For the people living in the lowlands of Slovakia there are only two seasons in the Tatra mountains: “winter and f…ing winter!”, as a local saying states. Nothing could be more true…It is already one week, in fact, since I am exploring the wilderness of Ticha valley and spring seems to be months ahead.
Almost everyday there is a cold wind blowing strong and making impossibile to walk on ridges or just to frame a picture. At night, temperatures drop below the freezing point and the snow is melting only on the most sunny places. Thus, there is a delay in the growth of the new grass, so grazers like brown bears and deer don’t venture out of the forest yet. The mountains have still a winterish grey-brown look, only few chamois and loud Rock pipits can be seen above the timberline. But Ticha is much more than just alpine meadows and bears.
Imagine a place where it can rain or snow anytime; where avalanches, falling rocks and lightnings can be a threat any moment. Slopes with a cover of dwarf pines so thick you cannot walk through. Valleys where you can hike for the whole day and meet nobody. And thousands of hectares of old, beautiful forest: millions of trees of Spruce, Arolla pine, Ash, Larch and Fir. Forests, where the dead wood give birth to new generations of plants and animals; where the wind and the Bark beetle destroy the weak, unnaturally coetaneous and monospecific forest and thus give space for biodiversity. And again, high waterfalls, blue alpine lakes, deep canyons and secret gullies. A place for bears, wolves, lynx, chamois, capercaillies and eagles. A real wilderness. In the very heart of Europe.
And like many “blank spots” on Earth, also Ticha is an endangered wilderness. Even though a protected reserve in the Tatra National Park and a Natura 2000 site, the system of valleys connected to Ticha is constantly under threat. Since the dramatic windstorm which hit northern Slovakia in 2004, destroying thousands of square kilometres of forests, there have been several attempts of the Slovak State Forestry to log the fallen timber even in these valleys. With the excuse of preventing fires and Bark beetle expansion, in fact, clear-cuts have been already made everywhere else. Sharp conflicts thus raised between the interests of the foresters and te opinion of scientists and conservationists, the latter positive toward the benefic effect of such a calamity for the forest evolutive processes. On top of it, red deer, bears and wolves are frequently shot when they venture into the lowlands, looking for food during autumn and winter.
In recent years I have spent so many days in the shadow of these mountains, but I can still discover new places and things. It is hard to squeeze all these experiences into a couple of weeks of photographic mission and who knows how much must be still out there! Still, I firmly believe in the importance of documenting as much as I can and showing to the vastest audience possible both the beauty of this place and its fragility.
That’s why I really wanted to photograph the Tatras also from the air, this to give a broader view and possibly a different perspective on to this complex wilderness. On the other side, I was well aware of the disturbance for the wildlife an airplane flying above the ridges could involve, so I took care that the flight wouldn’t be too long nor at a too low altitude. The pilot was ready, I picked one day at sunset, just after a storm. It was a risky decision, as the clouds could block the light and deliver some dull pictures. But, as it often happens with bad weather, the gamble rewarded me with a few minutes of great light and mountains nicely coloured. Flying among the clouds on a tiny Cessna plane, looking down to these rugged mountains and peering into secluded valleys, was a truly moving moment in my career of nature photographer.
Bruno D’Amicis / Wild Wonders of Europe
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.