarily great, but good enough for transforming an ordinary morning into an extraordinary experience.

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Lekking is no doubt one of the most fascinating behaviours on the bird world. Maybe because somehow we can relate quite a bit to it. Males competing for females attention is no completely unfamiliar to us know, is it?

I was lucky enough to visit the Black Grouse lekking site twice while in Finland. These beautiful birds tend to use the same site for over a decade and the opportunity to observe this experience is priceless. The birds dark plumage is very hard to photograph against the white snow, but once you get a good shot, every degree of cold is worth it. After 243 species, the Black Grouse remains on my personal top 5. I can’t wait to go back.

 

Special thanks to Finnature. 


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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