This month has seen our photographers submitting material from all corners of the globe. Bruno D’Amicis has covered Cuba, Enrique Lopez-Tapia has returned from Chad, and we have a wealth of new images from Australia, Africa, South America and, not least, the oceans of the world from Brandon Cole. Not forgetting British and European wildlife and landscapes with strong contributions from Oscar Dewhurst and Ross Hoddinott.
Enchanting Ennedi – Enrique Lopez-Tapia
A trip to the north of Chad to visit the Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve (UNESCO World Heritage Site), is a trip to the deepest part of the Sahara. Crossing plains, meadows and deserts of rock and sand until reaching the fantasy landscape of Ennedi – an enormous expanse made up of deep gorges, dunes, lava fields, caves, plateaus, and bizarre, whimsical rock formations sculpted by the wind and sand.
On the walls of the caves you can see paintings and engravings from centuries ago, with camels and wild animals from another era, when the Sahara Desert was a fertile and friendly place. Nomadic shepherds continue to come to these landscapes so that their herds of dromedaries drink water from the wells and permanent springs, in the lagoons of the gorges and canyons where the last crocodiles of the Sahara inhabit. Camping beneath a large sandstone arch, with a sky full of stars in the dark and in absolute nothingness, is a unique experience that is priceless.
Hide and Seek – Fabio Pupin
Boulenger’s pygmy chameleon is one of many species of the genus Rhampholeon – tiny chameleons which live in the undergrowth of African tropical forests. I was conducting a herpetological survey in Nyungwe Forest NP and I met a few of these little creatures. Shaped like leaves, they rely on their appearance to go un-noticed by predators (and prey) and during the day the spend most of their time on the leaf litter, where they are nearly impossible to find. However, as night approaches, they climb low bushes to rest safely out of reach of ground predators, and they are just a bit easier to spot. That’s when I took this portrait, opting for a wide-angle lens to show both the little reptile and its lush home. (below left)
Beauty in the Familiar – Philippe Clement
When looking for mushrooms, I don’t always look for rare species, but rather for nice specimens in a photogenic setting, like this very common fleecy milk-cap (Lactifluus vellereus). To capture both the typical decurrent gills and the beech forest – deciduous woods are its habitat – I opted to use a rather unusual lens, my 15 mm wide angle macro lens. To emphasise the gills, I carefully lit the underside with a small off-camera flash and bounced back some light to the other side with a reflector to get a natural even illumination without harsh shadows. I always practice this kind of photography on my own. Apparently very few people have the patience to wait half an hour next to a guy crawling on his belly around a mushroom every hundred metres, during what was supposed to be a pleasant afternoon’s walk in the forest. (above right)
The Wonders of Cuba – Bruno D’Amicis
As the largest and best preserved island of the Caribbean, Cuba hosts the vast majority of biodiversity and pristine habitats of the Archipelago. Among the many, unexpected wonders of Cuba’s natural heritage and especially of the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is the Mount Iberia Eleuth (Eleutherodactylus iberia), also known as the Monte Iberia dwarf frog, is a species of eleutherodactylid frog. It is the smallest frog in the Northern Hemisphere and among the smallest frogs in the world, at about 10 mm of length. This species is critically endangered and endemic to rainforest in a small part of easternmost Cuba. I owe my friend and guide ‘El Indio’ for having spotted this little gem hidden in the forest litter and having allowed it to sit on his thumb.
The sun rises over El Yunque, a spectacular mountain near the mouth of the Toa River and the city of Baracoa, in eastern Cuba. This region is home not only to painted snails and other snail species but also parrots, solenodons (mammals that resemble shrews), hummingbirds, reptiles, amphibians and rare plants. When I’ve visited Cuba in 2019 I was completely unaware of its stunning natural heritage. Actually, true wilderness can be found on the island.
My main goal during the 2019 assignment in Cuba was to document the six endemic Polymita or painted snail species. The striking beauty of Cuban painted snails, like the Polymita sulphurosa in the picture, surely represents their most remarkable feature, but also their curse. The shells of these critically endangered snails are highly sought-after by collectors worldwide and this feeds an impressive trade beginning locally with the sale of shells and jewellery to tourists. The collecting, purchase and traffic of Polymita snails are all prohibited by Cuban and international regulations.
Magnificent & Fascinating – Tui De Roy
When I was asked to do a photographic book on the Laikipia Plateau (between Mount Kenya and the Great Rift Valley) a few years ago, I had no shortage of subject matter to photograph during my four months of shooting, anything from Grevy’s zebra to African wild dogs, ants to birds and much more. But thanks to a network of private reserves, Laikipia is also an epicentre of rhino conservation — both black and white rhinos — so I was soon drawn to these magnificent, much embattled creatures. From Lewa Conservancy in the north, to Solio Ranch in the south, Mugie Ranch in the east and to Ol Pejeta Reserve in the west, every time I came upon one of these magnificent beasts my heart would start racing. This was both due to the excitement of getting some amazing photos, but also from the sheer sense of privilege of seeing one of these last survivors, whose lives are preserved entirely thanks to armies (literally) of private guards working round the clock to protect them from incredible poaching pressures. In time, I got to know particular individuals, such as the formidably powerful black rhino bull at Lewa, with his sharply pointed horn, polished to a shine, like ebony. He snorted at my Land Rover each time we met, making it clear that I should keep my distance, or else. There were also the lumbering white rhinos of Solio Ranch, often grazing in small herds, acting almost gentle compared to their ill-tempered black relatives, although on one occasion I saw two bulls playfully harassing a smaller black bull, though no harm was done. White rhino bulls may reach 3.6 tonnes in weight, versus 1.8 tonnes for black rhinos.
And then there was little ‘Solio’ (named after the ranch where I discovered her), a six months old baby bravely standing watch over her dying mother, who’d been shot in the shoulder several weeks earlier. I first came upon them in a dense thorn thicket near a small stream. As soon as I alerted Solio’s chief ranger, a rescue operation was immediately put into action. Within a couple of hours, the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi sent a small plane with a Kenya Wildlife Service vet, medication, tranquillisers and expert carers. A large 4×4 truck with a rhino-size crate followed, as it turned out even a six-months old baby is too large to fit in a small plane. Sadly, the mother, with advanced septicaemia, had to be euthanised. Her baby, meanwhile, charged the team several times with all the fierceness of her race, until a well-placed dart put her to sleep for the long overnight trip to her new home in the Sheldrick orphanage, where 24-hour tender loving care would bring her back to health.
In the coming year I visited little Solio twice to see how she was faring at the orphanage. Far from the terrified wild baby she had been when I’d last seen her, she had turned into a rotund, trusting baby giant who’d slump on her side whenever her tummy was scratched. In recognition of my part in her rescue, I even had the great privilege of bottle-feeding her. The last time I saw her, she was already growing a respectable horn, and I recently learned that she has now become a mother herself, living wild in Nairobi National Park.
Best of British – Oscar Dewhurst
Red foxes are one animal that thrives in urban environments. When I lived in London, I spent several months photographing a family that were calling a local golf course home. Over this time, I made many visits as the seasons changed, and had always been particularly keen to photograph them in snow. Fortunately, over a weekend in January, London was carpeted in a thick layer of snow, so I headed straight to the site. I’ve always loved high-key images where the subject is against a pure white background, so was hoping I would be able to get some images of my foxes in the same style. Fortunately, the wide fairways and greens of the golf course meant there were plenty of open areas without obstructions, so I was able to get the photos I’d been hoping for as this one trotted through the deep snow in front of me.
Despite having seen sparrowhawks countless times, I have very few photos of them, largely due to how quick they are as they hurtle low across the ground hoping to catch prey such as snipe in the marshland. On this occasion I was actually hoping to photograph bitterns, but the area of boggy ground in front of my hide was frequented by snipe, and this meant it was the subject of regular attention from the local sparrowhawks. Normally I only saw them as the last minute as they dashed across in front of me, but this time I tracked it as it flew towards me. I managed to get one shot off before the bird, in a split second, turned mid-flight and dived down in pursuit of a snipe. Fortunately, the one image was just before the bird dived out of frame! (below left)
Coots get very territorial in winter, with the onset of the breeding season approaching. Birds will not tolerate others being in close proximity, and will pursue them long distances over the water. When the recipient of the aggression doesn’t flee, aggressive fights break out, with the birds using their wings to prop themselves up and scrapping with their feet. These fights are vicious, involving both birds trying to strike or grab their opponent with their beak, and sometimes forcing them underwater – they have even resulted in death! Things didn’t get that extreme on this occasion, with the dispute over after a couple of minutes. (above right)
Chick Cam – Fred Olivier
This photo was taken during the BBC ‘Spy in the Huddle’ shoot, my second overwintering shoot in Antarctica. Inspired by other robots from John Downer Productions, I designed the ‘chick costume’ for this little remotely controlled robot chick to support and camouflage a small camera. From my previous Emperor winter experience (for Planet Earth) I knew that the adults Emperor penguins would let this small chick roam around the rookery and even try to adopt it. The robot chick was able to even huddle with other chick in creches, and capture some incredible footage. Even the predators (Giant Petrels) got tricked! There is ongoing research on the use of robots to study Emperor penguins, by the IPHC laboratory in Strasbourg. This picture went viral in 2014 as it illustrated the early results of a Nature article which resulted from a collaboration during the shoot.
A Wary Subject – Laurent Geslin
The first picture was taken in an area where foxes are heavily persecuted, but very near where I live. The foxes are very shy there. Therefore I set up my hide months before the vixen had given birth. I swept the floor behind the hide in order to arrive at night without making any noise. The vixen was still hard to photograph, but the cubs would come out of the den if the surroundings were very quiet. Each they would pop out, they would sniff to detect any danger – that’s what this young fellow is doing in the picture.
The second picture is completely different, and was taken in countryside in northern London. I followed that vixen for several weeks while I was living in London, and one evening she led me to the den. One cub was really shy, I only managed to photograph it once. But the second one was really easy. So when the mother was coming back from getting food, he would come out and beg without having any trouble with my presence.
A Different Perspective – Suzi Eszterhas
I took this photo in a hide at Mashatu Game Reserve. To me, what makes this image special is the young calf in the foreground dwarfed by the herd behind. The low, water level vantage point of the hide is particularly lovely for photographing elephant calves. In a vehicle most of the time you would be towering over these little guys, but in the hide you can even be below eye-level. This gives you a great opportunity to bring the viewer into the world of a little calf, dwarfed by all of the massive feet of its herd members. It’s also so adorable to see what the calves do when they approach the waterhole. You can really see their different personalities. Some come charging in with confidence, while others seem to timidly approach staying behind their mothers.
During my time at the hide it seemed as if almost every herd had a young calf. But baby elephants have a tendency to get lost among the legs of the adults, and are often covered by the shadows of their bodies. Finding a clear view of them in nice light can be challenging. I find that I am most productive when I single out a particular calf and stay laser focused on that one, waiting to see what the little guy does, and not allowing myself to get too distracted by what the other herd members are doing. This strategy also works well when trying to capture something specific in other situations where animals are high in numbers and there is a lot of movement and behaviour going on, such as bird colonies or seal rookeries.
Tiger Tails – Andy Rouse
(1647652) ‘Two of Arrowhead’s rock-star cubs string an uneasy truce on part of an old structure in Ranthambhore. I love working with these two as they are real idiots, forever stalking each other and laying plans to trap the other. It was a very uneasy truce on top of this relic and hell was likely to break out any minute!’
(1647655) ‘Tigress Arrowhead showing a very focused look as she was actively stalking a spotted deer that was in the long grass and unaware of her presence. It’s always amazing to me how they change their personality from goofy cat to absolute hunter killer within a second, you can see how focused and intense she is but then I guess she has to earn her dinner.’
(1647683) ‘You always have to be ready when tigress Arrowhead is around as you’ve no idea what she will do next! Here she suddenly erupted through the water chasing one of her cubs, luckily, I was set and ready to nail this rare action shot of a tiger.’
Landscapes and Light – Ross Hoddinott
‘The Quiraing is home to some of the most impressive and breath-taking scenery on the isle of Skye. It is a well photographed location and somewhere I’ve visited several times without ever being rewarded with good light. However, normally, patience and persistence are ultimately rewarded and on this particular morning all the elements combined to create a few brief moments of irresistibly warm light and drama. And thankfully I was ready and waiting with my camera…’
‘The north Devon coastline is among the most rugged, imposing and dramatic you will find anywhere in the UK. Black Church Rock, near Clovelly, is a large double sea arch, approx. 20m in height, which has been formed due to the erosion of ancient cliffs and headlands. This stretch of coast boasts some incredible folded, upturned and faulted layers of rock that were subject to immense pressures during ancient geological and volcanic events following the meeting of tectonic plates. This is a stunning spot for rock-pooling, exploring and photography’. (below left 1652776)
‘The best light, colour and atmosphere occurs at dawn and dusk. Landscape photographers need to be prepared for some long, unsociable hours if they wish to capture the best conditions. Often you set your alarm for silly o-clock in the morning and get no reward – the conditions or light just aren’t right. But when nature delivers a great sky or extraordinary colour, it is good for the soul to be outdoors enjoying those moments. On this particular morning, I visited Westward Ho! – the only place in the UK with an exclamation mark in its name. It is renowned for its large sandy beach, so I used a wide-angle lens to capture its enormity and create a feeling of space. This tidal pool made a great foreground subject’. (below right 1652768)
Natural Staging – Mike Read
The picture was taken in my garage which I occasionally use as a ‘studio’. A friend had contacted me and mentioned some ‘strange’ fungi growing in her garden. On arrival I was shown a group of these collared earthstars and with my friend’s permission, I brought the best looking one home with me. Bear in mind that it was no longer attached to the fungi’s mycelium as they always lift themselves clear of the ground. I then used a piece of black velvet as an unlit background, two softener flash guns on 1/8 power to back light the fungus and the spore cloud and a softened flash (an ordinary flash with some kitchen paper towel over it!), again on 1/8 power to put light on to the front of the fungus. A piece of wire was used to gently tap the body of the earthstar to get it to puff out the spores. This mimicked the droplets of rain that would usually cause the fungus to puff! (below left)
The Problem of PPE – Sergio Hanquet
Sadly, with the COVID 19 pandemic, both the terrestrial and marine environments are going to have to face a new enemy: the mask. Based on an average use of 10 masks per person per month, depending on the country where you live, millions of units may end up being discarded, and unfortunately some will end up adrift or at the bottom of our oceans. We just have to hope that responsible users will discard masks appropriately, or better yet use re-usable fabric masks. (above right)
Destruction and Regeneration – Jirri Lochmann
Bushfires in Australian dry tropics are a common phenomenon, so the plants that occur there have had to adapt to survive and persist in a fire-prone environment. The dominant habitat of this region is the savannah woodland which consists mostly of inflammable plants, such as eucalyptus trees, highly flammable Spinifex grasses and equally flammable bushes that form the savannah woodland under storey. Some of the savannah plants contain volatile substances that are extremely combustible. This combustibility is illustrated in this image, as well as in the common name ‘the Kerosine Bush’ of one such highly ignitable species.
There are a variety of strategies that plants forced to survive in fire-prone environments adapt. Some are re-sprouters, like the depicted shrubs that re-sprout from the lignotubers; woody swellings containing the epicormic buds, as well as stores of starch from which the new growth can be supported during the time when the plant cannot photosynthesise. Re-sprouters survive the fire and the new plant isactually the same individual that it was before the main stem was destroyed. (below left)
Some, like this pyrophile (fire-loving) Red Lantern Banksia, are classified as re-seeders. In the case of re-seeders the mother plant is killed by the fire, but the fire has a magic capacity of softening the cone and thus releasing the seeds, which are then dispersed by the wind a few days after the fire. In this case the fire is actually a pre-requisite for species survival – without the fire there is no release of seeds, no germination and no establishment of a new generation of Red Lantern Banksia. (below right)
At Nature Picture Library we believe passionately in the importance of nature conservation, and each quarter we make a donation to a chosen conservation charity. We always choose a specific project, where our donation will make a difference to vital work being done on the ground. Simply by licensing images from us, you can help vital conservation work. Last quarter we supported the work of Fauna & Flora International Vietnam, specifically their gibbon monitoring project. Our donation has funded the purchase of a camera to assist with monitoring populations of the Cao Vit gibbon in Cao Bang province. Our current charity is the Avon Wildlife Trust, where our donation will support their badger vaccination programme, demonstrating a more humane and cost-effective alternative than culling to reduce the spread of bovine TB in badgers. You can read more about their work in our latest story ‘Cull or Cure’.