Often, when I am looking at a blog, facebook stream, or website I get the impression that “this person has the perfect life.” Everything is roses and champagne. They go out on shoots and come back with buckets of perfect images. I am sure that this is true when someone is looking at my material as well.
It is only natural that one would not desire to show people their flaws, their mistakes. I know I don’t want to do that. However, Not all failures are bad. In fact, one might say, the only true failure is to not have tried.
With that being said, I will now share my latest failure. I do so because they do happen and because it turned out to be quite an adventure.
It all began several months ago when I contacted the Global Owl Project about the opportunity to photograph Burrowing Owls with them on the Umatilla Army Base. In short, I was informed, that was not likely to be allowed. As a military site, access is limited. There might be some small opportunity that we could think about later. However, when they learned that we would be in Central Mexico we did come up with a project.
A Burrowing Owl at Pacific Dunes, Bandon OR
It turns out that a few of the “Canadian” Burrowing Owls like to winter in the area we would be visiting (of course, here in Mexico thay like to say that the “Mexican” Burrowing Owls like to summer in Canada). We would be provided with GPS coordinates so we could go photograph their winter homes.
Fast forward to the 18th of this month. The time had come. Susan and I had been in San Miguel for a couple weeks and now, armed with coordinates of one active burrow and two old ones, I set out to find an Owl.
I ordered an Uber to take me to the southern coordinates first. The location would take me south of Cortizar along highway 67. The first driver assigned on the ap called to confirm where I was heading. Apparently he did not like the answer as I was soon matched to a second driver. When he picked me up and asked for clarification I showed him on a map my desired location. He agreed and told me we would use my phone to guide us there.
I didn’t think much of it but would later come to realize that conserving a phone battery is rather important. But, more on that later.
I took about an hour and a half to arrive at my destination. As the car came to a stop, the driver looked at me and with a questioning tone asked, “Aqui?” I could see he was thinking I was a bit off but I told him yes and gathered my gear. As he drove away, I had to wonder if maybe he was right and I was a bit off.
My drop-off location
My assignment for this location was to first obtain a telephoto image from the highway looking toward the location of the burrow. So I switched out my lenses and set up for a shot with 700mm looking East from the edge of the highway. This resulted in just a clump of trees. I shot a few more to create a pano that would range from one field in from the highway to the area of the burrow.
The view looking toward the burrow. Not too bad for a day hike, eh?
Having made the requested road image, I began looking for a route toward the burrow. I had hopes of getting an image of an actual Owl. Soon I located a nearby “road” that led along the lower fields and would get me heading in the right direction. So off I set.
The road heading in.
The road lasted for about 100 yards and then opened into the upper field. As I passed through the gate way I took note of a skull on the rock wall. Perhaps it should have been a warning but it was not one I heeded. I took the time to get a few pictures and went on along the edge of the field.
Within another hundred yards, I came upon another rock wall with a low section with easy steps to pass over. On the other side I would leave the pasture land and move into what, on google earth, looked like forest or wooded area.
I passed over the fence and found that it was cattle grazing land, very rocky, thick with “shrubs” and rather inhospitable. I also found that, in another 100 yards, there was another rock wall to pass over. What had looked like hedgerows from satellite, were all rock fences with thorny bushes on them. What had looked like forest was thorny bushes with a few cactus. I hiked on.
Looking long one of the many dry stone walls I would pass over this day.
I should point out, at this point, a few items of consideration. First, when I had departed on my journey, there was lots of cloud cover and the temperatures were very mild. I had brought a bottle of water and a bite to eat so I would be comfortable. When I was dropped off, temperatures had risen and the clouds were rapidly disappearing. To put is simply, this was desert for a good reason. Second, I had used my phone for guidance throughout the drive down and was now using it for GPS location and I could see that my battery was already starting to run low. Third, I had checked before letting my Uber depart and had found I had very good signal quality. This was not a surprise since I could see a tower on a near by hill. However, as I proceeded toward the burrow location I found that the gps would say that I had 80 meter to go only to say the same thing half an hour later. I had moved but my gps was not showing this.
Looking back the way I had come. You can see the cell towers on the hill in the distance.
I continued up the hill through the bushes until I finally came to the conclusion that my gps guidance simply was not going to work. I found a clear area where it showed a strong signal and checked. I could not see that I had made any progress.
Disheartened, I took a couple images of the area to show what the terrain likely was where the owls burrow would be. I then turned and started the trek back to the highway and an Uber ride to burrow 2.
Looking in the direction of the burrow when I turned around.
Before I started my hike back down the hill, I took note that my battery was showing at 9%. I would still be fine sine I didn’t need the gps to get to the road, it was down the hill. I stuck the phone in my pocket, had a little snack and started off.
The trip down was much quicker and soon I found myself in an upper field. Thinking that the researchers may be interested in the type of farming that is occurring I stopped to take a quick shot of one stalk that had missed harvest. Then I headed for the highway and on to the next site.
A surviving plant that was missed during harvest.
I stepped up out of the bushes and onto the road. Just as when I was dropped off, it was empty. What was different was that it was now quite hot.
Taking a drink of water, I pulled out my phone to order an Uber and saw that I had no signal. My earlier check was not the surety I had thought it to be. Finishing the last of my water, I turned to the north and started walking toward the nearest little town a couple miles down the road.
The walk to town was fairly easy with few hills or valleys and little traffic. Every quarter hour or so I checked my phone for a signal only to find none until just before I reach the town. Like magic, I was back to a good signal.
A quick search showed that my best option for the next burrow site would be to get an Uber to the other side of Celaya. I open the Uber Ap and entered my destination only to receive a notice “Uber is not available in your area.” I had not thought of that problem. I walked on.
At the edge of town, a herd of cattle suddenly came wandering out of a small side road. An old man followed behind them and every now and then tossed a rock toward the stragglers as he pushed them into the highway. He looked my direction and smiled. “Habla Espanol?” he asked. I told him I didn’t and asked if he spoke English. “No Espanol? Que es malo” he replied, smiled, and then turned back to moving his cattle across the road.
A taxi appeared on the road, coming from the direction I had just been hiking. I could see he was empty and flagged him down. I had my ride to Celaya. It was a plesant ride too. The driver spoke some english and was interested in talking. He told me about all the great places I should go to take pictures. With pointing and hand gestures and fumbling about, we managed to understand each other fairly well.
Having been dropped at the Celaya Market, I felt confident that I would have no problem getting a ride to my next stop. I opened my phone and saw that I had 1% battery left. I could not do anything but book a trip straight home. As Uber gave me the driver and vehicle information, my phone went black.
Thankfully, I was able to recognize the vehicle and that the person was obviously waiting for their passenger and we connected. I was on my way home.
This adventure filled my entire day. I left early and returned late. I did not get to see my owl or the burrow. I did get the images of the habitat that was desired and the research team was thrilled. I may have “failed” at my objective and did not get a bunch of perfect images to add to my portfolio as one might believe happens every time I go out. I did however, have a spectacular day. The images will come tomorrow.
Happy adventures and good shooting.
I truly enjoyed reading this adventure of yours. I have not been out taking photos for some time. My daughter was very ill and just passed 3 weeks ago. We now are raising 4 boys under age 10 and they are a handful, but I am not going to let his slow me down. When weather allows, I will contact Susan regarding my workshop and hope to get back in the saddle and use this very expensive camera I splurged on. I hope to get a few words of wisdom from you also on the art of photographing birds.
Thanks for sharing your story. I am living vicariously through your adventures.
I am so sorry for your loss. I can not image what you are going through (and have gone through). Please let Susan or I know if there is anything we can do. You are in our thoughts and our hearts.