September 2019 Highlights from Nature Picture Library
Over the last month, we’ve added a great mix of new content to our site, from all corners of the globe. Here we celebrate the September 2019 highlights and focus on some of the more intriguing image sets, the photographers and the stories behind the images.
Edwin Giesbers visits Aphrodite’s Garden
Edwin Giesbers had a really productive Spring visit to the sunny island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. He told us more about the island’s remarkable flora: “The island is popular with nature lovers and hikers. Known as ‘Aphrodite’s Garden’, it is a treasure trove of more than 1800 species of plants, including many species of orchids, fields full of gladiolus, and wild cyclamen. And no fewer than 128 of Cyprus’s plants are endemic species that occur nowhere else in the world. In the early spring from March to May, most plants are in bloom and it is a true explosion of scents and colours. This is the ideal time for nature lovers to visit the island. The temperature is not as high as in the summer and great for walks.”
and looks closely at its amazing orchids!
“Orchids appeal to the imagination of many people and their beautiful appearance is thought to symbolize beauty and love. Perhaps this is why there are so many orchids on the island of the Goddess of love! The orchids of the genus Ophrys are so small that it’s easy to overlook them. But as soon as you spot one and go down on your knees to take a proper look, you discover the extraordinary beauty of the flower. Species such as the fly, spider, and bee orchids have even transformed the lip of their flower into an attractive shape and color to look like an insect. This is a device to attract insects such as flies and bees for pollination. And if that visual seduction is not enough, then the orchids add a little extra: pheromones! Remarkably, the composition of the pheromone is exactly the same as the pheromone used by the female insect to lure the males. And so every Ophrys species has its own pollinator.”
Focus on Australia’s little-known marsupials
Husband and wife team Jiri and Marie Lochman have spent many years photographing the varied animals, plants and landscapes of Australia. Their latest submission to us is full of remarkable endemic creatures and plants, including a number of small marsupial carnivores such as the Kultarr, Wongau ningaui and the Ningbing pseudantechinus!
Jiri Lochman tells us about “chasing nocturnal chimeras” in the Australian bush
“Although earlier in my career I worked with big cats and other carnivores, for some reason they have never really appealed to me. What excited me was the secretiveness of small, nocturnal mammals that are far less noticeable to us humans, because they are diminutive, active at night and live their entire lives hidden somewhere in the undergrowth. So, when the opportunity came for me to transfer to Perth Zoo nocturnal house, I jumped at it. It was a rather solitary job, but it gave me a great opportunity to observe and learn about creatures that I wanted to pursue in the wild. I photographed in the nocturnal house as well, but that soon stopped giving me much satisfaction, so after four and half years I quit that job and embarked on an even more solitary pursuit of chasing nocturnal chimeras in the Australian bush.”
Australia’s dasyurids are little-known mammals, with some very strange names!
“Apart from the rodents, bats and a couple of species of sea lions, no other placental mammals managed to establish in Australia. So, the niches that were inhabited by placentals in other parts of the world were in Australia occupied by the marsupials. It is therefore logical that there are obvious convergences between marsupials and placental mammals. One such convergence is between placental Insectivores, such as the shrews and marsupial Dasyurids. Among these images are a couple of very special behavioural pictures. For instance the Fat-tailed Pseudantechinus, which I photographed in the Picture Hill area of the Great Sandy Desert. It is a small, though rather sturdy, animal with head and body length of around ten centimetres. Although there are a few other photographs of this species in existence, this image captures clearly its association with the termite mounds. It actively forages at night in the open, but uses termite mounds as its domicile sleeping during daytime hours in the cracks and hanging around the mound for a while before it ventures out.”
Photography reveals some secrets of animal behaviour
“Another image worth special mention is that of the Little Red Kaluta, which I took in the Kennedy Range in Western Australia. It is an animal of a similar size. Before I took a series of the Kaluta feeding on Ashby’s Banksia it was not known that Dasyurids actually visit flowers to feed on the nectar. And finally the Brush-tailed Phascogale, which is the only truly arboreal Dasyurid, a somewhat bigger species with head and body length frequently exceeding 20 cm. There were old stories from the early nineteenth century settlers about female Phascogales carrying their babies on the back. These were not confirmed by recent observations and a long term study of the species carried out in the 1990s on populations in both eastern and Western Australia concluded that those were old wife tales; that female Phascogales do not carry their young on their backs, case closed. When I took this image, one of the involved scientists pronounced half jokingly that my photographs should be suppressed.”
Marie Lochman reveals why the honey possum is so special and tells us about the amazing plants of this biodiversity hotspot
“Perth, where I live, is in the centre of one of the world’s original 25 biodiversity hotspots. The part of south-western Australia that lies within the hotspot is of about an equivalent size of England, so it is quite apt to use England for this comparison. While England has around 1,500 species of vascular plants of which only 47 are endemic, south-western biodiversity hotspot in Western Australia is home to 7,239 scientifically described species of which close to 80% are endemic. Banksias in this selection are a prominent and easily recognizable component of this astounding biodiversity.”
Why is the honey possum dependent on the unique floral riches of south-west Western Australia?
“The Honey Possum is endemic to south-western Australia and is closely tied up to its plant biodiversity. There is not a placental mammal equivalent of the Honey Possum – the only mammal in the world which feeds solely on pollen and flower nectar. Unlike American hummingbirds, which also feed only on nectar and pollen, a Honey Possums cannot fly somewhere else when its patch of shrub stops flowering. It spends its entire life within 100 square metres of heathland, so these 100 square metres have to provide it with nectar and pollen all year round. Therefore scientists believe that the Honey Possum could not have evolved anywhere else in the world. Indeed, nowhere else would it be able to find enough flowering plants throughout the year on 100 square metres. The Honey Possum is a tiny animal weighing between 6 and 16 grams, with a head and body length of 60 – 100 mm.”
John Shaw joins Nature Picture Library
John Shaw has been a professional nature photographer since the 1970s and has photographed on every continent. He has published 6 books on nature photography and his images have been used in leading publications worldwide, including National Geographic. Earlier this year he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the North American Nature Photography Association. We are delighted to now represent John and we asked him to tell us more about some of his favourite images.
Poplar tree plantation
“I would drive past this poplar tree plantation, located about 300 miles from my house, several times a year, but always wanted to photograph it when the leaves turned color in autumn. When I finally had the opportunity the conditions were perfect; high overcast light, great color, no wind. I spent several hours working the area, and made plans to return the next autumn. To my dismay the entire plantation was clear-cut a few months after I took this photo.”
Eider duck chases off Arctic fox
“Over the course of several days I watched this Arctic fox terrorize an eider nesting colony located just outside of Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. The fox was extremely bold, returning over and over, taking both eggs and chicks – I counted over 60 eggs taken just during the time I was photographing – while deftly avoiding any attempts by the nesting birds to drive it away.”
Yellow warbler on lava, Galapagos
“A pair of yellow warblers were flitting around the nearby vegetation, but the moment one landed on the lava I knew the photo I wanted to take. Then it was a matter of waiting and waiting, and hoping the birds would stay in the area. Finally, about when I was about to give up, one landed directly in front of me. Bright yellow bird on black rock, lift the 600mm, hold the button down.”
Snow monkey baby taking a ride
“Baby Japanese macaque monkeys often ride clinging to their mother’s back. I was at the Jigokudani snow monkey park in Honshu during a heavy snowfall, when this female walked past, with snow coating both her and her baby. Of the frames I took, this one stands out as both faces are visible while the female’s stride gives a sense on movement.”
David Woodfall explores the unique Hebrides machair habitat and explains why Little terns are threatened by climate change
“The Little tern images were part of a study to document them across England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I used hides in all cases working at a distance of 18 feet, after having moved the hide closer over a period of 4 days. My interest in Little terns goes back to the early part of my career, having a colony at Long Nanny while I was Northumberland coastal warden for the National Trust. During this time I wrote several scientific papers, made a film about their lives and established a ringing programme. I wanted to document the birds on the machair in North Uist, where their behaviour is the most atypical in the UK and Ireland.
As well as little terns, the machair is a rich habitat for endangered corncrakes and nesting waders
The terns nest here amongst cultivated crops of oats and potatoes grown in strips by the crofters. This gives the young protection from aerial predation later in the season. In fact, little terns are actually one of the most indicative species of climate change. As the sea becomes warmer, the sand eels (their main prey) swim deeper to reach the colder water they require. Little Terns are only able to dive to depths of a foot and will therefore be unable to reach their main food items and will not be able to survive. The crofting landscape of the Hebrides creates rich swards of wildflowers, with large numbers of nesting waders such as Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing. I also found the globally endangered Corncrake nesting in the denser vegetation. These photographs were taken for an exhibition in Taigh Chearsburgh in Lochmaddy and as part of my Rewilding of Britain and Ireland book.”
More highlights of the last month
Here are more intriguing images added to our site in the last month. We’ve included some photographer quotes telling us the story behind the image, and more background information to set them in context. Take a look at the full September highlights gallery to browse a more extensive collection. And if you’d like to have one of these images reproduced on a t-shirt, mug, jigsaw, print or personalised greetings card, take a look at the September highlights gallery on or print site.
“The size of this animal was about 10cm. It was in its larval stage, floating in the open ocean as plankton. As adults they will live on the seabed, often hiding beneath the sand during the day and hunting at night. They will get to about 23cm with a “wingspan” of 40cm. The animal was at about 3 meters depth, with the bottom about 200 meters below us. At night, the largest migration on Earth happens where deep-water animals rise up to the surface. I found the wonderpus at about 11:30pm in the Philippines where the sun set around 6pm. The wunderpus octopus was not discovered until the 1980s and only officially described in detail in 2006.”
The battle of the giant leech and the giant worm
“This giant red leech is only found on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, where it hunts amongst the damp soil. It is very rarely seen and unstudied by science. After weeks filming on Kinabalu’s slopes, a heavy rainstorm brought one of these blood-red creatures to the surface. It was close to a mound of large worm casts that we had been monitoring, and it was hunting one of the large blue worms that had made them. We found several leeches hunting that day, and the one featured in this photograph is almost 50cm long. The worms are just as gigantic. Fortunately for us, the leeches seem to only have a taste for annelids, and are able to track the worms down until they are close enough to latch on. They eat in the same way snakes do, sucking the whole worm down like spaghetti and crushing it with their muscular throats.”
“I was looking for whales along the coast of Troms in northern Norway, when I came across this group of orcas. It was a family of eight individuals hunting herring on this October day. After some minutes of intense feeding, the orcas started to pop out of the water. There were heads everywhere! Sometimes there was only one, but many times they surfaced together in synchrony. They were obviously curious about my boat. It was an amazing sight”
Mrs Smeathman, 5mm of magic
“The UK is home to 270 species of bee. One of the smallest is Smeathman’s furrow bee, named after the British entomologist Henry Smeathman. Sponsored by the Royal Society in 1771, he journeyed to Sierra Leone, finally returning to England years later in 1779. To mark his achievements as an explorer this bee, Lasioglossum smeathmanellum was named in his honour. I captured this female harvesting a wallflower on a stone wall behind my home. A number of tiny bee species nest in the walls of our house. Often overlooked due to their size Mrs Smeathman and her minute relatives are important native pollinators.”
Houdin and Palanque capture intimate moments with Madagascar’s lemurs
Nathalie Houdin and Denis Palanque, who work together as Lenses for Conservation, have returned from Madagascar, where they captured some rare and intimate images of several species of lemur. Van der Decken’s sifaka lives in small groups of 6 to 10 individuals in the dry deciduous forests of western Madagascar, where these images were taken in the Tsimembo region. Like many lemur species, it is endangered due to the speed and extent of habitat loss in Madagascar. Denis describes the experience of taking these images:
“While we were exploring the Tsimembo Manambolomaty region, we were lucky to spend some time with a female Van der Decken’s sifaka and her baby. While the mother was feeding on leaves, the baby spent its time exercising and playing in the branches, leaping and swinging acrobatically. With our cameras in hand, telephoto lenses fixed on the forest canopy, we tried as best we could, between the branches and foliage, to capture the young athlete’s jumps and capers. An amazing experience in the field – and we had the stiff necks to prove it!”
Denis also tells us how he captured the grooming images: “High in the trees we found a small group of sifakas indulging in a grooming session. Long grooming sessions are essential to maintain group bonds in sifaka society. One of two adults was meticulously engaged in licking every square centimetre of the head fur of its companion, who seemed to be patiently enjoying the experience!”
Denis also tells us how he and Nathalie were able to capture rare close-up shots of Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur
“This picture of the smallest primate in the world comes from a series that is very special to us. Weighing only 30 grammes, it really is a mouse-like primate ! In order to catch this elusive animal, our only hope in the time available was to work with scientists. We were lucky to get to know Johanna Malsburg, a PhD student at the German Primate Centre in Kirindy. She was working on the cognitive abilities of Microcebus species in the dry forests of eastern Madagascar. During our stay, Johanna captured two individuals of this species. After two nights at the research centre, the mouse lemurs are then released back into the wild. So we had only two chances to capture a good picture!
We took this photo during the release of one of them, at dusk. As the mouse lemur is extremely quick and agile, we had to plan our shoot very carefully – we knew we only had a brief window of opportunity. One of us with a wide angle, the other with a telephoto lens, both equipped with flash, we were poised, ready to react very quickly. The mouse lemur jumped out of its transport cage, rested for a few seconds on the trunk and then quickly climbed the shrub and was soon lost in the dark of the forest canopy. But in the end, the images were there!”
These two images, of Burrowing owl by Jack Dykinga and Stonechat by Rouse, both use a slow shutter speed to capture a bit of bird head movement….