Our July 2020 highlights include some great material on red foxes and bobcats, spectacular marine life from the Canaries, extremely cute baby Baikal seals and spectacular Scandinavian birds. We are also pleased to share some amazing aerials, dramatic Arizona wildfires, unrivalled coverage on the Galapagos archipelago – and a very poignant possum image!
Tony Wu – Dressed to Impress
Male fat greenlings like this one have to make an impression in order to attract a female. During the reproductive season, they gather in the shallows, where individuals stake out territories and create nesting sites. The better the territory and more attractive the sites, the more likely that females will approach. Appearance is important as well. Normally drab in colour with mottled skin pattern, male greenlings take on a bright yellow-orange hue to impress the girls. Successful individuals, such as the one pictured here, spawn with multiple females, each depositing a clutch of eggs. Males nurture and protect the eggs until they hatch, grooming and aerating developing embryos with singular devotion. (below left)
Tony Wu – Tip of the Iceberg
Most people are familiar with the phrase ‘tip of the iceberg’, meaning that what is visible above water is only a small percentage of the entire physical structure. Many may not realise that this concept applies to tropical islands as well. From a boat, one can see the small round island fringed by a white sand beach in this image, but only from the air can you see that the island sits atop a much larger structure, the coral reef system from which the island derives. Bathymetry (the measurement of depth of water in oceans), ocean currents, wind and weather patterns influence the form and flow of the reef, but it is millions of tiny animals that construct and comprise the reef. This enormous, intricate structure is, quite literally, a constantly changing work of art created by the combined labour of countless marine organisms over thousands of years. (above right)
Karine Aigner – Bobcat Chronicles
In June 2017 Karine Aigner first encountered a bobcat family residing at what has become known as ‘Bobcat Manor’ in Texas. Over the years she has come to know this family in intimate detail and has seen several generations rear their young here. In fact, when we contacted her for some background to this story, she was busy photographing the current cohort of cubs. Here she describes her first summer with the family,
I’d been told bobcats had been denning under the house for years, but for the six summers I had spent teaching photography workshops at the ranch I’d only seen them once or twice. Bobcats are notoriously shy, and while they live throughout the United States, getting more than a passing glimpse is rare. I had never considered them serious photography subjects. But, that week, after having spotted one of the kittens dart across the patio, I decided to try my luck. I convinced myself I’d be well hidden behind my pseudo photo blind of camo netting fastened on each side to patio chairs, I was winging it.
I camped out in the sweltering afternoon sun with my 600mm lens trained on a water bowl the owner of the house kept on the deck. The sun began to sink, and she appeared—as bobcats do, silently and out of the blue. We locked eyes for what seemed an eternity – my camo set-up obviously wasn’t working. I rearranged my schedule so I could spend the rest of the summer with Momcat and her three kittens. I spent my days silently watching as they went about their daily routine—sleeping together under the house until the heat subsided, then venturing out together to drink, play, and groom.
Without warning, Momcat would foray out past the fence, and as if by some unspoken command, three little bobtails would line up on the deck and watch her leave. They seemed to accept my presence. After an afternoon of play the kittens would all climb the tree next to the front porch of the house where they would fall asleep, sometimes hanging in precarious positions on the branches. When I thought about it, it almost seemed as if she was leaving them in my care. Bobcats will move their dens at any sign of danger. Momcat never did.
I watched as the kittens eventually became braver, and more curious, until they had the courage to venture out and hunt on their own. Momcat let me into her universe. She allowed me to see what it is to be bobcat, and what it takes to be a single mom of three. We both took refuge in each other’s worlds. I had no intention other than being present, and she seemed to know that.
Watch this space for further bobcat updates…
Doug Gimesy – Road Trauma
My partner Heather and I were out on a walk – I learned a long time ago to always take a backpack with a camera in it wherever I go – and in the distance, we noticed a dead possum in the gutter. We went to check and it was clearly dead but as we got closer, we noticed movement under the skin near its belly, and I initially thought it might be maggots. I pulled out my camera to take a photo (as I have been photographing and documenting road trauma and road kill for a while now), and suddenly this small head poked out from the pouch. We called a taxi, wrapped the mum up, with the joey still in the pouch, and took them to a local veterinarian. The good news is, the joey survived and was given to a carer to look after, and we believe was subsequently successfully released back into the wild. To me, this was a really a powerful reminder to always check the pouch of any dead marsupial you happen to come across.
Jack Dykinga – Arizona Fires
With Covid 19 in full blossom and racial inequality protests across the US, I’ve learned to deal with a measure of uncertainty. Yet, for all my dutiful preaching about climate change, it came as a bit of a shock when I was directly affected. The super-dry grasses and bushes provided ample fuel for the lightning strike fire in the stone-faced Catalina Mountains, that are quite literally the ‘mountains next door’.
It’s not an abstract climate issue, when you’re compiling a list of what to take in the event of a fire evacuation! When ash is falling on your home…it does cause reflection. Luckily the winds were favourable and eventually the pre-evacuation order was rescinded. My years as a photojournalist kicked in and my long telephoto lenses (for wildlife) were the perfect tools for recording the aerial attack on the fire in a nearly inaccessible terrain.
Epilogue: The Bighorn Fire has consumed 120,000 acres and is a present, 92% contained due to seasonal monsoon rainfall.
Linda Pitkin – Vivid Blue
Clandon Wood is a natural burial ground within the wider surrounds of a beautiful nature reserve, much of which is managed as a traditional wildflower meadow. I visited on a field meeting with Surrey Botanical Society, to record and photograph the wildflowers there, and was soon drawn to the vivid blue of dainty cornflowers. They were once a common sight in arable fields, but have declined dramatically in the wild, and although probably not native at this site, it was a joy to see them. Cornflowers, among other arable wildflowers, are an essential source of pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and their seeds are food for small mammals and birds.
Baikal Fur Babies – Olga Kamenskaya
These photos were taken during an ice expedition at the beginning of April, observing the behaviour of Baikal seals, when snow started to slowly melt under the rays of spring sun. At the end of February-beginning of March seals give birth to baby-seals in the ice hummocks in the safe ice flats.
However, it is only possible to see them on ice after one month as when their fur starts shedding and they change from white to a darker coat, more greyish. By this time, you can see how much the baby seals have gained weight from feeding on the fat-rich mother’s milk, and are now capable of swimming on their own. However, it seems they still feel way more confident in the cosy corridors of their own homes!
Because the ice cover stays there for long, the newborns remain with mothers and feed on their milk for twice as long as other seals. This helps them quickly gain weight and grow. At the age of 1 to 1.5 months, baby seals weighs 10 to 15 kg already. If the lair gets destroyed early due to warm weather or the actions of poachers, the white-coat seals become easy prey for carrion crows and white-tailed eagles.
According to biologists, the Baikal seal found its way to Lake Baikal from the Arctic Ocean. It happened during the Ice Age when rivers were choked by ice blocks moving from the North. The reports of the first pathfinders who already arrived here in the first half of the 17th century, mention the freshwater seal.
Robert Valentic – A Bearded Apparition
This memorable image was borne from a chance encounter with this lizard on a balmy afternoon in spring. I was driving through the semi-arid plains of north-western Victoria, having just left home on a mammoth photographic road trip across Australia for several months duration. As I drove along, this apparition suddenly materialised on the road before me. I will never forget the sight of this magnificent, full grown male Central Bearded Dragon, propped in an upright stance in the middle of the road. His tail was arched and he sported the most vivid colours as he vigorously head bobbed, signalling his dominance to other conspecifics, and heralding that the breeding season was in full swing. I excitedly pulled over and left the vehicle with camera in tow. I attempted to crawl slowly up to him and incorporate the entire scene with a wide-angle lens, but to no avail. He would have none of it, and swiftly bolted into the scrub and ascended the nearest dead tree. I was able to slowly climb up towards his precarious perch and bridge the distance between subject and camera. I fired off a couple of shots before leaving him be. I was more than happy with the result I obtained from my perspective below. It was a fantastic interaction and the perfect ice breaker for that trip. I often think of him and I wish him well. I do hope that he stays off the road. (above left)
Bence Mate – A Sickening Delicacy
This is a scene of mass spawning but of the barbaric by-product of the consumption of frog legs. The common frogs (and several toads), some still grasping partners, have all have had their back legs cut off and then been thrown back into the water among their spawn to die a lingering death. Stumbling upon the horrific scene while travelling in Romania’s Carpathian region, I learned that the perpetrators hunt them at spawning time, both as food and for local trade. It was the cruelty that shocked me most but also the harm caused to local populations. Frog legs are a popular delicacy in Europe but also worldwide, including the US, Asia and China. Possibly a billion wild and farmed frogs are killed every year to meet the demand. A major importer – alongside the US, Belgium and the Netherlands – is still France, which banned commercial collecting in 1980 but imports legs from countries with few regulations, in particular, Indonesia. (above right)
Paul Harcourt Davies – A Celebration of Nature
Although I had visited Italy both leading tours and on various travel photography assignments (a way of paying for the work I wanted to do…) I first felt truly at home in Italy in a region of Umbria included in the Sibillini National park. There were real mountains (quite a few well over 2000m), extensive forests, valleys with fast flowing rivers, incredible flower meadows worked in traditional manner and thus an incredible diversity of floor and fauna, orchids and butterflies in particular. What more could a naturalist with a camera want. That was some 25 years ago and now we live just under 3 hours away, which feels like a dream at times.
In a normal Covid-19 free year we would have made this pilgrimage with clients in a small group but this was our second foray after the partial lifting of lockdown…almost to see what we had missed. In some ways, there was consolation in that this did not seem to be the richest year for orchids in terms of variety of species and numbers of individuals. There is a meadow we visit, way off the beaten track, partly to see ‘old orchid friends’ but also as a kind of floral barometer that provides a good idea of how advanced or retarded is a particular season. Obviously, the meadows had been grazed some weeks earlier and the orchids flourished only at margins and in scrub…we would have had to make adjustments to an itinerary but this is an area we know well so that is always possible.
The timing of our arrival on site was perfect for the panini we had brought and we sat eating at a rickety picnic table with incredible views over a valley far below extending to layers of mountain peaks in the distance. When I travel alone, I tend to miss out meals…one might say I carry enough reserve supplies about my person, as it were. However, my other half Lois, is one of those with an efficient metabolism who must eat or get nasty! Ergo, we adjust our trips accordingly, for to deny is to live dangerously.Those of us who love nature never stop looking and I noted several orchids close to the table – monkey, lizard in bud and something which looked odd…a toothed orchid with a ‘centre piece’. That addition to the flower head proved to be the Bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus) named for its colouration and an obliging subject with plenty of detail to test the sharpness of a macro lens. I use Micro 4/3 equipment almost entirely these days with an exquisite gem of a lens, the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 on a Panasonic Body plus a neat little Olympus macro flash with home-made diffusers.
I tend not to go for sombre colours – Lois, an artist, says I appreciate ‘Noddy’ colours and contrast: they seem a celebration of nature to me and I like that.
Markus Varesvuo – A Sea of Light
Photographing Black Grouse at lek is both easy and difficult. It’s easy because for weeks on end the birds arrive in the morning to the same lek so, as long as you have put down a hide and come in early every morning, before the birds, you are guaranteed to get birds and action. But then, this has been done countless times, and it’s no longer enough to capture the birds and the action; you need to get creative to make a picture that has something new to offer. This particular morning, for a brief moment, the rising sun hit the long grasses in front of my hide while they still had plump dewdrops hanging, plus I had an active male Black Grouse in the right place. For a few minutes I could play with a sea of light framing the bird; the dewdrops functioned as prism for the sunlight, causing it to spread into its full spectrum of wavelengths.
Markus Varesvuo – The Importance of Background
Background is important; the basic minimum is to make sure that it doesn’t steal from the main object or action and at best, it’s an elementary part of what makes an image. I wanted to show the sprays of water a White-tailed Eagle raises as it catches a fish from the sea. For this I needed a dark, even backdrop and light that would hit the action precisely where I wanted it. There is a hillside in shadow here, rising steep almost straight from the fjord where we were in a boat, photographing the eagles. You need enough distance between the boat and the eagle to let it feel safe enough to come down and catch the fish but not too much, as that would spoil the dark background effect. The setting sun was still above the ridge, and the mellow light hit the eagle and the splashing water at a perfect angle to the object and me, giving me the picture I had in mind: beautiful light contouring the powerful wing feathers, and lighting each droplet that the eagle had set flying.
Appreciating Details – Robert Thompson
Saturniids (or Silkmoths are they are often known) are among the most beautiful moths in the world. Many have large wingspans over 10cm or more. The larval stages are equally as colourful in many species as the adults themselves. Photographing larvae brings its own challenges and frustrations. They are easily disturbed and when on the move it becomes almost impossible to achieve good imagery. Limited depth of field and movement add to the many vexations of achieving good behavioural shots. The resting phase in between feeding is one of the best opportunities when you have a little more time to analyse the subject and select the best viewpoints. In this image, I was able to work at a higher magnification illustration to focus on the repetition of the patterns on each segment.
Understanding Your Subject – Robert Thompson
Photographing creatures in controlled conditions is always challenging. There are so many things that you have to be mindful of when trying to create an environment where your subject is likely to behave naturally. Most creatures will exhibit some degree of stress when not comfortable with its surroundings, which will then be evident in the photographs. Patience and not overworking the subject, and allowing it to familiarise itself with its environment will increase the likelihood of getting behavioural images. These geckos are nocturnal sleeping during the daytime. I found they were most relaxed, and had most success when I worked with them in the evenings, combined with diffused flash to light the scene.
Gentle Persuasion – Robert Thompson
Many moths rely on camouflage to conceal themselves during the day or possess aposematic colouration and diematic markings, often in the form of large ocelli (eyespots) in an effort to ward off potential predators. Eyespots are usually located on the hind wings and concealed most of the time. When threatened the moth will vibrate and reveal them in an attempt to frighten off the predator to buy time to escape. Getting a species to reveal its eyespots can be very hit and miss. Temperature and the species itself have a direct bearing whether you are successful. Encouraging a species to adopt a threat post can sometimes backfire in two ways; the moth will try to attain flight temperature and fly away, or it will simply close its wings tightly and refuse to display, which is exactly what this species did initially. A gentle brush with some fine vegetation stems on its antennae and there was a change of mind but only briefly. Speed is of the essence as the forewings begin to close over the hindwings very quickly.
Tracy Rich – Grasping the Nettle
I’m sure I can’t be the only one to ‘grasp the nettle’ so to speak when it comes to getting inventive during lockdown. It has almost given me a new sense of purpose in my photography, given me permission to look and learn, and a greater appreciation of what’s right under my nose. Rabbits, for instance. Nature, it seems, has become louder, braver, more obvious during lockdown and these bunnies are no exception.
Their burrows line a camping field which has been completely deserted during the last few months. Whereas they would normally hot foot it out of the field on even a shadow of a person, they are venturing further and are much more tolerant of me than ever, I don’t even have to dress up for the occasion in camouflage gear. The youngsters in particular have no concept of social distancing at all and often run right past me within inches, although I still use the ponies in the next-door field as mobile hides which allows me to creep up on them even further. It’s been utterly fascinating getting to know the individuals, all the cast of Watership Down are right here, and the dramas that play out every night are dramatic to say the least. It’s also been brilliant to get to understand what makes this lot tick, for instance, they don’t bat an eyelid at the military aircraft we have a lot of overhead due to our proximity to Salisbury Plain but a distant call of a crow harassing a buzzard and they are hovering over their burrow entrances in a heartbeat.
We’ve also had red kites galore here and they have certainly come into ‘town’ well, into the village at least. Maybe the lack of road kill has something to do with that? One day last week, right in front of my cottage, there were 17, alongside 7 buzzards, corvids and gulls following the plough and spending the evening ‘worming’ all together. It was incredible – from one of our rarest raptors to getting down and dirty with some of our most familiar feathered friends, it was a special moment. So, lockdown so far for me has been an eye opener, a chance to breathe, to rediscover and to reconnect as I hope it has for many.
Tony Heald – Have Garden Will Travel
You’re allowed to leave your vehicle in Mana Pools NP in Zimbabwe if you have permission, and at your own risk of course. This can lead to great photos and exciting moments. I spotted a hippopotamus leaving a small pool that was entirely covered in Water Hyacinths. I noticed the green weed was sticking to the back of the hippo, usually it falls away. So, I ran over with my camera to a place where I thought the hippo would pass by. The idea was to get close enough for photography while not aggravating the subject – hippos can be aggressive, and they kill more people in Africa than any other large mammal. I was on open ground knowing that there was no way I could outrun this animal! The hippo slowly walked towards the Zambezi River with the water hyacinths stuck on her back.
Marine Life of the Canary Islands – Sergio Hanquet
01648672 – Going out to the open sea is a bit like going on a blind date, you never know what you are going to find. In this case I found a group of common dolphins attacking a group of Snipe fish. Dolphins are selective hunters that only catch and eat one prey at a time.
1648737 – The pilot whale is a species that usually lives in groups of 12 to 15 individuals, although it is possible to observe large groups of over 100. Off the island of Tenerife there are around 400 resident individuals that feed on cephalopods, and that hunt at a depth of 1,000 meters. As can be seen in this image, they are found close to the coast, generally within a mile.
1648728 – Pelagic species are found in the open sea, generally inhabiting the first few meters below the surface. It is an inhospitable world where there are no hiding places from predators. Here only the strongest survive! In the image you can see a bank of mackerel being devoured by several hundred Yellowfin tuna. It will not take long to finish all their prey.
1648709 – Sea turtles have migratory habits and tirelessly roam the oceans. They are pelagic surface animals and only the females return to land in order to deposit their eggs. Like their crocodile relatives, it is said that turtles cry when they lay their eggs on the beaches. In fact, they do, but not out of sadness, instead it is to remove excess salt from their bodies. Turtles ingest large amounts of salt in their diet, continuously swallowing sea water, and when they need to eliminate it, they cry from the tear glands in their eyes. It also helps to flush sand from their eyes.
1648782 – Moray eels, along with sharks and killer whales, are the marine animals that have the worst reputations. They are unfairly considered harmful, aggressive or poisonous, but they are actually, in addition to being peaceful, one of the most beautiful fish in the sea. The Greeks and Romans kept them for months in jars or ponds, not to devour slaves or gladiators, as Hollywood movies made us believe, but to keep them alive until the time came to eat them, because they were considered a delicacy.