Saturday, October 22, 2011

Swallow your Pride, Ask a Guide

Tropical Screech Owls, Intervales State Park, Brazil
It is easy to overlook the value of local knowledge. However, local guides, or anyone who is familiar with a place which you are seeing for the first time, can save you time, money - and steer you towards things you might never have found on your own.  That's why I always seek out local advice whenever I am shooting in a new location.

In the tropical rainforest, this is especially important since this is an environment where every living thing is dedicated to hiding. Many people walking in a rainforest for the first time will swear that the forest is empty. The animals are hard to see, cryptically colored or strictly nocturnal. The fact is, tropical forests are busy places, but it often takes experienced eyes, and a knowledge of the location, to catch a glimpse of the stealthy creatures who live there.

Consider these tiny owls, for example. No, I did not stumble onto them by accident, roosting in a dense thicket of vines. I made a point of asking my local guide, in my halting Portuguese, if he had seen any owls roosting. I know enough that many owl species tend to roost in the same, safe location every day - once they've been found, they are likely to be seen again in the same place if left undisturbed.

I was glad I asked - my guide replied that there was a pair of screech owls roosting in the tree next to his house: he sees them almost every day. So finding this wonderful pair of owls – one red, the other gray – was just a matter of stopping by his house in the afternoon. There they were, right on schedule...

There was really one angle for a picture, through a tiny opening in the leaves. It was also very dark in the tangle of leaves, so a long exposure was required. But I managed a few pictures and then retreated, feeling  sure that my disturbance had been minimal. Then again, they were sitting within ten feet of a busy parking lot - so maybe they were probably used to a lot of people.

Nikon D300, 300mm f2.8 lens, 2 second exposure

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