June 2020 Highlights

The last month has seen a flood of exciting new material added to our site, from all corners to the world. So much so, that we’ve made 4 separate highlights galleries, each featuring a different area. Here we are pleased to share some of the standout images from the galleries, and to tell the stories which lie behind them.

Marine Life

Shane Gross tells us about the experience of taking 5 of his recent images, from Sri Lanka, Galapagos and Bahamas where he lives.

The pinnacle of wildlife encounters

“Being able to see a blue whale, the largest animal to ever live, underwater is the absolute pinnacle of wildlife encounters. The water off Trincomalee, Sri Lanka was incredibly clear allowing me to see the entire 20 metre animal from nose to tail. Blue whales are also super shy. It took a lot of effort and co-ordination to get me dropped off in the path of the animal – they move far too fast to swim along with. There was no fancy photo tricks needed here. I just aimed to get the animal in the frame with a fish-eye lens and shoot as much as the giant would allow. ”

Poetry of movement

“It was such a pleasure to watch this Galapagos sea lion hunt a baitball for over an hour. I turned my strobes off  in order not to disturb the behaviour and shot over 1000 pictures, trying to show the grace and poetry of movement. In fact I wish I could have had 10,000 more pictures because it’s an impossible task. I always avoid anthropomorphism, but I wonder if the sea lions’ movements were strictly hunting-related. It appeared as if she was also playing and having fun! The Galapagos is a magical place and this memory will last a lifetime.”

Octopus grabbing lunch

“There were 2 common octopus dens just metres apart along this patch reef near my home. I had been seeing the octopus tucked away in their dens for weeks until this day when one was empty. Their camouflage is so good that finding them while they are out on the hunt is extremely difficult. However, this one gave itself away while grabbing a small crab for lunch. I followed her for about twenty minutes until she had a large shell that she brought back to her den to crack open. The moment this image was snapped she was chasing down a crab that eventually got away. ”

Upside down squid

“It was a flat calm night and I was snorkelling on my own, so I stayed in the water for 7 straight hours. This Caribbean reef squid followed me for 6 of those hours. During this time, I would make a few images of her and then look for other subjects. I knew she would be by my side if I couldn’t find anything else interesting to photograph. This moment appeals to me as she reflects off the glass-calm surface.  I kept my camera upside down because the strobe arms would cause small waves on the surface if kept right-side up. In  the end I liked the result so I kept the image upside down!”

Showing respect

“After scuba diving with the great hammerhead sharks on the seabed, I asked the boat crew if I could lean over the back of the boat to get shots of them near the surface. This one came up and put on an exhilarating show. She span around so fast the bubbles you see in the frame are from her tail even though she is now oriented to come straight towards the camera. I faced the fish-eye lens in her direction and held down the shutter release button hoping something would show her beauty, power and agility. Great hammerheads are the largest of the ten known hammerhead shark species, growing to over 6 metres. Despite their fierce reputation, there are no documented cases of a hammerhead shark ever killing a human. If you show them respect, you can safely share the water with them.”

The seagrass meadows of the Mediterranean

Greek photographer Dimitris Poursanidis reveals the rich but threatened world of the seagrass habitat around the coast of Crete.

An overlooked part of the coastal seascape

“Seagrasses are an often overlooked but vital part of the coastal seascape. Although they have been described as the lungs and ecosystem engineers of the sea, their contributions to planetary health and human well-being are not as well-known as those of other marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and mangroves.”

“The Seagrasses are marine flowering plants found in shallow waters in many parts of the world, from the tropics to the Arctic circle. Seagrass meadows are of fundamental importance to nature and people. They contribute to community well-being, whether through food security from fish production, improved quality of water filtered by seagrasses, protection of coasts from erosion, storms and floods, or carbon sequestration and storage.”

Declining globally

“However, seagrasses have been declining globally since the 1930s, with the most recent census estimating that 7 per cent of this key marine habitat is being lost worldwide per year, which is equivalent to a football field of seagrass lost every 30 minutes. Seagrasses are among the least protected coastal ecosystems and often face cumulative pressures from coastal development, nutrient run-off and climate change.”

“The Mediterranean Sea has its own an endemic species Neptune’s seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) that form large continuous meadows from a depth of 1 metre to 45 metres. In some places, like off the Spanish island of Formentera, the seagrass beds may be as much as f 200,000 years, old dating them to the late Pleistocene era and the dawn of humanity.”

To browse more of our recent marine life images, check out our new gallery of marine highlights.

Europe

Our European photographers have supplied some wonderful insects, flowers and landscapes this spring.

Sandra Bartocha is renowned for her creative use of light to capture the atmosphere of landscapes and to celebrate the beauty of trees and plants. She shared with us her thoughts on six of her recent images.

Poppies firework display

“I think there are few people in the world who wouldn’t be fascinated by a field of poppies. The deep reds that start to glow in the very late evening sun is absolutely breathtaking. I’m lucky to live in northern Germany where fields and meadows regularly display this firework display of colour in June.”

Waterlilies in paradise

“Paradisbakkerne (literally the Hills of Paradise) is a small and hidden nature reserve on the Danish island of Bornholm. When you enter, it reveals magical little details. Deep forest lakes are surrounded by rocks and deep hanging trees around the shores. Just before a storm hit, the mood was absolutely calm and I was intrigued by the clear shadow of the overhanging branch on the little water lily scene.”

Early morning magic

“On the island of Rügen there is a large population of small pasque flowers growing directly on the beach. When you arrive in the morning before sunrise, you have the chance of catching a last glimpse of hoarfrost on the flowers after a cold night. Later, when the sun is up, the magic is over.”

Trees fight for existence

“The coastal forests in northern Germany are quite special. The weather in the Baltic Sea region is not so severe as to make life impossible … but it’s strong enough to leave young trees fighting for existence. There is almost no undergrowth, just the occasional spring flower.”

Dancing poppies

“Getting closer to a poppy reveals the crinkled red layers that have been folded tightly within the small flower head. I love photographing these kind of situations. Early morning sun and backlighting to reveal the structures of poppies and cornflowers dancing with each other.”

Witch beeches

“There are few places where you find this crooked variety of beech trees. Most of these places have a strong history of lore and myth. This ring of trees grows on the island of Rügen. From outside you wouldn’t notice it at all –  it’s just a dome of beech leaves. Only when you enter the ring and stand in the centre does  it reveal its crazy crooked structure.”

The hidden world of aquatic invertebrates

Jan Hamrsky, based in Prague, tells us how he became fascinated by small freshwater creatures, how he photographs them and what he hopes to achieve with his work:

“I have always been attracted to nature, water and aquatic life and spent hours watching insects and exploring the hidden worlds of tiny creatures. When I took up photography, it was only a matter of time before these two interests came together. Eight years ago, I came across a book devoted to macro-photography with pictures of freshwater invertebrates. I was absolutely stunned by the photographs of these unseen animals. Since then, I have been trying to study and document this fascinating world. ”

“It is always heartwarming when people do not realise that my photos are taken in an aquarium. But there are three main advantages – full control over lighting, comfort while working and, most importantly, the ability to take pictures from angles that would be impossible in the natural environment. It is quite difficult to maintain suitable conditions in a small aquarium, but this is a reliable indicator of whether the environment is well prepared or not. If the newcomers start looking for food or hunting, conditions are fine!”

Jan tells us more about how the animals are collected and what he aims to achieve

“My work includes invertebrates that spend at least part of their live in the water and are large enough to be seen by the naked eye (or with a hand-held magnifying glass). All animals photographed were collected in the waters of the Czech Republic where I live, although most are widespread and can be found on other continents as well.”

“The purpose of my work is to allow the general public to peer into freshwater ecosystems, which are usually well hidden. Anyone, who is interested in nature, will be amazed by this incredibly varied and colourful world full of amazing adaptations, behaviours, camouflage and strategies. Also, I hope that my images are interesting to entomologists, hydrobiologists and limnologists, confirming what a beautiful discipline they have chosen to study. After all, photographing freshwater invertebrates can lead to better knowledge and more awareness of these extremely important organisms, because people cannot protect what they don’t know exists.”

To find out more about our recent European material, take a look at our June European highlights gallery.

Americas

We’ve added some wonderful new images from North, Central and South America. Here we have picked out a selection of stand-out photos by different photographers.

Nick Hawkins, based in Canada, travels widely in the Americas. His latest work from Costa Rica and Ecuador includes some revealing cameratrap images, the behaviour of Baird’s tapirs and the jewel-like bees and birds of the Choco region of Ecuador.

Mexican photographer Claudio Contreras has recently submitted material on the endemic species and national parks of Cuba. He has great coverage on hutias and iguana, and you’ll also find his material on the riches of the Cuban Caribbean waters in our Marine gallery.

Cuba is a hidden jewel in the Americas, but well worth exploring. Apart from the world-renowned Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina), the underwater world here has not been well explored. With its turquoise waters, impressive sponges, variety of critters and the big fishes, combined with the very friendly locals, it certainly deserves a visit!

Cienega de Zapata, a RAMSAR site is very well known for its diversity on land but I also found it very interesting underwater, full of life and particularly suited for macro photography (above left). Hutias find respite in the faraway cays of the Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina), totally protected here, they can be seen wandering through the mangrove stilts. In mainland Cuba, hutias are hunted for consumption (above right).

The Gardens of the Queen (Jardines de la Reina) boasts a very healthy population of predators. Sharks and groupers rule in the reefs, but crocodiles do so in the mangroves. Cuba is a stronghold for American Crocodiles, which are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Redlist.

 

British-based photographer Guy Edwardes has brought back from Costa Rica some intriguing images of various species of bats feeding on rainforest flowers:

Bats queued to feed on the flowers

“The images were taken in northern Costa Rica in an area of primary lowland tropical rainforest. The number of bats present varied from night to night depending upon the weather conditions. On busy nights there were around twenty bats present, although it was difficult to count them in the dark! Peak activity was always shortly after sunset at around 6pm. The bats were competing quite aggressively at times, although there was no noise involved. There were often queues of bats waiting to feed on the same flower. Both the species shown feed on nectar and pollen as well as insects.”

I could feel their wings brush my hair!

“The bats were photographed feeding from flowers in the rainforest using a multiple flash set up. Careful positioning of an infra-red trigger allowed me to capture them in the perfect position as they arrive and depart from the flower. It was always an interesting experience photographing the bats. Sometimes the action was frantic and it was difficult for both the flashes and the photographer to keep up. As I was working quite close to the flower, so I could often feel the bats pass by and their wings brush through my hair!”

 

If you’d like to explore of our new American material, take a look at the June Americas highlights gallery.

Africa, Asia and Oceania

New African material includes the amazing women of the Congo by Karine Aigner, coverage on Madagascar’s landscapes, people and endemic species by Lorraine Bennery and Tony Heald’s emotive images of elephants foraging in drought-stricken Zimbabwe.

Karine Aigner visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on a photo shoot for WWF.

Karine’s images, taken in tough physical conditions, document the lives of the women of the Congo, including the work of the female ecoguards of the Salonga National Park. She also captured some intimate moments with bonobos and aerial shots of the rainforest and meandering rivers of the Congo Basin.

Lorraine Bennery shares some of the images from her new book Madagascar – a Paradise in Distress

Threatened tortoise

“The destruction of its natural habitat seriously threatens the radiated tortoise, and for four of the five ethnic groups living in its area it is forbidden to kill it.”

Patchwork of rice fields

“Along the road from the capial antananarivo to Tulear, there is a delicate patchword of rice fields. This is the staple food of the island. On average, each Malagasy eats more than a hundred and fifty kilograms of rice per year.”

Nuptial parade

“It is hard to stay in one place for long in the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, as there are wonderful sights all around. Here we see the courtship display of the broad-billed roller.”

The largest carnivore in Madagascar

“The largest and most emblematic carnivore of the island is the fossa. It is just as comfortable on the ground as in the trees where it excels thanks to its semi-retractile claws. They are present throughout the island and especially in the bungalows of the Kirindy Forest Special Reserve, much to the despair of the lemurs on which it preys. ”

UNESCO heritage

“Vegetation growing amonts the cathedral-like stones of the Tsingy de Bemaraha, a UNESCO world natureal heritage site.”

Nightjar in the Tsingy

“Usually very camouflaged amongst dead leaves, this Madagascar nightjar appears in all its splendour with its colourful plumage against the spiky mineral decor of the Tsingy.”

Disappearing act

“Characterized by numerous thin streaks, the lined leaf-tailed gecko species has exceptionally well-designed camouflage.”

Females call the tune

“Unusually, with sickle-billed vangas, it is the female which courts the male, the latter responding very rarely to her advances. The vanga group is endemic to Madagascar, as indeed are a high percentage of the island’s birds.”

 

Elephants struggle to find food in the Zimbabwe drought

Tony Heald captured these images of elephants using their height, balance and intelligence to reach treetop foliage in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe.

The Advantage of Height

Going to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe to photograph wildlife is special. You are allowed, with specific permission, to leave your vehicle and approach the animals on foot. Some will go away, but others, usually the larger ones, will stay to be photographed. This introduces a degree of excitement as an elephant, for example, will tolerate humans getting so close, but once you enter their ‘space’ you will be warned with a ‘head up ears out’ display. At this signal it is wise to retreat, as the adult bull elephants in Mana weigh over five tons, stand five and a half metres tall at the shoulder and can run faster than Usain Bolt.

This was September, the dry winter before the summer rains when food is very scarce.  The only edible greenery was on the Acacia trees, the elephants will eat the leaves and they love the seedpods for the nutritional value.  The iconic African Acacia tree can grow to over twelve metres tall and it is a favourite with giraffes.  The lower branches get eaten by the shorter animals until it is only the taller elephants that can reach up far enough.

There are just a few clever big bulls that have learnt to reach up even higher by standing on their hind legs.  It is so exciting to see this enormous beast balancing on two legs pulling down a branch.  If there is a small herd with the bull, then he will let some of the food be eaten by the younger elephants. It was a privilege to photograph these scenes and the experience will remain a treasured memory.

Monkey Business – Sylvain Cordier

Golden snub-nosed monkeys, China

Living at altitude, Golden snub-nosed monkey have a very dense coat, which contrasts sharply with their almost bare face and truncated nose. It is cold at 3000m above sea level, especially at night, so it is common in the early mornings to find families cuddled together and curled up to keep warm.

Meanwhile in India

This dominant male lion-tailed macaque was an expert at making his presence felt. When the group travels through the coffee plantations, the leader is always attentive to everything that happens inside and inside the group. The aggressive attitude of this dominant male (below right) is intended to impress another approaching male. Fights may only be short, but can be very violent.

It was in India, in the state of Tripura that I was able to photograph the Capped langur. Its long tail and very long limbs allow it to move quickly through trees. They are arboreal and gregarious, but one of the young members of the group ventured over towards me to investigate my camera (below right).

 

To view our full gallery of new material from Africa, Asia and Oceania, click here.