Eyecatchers – March 2020

Eyecatchers are show-stopping and surprising standalone images from the natural world, accompanied by the photographers’ stories from behind the lens. Below is a sample from our latest selection. The full series can be viewed here.

Wingspan – Guy Edwardes

Lake Kerkini, near the Bulgarian border, is one of the most important wintering sites in Europe for Dalmatian pelicans. 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. (below left)

Animal Selfie – Philippe Clement

When I sat down to observe this polar bear in Zoo de la Fleche, I 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. Afterwards, they spent several minutes posting their ‘animal selfies’ on social media. It seemed to me that these visitors were missing an opportunity to simply enjoy the moment. (above right)

Take Off! – John Shaw

Over the course of several days I watched this Arctic fox terrorise 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. (below left)

Armed and Dangerous – Doug Perrine

A blue nudibranch (or sea slug) approaches the colourful, venom-filled tentacles of a bluebottle jellyfish, also known as a Portuguese man-of-war. The ocean-faring slug hunts and eats bluebottles, ingesting its prey’s powerful stinging cells (called nematocysts) and deploying them to special organs at the tips of its own cerata (the spiny outgrowths on its body). These confiscated weapons are then used for the slug’s own self-defence. (above right)

Safety – Oscar Dewhurst

I spent a year documenting a family of mute swans nesting on a lake near my 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 are sheltering underneath their mother’s wing. I spent many early mornings watching and photographing them as they grew up and gradually explored more of their new world. (below left)

Social Club – Tony Wu

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 to socialise. I saw large numbers like this just once, when more than 50 whales were congregated in a shallow bay. I entered the water to photograph them, but although I managed to approach within a few metres, the whales bolted away with tremendous speed. Once I understood that the whales were uncomfortable with my presence, I got out of the water and concentrated on aerial images. (above right)

Twice in a Lifetime – Stefan Christmann

If there’s one thing that could be considered the holy grail of Antarctica, I would argue it’s to witness the southern lights (or aurora australis) above an emperor penguin colony. In order to photograph this, the moon has to be full (or almost full), to shine enough light onto the penguin colony. At the same time, the aurora has to be strong enough to outshine the full-moon. The chances of witnessing these conditions are so slim that it can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, I didn’t care about the odds. In 2012, while overwintering in Antarctica as a scientist, I vividly recall failing eight times to photograph this phenomenon. It was during attempt number nine, on the night of September 30th 2012, that I finally succeeded. Everything fell into place, and I witnessed one of the strongest outbursts of the aurora I had ever seen, dancing above the emperor penguins.
Almost exactly five years later, on September 6th, 2017, I was back in Antarctica on a moonless night, staring at a promising aurora forecast. I quickly got dressed, hopped onto my skidoo, and drove down to the penguin colony, where I could already see the green band of the aurora stretching across the sky. The show only became more dramatic as the hours passed. At one point, even the snow on the ground was bathed in green light. It was hard to believe that the conditions were just right for a second time. In my experience, if you get really lucky, a once-in-a-lifetime experience can happen to you twice! (below left)

Caught in the Act – Lucas Bustamante

As a biologist with a special interest in herpetology, night hikes in the jungle are favourite pastime of mine. Every single night is different, sometimes you score dozens of cool sightings, sometimes the forest is empty. In one such night adventure, I found this rainfrog with a baby tarantula in the mouth! The well-fed amphibian belongs to one of the most common frog species in the Ecuadorian Chocó, but this was the first time I’d encountered it. I was very happy to photograph this one caught in the act! (above right)

Challenge – Edwin Giesbers

One of the best places to see red deer is Richmond Park in London. The deer were introduced there in the sixteenth century by King Henry VIII, for hunting purposes. However, that pastime ended long ago, and today the city of London cherishes the deer. This image shows a large stag bellowing at sunset. The annual rut, when the dominant male rounds up a harem of females and fights off other amorous stags, takes place between September and October every year. (below left)

Ice Sculpture – Sven Začek

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 in Estonia. (above right)

Candy Cane Comfort – Alex Mustard

Emperor shrimps are tiny, but beautifully coloured crustaceans that live commensally with several types of marine invertebrates, including sea slugs and sea cucumbers. ‘Commensalism’ is a type of relationship where one party benefits (the shrimp, which is hitching a ride), while the other party receives no benefit, nor does it come to any harm. The host species in this scenario was a candy cane sea cucumber – a species which is rarely seen. I was particularly pleased to find one with a shrimp living on it. I chose to fill the frame with the amazing abstract pattern of the sea cucumber. (below left)

Mellow Yellow – Edwin Giesbers

During a trip to Cyprus I discovered a beautiful field of wild flowers including crown daisy and mayweed. While I was photographing the plants, I saw a common ladybug (seven spot ladybird) crawling around on a mayweed flower. Choosing a shallow depth of field allowed me to blur out the backdrop (bright yellow flowers), so that the insect and the mayweed became the sole focus of the image. (above right)

Mud Wrestling – SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

For the last 15 years, I have been going to the Highlands of Scotland to photograph red deer during the rut. The younger bucks – still too small to challenge the adult stags – have to find other outlets for their aggression. They fight amongst themselves and pretend to run harems (which helps provide the experience they’ll need later in life). I noticed this particular animal attacking a mud patch. Adult stags urinate in mud and then cover themselves in it to smell more attractive to the females. However, this rookie buck was still learning. He knew he had to do something with the mud, but instead of the prerequisite urination, he opted for fighting it instead. (below left)

A Matter of Perception – Matthew Maran

What do you see? Vermin, a nuisance, or two animals connecting? We all want to feel connected, and that goes for animals too. In this instance, a dog fox is interacting with a vixen in an urban garden. My aim is to show the sensitive side of the fox and attempt to dispel the myths that they are pests – cat killing creatures that will dig up your lawn and pooh on your doorstep out of spite. Urban foxes are like every animal, they need to find food, water and shelter. They rear young and patrol their territory and they’ve done this against the odds – living in cities alongside millions of people. (above right)

Fish Pirates – David Pattyn

In Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, small fishing boats were landing on the beach. As the catches were carried onto land, they were being pillaged by frigate birds. The fish were plentiful enough that the fishermen appeared to accept the comparatively small loss. To me, it felt like payback time. Nature was stealing something back! (below left)

Pulling Together – Franco Banfi

Cabo Pulmo National Park in Mexico is considered to be one of the most successful marine protected areas in the world. Fishing and other extractive activities have been banned, and within a decade of the reserve being created, the fish biomass increased more than 460 percent – to a level comparable with pristine coral reefs that have never been fished. When I first rolled into the water, and found myself literally immersed in a swirling school of bigeye jacks, I witnessed firsthand the park’s success. I spent the whole dive photographing the school, trying to portray its fluidity and size. Every fish seemed to be following a leader, who was constantly changing direction. The school stretched and shrunk, at times large enough to block out the sun. To me, the success of Cabo Pulmo demonstrates that when people pull together as a community, great changes are possible. (above right)

Light Show – Yashpal Rathore

One moonless night in Kanha Tiger Reserve, India, the forest canopy was glittering with the synchronised display of thousands of male fireflies. These insects are best seen in the weeks leading up to the monsoon, when they gather to find the perfect mate. In order to capture the display, I chose a tree which stood out from the rest of the forest, and took a series of long exposure images (each 25 sec). Since I was not expecting to photograph this phenomenon, I wasn’t carrying an interval meter, which meant I had to trigger each exposure manually, one after the other. Any artificial light source would have adversely affected the image, so once I’d composed and focused the frame, I switched off my head torch and worked in complete darkness. I was in the middle of tiger country, with a resident tigress and other predators like sloth bears and leopards in the vicinity. All alone, and with nothing to protect myself, I showed my presence by singing random songs. Luckily, I avoided any surprise encounters and was able to record this spectacular light show. The final image – a composite of around 30 frames – shows the combined efforts of the male fireflies hoping to attract a mate, complemented by the star trails in the sky above. (below left)

Path through Glencharnoch Wood – SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

There are times when it is a privilege just to be outdoors, alone and immersed in nature. This small fragment of woodland is just a few hundred metres from habitation but on this particular afternoon it felt like I was in total isolation, surrounded by an endless sea of ancient pines. The woodland was eerily quiet; no people, no birdsong, no wind to rustle the branches. As the sun began to set, a veil of mist rose from the damp forest floor and the millions of tiny water droplets captured the brilliant orange glow of warm light, creating an otherworldly landscape. Such moments are rare, and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to capture such transient conditions. (above right)

 

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Royal Crown – Ingo Arndt

While researching a story about weird-looking animals, I came across a painting of a royal flycatcher. I couldn’t believe that this bizarre bird really existed, but it does! I found researchers in Costa Rica who were working with it in the rainforest, and flew all the way there especially for this portrait. It wasn’t long before the researchers caught this bird in one of their mist nets. As they were fitting it with an identification ring, I set up my field studio and took this portrait against a white background, helping to accentuate the bird’s opulent head plumage.

Dye or Die? – Cyril Ruoso

When I came across this unusual scene in Anja Reserve, Madagascar, it made me stop in my tracks! In an effort to protect her domestic chickens from predation by raptors, one enterprising villager had dyed them pink! I don’t know if there is any scientific evidence to support her theory, but the woman told me that the yellow-billed kites flying over the village all day would leave her chicks alone if they were dyed. Perhaps the raptors associate the chicks with the colour yellow, and therefore don’t recognise the pink ones as food. Curiously, no other villagers had adopted this practice. Whatever the case may be, I was happy to record this anecdotal scene. (above right)

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