Guest post from Iván Gabaldón of Ride Into Birdland for Pronatural Peninsula de Yucatan.
The sun is just beginning to rise but I feel none of its warmth as I walk towards the vintage Cessna on the wet tarmac of Merida’s airport. I’m about to embark on my first aerial photography mission for Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan, a thrilling prospect for sure, but the gloomy weather is taking some of the joy out of the idea of going airborne in a single engine plane. No one says anything but I can sense I’m not the only team member wondering if this is really the best day to fly.
Our unspoken worries notwithstanding, it takes Captain Lawrence “Bud” Sittig one long stare at the horizon to forecast our immediate future. “I can see a window there“, he says with a confident smile after detecting a small parting of clouds to the north. “We’ll be all right, but first we need to take the door off this plane“.
Captain Bud, as we call him, is a volunteer pilot with LightHawk, an organization that donates flight time for NGOs committed to conservation. Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan has benefited from this cooperation for several years and now it is my privilege to have been asked to participate in two flights. Our mission will be to photograph natural conditions in forested areas as well human activities related to agriculture and cattle ranching in the state of Yucatan. We’re also tasked to photograph any forest fires we may encounter and, with any luck, once we reach the sea we’ll be able to document the presence of whale sharks and sea turtles in their migratory routes off the coast of Quintana Roo.
The photographer in me can’t help but wish for a sunnier day. That thought, however, soon becomes irrelevant: we’re now flying and I have the best seat in the plane, secured with a harness next to the open space where the right side door would normally be. I can point my camera out and straight down at the mesmerizing landscape that’s being revealed before my eyes. Any foreboding feelings I might have harbored quickly disappear and within minutes I realize I’ve become instantly hooked on aerial photography.A surprising finding: a flower drawn in the landscape! (Photo © Ivan Gabaldon – Aerial support provided by Lighthawk to Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan).
As our flight progresses, and then again on the following day, I make hundreds of images using a trio of lenses: a 300mm, a 50mm and a 10,5mm fisheye lens. It is our good fortune to come into visual contact with the coveted whale sharks and sea turtles, as well as impressive looking manta rays, so the mission can formally be declared a success.
Read the next installment of this guest blog… “On the night of our second day I get together with Captain “Bud” to learn more about his experience as an aviator and the work he does with LightHawk.