This post is going live slightly late today to avoid stealing Harry and Megan’s thunder. Hope you enjoyed the wedding. You’ll be pleased to know that Lady Helen’s hat stayed on, but the shoes don’t usually last beyond the canapes. All our best wishes to the happy couple.
How do little old ladies get so much heavy hand baggage onto an aeroplane? Still, there are worse places to be laid up with a bad back. This week’s trip was blighted by my inability to say “do it yourself” and more rigorous adventures had to be postponed while I recouperated in a beach-side bar. How lucky then, that aforementioned bar was on the beach in Rio de Janiero. Barra to be precise, just a few miles out of the city and adjacent to the Olympic Park for the 2016 games. Most normal people, by which I mean non-birders, might have uploaded selfies to Facebook from the bars and the beach, perhaps a few pictures of cold drinks and exotic food for Instagram. Lucky again, that I had far better things at which to aim my camera. The first thing to distract the attention of even non-birders are the pterodactyl-like Magnificent Frigatebirds.
The Southern Atlantic Ocean crashes onto the beach here and Brown Boobies surfed the waves, occasionally touching a wing-tip into the face of one to leave a momentary streak. Kelp Gulls, Whiskered Terns and Neotropic Cormorants flew in determined fashion higher above the water, invariably from right to left. I would have expected to see the direction of movement switch as the day progressed and birds returned to their roosting areas, but without exception, they all went the same way. Opposite the beach is the Marapendi Ecological Reserve which includes low-lying vegetation that separates a lagoon from the ocean. Chalk-browed Mockingbirds, Saffron Finches, Ruddy Ground Doves and Smooth-billed Anis were seen on this side of the road, whilst Black Vultures topped the street lighting.
But I had been here before and knew that treasure lay just a short hobble to the west. Burrowing Owls had nested in a small clearing of flat ground last year and I was keen to re-find them. When they were not to be seen at their old nest, I wondered how faithful to the area they would be even though they may have left the nest site. The answer came very quickly as I crossed the road and found the pair perched on posts that mark a reserved area on the approach to the beach. At a guess, less than 30 meters from their old nest.
As I watched, one of them dropped to the beach and began kicking up sand. This was very close to an access trail for the beach and it was continuously spooked back up onto the post by beach-goers and dog-walkers. Then both of them dropped to a spot just outside the reserved area, above the high-water line, and one of them disappeared down a hole. Moments later showers of sand came shooting from the hole which was much further along as a burrow (Lady Gannet has insisted that I come clean about the photoshopping shennanigans in the combined shot below).
They appeared to be OK when it was just them and me and with my long lens I was able to stay far enough away to not disturb them, but then I noticed that they gave me a dirty look each time that a threat approached on the beach access trail. I might have been blocking a potential escape route which gave them cause to worry, or perhaps I was a distraction; a second concern that might develop as they concentrated on the closer threat.
They must be very used to passers-by, but most people passed without stopping or even noticing the owls. Thus, I had to accept that I was too close. Under such an incriminating stare, it is difficult not to feel guilty of something.
I can recommend an owl shoot to anyone with a bad back. It is surprising how quickly the pain is forgotten when batteries die, media cards need changing and the focus lock refuses to budge. Twisting and contorting to get angles and reach for spares seemed to work as well as any chiropractic thrashing. So may I recommend the new alternative therapy of Ornitherapy, with its more specific branch, Strigitherapy. An owl a day……