Our favourite images from 2019

As the end of 2019 approaches, we’re looking back at another fantastic year of nature photography.


Over the last 12 months, our photographers have been busy pointing their cameras in all directions to bring us their views of the natural world. In this blog, we present a selection of our favourite nature images of 2019. You can view the full collection at the link here


European mantis (Mantis religiosa) hunting swarming Pale burrower mayfly (Ephoron virgo), mayflies recently hatched. Tudela, La Ribera de Navarra, Navarre, Spain. August.



On the night Eduardo Blanco took this image, a mass emergence of mayflies was swarming over a bridge in Tudela city. The mayflies were attracted to the streetlights, lured away from the river below. However, Blanco never actually saw the mantis catch a mayfly.













Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), two curled up asleep in drey inside nest box. Nest of lichen and Pine needles. Highlands, Scotland, UK.



Neil Anderson keeps a squirrel nesting box in his back garden in the Scottish Highlands. There are actually two squirrels in this frame, you can see there are two tails. Red squirrels will share their dreys (nests) throughout the colder months. Huddling together for extra warmth, the squirrels are not necessarily related to each other, but more like amicable neighbors.












Frozen bends and flood plain of Halliste River, aerial view. Soomaa National Park, Viljandimaa County, Estonia. Febraury 2019.




When Sven Začek took this image in February 2019, it was so cold he had to keep his drone batteries close to his body to ensure they would still work when he reached the take-off spot. The aerial perspective allowed him to depict the frozen bends and flood plain of Halliste River.










Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), group socialising in shallow water, aerial view. Part of larger group of more than 50 whales congregating, Sea of Okhotsk sub-population, Russia.



After a long cold winter, bowhead whales gather to feed on krill and other small animals, attracted to northern waters by plankton blooms. In between bouts of feeding, the whales get together and socialise. Photographer Tony Wu saw large numbers like this just once, when more than 50 whales were congregated in a shallow bay. He entered the water to photograph them, but although he managed to approach within a few metres, the whales bolted away with tremendous speed. After that, Wu understood that the whales were uncomfortable with his presence, and got out of the water to concentrate on aerial images.







Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) on rock with forested hills beyond. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India. Camera trap image. 2019.



Yashpal Rathore photographed this leopard with a camera trap, positioned in the Western Ghats mountain range. The viewpoint overlooks tea plantations and human dwellings. Leopards are mostly nocturnal, and avoid direct conflict with humans. However, as settlements continue to expand, the lines are being blurred.










Smeathman's furrow bee (Lasioglossum smeathmanellum) feeding on Wallflower (Erysimum sp.) Monmouthshire, Wales, UK. April.


WALES, UK    >

Photographer Phil Savoie shot this Smeathman’s furrow bee in April just behind his house. Of the 270 species of British bee, this is one of the smallest. Nevertheless, the Smeathman’s furrow bee is an important native pollinator.











Denise's pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) looks out from its home in a sea fan (Annella sp.). Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. Ceram Sea. Tropical West Pacific Ocean




Photographer Alex Mustard first spotted this pygmy seahorse while diving around Missol Island. He wasn’t able to get a photo of it that time, so he returned to the same seafan a few days later. Above all, he wanted to emphasise its diminutive stature (1cm total length).










Ostrich (Struthio camelus) silhouetted in dust storm. Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa.



Husband-wife team Ann & Steve Toon photographed this ostrich right after it had finished dust-bathing. The dry river beds in the semi-desert Kalahari habitat form huge swirls when disturbed. Ann and Steve chose to shoot into the light, silhouetting their subject against the rising cloud of dust.










Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) male covering fledgling with wings to protect from danger. Fledgling flapping wings in protest. Marana, Arizona, USA. May.




A male burrowing owl covers its young fledgling to protect it from danger, while the youngster flaps its wings in protest. Although photographer Jack Dykinga never saw the threat himself, he suspects the owl had spotted an airborne predator.













Flying fish (Exocoetidae) in Sargasso Sea, Atlantic Ocean.



It was nearing midnight when Shane Gross came across this flying fish in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The ‘wings’ of these fish are enlarged pectoral fins, which enable them to glide when they jump out of the water to escape predators. Gross was sailing in international waters, having left Bermuda a few days prior. He spotted the fish just below the surface. He says it was a thrill to jump into the pitch-black ocean, knowing there was 13,000 feet of water, and who knows what creatures, below him.








Mute swan (Cygnus olor), two cygnets sheltering under parent's wing. Richmond Park, London, England, UK. April. Cropped image.



Oscar Dewhurst spent a year documenting a family of mute swans nesting on a lake near his home. When the cygnets hatched in the spring, they spent a substantial amount of time on their parents’ backs where they were less vulnerable to predators. Here, two of the cygnets shelter underneath their mother’s wing.











Long-eared hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus) on dune bordering the Gobi Desert at sunset. Mongolia.



This long-eared hedgehog is pictured walking across the sand dunes at sunset. At first glance, the Gobi Desert looks like a rocky wasteland where nothing grows, but it actually hosts a variety of trees and shrubs adapted to drought. The hedgehogs feed on insects that thrive in this “green dune” habitat. Husband-wife team Jean Louis Klein and Marie-Luce Hubert travelled to the Gobi with this shot in mind.










Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) tangled in fishing net. Tenerife, Canary Islands. 2019.



A loggerhead turtle struggles to free itself from a fishing net. A staggering 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear – lost or discarded fishing nets, ropes and lines – is left in our oceans each year. Ghost gear is by far the deadliest form of marine debris. Designed to catch marine life, it kills or injures 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles every year. This turtle was one of the lucky ones, and managed to escape the net.










Visitors taking selfies with smartphones with Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) swimming in background. Zoo de la Fleche, Sarthe, Pays de la Loire, France. 2019



When Philippe Clement sat down to observe this polar bear in Zoo de la Fleche, he was equally intrigued by the behaviour of the human visitors. They weren’t just taking pictures of the bear, they were including themselves in the frame. Moreover, rather than looking at the bear afterwards, they spent several minutes posting their ‘animal selfies’ on social media.








White rhino (Ceratotherium simum), portrait. Solio Game Reserve, Solio Ranch, Kenya. Taken with remote camera buggy / BeetleCam



Will Burrard-Lucas captured this white rhino using a remote-controlled camera buggy. The main challenge was trying not to spook it. Therefore, Burrard-Lucas camouflaged the buggy to help it blend in with the environment.











Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) calf riding on mother's head, near Nomuka Island, Ha'apai group, Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific



Humpback whale mothers often carry their calves on top of their heads. Firstly, this means the calf can be pulled along in the mother’s slipstream while expending very little energy in active swimming. Secondly – and more importantly – it gives the calf easy access to the surface to breathe. Doug Perrine photographed this calf riding on its mother’s head in a shallow reef. Humpbacks prefer to keep their calves in shallow water, where they are safe from attacks by cookie cutter sharks and other hazards of the deep. But, largely due to disturbance by boat traffic, it is now rare to find them in such places.








Red deer (Cervus elaphus) stag bellowing during rut in grassland, doe in background.



A large red deer stag bellows at sunset. The annual rut takes place between September and October, when the dominant male rounds up a harem of females and fight off other amorous stags.












Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) fighting over hippo carcass in water, Masai Mara, Kenya.




Two spotted hyenas fight over a hippo carcass. The feeding behaviour can best be described as a frenzy, with each individual having to fight aggresively for their share. For example, a pack of 25 hyenas have been known to devour and scatter the bones of a 300 pound wildebeest in under 13 minutes. In other words, photographer Andy Rouse had to be lightning fast to capture this moment!









Elephant (Loxodonta africana) reaching up on back legs to feed on tree, front legs on termite mound. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe.





Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of its worst drought since 1992. The result is hardly any food for animals. Consequently, elephants, lions, wild dogs, buffalo, giraffe and impala are starving to death. In Mana Pools and Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, more than 200 elephants died between September and November alone. Meanwhile, some of the larger elephants have learnt to balance on their hind legs and reach up to the lower branches of the trees for something to eat. Tony Heald photographed this elephant bull using a handy termite mound to help him balance and reach even further up.














Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), portrait. Lake Kerkini, Sintik, Greece. January.




A Dalmatian pelican rests on the surface of Lake Kerkini, near the Bulgarian border. The lake is one of the most important wintering sites in Europe for the species. At this particular location, local fishermen regularly feed the pelicans, making them more tolerant of humans. Photographer Guy Edwardes snapped the picture in January, when the pelicans were in their breeding plumage – and therefore more photogenic.















See more of our favourite nature images of 2019 in the scrolling strip below, and be sure to check out the full collection here

In the news:


Through our photographers’ lenses we saw several newsworthy events unfold this year. The impacts of climate change on both wildlife and the environment were particularly prominent. But there were also some inspirational moments too: the rediscovery of the Wallace’s giant bee, several species reintroductions and the first scientific documentation of a black leopard in Africa in nearly a century.


Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) hanging dead in tree having succumbed to heat stress (like hundreds of others) on a very hot summer Melbourne day. Yarra Bend Park, Kew, Victoria, Australia. January.


<    VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA: On a very hot summer day in January, hundreds of grey-headed flying foxes perished in Yarra Bend Park. Doug Gimesy took this powerful image of one of the victims. Flying foxes are extremely susceptible to heat stress, with some heatwaves causing mass deaths on a biblical scale. For example, a record-breaking heatwave in Northern Queensland in November 2018 killed at least 23,000 spectacled flying foxes – estimated to be a full third of the Australian population. Climate change projections forecast an increased likelihood of heatwaves in the future.









Female cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) named Silgi (means 'bright future' in Swahili) walking with 7 cubs. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya




MASAI MARA, KENYA: In November, a giant litter of seven cheetah cubs was born in Masai Mara National Reserve. The average litter size is three to four cubs. Photographer Yashpal Rathore took this shot of the family resting together. The busy mother has been named Silgi (which means ‘bright future’ in Swahili). It is hoped that she will bring good future to the local cheetah population, which is in decline.    >









In February, heavy rains fell in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama is the driest desert in the world, outside of Antarctica. In other words, heavy rainfall is exceptionally rare. Oriol Alamany photographed the below image of the desert plain underwater.

In November, serious flooding hit Doncaster in the UK. Consequently, about 500 homes were flooded with more than 1,000 properties evacuated in affected areas. David Woodfall went up in a helicopter to photograph the scene from an aerial perspective.

Scientists say that climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is making heavy rainfall more likely. As a result, big floods are expected to become more frequent in the future.

The world’s largest bee rediscovered!

In January, Clay Bolt took the first image of a living Wallace’s giant bee, the world’s largest bee, at its nest in North Moluccas, Indonesia. This species nests in tree termite mounds. Interestingly, the bee had been lost since 1981 and some feared it was extinct. But Bolt and his team discovered a lone female – as long as a thumb and four times larger than a Euro­pean honey bee!

Climate protests

A wave of climate strikes swept over the globe in 2019. For example, the controversial organisation Extinction Rebellion occupied prominent sites in London and other UK cities, including Naturepl’s home city of Bristol. Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg, who kickstarted the school strike movement, helped to inspire millions of people across the world to hit the streets in youth-led marches calling for urgent climate action.

Rare images of an African black panther!

In January, British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas photographed a black leopard in Kenya – the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in nearly a century. After hearing rumours about a black panther in the Laikapia Wilderness area, the Burrard-Lucas set up camera traps, with little expectation of actually photographing the alleged cat. He still can’t believe that a speculative recce trip turned out so well.

Species Reintroductions

In June, Beauval Zoo in France released two western lowland gorillas to Batéké Plateau National Park in Gabon. The reintroduction was part of a programme to introduce captive born gorillas to protected areas of their natural habitat. The gorillas‘ new home – an island reserve surrounded by a lake – is a remote paradise of lush forest and hilly savannas, situated on the border of Congo & Gabon. Eric Baccega was there to photograph the gorillas leaving their cages after the long journey from France.

In August, a group of 24 juvenile white storks were released at the Knepp rewilding project in West Sussex, UK. White storks were once widespread in Britain. Now conservationists hope that the project will re-establish a viable breeding population in southern England. Nick Upton photographed the storks as they flew from their temporary holding pen on release day.

In September, 18 pine mine martens were successfully released into the Forest of Dean, UK, a major milestone in an effort to bring the pine marten back home. The ultimate goal is to establish a source population to support the recovery of pine martens in England. Nick Upton captured the moment one of the pine martens left its soft release cage, laying its paws on English soil for the first time.

To view an expanded selection of our favourite nature images of 2019, visit our gallery here

From all at Nature Picture Library, we wish you a fantastic 2020, and promise to bring you more great photography in the New Year!