January 2020 Highlights
We’ve started off the new year and the new decade by adding a great selection of new photos to our site. Here we tell you more about the stories behind the pictures. The photographers explain how they were taken, what behaviour they reveal, and what inspired them to take these shots. You can view a larger selection of our new images in our new January 2020 Highlights gallery and we’ve also created a gallery on our print site featuring many of these images.
Danny Green and Andy Rouse have both returned from Svalbard with some great new coverage on polar bears and other Arctic wildlife
Danny told us more about the first 3 of his polar bear images
“I spent 6 weeks travelling around Svalbard during the summer searching for polar bears. I was so lucky to come across this female with 2 cubs, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to find females with cubs in Svalbard. The female had made a kill of a young bearded seal, so the family were happy and content. After feeding they would then rest for an hour or so until one of the cubs decided it was time to play. This shot shows the young male stalking his sibling.”
“This image was taken in late March. In fact, I have spent a lot of time in Svalbard but mainly during the summer months. But this time I wanted to go at a different time of the year, to see the bears on the frozen sea ice during the depths of winter. One of the highlights of my trips to Svalbard was to come across a courting male and female polar bear. The male is very protective of the female during this courtship ritual. As soon as she gets up, he follows her and tries to stop her from wandering too far. It is fascinating behaviour to witness, as usually polar bears are such solitary animals. Here we see the couple sniffing the air as they caught the scent of another male polar bear that was on the other side of the fjord.”
“Again I was very fortunate to come across this male and female polar bear during their courtship. It is very rare to come across them at this point in their lives because usually they are very secretive. This was a young female pursued by a large male, which followed her every time she moved. At one point she found herself amongst some frozen icebergs which acted as a perfect backdrop.”
Sergio Hanquet reveals the rich marine life around his Canary Islands home
Sergio tells us more about his new images of Bryde’s and pilot whales, including some fascinating behaviour.
“I took this shot of a Bryde’s whale feeding on a ball of snipefish by free diving. The key to taking this photograph was to place myself as close as possible to the fish baitball, but without interfering with the whale’s trajectory. Seeing an animal over 12 meters in length opening its huge mouth is an unforgettable experience.”
“The Bryde’s whale is common in the Canary Islands, coming close to the coast, where the water depth is less than 100 meters. Although they can be observed all year round, the best time is in spring and summer. Usually solitary animals or mothers with young are observed. In the Canary Islands (as in the rest of Spain), a permit from the Ministry for Ecological Transition is required to approach within 60 metres of a cetacean.”
“This is a newborn pilot whale. The foetal lines (vertical lines on his body) are clear to see. They occur due to the position of the whale foetus inside the mother’s womb, but they disappear a few weeks after birth. The little pilot whale was very curious and approached me. However, an adult instantly appeared and guided him away without showing me any kind of aggression at all.”
“This touching image shows a group of pilot whales with a dead newborn. For this species it is common not to abandon a dead baby, often dragging it around for several days as it decomposes. It was probably a death from natural causes, but we will never know, as it wasn’t possible to perform an autopsy without removing the dead baby, which would have caused additional stress for the group.”
As well as whales, Sergio has captured intriguing photos of marine turtles, sharks and sunfish
He told us his feelings about capturing the striking image of a young loggerhead turtle caught in a fishing net. “I have been doing this kind of photography for many years – whenever the opportunity presents itself. I try to fully document the event, so that it leads to publications which inform the public or, in this case, sea professionals such as fishermen and sailors, about the issue. It is always a relief and a reward to release a tangled animal, which can then continue its migration.”
Alex Mustard marine life – unusual angles and techniques
Alex’s latest images come from a variety of destinations, including the Philippines, Sulawesi, the Red Sea and the Caribbean. Here’s what he had to tell us about the five images below:
1. “Roving coral groupers are one of the larger predators on the coral reef and usually pretty shy. I was pleased to find this individual at a cleaning station so that I could get close enough to photograph it. The cleaner wrasse was often so far back in its mouth that I couldn’t see it – so I waited until it was up near those sharp teeth before taking this shot!”
2. “This is a classic angle to shoot the amazing face of this fish, an ambush predator, known as a stargazer. I used a much shallower depth of field that normal to really draw attention to the key features of the face – the eyes and mouth.”
3. “Pygmy gobies make their homes in a variety of objects found underwater. Here they are living in a old discarded beer bottle. I placed a light behind the beer bottle that glows yellow like the fish and then timed my shot when one of the gobies was hovering above the other.”
4. “Juvenile African pompano are extraordinary looking fish that you can encounter by drifting deep in the open sea at night. The problem is that this then gives a plain black background. So for this image I chose to shoot a double exposure (in camera) of the fish and light beams entering the surface at sunset.”
5. “A large female stingray approaches me at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands, a place where wild rays are used to being fed. I didn’t offer bait for this photo, but the rays are used to people and often come and investigate. This was a challenging photo to take, managing the split level view while trying to get the ray as large as possible in the frame without cutting her off.”
Georgette Douwma “kaleidoscope” images
Georgette tells us how she was inspired to create these ‘kaleidoscope’ pictures. “I was searching among my photographs for an abstract image to enter in a underwater photographic competition. I couldn’t find anything that was abstract and pretty, so I started to experiment by combining images. By using copy and paste, and flipping horizontallu and vertically, I obtained results that were surprisingly attractive. The picture I entered in the competition came second. Since then I have been playing with these ‘kaleidosopic’ images and have also made them with buttons, autumn leaves and sewing material!”
Staffan Widstrand sends more great images from the Wild Wonders of China project
Staffan sends us regular submissions of amazing material from the Wild Wonders of China project. His latest images come from Sichuan and Yunnan. He told us more about how he took them and the significance of these species, most of them endemic to the region.
“The giant panda is a Chinese conservation success story. It’s remarkable that they made it through the last thousand years. They survived mainly in the ancient Taoist nature conservation areas called Dong Tien Fodi or ”Cave Heavens”. These provided protection of huge areas in the central Chinese mountains where the killing of animals, cutting of trees and pollution of rivers were forbidden. This picture shows a captive-bred young panda at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Center. Scientists are now beginning to release captive-bred pandas back into the wild again.”
China is the best place in the world to see pheasants, with some amazingly beautiful species.
“I photographed the hard-to-find grey peacock-pheasant from a hide in the Tongbiguan Biosphere Reserve, Dehong, Yunnan. Here a male displays showing his spectacular eye-spots.
A male golden pheasant, photographed during a great photo hide session, tries to impress a female.
One of the world’s most spectacular birds, the glamorous male Lady Amherst’s pheasant, shows off during the courtship season.
Finally, the beautiful male Temminck’s tragopan came out from the dense forest cover and into the mini-glade where I had waited two full days for it to show up. A bird with almost mythical status among birdwatchers, this species is rare and difficult to find. Its favourite habitat is shady spots along the streams of central China’s karst forests. I shot this picture near Chongching, which with 35 million inhabitants is the world’s biggest city!”
Hunters become conservationists
“The great barbet shot below was taken in the Gaoligongshan mountains in Yunnan. This is a place where previously prolific bird hunters are now instead bird safari guides and guesthouse/hotel owners. There are plenty of well-placed hides providing easy and comfortable access to see and photograph wild birds at close range. These ex-hunters have realized that showing the birds, rather than killing them, gives many times more money and better business. ”
Ann and Steve Toon – Kalahari wildlife
British photojournalists Ann and Steve spend a lot of time in southern Africa, where they lead photographic tours. The Kalahari is a favourite destination, and from these new images it’s easy to see why! They tell us more about the thinking behind their photography and their interest in capturing animal behaviour.
Elephants and their social bonds
“One of our photographic passions is attempting to capture the strong social bond that exists between elephants. This means that we get to spend precious time in the presence of these amazing mammals. When observing an elephant herd we’re always looking to pick out details that show how tender and gentle these hulking beasts can be. For example, the intimate moment when a cow and calf mutually reassure each other that all is well by touching trunks. Or when playful youngsters push trunks in a show of strength, safe in the knowledge that their mothers, sisters and aunts are protecting them, as shown in the breeding herd in silhouette against a setting sun.
You can see these strong social ties and protective instincts in play again in the nocturnal shot of a breeding herd at water. The baby is nestled safely among the adults’ bodies, sheltered by a forest of thick elephant legs. That sense of their sheer size is enhanced because we were photographing from a hide just four metres away in the dark. As as a result, there’s no background to distract the eye and we could use wide angle lenses to stress how the adults in this maternal herd truly are gentle giants.”
Contrasting approaches to meerkat photography
“These two contrasting images are from a project we did in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park documenting a mob of meerkats. They regularly sought sanctuary in one of the reserve’s public rest camps. They had even colonised an old ground squirrel den in a quiet corner, which they used when passing through this part of their territory. This meant we were able to photograph them socialising as a group in the early mornings and late afternoons. While we were waiting for good light we also took some reportage shots showing how accustomed they were to the humans who came and went in camp.
We wanted to get some more attractive and artistic images and also to document the story of their life in the camp. The more abstract running meerkat shot was deliberately taken with a slow shutter speed to blur the motion in a visually appealing way. This also helped convey the twin ideas of the mob’s constant hyperactivity and their being a strong social unit. The shot of them lined up in camp one morning sunbathing made us smile. The group is behaving exactly as meerkats would anywhere in the Kgalagadi before heading off to feed. But because they are shown against the background of the camp’s man-made structures, they look like a family of tourists that’s got distracted while posing for a souvenir photo!”
Edwin Giesbers travels to the Camargue for flamingos
Edwin Giesbers travels widely in search of photographic subjects, both in Europe and beyond. Two of his most recent image sets feature greater flamingos and grey seals. Edwin tells us more about the experience.
Located in southern France on the edge of the Camargue salt marshes, the Parc ornithologique de Pont de Gau is a nature reserve harbouring thousands of birds, both resident and migratory. This bird sanctuary is the ideal location to view hundreds of pink flamingos, the emblematic bird of the Camargue. Formerly threatened with extinction, the Greater flamingo is today well established in the region, although it remains a fragile species, easily disturbed by human activity.
“In the mating season – from December to February – the flamingos perform their courtship in groups: the flamingo dance. According to new research, the flamingos have a staggering 136 moves that they use in order to attract a mate. The more complicated the display, the more likely these exotic-looking birds are to find a partner to breed with.”
and Heligoland for grey seals
“Heligoland is approximately 70 kilometers from the German coast, an island of red sandstone. It is famous among nature lovers and photographers for the seabirds that breed there in the spring and summer. But I travelled by boat to Heligoland in December, braving very rough seas, for another reason: to photograph the grey seal. Since they were first protected in the Waddensee in the 1970s, the seals have made a remarkable come-back.”
“The small uninhabited sand island of Düne, located one kilometer from Heligoland, is known for its Grey seal colony. Here the population is increasing every year. The young are born in the harsh winter wind between the end of November and January. The tough seal pups, however, have a thick white winter coat in the first weeks that protects them against the cold, but they cannot swim until they moult into their grey coat at the age of 3 weeks. In the 2018-2019 season 426 youngsters were born – a record total!”
Milan Radisics – Azerbaijan’s mud volcanoes
Azerbaijan has the world’s greatest concentration of mud volcanoes. These are linked to underground reserves of hydrocarbon and petrochemicals, which cause the gas to try to escape to the surface. Unlike conventional volcanoes, they are generally very cold. Milan found that, although some of them are close to the main road, the most beautiful ones lie deep in the Gobustan desert. He tells us more about the experience: “To reach them involves several hours driving, literally to the middle of nowhere. Some volcanoes are small, with a diameter of just a few metres, but others are a few kilometres wide. Taking pictures of them from the ground is hard, but they are the perfect subject for drone photography using a built-in camera. Aerial images really reveal their true character.”
Phil Savoie photographs the smallest subjects …
Phil Savoie is based in South Wales and finds a variety of great subjects for photography close to home. He tells us more about two recent projects that inspired him.
“I took all of these bee images in my back garden – they are one of my favourite macro subjects. The UK has over 270 native bee species, but they are often overshadowed in the media by the one human-managed species – the honeybee. However it is these native bees that really need attention and urgent conservation efforts. They are far superior pollinators of native plants. In fact, in some cases it takes 120 honeybees to match the pollination rate of just one of our native bees! Many of our wild British bees are tiny, some of them 8mm or less in length. Consequently they are easily overlooked. Their small size and quick movements are for me an enjoyable photographic challenge.”
… and the largest!
“Living just outside the Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky site allows me to photograph beautiful English oaks star-bathing. I often find myself kneeling down in a field off the beaten track at 2am happily documenting these lovely guardians of our countryside….”
January 2020 Highlights gallery
If you’d like to see more of the best new images added to our site, you’ll find more than 150 in our brand new January 2020 Highlights gallery. Enjoy!