miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2022

Don’t Miss the Ospreys!

As an Environmental Scientist, I am inclined to accept the importance of all living beings and their roles in nature. But there are a few groups of animals that are closer to my heart, and that make me experience an extreme sense of fascination: The birds of prey. As a child I would ecstatically sit in front of the TV to watch animal documentaries. I would get even more excited every time anything related to raptors was showing. I remember checking out every single book pertaining to raptors from the school’s library, for weeks at a time. I was even called ‘Cernicalo’ at times, by my classmates. ‘Cernicalo’ is the Spanish word for Kestrel. I would like to think that it was because of my interest in birds of prey and not because of my profile (LOL!). Either way it did give me a sense of pride and belonging. This fascination is hard to explain but it has stayed strong within me for over three decades.
I have seen first hand and handled raptors like Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, Variable Hawks, Harris’ Hawks, Black-Chested Buzzard Eagles, Crested Caracaras and others. And every time I have the chance to immortalize one of these in a photograph, I do so with excitement. But there is no other species of bird of prey that I have had the chance to photograph more often than the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Even though it is one of the most common raptors in the planet and are quite common in urban settings, I always get excited when I spot one. In fact a few days back I watched one for several minutes while it dove into a lake over and over again. I do not think that it was attempting to catch fish, but instead it was bathing itself. Every time it took off from the water, it shook off the water from its feathers in mid flight. A very nice spectacle, which totally took me to a different level of existence (at least for a few minutes…). And yes, I do have a tendency to loose myself in thought.
Every time I am near a body of water, I am always in the look out for them. When I hear their cheeps and yewks (their calls) I can’t help it but smile as I know that they are near. They could be perched observing their surroundings or eating a tasty fish or just flying around looking for a meal or a nesting site. The fact that they are present and are hard to miss makes me wonder how come most people do not see them!
I know people that have a deep passion towards Ospreys and I totally understand their reasons for this. Besides their physical beauty, there are other reasons to appreciate these birds. They are survivors. Vastly reduced in numbers due to the heavy use of DDT back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the population has rebounded since then. We can not deny that there is a certain degree of romanticism about this success story. Just like the phoenix bird being reborn from its ashes, the Osprey came back from an uncertain fate.
If you ever find yourself near a lake or the ocean, look up and wait for them. Chances are that you will see an Osprey engaging in its natural behaviors. They are a nice complement to the whole picture. When you look towards the horizon you may see gulls, pelicans, egrets, herons, and ibis, which share habitats with the Osprey. All are part of a perfect system that feeds them and protects them. Also you never know when an Osprey will put up an unforgettable performance. Perhaps diving into the water for fish or fending off intruders?

Publicado el miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2022 a las 01:27 PM por alexsalcedo alexsalcedo | 3 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Nature’s Gifts

Throughout the history of mankind, nature has served as a giving and selfless mother to humanity. As a perfect array of resources and factors, nature has allowed countless generations of organisms to thrive and evolve through millennia. Values such as technological advances, food items, air, water, soil, shelter, our health, and the arts can be attributed to nature. Yet, there are other values that are less tangible that can also be attributed to “her”. All-in-all, nature is and will always be the pillar of our existence.

Since I was a child, I have always felt an affinity and attraction towards nature and wildlife. I remember back in my native Peru, enjoying our family outings to a winter retreat, trips to the local zoo, or just spending the day at the river or at the beach. I have to admit that my brother and I have a lot to thank to our parents for these wonderful experiences. These experiences definitely imprinted something within me or perhaps fed something that was already there.

Nature inspired me so much that I became a self-appointed scientist. During the early 1980’s I had handwritten a Birds of Prey guide using encyclopedias and other printed media as sources of information (Yes, there was no Internet!). This guide consisted of general information about several species, drawings and even diagrams that displayed their feeding habits and favorite prey (I would eventually come to realize these to be food webs, ha, ha!). I had memorized the scientific names of several species, and even now I still remember most of them (30+ years later!). Time came and went and my “unpublished” guide got misplaced somewhere, but the inspiration never faded away.

When I think of nature, it is hard for me not to appreciate the importance of “her” components. The soil, the air, the water, the plants, and the animals have their own agendas yet they work together for the greater good, just as a Monarch Butterfly pollinates a flower while feeding on its nectar. We could be as analytical as possible and ponder and be amazed about the importance of butterflies or just enjoy them for their beauty. In either case there is never an excuse for not appreciating millions of years of successful evolution!

The love that I have for nature has always been a common denominator in my life. Like most of us, I have been through several chapters during my existence; some good, some bad. At times I have been drawn away from nature. But the fond memories, peacefulness, and the inspiration that I received from “her” as a child so many years ago have always helped me keep my faith in this world . These are nature’s gifts to me.

Publicado el miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2022 a las 01:17 PM por alexsalcedo alexsalcedo | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

Only One Way to Shoot a Snail Kite… and for that Matter All Other Wildlife

I remember a few years back stumbling upon a hunting program as I was flipping the channels on my TV. So there was this hunter pointing his rifle towards a bull African Elephant that was peacefully feeding on brush a few yards away. The hunter was in a state of excitement as he heavily hyperventilated, while his guide was filming the hunt. Suddenly the hunter fired two shots killing the elephant instantly. As I was trying to recover from such a horrific scene, the hunter and his guide started to celebrate by complementing and tapping each other on the shoulders. This cruel act remained embedded in a my soul for many years.

Situations like this made me believe that nature did not stand a chance against us because cruelty, egocentrism and ignorance would always seem to supersede the need to coexist with our brethren on this Earth. Then, there are moments that counteract this horrible feeling, and give me the strength to fight on. A few months ago I happened to be visiting Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Florida. Of course it was a full summer day and the temperature was in the mid to high 90’s. My my son was cooling himself and playing at a nearby splash pad. That day I came face to face with a beautiful creature and for some (magical?) reason this experience left a profound mark on me and gave me the will to keep raising awareness about the unparalleled beauty and importance of our natural world.

As I walked along the lake’s edge, I felt sweat streaking down my neck, face and back, but the sight of a myriad of birds made me forget the heat. Several wading birds could be seen searching the shallow waters for a meal, while Ospreys soared up in the sky. A Red-Shouldered Hawk perched in the distance kept eyeing a couple of Belted Kingfishers that kept diving into the water searching for a fishy meal. I have documented most of these birds in the past, but never wanting to miss out on opportunities like these, I went ahead and took pictures of as many of these birds as possible.

I spotted a raptor flying over the water far in the distance, perhaps too far for a proper species identification. Instinctively, I went ahead and pointed my lens in its direction and fired the shutter. I took a minute to look at the shot on the digital display of my camera and upon close inspection (one of the many advantages of modern digital photography), my heart jumped with excitement. I had just captured on “film” a bird that I have read too much about, but never have had the honor of seen in real life. It happened to be a Snail Kite! A female to be more precise.

A few minutes later wildlife surveyors working at that site called my attention and pointed me to a raptor that was perched on a tree a few yards away. I ran towards the tree, and as I got closer the image became much more clear. I was in front of a male Snail Kite. My heart was pounding inside my chest. I stopped and kneeled just a few feet from the tree. My hands were shaking, so I took a couple of deep breaths in order to remain calm, aimed my lens and took a picture, and then another one, and another one…

I have to thank my camera for somehow compensating for all my shaking and allowing me to take a few decent shots of this magnificent bird. Definitely a first for me. I felt an indescribable feeling of inspiration and fulfillment that flooded my soul. I am not sure what kind of feelings the elephant hunter on the hunting TV show was experiencing while he was robbing that beautiful creature of its existence those many years ago, but one thing is for sure, my trophy was not a murdered elephant’s head or ivory tusks; my trophy was the feeling that I would be able to experience the glory and majesty of a beautiful creature over and over again.

A few months later I visited a nearby lake (Lake East Tohopekaliga) where I had the pleasure of spotting another female Snail Kite, this time feeding on an apple snail. Although in this occasion I did not spot any male individuals, which obviously sport a much more colorful plumage as it is the case with many bird species, I considered this to be an awesome spectacle. I am hoping to go back to Kissimmee for round three with these beautiful birds.

Publicado el miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2022 a las 01:14 PM por alexsalcedo alexsalcedo | 3 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario