Our August 2020 Highlights include a wealth of wonderful marine life from David Hall, Tony Wu and Magnus Lundgren, lots of unique Australian animals and plants, and some strong additions to our coverage on African and European wildlife.
Eric Baccega – On Unexpected Encounters and Patience Paying Off
It is relatively easy to observe mountain gorillas. The animals are placid and many are used to human presence. Thanks to the work done by conservation associations and income from tourism, the population of this subspecies of gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) is now growing and the IUCN Red List has downgraded the species from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This was my thirtieth gorilla observation and it was different from all the others. The Katwa group in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest refused to approach our group and took refuge in the dense vegetation to escape the tourists who had come to admire them. Some juveniles would charge the trackers who approached them. I thought that this time I would not get any images of gorillas. As we turned back to leave them alone, we saw this female in a tree eating leaves with her baby clinging to her fur. The scene lasted less than 2 minutes before she left; that’s all I needed to make a picture with ¾ backlight. A scene full of tenderness that delighted me to the utmost and reminds me that nothing should be taken for granted in wildlife photography and that everything can happen when you least expect it.
Baboons – Early morning, as I headed to Kibale National Park in Uganda to photograph the chimpanzees, a troop of olive baboons had come to the side of the road to find food. In Kibale, it is common to find them on the side of paths more than in the heart of the forest, where the chimpanzees live, where it’s too dangerous for them. About fifty primates were scattered around the vehicle eating, playing or bickering when I saw this female with two babies in a tree, intrigued by the sounds of camera’s shutter release. A quick photo taken before continuing on my way to other monkeys.
Shoebill – Wildlife photography always has its charm with its share of unexpected, unusual or joyful scenes, and at other times, frustration. Photographing the shoebill stork offered to me something special that I had never encountered with any other animal before. Even if you stand only a few meters away from it, it can stay for hours without moving, fully static, waiting for a prey that it will then seize at an incredible speed. You can watch endlessly behind your camera’s viewfinder without anything happening and suddenly the shoebill raises its neck and plunges its head into the marsh water to capture its prey in a split second; a moment that you mustn’t miss, because after swallowing its prey, it will fly away to digest it elsewhere. That day, in the Mabamba Swamps of Lake Victoria in Uganda, as the cramps began to stiffen my limbs, this shoebill female rushed to catch and swallow a small Spotted African lungfish before flying away.
Upside-down in the land Down Under – Marie Lochman
Fuchsia grevillea (Grevillea bipinnatifida) is a spreading or prostrate shrub that grows to a metre high. It is endemic to South West of Western Australia, one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. It has a relatively small distribution range in and around the Darling Range, where it is mainly confined to granite outcrops, flowering from early winter till early summer. Its many-flowered terminal inflorescences grow on short lateral branches that frequently bend under the weight of the flowers. They therefore hang upside down with large, open flowers ending above the flower buds, which gave this species its alternative vernacular name ‘Grape grevillea’. (below left)
Faunal Emblem – Marie Lochman
One of many endangered Australian marsupials, the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) has disappeared from most of its former distribution range. Until the 1950’s, it still occupied a great swathe of southern Australia west of Murray-Darling Basin, but was almost wiped out by two introduced predators: the feral cat and the European fox. It survived thanks to two small strongholds in south-western Western Australia; this picture was taken in one of them. Although most small to medium sized Australian mammals are nocturnal, the Numbat is an exception as it has to be active when the termites, which are its sole diet, are active. The generic name Myrmecobius(living on, or sustained by ants, hence ant-eating) is clearly a misnomer, as Numbats don’t eat ants, only termites. The Numbat is the Western Australian faunal emblem. (below right)
Blue Cypress – John Shaw
This was taken at Blue Cypress Lake in Florida, a location well-known for ospreys nesting in the low cypress trees. A photographer friend and I were there for a few days, working from a pontoon boat (some sort of watercraft is necessary for any sort of photography at Blue Cypress). We were just heading out for our afternoon session and were slowly cruising past this tree when the osprey came in. I was holding a soft drink and in my rush to grab my camera, I almost poured the drink into my camera pack. A bit of a fumble but I managed to get a few frames. The afternoon clouds definitely helped to balance the shot (as you well know, cloudless blue sky days are the bane of existence for nature photographers). The lack of wind was another lucky twist, as Blue Cypress is a large lake and can be quite windy.
Lockdown Life with Three Baby Wombats – Doug Gimesy
One of our latest stories features the work of Emily Small, a wildlife carer and founder of the Goongerah Wombat Orphanage. As Melbourne was sent back into Covid lockdown, Emily explains how she’s coped with the challenges of hand-rearing three baby wombats in her inner city apartment. Read the full story here.
Life in the Mountains – Oriol Alamany
Mountains are one of my favourite habitats and I have dedicated much of my career as a nature and conservation photographer to them. Simien National Park in the Ethiopian highlands contains vertigo-inducing landscapes and the presence of several critically endangered species, such as this Ruppell’s griffon vulture (Gyps rueppellii) that here flies in front of the 500m-high Jinbar waterfall. The place is sensational, but the problem is that for many days the gorge is covered by fog.
With around only 500 individuals left, the Walia ibex (Capra walie) is one of the most threatened ungulates in the world. In my trips to the Simien National Park, I have been able to photograph it at altitudes always above 4000 metres. The day I took this photograph, I was not feeling my best due to altitude sickness, but when I discovered such a beautiful animal, I jumped out of the 4×4, took my 500mm telephoto lens and tripod and tracked it for a long time through the rugged rocky landscape, completely forgetting my discomfort. In this photo, I was able to gather within the frame another species characteristic of the high African mountains: the Giant lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum).
Socotra is a remote and very special island lost in the Arabian Sea where Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) are quite common. One morning, I was taking breakfast when this one stopped in a nearby rock to wait for some scraps. At this moment, I did not have my usual camera gear to hand, only a small compact camera in my pocket, so I crawled under him and took this photo with the towering Hajhir Mountains (1,503 m / 4,931 ft) in the background.
Wildfowl Happy Hour – Nick Upton
I spend a lot of time photographing wetland birds in winter, heading out eagerly on cold clear mornings in multiple layers of clothes, carrying a shed-load of equipment, sandwiches and a battered flask of hot tea and hoping to get some special shots. I like not knowing exactly what I might see and photograph, as every day tends to be different, depending on tides, wind, temperature and migratory movements, and I go with the flow, reacting to opportunities that arise, waiting for brief moments when good light, flurries of activity or nice compositions arise to fire off some shots. Both the preening swans and drinking shelduck shots were taken on very cold winter days when periods of cloud had dominated the middle parts of the day and I’d taken few shots since dawn and considered heading home, but low, warm winter sunlight had rallied in the afternoon and I was alert for some magic to unfold. For the Mute swan shot, I’d noticed a pair starting to work through their elegant courtship rituals, swimming side by side and turning their heads at intervals. They then stopped to preen, entirely aware of one another’s movements as they synchronised their actions as captured in my shot. The shelduck shot was taken during another late afternoon “wildfowl happy hour” when many ducks, geese and swans seek out freshwater for a bathe and a drink before darkness falls. I’d taken some shots of enthusiastic splashing around and wing-flapping before this calmer drinking scene unfolded, with the low sun bouncing off water ripples enhancing the light on the birds as they drank in unison. Such moments, even in very familiar birds, are what I find worth waiting for!
Namibian Adventures – Ernie Janes
We had a great time in Namibia: the joys of open roads and no traffic (unless you’re trying to get into the parks for sunrise)! We got up very early while it was still dark and drove for about an hour to the park entrance where we were met by a huge queue as park staff checked everybody in. We made it into the park an hour later, sun now rising fast, with another hour’s drive to Sossusvlei ahead of us. It was wonderful when we got there – landscapes on all points of the compass! I had a serious case of headless chicken syndrome, photographing everything I could see. I managed to settle down eventually and took a more measured approach to get some images I was really happy with. The first image below (left) was taken just inside the park, the beautiful red dunes with the sun still low. I was really lucky with the added interest in the sky here, as the clouds soon dissolved. The following day, we learnt from our mistakes and made sure we were at the park entrance well before the queue built up. I knew what I wanted to get by reviewing the previous day’s efforts. It is probably one of the world’s most photographed places, but even so it was just great to be there when the sun was rising.
The balanced boulder and the Five-lobed sterculia were both just outside the lodge where we were staying, which was brilliant as I was able to walk there and time my visit for the perfect lighting.
Seahorse Dad Giving Birth – Tony Wu
When it comes to seahorses, the miracle of birth has a twist. Out of the entire animal kingdom, seahorses (and their close relatives, the pipefish and seadragons) are part of an elite group where the males take on the role of pregnancy and birth. We have a fantastic new set of images from Tony Wu depicting the cycle of courtship, transfer of eggs from a female to a male, and the birth of tiny Korean seahorses (Hippocampus haema). The species, which is native to the waters of Korea and along the southern and western coasts of Japan, is a relatively recent discovery – officially described for the first time in 2017. There is limited information about this fish, and minimal observation in the wild. For the full story head over to the dedicated blog.
A Washout with a Win – Robert Valentic
My partner and I went on a trip into the high country of north-eastern Victoria specifically to locate and photograph a Spotted Tree Frog – a particularly beautiful, but sadly threatened species. We arrived at a mountain stream one balmy afternoon in late spring. As we were setting up camp nearby, I noticed some ominous black clouds in the distance as I put the billy on, but wasn’t expecting the sudden, intense storm that battered and then destroyed our tent at all. After an hour or so the storm subsided, but the temperature had plummeted. We decided to throw the jumbled mess back into the car and head home to dry out. As we departed, I stopped the car at a feeder tributary and, already soaked, waded into the icy water for a brief last look.
The stream was running quite fast. I noticed an exposed shingle bed on the opposite bank that was overlain with several fist-sized stones that had evaded the rising water. Upon turning the first stone I was both shocked and elated to see this magnificent adult male Spotted Tree Frog crouched beneath it. I could not believe my luck, as it often requires maximal and prolonged effort to locate the species and I only ever found recent metamorphs in these situations before. I was so relieved when he posed beautifully for several shots and within a few minutes he was promptly returned to his shelter beneath the stone. I recall feeling exhilarated, exhausted, wet and cold as we packed up the substantial gear required to produce this shoot. We had weathered the storm and won the prize. That made the long drive home particularly satisfying. (below left)
Amphibian Serendipity – John Cancalosi
This really wasn’t one of the more glamorous, or hardship-filled projects that I have undertaken but I will tell the tale. While a guest at the home of Helen Gilks, I asked her what subjects sold well at NPL, and she mentioned that axolotls were surprisingly popular. On that same trip, while a guest at another friend’s house, I visited a small zoo south of London that he collaborated with, only to find that they had axolotls on display. Through this connection, I was allowed to set up my own tank for photography of the axolotls and did so with the kind help and assistance of the staff as well as my friend. If nothing else, it was a pleasant coincidence to have life provide this knowledge and this opportunity so organically and in such short order. (above right)
A Flash of Blue – Lorraine Bennery
The range of Long-tailed Ground Roller is extremely restricted. In Reniala Forest, north of Tulear, on the island of Madagascar, a small population is protected. These striking birds particularly appreciate the arid thorny scrub of the bush, and is the only ground roller to definitively display sexual dimorphism. In order to observe and photograph them, one is advised to be at the reserve by 5:30am! In this very touristy area, the balance between protection and disturbing the species is precarious. However, if eco-tourism were to disappear, it is a safe bet that the last habitats favourable to this terrestrial bird would also disappear.
Invaders, Robbers and Soldiers – Doug Wechsler
Spotted Lanternflies (Lycoma delicatula), are an invasive species native to China, Vietnam and India, but were accidentally introduced to the United States, where they were first detected in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It took them 5 years to reach my house about 50 miles away in Philadelphia. This year, they are incredibly abundant in our area and can be seen anywhere there is vegetation, often in large numbers. This individual is a 4th instar nymph, which means it has moulted three times since hatching from the egg. The first three instars are black with white spots. They attack a wide variety of plants. This one is on common milkweed. They often feed on common milkweed, which is interesting because milkweed is toxic to most insects.
I was fortunate to find this Hanging Thief Robber Fly in my backyard. Robber flies were named for members of the group that feed on bees, presumably leaving the beekeeper with the feeling they’d been robbed! This species eats smaller flying insects which they catch in the air. The hanging part of the name comes from their habit of hanging from a leaf by one foot while consuming their prey. I was taken by the beautiful green compound eyes and the moustache (technically mystax).
This Army ant (Eciton burchellii) soldier was guarding a column of army ants returning from their raid. Apparently, the only job of the soldier is to defend the colony, while the worker ants attack prey, lug food back to the bivouac (nest) and engage in other chores. The jaws look formidable and can clamp down firmly on human flesh, although it is the stinger in the rear that really hurts! The tricky part of photographing army ants is that once you get down on your belly to their level, you are likely to get stung by a member or two of the half-million strong colony.
More Than A Fleeting Glimpse – Linda Pitkin
Heading home from a weekend away in South West England, the A303 cut a path through the gentle rolling landscape of fields, soft greens lulling the eye, until our gaze was suddenly arrested by a vast swathe of brilliant red. So often we just drive by in a hurry to get from A to B, and only get a fleeting glimpse of something special, but not this time. “Poppies, we’ve got to take closer look”, I said to Brian, my husband, and so we found a spot to pull off the road, and a track to walk up along the edge of the field. We were close enough to admire the brilliance of the individual flowers as well as the effect en-masse. Common Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are one of the few species of arable wild flowers still fairly abundant in the British countryside, whereas many others have declined. (below left)
Distinctive Silhouette – Staffan Widstrand
This was taken in early winter in the fringe of the cold desert of the Turpan Basin, a corner of the great Gobi desert, right below the foothills of the Tian Shan mountain range in Xinjiang, China. My guide and I were driving when we saw a herd of Bactrian camels with their characteristic double humps. We slowly walked closer and they were not very shy, unfortunately a sign of their feralness. They kept a certain distance and we gently led them towards the point where they came out nicely against the setting sun skies.
The wild ancestors of these domesticated camels are really endangered, very shy and mainly live inside a huge desert reserve, close to foreigners and Chinese alike, because that area is also a nuclear weapon test site. These feral Bactrian camels are all owned by someone, most probably an ethnic Kazakh herdsman. They are used for transporting material in the deserts, for meat and sometimes milk. Those animals who are not needed for the winter are left free to roam on their own, so they live a semi-wild life, a bit like reindeer or wild feral horses in other places. They are all branded with the owners initials.
Glowworms and Fireflies – Konrad Wothe
Every year in late June / early July, I am able to observe the greenish glowing lights floating around at dusk in the forests close to my home, in the forests of southern Bavaria. These are the lights on the abdomens of little blackish beetles caused by bioluminescence. But, only the males of these so called ‘fireflies’ are actually able to fly. The females, commonly known as ‘glow worms’, can instead be found on the ground, giving off light signals to the males flying overhead in order to attract them. To photograph these females on the ground, I chose a high ISO setting and a long shutter speed to show the glow. A flash in drastically reduced intensity made the shape of the glow worm visible. I did not use a tripod because the insects were only moving slowly; instead I steadied my hands, holding my camera and macro lens, by resting them on the ground.
The main problem I encountered was finding a ‘free’ glow worm, because mostly the females were covered by two, three or even more amorous males. Unfortunately, fireflies weren’t the only insects around on these warm summer nights, I had to stoically endure the nasty bites of the many mosquitoes who were also keeping me company!
Beautiful Estonia – Sven Zacek
This (foggy landscape) was taken from a helicopter and on a cold May morning that brought these beautiful fog patterns. I had the door off in order to maximise the space, so the view was memorable.