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. 

Ok.. so it has taken a while but I think finally the website is in its final stage… for now.

I’ve put a lot of time in figuring out the best way to portray my personal approach to art-making and photography. I really wanted to have a space where the images would be the main character with enough “breathing space. As a photographer and an artist, investing so much time in designing and organising a website’s content is not necessarily the most fun thing to do, but is the thing one must do.

Anyways, check it out. Feedback is welcomed!

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Flying is the ultimate human dream. Flying over Africa is that dream on acid.

Up from above , the Earth looks different. No other point of view provides a more complete perspective or sense of place of our planet.

True, it might not be the most intimate or interesting point of view for wildlife, but it sure is one that provides a sense of fulfilment and

connection to that that surround us. .

Watching the world from above gives you wings.

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I’ve spent time with lions. Yes, I’ve been up close, only feet away from these majestic felines, looking at them directly in the eye, and yes, I’ve felt fear. Even though lions usually do not attack humans if they are inside a vehicle, the sole fact that they can, strikes fear in the bravest. In a fraction of a second a lion could potentially kill me while I look at their powerful eyes trough the viewfinder.

I have a fascination with wild big cats, but then again.. don’t we all? Lions are brutal killers and tender parents. They are lazy and yet fierce. They protect each other and yet kill each other. Lions live by a different set of rules and brutal force is their constitution.

I’ve spent time with lions in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. As a wildlife photographer the most desired action to capture in a photo is a kill, of course, but I must say that when I set out to photograph these powerful predators, I wanted to capture their essence.. whatever that means! I wanted images that could convey their presence. When you are in the presence of the top predator of Africa, you know it. You feel it. Your mind and your body are completely aware of it. And I wanted that! I did not have a clue how to achieve it and such was my luck that I didn’t witness I kill (I did witness several failed tries.. but never a successful kill), so I had to work hard to capture their soul some other way.

I’ve spent time with lions and their essence walks with them everywhere they go; when they call each other, when they play, when the feed their cubs, when they mate, when they fight.. even when they lay around motionless for 18 hours a day and you just sit in your vehicle for all those hours waiting for something interesting to happen. The essence of a lion can only be experienced in their presence so my goal to capture on camera was meant to fail from the start, but that did not deterred me. Failure is just another word for “I’m getting closer.. I will get there eventually”.

These images are the closest I’ve been to capturing the spirit of Africa: the big, royal carnivore we call lion.

For more images of my journey with lions click here. 

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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.

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Leopards are elusive, mysterious and the ultimate loners, now imagine such a hard-to-find animal in the rainy season of the Okavango Delta. That means very tall grass, flooded roads and extremely difficult overall conditions. But while on Moremi Game Reserve, that was exactly my mission; find the leopard.

After three days filled with “matala”, which means tracks in Setswana, there was no leopard to be found and I was nervous. Time was passing by and my complete schedule depended on me sticking to it and getting the images in the time frame assigned to each one. Now, trackers are incredibly amazing at following tracks and even going so far as telling what gender and age the Nkwe (Setswana for leopard) in question was, but for three days… no leopard! I was getting frustrated. I had no shots and nobody to blame for it except the leopard himself… or bad planning on my part. But I had an assignment and there was no way I was coming home without all the images I was sent to get. This particular leopard, the one we had been following was called Mr. Nose by the locals. The curious name had been given due to half his nose missing from a fight with another large male.

My previous encounters with leopards, both in Maasai Mara and Serengeti, had been spontaneous and relatively easy, so I was not fully aware of how hard it was to get one of these amazing felines in front of the lens. But I was determined and by the the morning of the fourth and last day, extremely stressed out. My time was almost over and all I got was images of tracks and some birds. I did have another full week ahead both in Okavango and Central Kalahari, but in my plans that week was assigned to achieve other shots I needed for the project. Now, here, all I needed was my leopard.

That morning Banda and I headed to Victoria Island, very near camp, where fresh tracks led. We drove slowly, listening very carefully for every alarm call from francolins and baboons with hopes they could point us in the right direction. We looked in every branch in every tree and followed every track… the result was the same: nothing. Four hours had passed since we left camp at 5:30am and again my hands were empty. We kept driving and I started to imagine Mr. Nose on every tree. I started to see him in every monkey that moved in a branch or in any creature that moved at all for that matter. My mind was playing tricks on me and I saw him everywhere. I saw him just lying around in a big, perfect tree. Calmly taking his nap, looking magnificent and almost royal, but this time it was not a vision, it was the real thing. A beautiful and amazing big cat, my favourite animal in Africa, just posing there and looking directly at me. I could not contain my self and just hoped with all my strength he would keep still for a few minutes, and he did.

I started to get my safety shots first, the moving in closer and trying more experimental shots with different lenses. But then Mr. Nose stood up and came down the tree, slowly and with the same elegance that he had shown so far. The grass was extremely tall in the ground, so once he entered the maze it was very hard to keep up. We followed, slowly and carefully, trying to get some more shots in the process while he gracefully moved along. But the grass seemed to have swallowed the cat and I could only tell where he was by the movement of some reeds and the alarm call of the birds nearby. It was very hard to keep up, but I did managed to get some shots that pleased me and that communicate exactly how hard it was to keep up.

It is amazing how such a big animal can just disappear in the grass, and that realization bombarded me with questions: How many times had we passed by him in these 4 days? Had he been watching us all along from his hiding place? How close had we been? Was he stalking us while we stopped for a bathroom break? Was I ever in imminent danger? I guess we’ll never know.. but I’m sure Mr. Nose does.

For more images of the complete adventure in the Botswana Green Season visit my website. 

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As the day comes closer, I grow anxious. I start to worry about what to pack. I make checklists and go over them repeatedly. I start to have dreams about missing the plane or arriving without any batteries for my camera. But I am happy and thrilled to be so close to the Okavango. I read books, I watch photographs by Franz Lanting, I watch BBC shows about the largest wetlands on the planet and I imagine myself right in the heart of it. I try to imagine the feeling of smallness and amazement when faced with such immense nature.

Packing for Africa is not easy. On the one hand, I want to keep it as light as possible. After all, there are weight restrictions on every flight between the air strips I’ll be using, but on the other I must make sure I have everything I need and replacements for it. There are no Wallmarts in the Okavango. On the one hand I’ve been dreaming about this assignment for over a year, but on the other I’ll miss my wife and kids badly. Conflict seems to accompany me everywhere I go. But I keep packing and it makes it more real, it makes it imminent. These bags that I now stuff with all my equipment, will be my only companions through 14 days of travel and adventures.  I stop for a while and go over my schedule, my checklist and my documents; everything seems right. Got my visas, got my yellow fever shots, got my malaria pills and permits in order. I make sure I have enough batteries for everything and I weight my equipment once again. I still dream of Africa.

This trip will complete my project “AFRICA: field notes of a traveler” to be published at the end of this year for three great sponsors: Travelwise, Autohaus and District & Co.. The book will include photographs and notes from Cape Town, Serengeti, Maasai Mara, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Victoria Falls, Okavango, Central Kalahari and Sossusvlei.

I’m very excited about this project. Africa gets under your skin and you surprise yourself always wanting more. Always dreaming about going back. But I also feel afraid. Afraid my kids won’t be able to experience all this beauty. Afraid we will destroy a place we have been lucky to enjoy and admire. If we keep behaving like we are, there will be no more rhinos or lions left, there will be no more water left, there will be no more paradise. I am afraid we are going to lose it all for the sake of profit. I want my kids to see Africa and understand our place in the world. I want them to understand we are not the owners but only visitors, and as such we have the responsibility to protect the place that has given us so much and be able to pass it forward in better shape than it was passed down to us.

As I get ready for Africa, I pack not only my gear but also every dream and fear I have. One thing is for sure; no matter what happens, this will be a trip to remember.

To see more images of my journeys in Africa and other trips please visit www.mariodavalos.org

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