May 2020 Highlights

We’ve added a great mix of new material to our site in the last month, from all corners of the globe. Notable subjects include behaviour of red and Arctic foxes, a range of coverage from Mongolia including jerboas and desert hedgehogs, and some great new marine material on whales, sharks and deep sea creatures. You will also find some dramatic British and European landscapes, images of the US/Mexico border wall, and some bold big cat portraits.

Pascal Kobeh – World Beneath The Ice

The outside temperature was some days around -30 degrees centigrade. To get to the diving spot, we had to drive around 30-45 minutes snowmobile on the frozen sea. These images were taken in the middle of the bay, where the ice was at least 50 cm thick. Every morning when we arrived, we had to dig again and break the thin layer of ice that had covered the hole during the night. I can assure you that after that long drive in the cold, you don’t feel like going diving, but it was what we were there for, so in we went! The light and scenery was amazing down there, but the major challenge was to dive and play with rays of light and try to capture it effectively. The bottom was quite covered with kelp and we only found few fish, but a lot of invertebrates.

Of course for safety reasons, our guide was tied to somebody above the ice (the person you can see in the triangle on the image on the left) and there was a system of different codes with the rope to signal to the surface if everything was OK or if we had a problem down there.

Klein & Hubert – Riding With Wings

On the very western side of Mongolia, against the peaks of the Altaï range, lives a community of Mongolian Kazakhs. The cultural heritage of the berkutchis (eagle hunters on horseback) is probably over 2000 years old. Every autumn, a festival of international reputation takes place in Olgii and the best hunters compete with their eagles. We spent 2 weeks with different hunters, living in their camps with their families. The hospitality of the semi-nomadic people is legendary. The golden eagles used to hunt foxes and wolves are mostly females as they’re heavier and more aggressive. The hunting takes place in wintertime and the hunters are looking for prime fur quality. We were absolutely amazed by the hunter’s ability to handle horse and eagle in such rugged and steep terrain. High winds and freezing temperatures don’t bother them. Sometimes, it was too cold for our Mongolian guide to follow us in the mountains. So we were alone with the hunters, communicating with body language. It worked even better than with our translator!

Klein & Hubert – Mickey Mouse, Skippy and Dumbo, all in one!

On this trip to Mongolia, we were not searching for the rare snow leopard or the elusive Gobi bear. We hoped to find a very small and strange creature: the long-eared jerboa that lives in remote areas of the Gobi desert. Not much is known about their biology except that they live in burrows and hibernate. Mainly crepuscular and nocturnal, we had no other choice to walk at night with torches. Thanks to our experienced guides, we were successful and were even able to follow one rodent while he was hunting for insects, and we watched another one digging a burrow, using its teeth to lift gravel. Their huge ears are very sensitive but also enable the jerboa to cool down in the extreme heat. With his kangaroo feet, he’s a great jumper and an effortless runner. The long-eared jerboa population is declining rapidly, probably due to a combination of climate change, and the impact of huge mining projects operating nearby in this unique and extremely fragile environment. (below left)

Klein & Hubert – Bovine French-kiss

Early one morning, while setting up on an alpine pasture in Austria, the cows came to greet us. I think they associated people with food, so soon the whole herd came, mooing and trotting, to check the two-leggeds. After a while, most of them started to graze again, probably a bit disappointed. But this Braunvieh lady was particularly curious and wanted to shake hands in cow language: which means sniffing with a dripping nose and stretching a very wet tongue in order to taste our smell. Soon our hands, trousers and even hair were sticky with saliva, and not even the wide-angle lens and camera escaped her tongue! This was the wettest welcome we ever had! (below right)

Terry Whittaker – Survival at the Extreme

Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is in the remote, far northwest of Iceland and is normally accessible only by boat. Although it’s becoming more popular with hikers in summer, in winter it is effectively closed off, visited only by researchers, the occasional film crew and photo tour. This area has the highest density of arctic foxes in Iceland due to the extensive seabird colonies and because here, the foxes have complete protection. I’ve been visiting the area in both winter and summer since 2015 to photograph arctic foxes, either with my daughter, who lives in Iceland, or leading photo tours. Photographing foxes here in summer is a very different experience to winter.

In summer I plan to photograph foxes behaviour as they hunt along the towering seabird cliffs and bring food back to the den for the family. I prefer to photograph the cubs after they are weaned when the adults are more relaxed, and the cubs are wandering further from the dens or rough and tumbling on the beach. It’s still important to keep a respectful distance from the dens though. By keeping low, still and quiet, cubs will often become curious enough to come and check you out, peeking through the carpet of Blágresi flowers (Geranium sylvaticum).

In winter, I aim to show the extreme conditions these foxes have evolved to endure. Almost all their food comes from scavenging the shoreline at low tide so I always take a couple of camera traps to capture the foxes in the spectacular landscape, as they climb down snow banks to access the beach. Although these usually become covered in driving snow within hours. Photographically, snow is both a blessing and a curse; you spend days wishing for more snow, then when it comes, wishing there wasn’t quite so much and it wasn’t driving so hard you can’t see your hand in front of your face. And the remoteness can be challenging. Last winter tour, as our group waited by the shore with gear piled up, the boat sent to collect us developed a mechanical issue and crashed hard into the beach. As the Ice-Sar rescue arrived to recover our now sinking transport, we decided the best thing to do was go back to the house and put the kettle on. Luckily, a Coastguard helicopter had been dispatched to check out the situation and they very kindly offered us a scenic flight back over the Westfjords to Isafjordur!

Guy Edwardes – Spinning Discs

This image was taken in January 2016 during a trip to eastern Finland where the temperature remained below -30C all week. In such cold temperatures most lakes and rivers were frozen, only the faster flowing water remained ice free…and even that was freezing rapidly. On the Kitka River I found that some rapids upstream were creating foam that was floating down the river and becoming trapped in a bay on a river bend. It was gradually forming into pancake ice. Some of the discs of ice were already a metre across and would continue to grow until the bay froze over completely. There was an obvious spinning motion to all these discs of ice and I wanted to capture that in my image somehow. Had I used a fast shutter speed the discs of ice would have been recorded, but no sense of movement would show. Had I used a long exposure time the spinning motion would become apparent but the discs of ice would not be visible. The solution was to shoot an in-camera multiple exposure of nine frames, each three seconds apart. This enabled me to capture the full effect using a 16mm wide-angle lens. (below left)

Guy Edwardes – Whatever The Weather

This view of Tarn Hows in the Lake District National Park is quite well known. However, it stands as an example of why photographers should be prepared to get out with their cameras regardless of the weather conditions. This particular morning began with heavy cloud cover and rain was forecast later that day. The prospects of any good lighting conditions occurring seemed remote. Nevertheless, I headed out early to this viewpoint hoping that I might get lucky. Soon after setting up a ray of low-angled sunlight briefly broke through the clouds and illuminated the lake and surrounding larch trees for a few seconds. It was long enough for me to capture a far more moody image than would have been possible on a nice sunny day! (below right)

Jussi Murtosaari – Home Improvements

I was lucky to spot this female white-backed woodpecker while she was excavating her nest. The bird disappeared into a hole in the old birch tree, but the nest was evidently not quite ready and still needed some more space. She chopped wood chips out of the birch tree with her beak for a minute or so, and once she had mouth full of chips, they needed to be disposed of and thrown out of the nest, which is the moment captured in this image.

White-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), female excavating nest in birch tree, expelling wood chips from hole, Finland, April.

Wendy Shattil – Natural Boundaries

The Texas Rio Grande Valley isn’t a valley at all. It’s a floodplain, which explains why the path of the river is circuitous rather than straight. Because of this, a border wall can’t be built parallel to the Rio Grande in this part of Texas and it’s constructed in some places up to a mile away from the river. Flying above the serpentine bends in the river, it was a challenge to keep track of which side of the border I was actually photographing. Fortunately, the GPS coordinates recorded by the camera usually oriented me well when captioning the photos. (below left)

Suspended Utopia

For a bird’s eye view above the lush thorn forest at Santa Ana Refuge, the suspension bridge offers a breathtaking vantage point. I had it all to myself on a hot July day after walking 3 miles of trails with a heavy pack and tripod, without seeing another soul. I was exhausted, sweaty and wishing for a huge pitcher of cold iced tea. But it felt like the top of the world and I only shared it with a couple of lizards and a pair of roosting chachalacas. A wildlife photographer’s idea of utopia! (below right)

Barry Mansell – Canopy Jumping Spider

I often catch these spiders in moist woodlands, usually in trees, as the name suggests. However, I found this one on a wooden deer feeder. The spiders hide in the grooves of the tin roof of the feeders. I have to be careful though, as diamond-back rattlesnakes often come to these feeders and hide under them, waiting for birds and squirrels to approach the feeder. They are easy to photograph, although my aim is to photograph them in action, jumping. This one was happy to pose for me.

Franco Banfi – Tenerife, the Island of Eternal Spring

Sometimes my travels turn out to be magical and leave me with beautiful memories. Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, left me bewildered by its magnetism. It happens often when I visit volcanic islands. Tenerife is reliable, affordable and offers all-year-round diving.

When I first put my head underwater, I noticed that the marine life thriving in the water off Canary Islands is a combination of North Atlantic, Mediterranean and endemic species. Ocean currents in the Atlantic ensure that water temperatures do not drop below 18°C even in winter, and this ‘cold’ temperature is the key factor of the lack of coral reefs and limited diversity of tropical fish. The true stars are the large stingrays and sea turtles, plus a large population of moray eels of different species, which sometimes share the same holes. The brown moray (Gymnothorax unicolour), the black moray (Muraena augusti) and the more unusual of all, the fangtooth moray (Enchelycore anatina) also known as tiger moray. Its body is really long and snakelike, and its mouth is large. The teeth of the tiger moray are long, glazed and visible through the curved jaws even when the mouth is closed – a nightmare for the symbiotic shrimps or wrasses which clean their mouth and teeth. I find observing and understanding cleaning behaviour fascinating. Every creature in the ocean has its own daily routine!

Patience Pays Off

One of the keys to success in underwater photography is to be patient and observe animal behaviour, in order to be prepared for animals movements and reactions. Over the submerged wall housing the moray eels, there was a plateau where I saw many fishes and the rare bull ray (Aetomylaeus bovinus). The habitat and ecology of this species remain largely unknown; however, like many members of the family “Myliobatidae” the bull ray is a potential migratory species. They can grow more than 2 metres and are easy to recognize by the shape of the head. In South Africa, sometimes it is called the duckbill ray for its long, flat, round snout.

Marine Mammals

Taking underwater pictures of short-finned pilot whales is such a privilege. In the Canaries, like many other countries, some activities are forbidden to regular divers, since in-water interactions with wildlife and endangered marine mammals are only allowed (by acquisition of a special permit) to researchers and to professional photographers committed to conservation projects, studies and identifications.

During my snorkelling with short-finned pilot whales, I was able to take pictures of friendly families with adults and calves, playing together and investigating the researchers at the surface. They are very social and have inquisitive attitudes. All members of each pod are related to each other and they spend their lives together, from birth to burial.  It was heart-breaking to witness the pain of the entire group, in which two females were carrying their two newborns (dead at birth) in the open ocean for days, reluctant to let go. If I had to judge from the behaviour of the dominant male and the other females of the family, the loss of the newborns affected the entire pod. Adult females swam closer to the two mothers, gently escorting them in their no-where swim. The male kept me and the other researchers at a safe distance from the two females; he was never aggressive, but his intent to protect the two mothers was clear. In this situation, one of difficult things to deal with was my emotions, as I witnessed the great sadness that the pilot whales transmitted. They are incredibly compassionate mammals.

Ernie Janes – Wildflower Wonderlands

This wildflowers image was taken just a few hundred metres from where we live, which meant we could watch the flowers progressing daily. The good thing about this field photographically is that it has ditches and small hills rather than just being flat, so I was able to get some depth in the shot. Using limited depth of field helped to get an impressionistic feel to the shot, though I did take it every which way as well!

(Below left) This small tortoiseshell was taken in a natural wildflower meadow, managed by the farmer. Rich in knapweed, field scabious and mallow it was a haven for insects. I used a setting on the camera called pro capture which takes 25 frames a sec. Using an ISO of 2000, I was able to get the shutter speed up to 1/8000 of a second, and freeze any movement, very hit and miss! The flight of a butterfly is extremely erratic and you have to try and predict where the insect might fly to or from. I have found it is best to have lots of batteries and memory cards to hand, and just once in a while it comes good.

(Above right) This was taken on a walking holiday, and in an extremely beautiful place especially in late June when the wild flowers are at their peak. With amazing photographic opportunities in every direction, it would be difficult not to get good results of flowery foregrounds with stunning mountain backdrops. I kept kit to a minimum because of weight, so this shot was handheld using a standard lens.


Linda Pitkin – Volcanic Treasure Trove

My diving days have probably ended after this trip (as I have glaucoma and cannot risk my eye health), but I have been very fortunate to have had nearly four decades of amazing underwater experiences around the world. I took the following images on a dive trip to Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia, a mecca for muck diving, where you can find a treasure trove of weird and wonderful fish and other creatures camouflaged or hiding in the silt and debris.

1. I love watching octopuses – they are so intelligent and resourceful. The veined octopus deftly pulls empty bivalve mollusc shells around itself to make a shelter, from which it can readily flow out of, to go on the move again. I wanted to show the colourful subject off, so I directed my flashes on it and not the background. To make it more dramatic, I got a low viewpoint by resting my camera housing on the black volcanic sand, and having an angled viewfinder then helped me to compose the shot.

2. The ugly mug of a venomous whitemargin stargazer, staring up at you from the sand, may not be what everyone would hope to see in a tropical paradise, but it is always an exciting find and the highlight of my night dive. It spends most of its time buried to catch unwary tiny prey passing by. Despite appearances, the projections around the mouth are not teeth; they are skin flaps to keep sand out.

3. This little shorthead sabretooth blenny would typically occupy a small hole in the reef, but the narrow neck of an old bottle on the sea bed provides a perfect alternative. I had to keep still while waiting for the tiny fish to feel safe to peep out from its vantage point. I angled my flashes to light the subject from the side, to avoid showing up any messy distractions in the background. The gorgeous colour of the encrusting sponge, revealed by flash, was a bonus for me.


Sylvain Cordier – Kings of the Wild

Whether in Mongolia or Inner Mongolia (part of China), horses are the kings in the great outdoors in which they move. Here, Mongols wanted to group part of the troop of horses that were grazing by the lake. The action commanded by 2 riders allowed me to capture images when the horses launched themselves at full gallop to try to escape the manoeuvre.

Rainbow Mountains

I have travelled a lot in China especially to photograph emblematic animals like the pandas or the golden snub-nosed monkey and black snub-nosed monkey. My guide, during a previous trip, had shown me some fantastic photos of these Danxia landscapes, and I knew I needed to see it for myself one day. It is now a very well organised tourist circuit where you can admire these magnificent geological formations, and their incredible colour variations due to deposits of different minerals. (below left)

Asian Elephant

In Jim Corbett National Park, elephants follow a routine. After eating grass in the great plains that border the Ramganga reservoir, they cross the river before reaching the forest and its shade for the hot hours of the day. After a good bath and before reaching the forest’s shade, the elephants stop on the clay banks and start a long session of dust bathing. The dust and water form a protective layer of mud that guard against the sun as well as insects. (below right)

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