October 2019 Highlights

October 2019 Highlights

Over the last month, our marine photographers have been busy submitting bold coverage on whales, sharks, sea turtles, seahorses and octopus, plus a variety of other marine creatures. Meanwhile, we’ve also added wild snow leopards, urban foxes, South American wildlife, and some graphic images of the Mexico/US border wall, marine pollution and clearance of rainforest. Here are some tasters from our  October 2019 highlights gallery.

We asked some of our photographers for the stories behind their images.

Alex Mustard

Plastic Pollution

Out in the open ocean we found ourselves in a small slick of plastic debris. Last year Prince Charles encouraged me to take more pictures of the plastic problems in our oceans, so his words were ringing in my ears when I jumped in to shoot the plastic. I was surprised to find that there were several jellyfish mixed in with the plastic debris. Turtles love feeding on jellyfish and it was surprisingly difficult to tell what was a jellyfish and what was plastic – it is no wonder that the turtles end up eating lots of plastic. For this picture I waited for jellyfish to sink below the slick to picture it against the ugly backdrop of our waste. This image is awarded in the Mont Photo 2019 contest.

Hide & Seek

While diving in Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, I found this pygmy seahorse (one of four, two couples) living on this seafan. I actually first visited this seafan to shoot a wide-angle photo of it, and while shooting I spotted something tiny moving in the branches. Realising it was a pygmy seahorse I returned a few days later to make this portrait. I purposely composed the seahorse small in the frame to emphasise its diminutive stature (1cm total length) and used a long exposure to record the blue of the water. This image is awarded in the GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019.

Safety In Numbers

Crescent-tail bigeyes are nocturnal and spend the day gathered in shoals waiting until nightfall to disperse and feed. I wanted to capture this school in a neat formation next to a coral reef in the Maldives. The challenge is that as you try and get close enough to shoot them their ranks break up and you end up with messy formations. Fortunately, a slow approach and a bit of current kept them together for me here. This fish is capable of changing colour from deep crimson to silver and I like the variety of hues of the fish in this composition.

Whale ‘Fly By’

I was out in the open Indian Ocean searching for blue whales, when we spotted this pod of false killer whales. I took shots of them while swimming with them, but they never came close enough for really strong images. So I suggested to our guide that we should get out of the water and watch the whales from our boat. Hanging over the side of the boat with my camera in the water, I took this photo of a very close pass. We could clearly hear their high-pitched squeaks as they swam so close. The face of large individual here, presumably a male, reminds me of a moose!

Breaking For Breath

Green turtles are primarily herbivores and I was swimming with this turtle in the shallow water of a seagrass filled lagoon behind a coral reef. This lagoon almost dries out at low tide, but as the water comes back in, so do these young green turtles to feed. Their intense feeding activity means that they have to come up to breath regularly and I took this picture as the turtle dived back down from the surface to munch on more seagrass.

Candy Cane Comfort

Emperor shrimps are tiny, but beautifully coloured crustaceans that live commensally with several types of marine invertebrates including sea slugs and sea cucumbers, like here. This species is a candy cane sea cucumber, which is rarely seen, so I was particularly pleased to find a shrimp living on it. I chose to compose the image focused on the pattern of the sea cucumber, completely filling the frame with its abstract pattern. These shrimps feed on detritus on the seabed using the large and unpalatable sea cucumber as a safe house.

Central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) basking in mallee / heathland habitat on the Murrayville Track in the Big Desert Wilderness of north-western Victoria, Australia.

Dragons in the Big Desert Wilderness – Robert Valentic

‘The vast Big Desert Wilderness affords the traveller a sense of real isolation from the modern world and a tranquillity that is becoming increasingly harder to find. For the natural history photographer, the area supports a great diversity of wildlife within a surreal landscape, offering a palette of vivid and contrasting colour. Because of these attributes, it is an area I’m drawn to regularly. On this occasion, I was driving slowly aiming to photograph a particular dwarf form of the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). This form is restricted to the heath land plains of the Big Desert and the population is sadly declining, possibly due to overzealous fire regimes conducted within its range.

I was elated to find this fine looking adult male lizard propped and basking on the track. The scene was bathed in glorious, late-autumn light and there were the most beautiful wispy cirrus cloud formations as a backdrop. It was one of those rare moments where all elements clicked and it was simply ideal for a shot. I really wanted to convey a sense of vastness to the image, so I chose a wide-angle lens to incorporate as much of the track and cloud into the frame as possible. I crawled up very slowly and fortunately for me the lizard remained motionless and fixated on the lens for this one shot, before hastily retreating into the dense heath. I was so happy with the result and I will always cherish this intimate wildlife encounter in this very special place.’

Tony Wu – Face to Face

‘About 15 years ago, a couple who run a dive shop in Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan worked out when and where the Zoarchias major eelpouts (Zoarchias major) appear for a limited time during the year. I have known about this fish for almost as long, but was only able to make time to visit the area in 2018. Though I was unaware of it at the time, these fish had not shown up in significant numbers for several years. Moreover, I was unable to travel at the theoretically ideal time to visit, due to other travel commitments. I planned for one week on location, at a time that risked being a bit too early according to my friends on the ground.

The first day on location was a wipe-out. I got into the water, but the swells were such that our position swung 3+ metres with each swell. I was able to scope out the terrain though, which helped me to prepare equipment. On the second day, the seas went flat calm. When we arrived in the designated area, the two fish pictured were already locked in battle. The contest of wills lasted around 45 minutes! They faced off, moved away, then confronted one another again. The battles happened quickly, but they occurred enough for me to learn the behavioural patterns of the fish and anticipate action.

For the next few days, I was able to spend 2-3 hours a day observing the fish in the water. Besides the male-male conflicts, the females of this species (the orange ones) also fight with one another. The males and the females appear to fight as well. I have not been able to find any scientific papers describing the behaviour of these fish. It is entirely possible that these behaviours and others that I witnessed and photographed have not been previously documented.

What the constant fighting is about is a mystery. My guess is that there is a combination of staking out territorial claims, and establishing dominance hierarchy for reproduction. This seems to occur both among males, as well as among females. The male-female fights are a mystery to me. I think there is some element of ‘fighting for the best real estate’ so to speak, though why there would be conflict between genders in this aspect is a puzzle!’

 

Spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) scent marking in Monga National Park, New South Wales, Australia.

David Gallan – Marsupial in the Mist

Spotted-tail quolls are rarely seen in the wild, so after recording scores of footage of the quolls in this area, I set out to capture some stills of mainland Australia’s largest marsupial predator. I made weather-proof housing for my camera out of an old crate because it would be in the field for an extended time. The area receives a lot of mist and rain, so it had to accommodate the camera, plus a laser trigger and other electronics. The log in the photo was close to a stream crossing that I knew the quolls used to reach a communal latrine on the other side. The laser trigger was set to activate as the quolls slowed to pick up scent located on the log.

Achieving this shot had its challenges – including coping with the mist on the front lens element (even with a large lens shade on the housing) and the darkness of the under storey where tree ferns blocked most of the light. As the ferns are as much of a feature of the shot I wanted as the quoll, a flash would not have provided the same even coverage as ambient daylight. The downside of not using flash was that the shutter speeds then had to be slower than I would have desired.

The gear was in the field for several weeks recording male and female quolls. A separate motion video camera recorded the quolls’ reactions to the still camera’s shutter (on quiet mode). They soon became relaxed to its presence, and climbed on the housing a number of times and recorded their tails draped in front of the lens. This image was actually taken during a trial placement with my least expensive camera, as I was worried about frying the electronics with the stepped down voltage from a 12v car battery wired with a solar panel. At first glance it did not stand out as the best of the files, but after further viewing it had the best stance and colour saturation, so I was pleased with the result.

 

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer) drinking at night, Zimanga private game reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Ann & Steve Toon discuss their photo bucket-list

‘There are lots of species still on our wants list. One animal we’d love to photograph and haven’t managed to as yet (or until very recently) certainly wouldn’t win any beauty contests. But it did win over our hearts when we met a young one with its family in captivity while photographing at Colchester Zoo a few years ago for a story on research into white rhinos. It’s an aardvark. In all the time we’ve spent in Africa, we’ve never laid eyes on one in the wild. We did get an image of one drinking, on a camera trap we put out a few months ago on a private reserve. We were just putting the camera out on a small pond in the garden of the lodge to test the set-up, and an aardvark was the last thing we expected to capture. But it’s not the same as seeing one in the flesh, and has just made us even keener to photograph these characterful creatures.’

 

 

 

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) dog interacting with a vixen in an urban garden. North London, UK.

Matt Maran – A Matter of Perception

‘What do you see? Vermin, a nuisance, or two animals connecting? We all want to feel connected, and that goes for animals too. I’ve witnessed copious amounts of connecting between all members of the fox family over the past two weeks. Dog fox to vixen, vixen to cubs and last year’s cub turned helper-fox. It’s lovely to see but it won’t be long before tough love prevails and the vixen chases her offspring away to find new territories of their own.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

European ground squirrels / Sousliks (Spermophilus citellus)greeting, Gerasdorf, Austria. April.

Edwin Giesbers – European Ground Squirrel

As the name suggests, European ground squirrels (ziesels) live on the ground and do not climb, like the red squirrel, in trees. Unfortunately, this small squirrel is an endangered species, and has already died out in several countries because its open grassland habitat has been converted to farmland. In a number of countries where it still occurs, such as the Czech Republic, the decline of the population is worrying. Fortunately, there is hope for the future for the ziesel because it has made remarkable adjustments in certain areas, such as in Vienna. In addition, the cuddly animal is extremely media friendly and therefore it’s easier to raise support and funds for reintroduction projects. In Austria a large proportion of the animals are found in vineyards, runways, golf courses, sports fields and campsites and other often mown fields. These anthropogenic areas are places of refuge, as the presence of people here scares off potential predators.

 

 

 

Marbled white butterfly (Melanargia galathea) on knapweed with soft focus flowers, Aosta Valley, Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy.

Edwin Giesbers – Butterfly Paradise

As a nature lover you are in the right place in the Valle d’Aosta, Italy. A stunning nature area where you can enjoy hiking, mountain rivers, pastures full of colourful alpine flora, and a location on the flank of Italy’s oldest national park: Gran Paradiso. The Aostatal is known as one of the top areas in Europe to observe butterflies. You will find them here in large numbers and no less than 1,000 species. A true butterfly paradise and therefore not surprising that butterfly lovers from all over Europe travel early in the summer to the Aostatal. As a photographer you do not have to walk very far, because above the flowery meadows there are many butterflies flying in all sorts of colours and sizes. For example, the beautiful marbled white is a very common butterfly and can be seen everywhere.

 

 

 

 

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) female with juvenile, walking in snow, in Spiti Valley, Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve, Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh, India

Oriol Alamany – In search of Snow Leopards

‘It was the eighth day of the third winter trip to the Himalayas that my partner and I undertook, in search of snow leopards. At 11am that morning we found a female accompanied by her two juvenile cubs, a family that we knew well from our trip last year. Both youngsters had survived and were now about 21 months old, about the age at which they should begin to become independent from their mother. But all three were still tremendously united and, on this particular day, unusually active. We followed them all day long as they descended along a mountain valley. In the photograph, the two young follow their mother (just out of the frame) along the edge of the deep canyon, at an altitude of around 4,400 meters.’

 

 

 

 

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) male in snow, in Spiti Valley, Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve, Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh, India, March

Oriol Alamany – Patience and Perseverance

‘Wildlife photography is a demanding discipline that sometimes requires many hours of patience and perseverance. One winter morning a local spotter alerted us that a male snow leopard had been spotted on a plain above a rocky canyon, so my partner and I headed there immediately. We arrived at 10am and to begin with we couldn’t see anything, just an absolutely white surface. Then we noticed two black spots – the ear tips of a snow leopard. We decided to wait, but snow leopards don’t usually move until dark. They were eight icy hours of waiting, motionless in the snow, with temperatures around -15°C below zero. Around 6pm, with the sun already behind the horizon and our bodies frozen, the leopard lifted its head, looked at us for half a minute and then disappeared into the white. A whole day to achieve this single image, an exhilarating experience in the wild mountains of the Himalayas.’

 

 

 

Beaver Bridge over River Conwy, near Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, UK

Alan Williams – Beaver Bridge

Beaver Bridge is a landmark in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The bridge crosses the Conwy River a short way downstream from the confluence of the Conwy and Lledr rivers, and overlooks Beaver Pool, a large calm section of water in the usually fast flowing Conwy River.

‘I visited this location several times to work out when the conditions would be best for the shot I knew I wanted to achieve. The best time for the light would be in the afternoon and with bright conditions, but with the sunlight somewhat subdued. There had to be little or no wind to get the reflections in the water, and early autumn would add a variety to the colours of the leaves. The clouds in this shot were fortuitous, as is often the case in landscape photography, but required a wait of about an hour before everything looked OK and I was happy with the shot.’

 

 

 

The full October Highlights gallery can be viewed here, and prints are available at www.natureplprints.com.