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 supercede 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 in “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 most raptors, I considered this to be an awesome spectacle. I am hoping to go back to Kissimmee for round three with these beautiful birds.