This is one of my all time favorite photos and, in a way, it is the one that set me on this crazy journey. It was taken in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania in Feb. 2007. The “dry” season this particular year was anything but, and thanks to washed out roads and bridges, we had just been stranded in the Serengeti for 2 days with no way out. When we finally arrived at the crater it was a mud bowl! Tired and stressed, we gave in (sort of) to what we could not control. We told our guide Moody that instead of following the traffic chasing the”big 5″ celebrities, to take us off the beaten path to commune with the B stars. ( I prefer watching a dung beetle in solitude to watching a sleeping lion with five 4X4′s gathered around.) So, we hung out with a small dazzle of zebra, (The African name for a herd of zebra) watching them take turns positioning themselves over a large boulder, rocking back and forth to scratch their bellies. They meandered slowly across the grassy plains, at times cantering knee-deep in flood waters.
I took Mohawk during these peaceful moments. Intimately surveying the herd through my 70-300, zigging and zagging, following stripes, my lens suddenly caught hold of the auburn tips of a mane caught in the rays of mid morning sun. I was mesmerized. I had never noticed this rich, rusty colour on the the ubiquitous black and white animal. I was delighted to catch such an up close detail.
Mohawk turned out to be the first photo that I ever sold and I have since sold several prints. As well, the photo advanced to the semi-final round of the renowned Viola Wildlife Photography Competition from the British History Museum, which certainly surprised the hell out of me!
I took several shots of the zebras that day, but these two, Mohawk and Dazzle, hold a special place in my heart. Not only do they instantly transport me back to that magical time and place, but six years later I realize they appeared that day to guide me towards this new path. I may not have understood it at the time, but now, looking back on these photos, some of the first I had ever taken, I understand that my untrained eyes were already shaping my intent, searching for that detail–creating that lasting glimpse of wonder.
Baldies are hefty predators and the females, the larger of the two, can top the scales at up to 6 kilos, with a wingspan of up to 2.4 meters–certainly one of the largest birds in North America. They are thought to mate for life–which can be as long as 28 years. The couple will tend to one pair of eggs a year, which are laid in enormous treetop nests built of sticks and mud. According to National Geographic, the largest nest on record was over 9.5 feet wide, 6 feet tall and weighed 2 tons. While I did not see any nests within shooting range, there were quite a few darker juvenile birds in the treetops, minus the signature snowy head plumage which will appear in about 5 years time. Clearly it has been a successful mating season.
The eagles were magnificent to watch from the ring-side seats of a fly fishing boat drifting in the shallow waters. This sequence was captured on the river’s edge as two healthy and hungry raptors squabbled and danced over a choice cut of salmon sushi. In the end, there was plenty to go around!
For me, there is no flower more glorious than the tulip. The determined bulb that fractures the earth every spring and erupts skyward bursting into a giant bowl of colour, fills me with pure joy. I love those first days, the tight, pointed buds waiting for just the right amount of heat. Finally, they unfold, with stems soldier straight. My favorite’s are the “wanderers”–the ones that break formation and bend and dance, dipping and lunging about, always following their vibrant lead. The season is so fleeting, but this, too, is what makes the tulip so special. A quick hello and goodbye. A peck on the cheek and squeeze of the hand, before it disappears. Until next time.
A first for me! I had heard there were two baby great horned owls with their Mom living in one of our local woods. I headed out at 6:30 yesterday morning and was thrilled to find the two little ones at home and awake. I have seen screech owls and the stunning Verreaux’s eagle owl, but never an American horned owl–and I have never seen owlets of any varietal. They were tucked away in their strategically positioned nest, branches and brambles shooting out in every direction. How the hell would I get a shot of them? I paced around the perimeter of the trail looking for a small opening that I could point my 400mm through. I eventually found a discreet “triangle tangle” that gave a partial view of the nest on the opposite side of where the fluff-balls were facing. I waited and hoped they would get curious about me, or bored with their view. They did…and promptly laid down to nap! Eventually, a head popped up. A glimpse of a magical yellow-eye. Then two. Some wings. A bum. All wedged this-way-and-that between the limbs, branches and buds of the awakening trees. I stood in one spot almost 90 minutes trying to capture them, the sun getting brighter and bouncing off the busyness, throwing shadows and weird shafts of unworkable light everywhere. It was a photographers nightmare, but man, I didn’t want to wake up! I was the only one in the woods and these two little critters just stole my heart.
Great horned owls hunt during the day and take down prey up to three times their weight. So Mom was off looking for mice, possums, skunks, birds or whatever else she might find. The nest is quite large, likely an abandoned condo of a squirrel, hawk or crow as horned owls don’t build new. They renovate old. The bigger of the two owlets is about 40 days old, his little sibling coming a couple of days later. They will stay up in their fortress until they are between 6-8 weeks, when they will start moving about on the limbs exercising their muscular legs before they take their first flight. At this stage they are consuming the equivalent of more than a dozen mice a day. An adult will eat only a third of that. But during this growth spurt the little ones are mouse munchers, devouring as much meat as they can. Mother owls have voracious appetites to satisfy and it can be an enormous struggle to keep all their babies alive. The Magic of Snowy Owls, a Nature documentary, does a fabulous job showing the struggle for survival of a young family of snowy owls living on the tundra.
The two little guys I spent time with today looked pretty healthy. Big and fat, with fluffed up feathers and clear eyes. Mom must be doing a great job. I am heading back tomorrow to see if I can find another window on their world.
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To read about a cheetah Mom who has five mouths to fill, check out the post: When Cheetah’s Kill: Through a Photographers lens.