another record image from the archives, this a grab shot of a Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) that appeared suddenly next to my car while on a trip through the Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2007. These increasingly rare raptors never cease to amaze me — they have the head of an eagle with an American Indian headdress, the legs and body of a stork, the talons of a hawk and an appetite to match. They prefer to hunt by walking kilometres across the African veld, stamping small rodents and reptiles to death when they find them, although they’re adept at soaring high on midday thermals when the need arises.
most birders are aware of the recent claimed ‘rediscovery’ of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the US, which had been thought extinct for some decades. Millions of dollars have been spent to track down the last remaining Ivory-bills and conserve what are thought to be their last habitats.
Far fewer birders know that in Mexico, just south of the US border, the largest woodpecker in the world has been allowed to slip into probable extinction almost without a murmur. There are credible sightings of Imperial Woodpecker from as recently as the 1980s and their original natural range was far larger than that of the Ivory-billed — thus making them better candidates, in my view, for conservation expenditure. But few people have gone to try to find the last Imperials, if they exist, and the big bird conservation organisations hardly ever mention it.
A cynic would say that this is because it’s harder to raise conservation dollars in Mexico, and perhaps a bit tougher to work there. I hope there are better reasons for this comparative neglect.
During a quick visit to the Natural History Museum Vienna, in Austria, in 2007 I was stopped in my tracks by this old mounted specimen in a glass case, doubtless shot by an early collector for a few dollars and casually stuffed and stuck on a post by one of the museum’s taxidermists. No sign told visitors that this was the globe’s largest woodpecker, and that it was probably extinct. It was just arranged in the case along with a whole lot of other old, ratty mounted birds.
How many other amazing birds, like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, are we likely to lose in our lifetimes?
From my vault — here’s my favourite image from South Africa’s first democratic election back in 1994. This was my first ‘real’, i.e. commissioned and paid, job as a pro photographer. I was in the last year of my BSc at Rhodes University, and I leapt at the chance to be one of the 8 official Independent Electoral Commission photographers. I had an all-access pass and an earth-shaking (for me at the time, anyway) 20 rolls of Ilford HP5+ and Kodak TMax 100 to put through my Nikon FM2. My job was to cover remote areas of the Eastern Cape. Since there was so little infrastructure, many of the voting places were in tents erected by the army at crossroads seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But that did not stop the people coming. At Committee’s Drift I watched people come in to vote from miles away, walking through the veld from small villages over the horizon. Most were decked out in their Sunday best, formally attired for a day that most of us never expected to see.
Notwithstanding the modest circumstances in which voting took place (the wind often tried to carry the voting tent away during the hours I spent there) the Presiding Officer took his job extremely seriously and insisted that all proper protocol be followed. Everyone had to stand quietly in the correct lines and have their ID book scrupulously checked, and I had to present my credentials and explain myself fully before being allowed to photograph.
Here’s an ID book-weilding voter heading towards the tent to mark an ‘x’ on a meaningful ballot paper for the first time in his life.
I was extremely glad for TMax 100′s ability to hold about 14 zones of detail in the neg. Because it was so hard to block out, i.e. completely overexpose, the highlights, I managed to hold detail in the very bright part of the sky. The print was a challenge, to say the least!
I’m slowly accumulating clear record shots of North American birds. Here are a couple of gulls that are common in the northeastern USA — but rare vagrants back in South Africa!
is today. I don’t have great images of Old World vullies to post and my vid footage from India 2002/2003 is back in Cape Town… but I did post a little story and some pics of those ultimate rare vullies, California Condors, and an image of the sad end of a Black Vulture at the end of this post last year.
It was actually quite amazing how, in northeast Texas, many armadillo roadkills were closely associated with Black Vulture roadkills — the armadillos would get squashed during the night, and the vullies would get whacked the next day while feeding on their remains. I guess Texans don’t really care about vultures — I heard accounts of people shooting them for sport en masse.
You can read more here from the other bloggers participating in this awareness day.
sometimes, mr mondrian…