April 2020 Highlights

The last month has been busy with additions to our website. Our marine photographers have supplied whales, sharks, coral reef scenes and some extraordinary deep sea creatures. Klein and Hubert have been photographing the behaviour of two small European mammals – the souslik and the harvest mouse. And our landscape photographers have provided some spectacular scenics from North America and Namibia. You will also fine breeding little terns and loons, endangered pangolins, Madagascar’s fossa and aye-aye, and many of the pictures from Steve Nicholl’s book Flowers of the Field.

Konrad Wothe – Glowing Trails

On warm summer evenings I often watch the slowly flying fireflies in the forest not too far from my home. It is as if they are painting green glowing tracks in the forest, several feet above the ground. Only the males of this species (Lamprohiza splendidula) can fly. The worm-like flightless females sit on the ground and wait for the glowing signals of the males. As soon as they see them, they also start glowing and so the males can find their mates. On some evenings there are dozens of fireflies drawing their green glowing lines in the forest. I thought it would make a stunning picture if I could capture all these flight tracks in one single image. I also wanted to have a realistic expression of the dark forest scenery in my picture. This was the main problem because with the necessary exposure time of more than one hour, the forest would have been totally overexposed. But with a special feature of my new camera I was able to solve this problem!

Klein & Hubert – Mini Marvels

As we started to photograph harvest mice, we thought the project would perhaps take 3-4 months. In the end it took us 2 years! These tiny mice have so many interesting behaviours: they climb like miniature monkeys with the help of their prehensile tail, they regurgitate food to their babies like wolves, and construct tennis ball-sized nests like weaver birds. We are lucky to live near a marsh area inhabited by harvest mice. Thanks to the local mayor who is also a farmer (and our friend), the swamp is now protected and not drained, so the habitat of the harvest mice is safe.

Klein & Hubert – A Leisurely Start

The first day we hoped to photograph sousliks (aka European ground squirrels), we arrived on site at sunrise, and waited in the dew until 9 o’clock when the first sousliks came out from the den to warm up in the sun. It’s a great species for nature photographers who are not too keen on early starts without breakfast! We had a lot of fun with these little rodents. They are social animals and live in colonies, which means they demonstrate many interesting behaviours like fighting, food stealing, warning against birds of prey, grooming, chasing, stretching, and digging. No boredom with these little creatures!

Shane Gross – Shark Selfie

Oceanic whitetip sharks spend their whole lives out in the open ocean where there is not as much food as there is near the coast. Therefore, they have developed a highly curious nature and are sure to investigate anything that might lead to a meal. They are known to follow pilot whales for long periods to eat their leftovers… or even their poop! While they may not be picky eaters, they are, luckily for me, also patient and cautious diners, not wanting to risk injury while feeding. So, this shark would come up to me, bump my camera and then swim over to the next snorkeler in the water to do the same thing, and then the next one, then back to me, over and over again for hours. Sometimes we had several sharks doing this at the same time. It made for a very interesting week at sea. What a privilege to have an almost three metre shark within touching distance over and over in their natural habitat.

Prized Pangolins – Wild Wonders of China

The world’s most trafficked wild mammal, pangolin populations are in catastrophic decline in Asia and most of Africa. With up to 100,000 pangolins hunted and sold every year, they now account for 20% of all sales on the wildlife black-market. Few people have seen a pangolin in the wild, since it is a shy, nocturnal and burrowing animal. The pangolin’s large scales are made of keratin, the same material of which our fingernails, rhino horns and bird talons are made – and account for 20% of its weight. The scales are very hard and protect pangolins against animal predators, but sadly they are prized in traditional Chinese medicine. They are dried and roasted and offered as a method of relieving palsy, stimulating lactation and draining pus. As a result, pangolin scales can sell on the black market for over $3,000 a kilogram. Pangolins are protected by national and international legislation throughout their range but illicit hunting flourishes, predominantly in Asia. This illegal trade takes place despite prohibitions under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). These include the establishment of zero export quotas for Asian pangolins removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes. A lack of awareness and information along with insufficient political pressure makes tackling the black market trade challenging.

We did a very rapid assignment for The Nature Conservancy here, and sent Suzi Eszterhas and Jak Wonderly to do a captive shoot of the animals, since these are so difficult to find in the wild. They went to Vietnam and to Singapore Night Safari zoo. We also asked Xiao Shibai to photograph the illegal trade in some Chinese markets (more about this can be found here).

Emanuele Biggi – On A Mission

This image of a Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis), probably pregnant female, was taken during a morning expedition into the surroundings of Swakopmund city. At the base of the dunes, there are often succulent plants where these amazing terrestrial chameleons thrive and hide from predators. But this particular one was ‘on a mission’, walking along the dune slope, maybe looking for a suitable place to lay her eggs in this amazingly dry place. Since it was already in a delicate situation, I didn’t approach too closely, leaving her some space, and framing this unique and endemic species within its environment by the means of a wide-angle lens. I left her while she was still walking on a straight line across the dunes, as she knew perfectly where she was going in that desolate, beautiful sea of sand.

Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis) walking up dune, Swakopmund, Dorob National Park, Namibia

Tui De Roy – Dance of the Manta Rays

Although I grew up surrounded by wildlife in the Galapagos Islands, I always dreamt of seeing and photographing big aggregations of ocean wildlife in remote locations. That dream came true when I recently spent five weeks in the Maldives, on two separate live-aboard Manta expeditions, plus one week at the famed Hanifaru Bay Marine Reserve where reef mantas are known to congregate.  Although we saw and photographed mantas every day, the crux came on a brooding rainy afternoon just after the new moon.

Anxious to be in place with plenty of time to spare, we spent several hours anchored in the atoll pass, scanning the calm sea surface for the first riffles telling us the tide was turning and the surge of current flooding the lagoon would soon bring dense masses of plankton — and mantas.

It seemed that time hung still forever, except for the ever-darkening clouds and rain.  Then suddenly, there was action all around: mantas, mantas everywhere.  They were mostly chain feeding, either in a diagonal line or in a spiral, using each other’s slipstream to concentrate the copepod soup which they scooped into their wide open mouths using their spoon-like cephalic fins.  And the overcast sky produced excellent soft underwater lighting.

There was no question of scuba diving in this dynamic situation, so we all dispersed from the boat, swimming against the current with all the power we could muster.  For three hours I barely looked up, only to make sure the boat was still there, and never had mantas out of my sight — I was in heaven!  Our guide was using a GoPro and later counted 94 mantas passing in front of him in one uninterrupted scene.

When the tidal current finally slackened and the mantas dispersed, I flopped into the dinghy like a spent fish, completely exhausted yet totally elated.  Never in my life had I swum so hard for so long.  Even though I emerged in the same place as I’d started, I wonder how many kilometres I covered that afternoon.

If my trip could be counted in mantas, several hundred would surely be the case. We even photographed several new individuals, never before recorded. The Manta Trust keeps track of over 4,900 mantas in the Maldives by their unique underside markings: individual black spots and blotches on a mostly white background that are as personal to each manta as are our fingerprints.  Each new manta is given a name. As I sit in lockdown in the Galapagos Islands, there is a young female manta swimming somewhere in the Indian Ocean named Jacqueline, after my late mum.  I wish her well.

Jack Dykinga – A Love Of Landscapes

Seeing the towering dunes in Namibia is always a bit overwhelming.  To me, there was also a feeling of familiarity.  The Namib had a look that in many ways reminded me of my Sonoran Desert home.  But, the intense red coloured sand is other-worldly and the tendency is to rush toward the dunes.  Instead, I resisted that urge and opted for a telephoto “compressed” view that further emphasised the scale over the tiny acacia trees below….

Towering elegant curving red sand dunes rising above acacia trees. Sossusevlei, World Heritage Site, Namibia

Jack Dykinga – Seeking Solitude

The Colorado Plateau’s vastness and sculpted sandstone has long been a destination for my photography and for self-healing solitude.  Each time I visit I visualise different ways of seeing , different light and weather, combined with my own different feelings toward that landscape.  When light first kisses the designs in stone, the texture becomes intense. Combined with new camera technology, images created now can render fine details that bring the place to life…as never before. (below left)

 

Jack Dykinga – Serendipitous Skies

The giant cap-rock formations at the base of Arizona’s echo cliffs are a place I’ve always passed on my way to somewhere else.  Though interesting, they never caused me to spend time to photograph. I decided to change that and revisited the balanced behemoths under a star-studded sky.  As often happens, surprises can make all the difference.  While I was making a 20 second exposure, a distant passing car’s brake lights lit for second and due to the extreme sensitivity of high ISO photography, a warm colour permeated the sandstone cliffs adding drama to the image. (below right)

Magnus Lundgren – The New Frontier

It’s not often that a photographer finds a place or an event where everything feels totally new and unexplored. For Magnus, every ‘black water’ dive is an outer space-like journey into a new and unexplored world in which strange beings appear from the dark depths. The event is astonishing not only to the photographer but also to the world’s researchers and photo editors. This is a new, unexplored field where many animals and their behaviour are totally unknown to science. As an eye witness to a mostly unknown world, Magnus experiences at close hand how the strange organisms behave and interact with each other. It becomes clear how their appearance and their behaviour are directly linked to their survival.

Nick Garbutt – Mass Migration

I was in the Northern Serengeti in September 2019 with the aim of photographing wildebeest crossing the mighty Mara River. It rained very heavily overnight, so we were unsure what to expect as we set off from camp before dawn. The river had risen significantly overnight and was now running swiftly. As we approached a renowned crossing point, nothing prepared us for the sight we were about to see.

On the north bank of the river colossal numbers of wildebeest had gathered overnight and there were still great columns of animals heading from the Masai Mara southwards to further swell the throng. There were hundreds of thousands of animals. As the morning progressed gathering wildebeest swelled in numbers further, but the river also continued to rise, so each time a few wildebeest went to the waters’ edge to prospect a possible crossing, they quickly turned away. We waited away from the river on the south shore, hoping that a few wildebeest would at some point take the plunge and be the catalysts for the ‘cork popping from the bottle’. If this crossing happened it would be utterly epic. Alas it did not. The river continued to rise, even more wildebeest gathered, but as we progressed into late afternoon the wildebeest then began to drift away, firstly in dribs and drabs, and a little later in more substantial ‘mini-herds’. Gradually the enormous, densely packed mass of animals, was absorbed into the surrounding landscape.

By the following afternoon river levels had fallen appreciably and the numbers of wildebeest returning to the river’s edge started to build once again. Again we waited. For a couple of hours or more, handfuls of animals periodically came to the river’s edge, looked like they were going to make the necessary leap, but instead backed away. Then, late in the afternoon it happened. Half a dozen or so animals came to the water’s edge, one dipped a hoof, then a second. They inched forward some more, on the brink. Then one jumped in, a second jumped, a third, a fourth and in an instant the entire mass of animals began streaming down the riverbank and leaping into the river. The air was instantly filled with a cacophony from thousands of grunting wildebeest. In no time a frenzied mass of animals was frantically swimming across the river – a 50m width of water separating them from the ‘Promised Land’ on the far side.

Once the crossing began, we were able to move quickly down to the shoreline, choosing a point close to where the stream of animals was likely to emerge. As they swam towards us in wide-eyed panic, it was clear the current was still strong as they were being forced downstream. The first animals to make it to the south shore had drifted at least 70m downstream in the process of crossing.

Within moments of the crossing beginning, huge crocodiles appeared on the scene. Some must have been hidden on the banks and slipped silently into the water, others were perhaps already in the water and lying menacingly submerged. Each crocodile moved slowly towards the wildebeest, seemingly trying to target the younger, smaller animals. At times it was remarkable to see monstrous crocodiles (some 5 metres long) drift within touching distance of swimming wildebeest and then do nothing. On occasion the thronging mass of animals would swim and trample right over the crocodiles. But when a crocodile homed in on a single, already struggling animal, the outcome was predictable. From close range, with a swift power-packed lunge, the crocodile’s massive jaws would snap around the neck or legs of the wildebeest and in a single splash or swirl it would disappear beneath the surface. In an instant its fate was sealed.

 

Nick Garbutt – Yellowstone in Winter

Yellowstone is one of the great national parks of the world, but it is of course seen as ‘America’s playground’ and is consequently extremely busy, at least in the spring, summer and autumn seasons. Winter, however, is completely different. It is relatively quiet, and in my opinion showcases the park and its extraordinary wildlife to best effect. In the depths of winter, the landscape takes on an ethereal harsh beauty, with the juxtaposition of fairy-tale frosts, ice and snow set against swirling mists and rising steam from countless geothermal features. The park is laden with atmosphere and provides endless inspiration and opportunities for photographers.

I return each year in January and relish the wonderful wildlife encounters and photographic experiences. The remote Hayden Valley often throws up trip highlights and this year was no exception. The Upper Yellowstone River flows through the valley and this year a female otter with two sub-adult cubs was frequently visible along a 3 to 4km stretch. Some of the best sightings occurred around the Chittenden Bridge, close to their holt, where the otters were often seen playing on ice and hunting in the areas of open water. The open expanses of the valley itself are excellent areas to see red foxes which hunt rodents beneath the snow. This year a larger herd of bison were resident in the valley and both foxes and coyotes were often seen hunting in and around the disturbed areas of snow where bison had been grazing. It is through the disturbance caused by the bison attracts rodents and this subsequently attracts the rodent hunters.

David Fleetham – In A Tangle

We were a few miles off the Kona Coast of the Big Island hoping to find a group of pilot whales when we ran into a tangle of cargo nets and rope in a ball the size of a small car. There were several sargassumfish in various parts of the conglomeration but this one was on an edge towards the outside. Many other juvenile species were also seeking protection and unwittingly turning themselves into prey for the sargassumfish, which can swallow another fish the same size as itself. I had a wide angle lens on and had to switch ports on my housing to accommodate my 100mm macro lens for this shot.

David Woodfall – Little Terns

I have been involved in little tern conservation for a long time, and since 1978 I have written papers on their biology and reproductive habits. I have worked extensively photographing their lives, and have spent hundreds of hours documenting them in Northumberland, Wicklow, Gronant and North Uist. They are the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK and are really good indicators of climate change. Little terns rely on sand eels for food, and as the seas become warmer the sand eels dive deeper to get to colder water, and the little terns can only dive to a depth of 1 foot and therefore can’t reach their food.

Steve Nicholls – Britain in Bloom

Bluebells are a truly British spectacle. They’re only found naturally in northwest Europe and half the global population lives in the British Isles. But they’re surprisingly hard to photograph. The trick is to find woodlands that have very little shrub or other ground cover, so it’s just trees and bluebells. Beechwoods are often good, because in summer they cast such dense shade that not much else can grow, but appearing in spring before the leaves are fully open, bluebells can form a spectacular monoculture – the classic image of Britain in spring. But this sight may not be very natural. In wild woods with big populations of wild boar, their rooting and digging might break up the monoculture and allow a greater diversity of flowers. So some think that this glorious sea of blue might also be a sign of our impoverished landscape.

Steve Nicholls – Holiday Souvenirs

Honey garlic is a familiar plant to gardeners, sometimes appearing in garden centres under its Latin name of Nectaroscordium. It also grows on the rocky slopes of the Avon Gorge in Bristol, thanks to a teacher at Clifton College back in the late 19th century. In 1897, G A Wollaston returned from a holiday in Sicily with pockets full of various wild Allium (garlic) bulbs, which he proceeded to scatter from the Clifton Suspension Bridge onto the rocky ledges below. Eventually they took hold and now some of these wild but non-native garlics are becoming a problem for rare natives, some of which only occur in Britain in the Avon Gorge. Even so, honey garlic lives up to its name and oozes copious nectar from its flowers – so at least the local bees appreciate the efforts of Mr. Wollaston. (below left)

Steve Nicholls – Sweet Cicely

This plant is a native of mountainous areas of Central Europe but was introduced to the British Isles in medieval times as a strewing herb, for scattering on church floors where its sweet hay aroma combined with hints of aniseed overpowered any less savoury smells. From here it escaped into the countryside and is now widely naturalised, though commoner in the north along river and stream banks. I collected seeds from plants I found growing in lush abundance along the River Esk in North Yorkshire and grew them in pots so I could photograph the delicate flowers against a background of my choice. Those same seeds have a distinctively aniseed flavour so the plant is also valued as a culinary herb now. (below right)

 

Franco Banfi – The Curious Cuckoo wrasse

One of the most colourful fish in the Mediterranean is the cuckoo wrasse,  a species that looks like it belongs in the tropics! They can be nervous, however a calm and detached behaviour allowed me to approach close enough to capture this image. The females often remain shy and watchful, while the territorial males generally prove to be very confident and curious, like the one in this picture. The species is a protogynous hermaphrodite, which means they begin as females, and then due to hormonal changes, develop into males as they age. The depth they can be found at changes according to sex and season. Juveniles live in shallow water, while adults prefer colder and poorly lit waters. In spring / summer, they can be found at 15-20 meters, while in winter or in autumn when this image was taken, they tend to live deeper, up to 40m. (below left)

Franco Banfi – Giant tun

The shell of an adult giant tun can grow up to 30 cm, making it one of the largest snails in the Adriatic sea. Specimens have been quoted to be the size of a man’s head. In the Adriatic these snails are typically found in coastal areas up to 5 nautical miles away from the land. In the northern part of the Adriatic they are very rare. The largest number of giant tun settlements of this type were recorded in middle Dalmatian channels and bays. These snails are typically found at depths ranging from just beneath the surface to 120 metres. I found this snail in quite shallow water (10 meters) and waited 45 minutes to see the mollusc emerge from its shell, because I wanted to capture a photo that showed the animal alive. Due to its attractive appearance and size, it is often lured and sold as a souvenir. Therefore, populations have declined more and more in recent years. Since 1994 the giant tun is strictly protected by law, unfortunately despite the protection it is not uncommon to find it in many markets, while it is increasingly hard to find in the wild. (above right)

View a full gallery of images, or check out the April Highlights prints gallery.