Archive

Owls

CF6A7087

New York never sleeps. As the entire world collides in this single city, we may think of an urbanist pinnacle when we mention the Big Apple, but beyond Central Park or the Bronx Zoo, there is a whole natural world filled with magical creatures, wonderful places and very different lights.

In my last trip I visited my brother Juango, who has been living in Brooklyn for a while and making awesome music from his Park Slope apartment. We hadn’t really hanged out by ourselves for a while and decided to get to know this “other” New York together; our own urban safari.

At 5am and under intense cold (specially for us Dominican kids) we headed to the shores of Jones Beach. As people from the Caribbean, our concept of “beach” is very different from that of northern folks, which is probably also a reason for the wonderful surprise we got once we arrived. Besides the magnificence of  tundra-like landscape what really shocked me was the great smell of the ocean. It’s totally different from the aromas of the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is more crisp, almost more citrusy and hard.. more like a Riesling than a Port wine, which could be a good comparison.

Brants, dunlins, hawks, falcons and gulls all searched for food, sometimes crossing each others pass in that pursuit. Brants would blast-off, 5,000 birds at a time in what seemed like a massive invasion of angry birds, just to land in the same spot and go on their business. Dunlins would also do their own display, and even if it was more coordinated and harmonious, it was never as impressive as that of the brants.

When we went back to Brooklyn that afternoon, we drove down Flatbush and to Floyd Bennett Field to search for Snowy Owls. Owls right there in the heart of Brooklyn! The light was perfect: soft, round, warm…. and in only minutes we saw the magical bird laying over the grass. As NYPD helicopters took of and landed repeatedly from the airstrip right next to us, the Owl seem undisturbed, sometimes looking up and wondering about the strange and noisy machine in the air. We stood in silence and in the cold, and for a minute I would’ve sworn I was in the tundras of Alaska, and not in the heart Brooklyn.

This is only a little of that other New York; the hidden one. This is my first Wild New York adventure and these are some of the images I captured.

Click here for more images of Wild NYC

CF6A7076
CF6A7498
CF6A7077
CF6A6628CF6A6558CF6A6286

 

Advertisements

_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.

_MGL1104 _MGL1131 _MGL1728CF6A5480 CF6A5977_MGL6028 CF6A5342

 

photo 1

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.

photo 2

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.

_MGL1440

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.

_MGL1518_MGL3844_MGL7812CF6A0005CF6A9723

CF6A7668

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.

_MGL8790I try to do at least 3 photography trips a year. Between getting permissions from the wife, the job and the cashflow, 3 trips is all I can do in one calendar year, but also 3 are enough to satisfy my minimum requirements of adventure in my everyday corporate life.  So when an opening presented it self for november 2012, I had to figure out where was the best spot to travel taking in consideration distance, budget and of course, dates available.

I asked around, I googled options, I researched everywhere and all quests ended up almost unanimously in one destination. It just so happens that november is not the best month to go photographing birds in North America, unless you are visiting Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  So when I saw that a full moon was also on the menu, the decisions was made pretty quickly

Bosque del Apache is about 1hr south of Albuquerque and only 8 miles aways from Socorro, NM. So after flying SDQ-MIA-DFW-ABQ I was eager to get to the refuge the next morning. I had invited my mother, a true adventurer and the culprit of my own insatiable desire to explore, to come along. My mother is not a photographer, but she is an avid observer of nature in all its forms. We woke up at 4am and by 4:45am we were already in front of 5K+ Sandhill Cranes in the pools just outside the refuge main entrance.

There is not much one can say about Bosque further than what photographs can, but let me just say that this is Disneyland for wildlife photographers. Just try to imagine over 50K snow geese, 10K sandhill cranes and several other species of birds and mammals. Just try to imagine photographing the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets mixed with blast-offs of thousands and thousands of geese. Just try to imagine getting there everyday at 5am and leaving at 7pm for 6 days straight, always with a big smile on your face.

Before arriving I feared that all photos taken at Bosque by the hundreds if not thousands of professional photographers that show up every migration season, looked exactly the same. But actually, this is quite impossible. I was there with probably 50 other photographers and I am pretty happy with my photos, and after looking around in the web, I think they are pretty genuine.

There is something quite strange about Bosque del Apache. For photographers and I think is that feeling that something is too good to be true… and actually it is. The fact that a place full of opportunities to make great memorable shots exist, is just outstanding. Is like going to graduate school and working at your dream job all at the same time.

I took 14K shots in 5 full days and I can’t wait to go back and try different things. This is a place I want to repeat and someday take my kids, hopefully each one of them will be holding a camera as well.

_MGL9931 CF6A1125

CF6A8915_MGL9429

_MGL9125 _MGL8918 _MGL8017 _MGL6673 _MGL6341_MGL6991 _MGL9540 _MGL9785To see more photos of my Adventures in New Mexico just click here.


“It looks just like a Barn Owl” seems to be the response from every first encounter with this bird. And it does look like a Barn Owl but it is just a bit rarer, cooler. The Ashy-Face Owl, also in the tytonaide family, is endemic to La Hispaniola and slightly smaller than the American Barn Owl. It’s shiny heart-shaped face and dark gazing eyes are remarkable and enchanting. I first fell in love with owls two years ago with my first encounter with a Burrowing Owl and it has been another growing obsession that has put me on my friends “weird” list since then. I travel specifically with the purpose of watching and photographing owls, but something greater connects me with the Ashy. I guess it could be a sense of camaraderie, since we are both from the same island, or maybe it is everything I had to go to achieve my first Ashy photo , whatever it is I find my self going deeper and deeper into the Ashy-face’s world only to be struck by the lack of information regarding these marvellous birds.

There is a lot of information out there on owls, specially Barn Owls. Books like “Wesley the Owl” by Stacey O’Brien have also contributed to increase popularity and love for owls (by the way, great book, a must read for every owl lover). A recent animated movie, “Legends of the Guardians of Ga’hoole” portrayed a young Barn Owl as the hero. In the Dominican Republic thought, owls are feared and hunted down. Some people believe they eat chickens so they kill them, others thinks they are evil and others just hunt them out of ignorance and sport.

The North Wales Bird Trust has teamed up with ZooDom to create the Dominican Republic Owl Conservation Project, specially conceived to study and protect four species:

•The Ashy Faced Owl (Tyto glaucops)

•The Hispaniola Short Eared Owl (Asio flammeus domingensis)

The Hispaniola Stygian Owl (Asio stygius noctipetens)

•The Hispaniola Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia troglodytes)

I think we can go much further. I think the Ashy-Faced owl should be a symbol of Dominican Identity. I think we have to create images and stories in order to get the message across and help protect this species by making farmers realise they do not eat chickens but only mice, which could prove very helpful. I think there is room for improvement in schools regarding education of all our endemic species. I think we could make literary and photographic contests aimed to increase awareness and produced powerful messages. Endemic wildlife is part of who we are as a country. It’s the more valuable legacy we inherited and is our commitment to cherish it and pass it down. I encourage you to help out the D.R.O.C.P., either donating money or knowledge or just spreading the word.

Personally, my goal is to help publish a book with photos, behavioural notes and studies about the tyto glaucops. The way I see it, this could be Dominican Republic’s most famous bird, even thought competition is tough with colourful species like the Todies ( todus subulatus & todus angustirstris), the HIspaniolan Trogan (priotelus roseigaster) and the Black-crowned Palm Tanager (phaenicophilus palmarum). But the Ashy has the mystery and the charm to pull through. I’m sure of it. From a marketing perspective it has all the elements to become a celebrity. I want the world to know about this owl. It seems the only way we Dominicans appreciate our treasures is when somebody from the outside does first.