The March highlights range widely across the world. From Africa we have Suzi Eszterhas’ very engaging leopard family images, Will Burrard-Lucas’s rare black panthers and Ben Cranke’s dramatic eagle/stork confrontation. From Asia we’ve added more great content from Wild Wonders of China, including many Taiwanese endemic species. From Europe we have lovely starling murmurations, birds in the snow and mammal portraits. From South America the world’s highest waterfall and largest flying bird. From Australia, urban wildlife and a variety of reptiles and frogs. And as ever there has been a fantastic influx of strong marine material, including Andy Murch’s unrivalled coverage on many of the world’s sharks and rays.
Oriol Alamany – Family Unity
We had already been walking the Annapurna Conservation Area, which encompasses the entire huge Annapurna mountain range, for 23 days. We ventured there in the monsoons, because the reason for the trip was to accompany two botanists, to study and photograph the flora of the Himalayas. That day it had been raining since dawn, and we’d spent the whole morning locked up in a guesthouse, in the village of Ghorepani. In the afternoon the rain eased and we took the opportunity to go out to explore the surrounding rhododendron forests.
While photographing orchids at 3,000 meters altitude, a patch of colour appeared far away on the mountain path. A Nepalese family – the woman in the red dress, her son and her daughter, as well as the grandmother – were descending from the nearby mountain pass, flanked by their two faithful Tibetan Mastiffs. As fast as I could I switched from the telephoto lens to a wide angle and stood at the edge of the trail to capture the scene. From that moment I was struck by the image of unity of the family with their dogs, in front of the nature that surrounds them, as well as the contrast of colours that they gave with the lush green forest wrapped in the mist.
Suzi Eszterhas – Rough and Tumble
The fascination with their mother’s tail begins early for leopard cubs. If you think about it, the way her tail is almost always in motion, flicking about, and the bright white fuzzy fur on the end, her tail is an ideal toy for the cubs. True to their solitary nature, leopard cubs are aggressive in their play. Sometimes there was a lot of snarling and growling involved, and if you were to just hear the ruckus in the bushes, you’d be shocked to find out that it was all coming from such young cubs.
Leopard mothers of very young cubs are notoriously secretive, and I feel very privileged to have been able to photograph this leopardess over a two-year period, starting when the cubs were just five-weeks old and still in the den and ending when they had reached adulthood.
Oscar Dewhurst – On Parade
While I was at university in Durham, I was keen to make the most of the eiders that frequented the harbour at Seahouses in Northumberland, particularly when the stunning males were displaying. One March day, I set off early to make the drive north, arriving at the harbour shortly after sunrise. I spent most of the day there, photographing the males as they performed their display to the females, and getting pretty drenched in the process (turns out my waterproofs weren’t so waterproof)! As well as photographing the males displaying, I was keen to make the most of how tame the birds are, and use my wide-angle lens to show them in their environment a bit more. Fortunately, there were some clouds to provide a bit of interest in the sky, so I lay down on the sand to photograph this male as it strutted across the beach, with the town in the background. (below left)
Erlend Haarberg – Dancing Redshank
In mid-May, the spotted redshank return to their nesting areas in northern Norway. Last spring was very late with a lot of snow, and there was only open water in a few locations, so large numbers of birds gathered here. On some days, I could count up to 50 spotted redshank from my hide, in search of food. When large concentrations of spring birds gather in one place, there may be a little friction, especially when they are in search of a mate and full of adrenaline.
This picture shows two males having a disagreement. I spent many evenings and mornings in the hide to observe and photograph, and got a lot of action and entertainment as a reward. At the end of the month, ice and snow began to melt. The birds quickly disappeared out to their nesting grounds to start preparations for a new breeding season. With the spotted redshank, it is the male who is given the responsibility for hatching and young care, the female considers her duties as over when the eggs are laid. (above right)
Introducing Andy Murch
Andy has been obsessed with sharks and rays since learning to dive in the mid 90’s. He has photographed more than 200 species, often going to extraordinary lengths to find new species that few other photographers have encountered. He has co-authored two books on sharks and is the principal photographer in a number of other field guides. His images have appeared in hundreds of diving magazines, scientific journals, and travel and nature publications. He also owns and runs Big Fish Expeditions, and we’re delighted to welcome him as a new contributor.
(1) Smooth hammerheads are notoriously elusive. When this curious individual showed up during a mako shark trip in Baja, I immediately abandoned the makos and concentrated on documenting the hammerhead from every angle. I particularly like this shot which emphasizes this species’ iconic, smooth-edged cephalofoil.
(2) Pyjama catsharks are a common sight within the bamboo kelp forests in False Bay, South Africa. Unlike their larger cousins, catsharks are surprisingly nonchalant to the presence of humans, so it is often possible to follow them along the reef while they go about the business of finding a meal.
(3) A chaotic scene of bronze whaler sharks and Cape Gannets feeding on baitfish during the annual South African sardine run. One might think there are exhaling divers below, but all of the bubbles come from the cavitation of the gannets plunging into the water, and from scores of (out of shot) common dolphins that create bubble curtains to confuse and control the movements of the bait fish. The sharks are simply opportunistic predators that plough through the bait ball, often breaking it up in the process. This was the culmination of many long days at sea in the harsh South African winter. Within minutes it was all over but the encounter was more than worth the hardship of the chase.
David Pattyn – Endless Possibilities
Every winter starlings gather in huge numbers, known as murmurations, at a variety of different locations. These locations are more or less the same for days or weeks on end, and when I have the opportunity to visit such a place I will try to go and see it. It is strange to arrive at a place in late afternoon where it seems nothing at all is happening. Then the first small group of starlings arrives and then gradually more and more groups arrive and the excitement builds. The groups tend to become bigger as time progresses and they start to mingle.
When it is a beautiful evening (not too much wind and rather sunny), huge murmurations will form that make the most fantastic displays, with constantly changing shapes in the sky. As the shapes change the murmurations are never easy to predict, I photograph with my camera handheld to be able to react quickly when interesting shapes become visible. In this image I used a 24-105 mm lens at 45mm as the starlings were pretty close. I used a shutter speed of 1/100 sec to get the trees sharp and I thought that at that shutter speed the shape of the murmuration would be clearly visible too. I used ISO 500 to avoid noise in the image. As the light fades, you can photograph at higher ISO settings or experiment with gradually longer shutter speeds. The starlings provide endless opportunities!
Ben Cranke – Breakfast Tussle
These images were taken at a drying waterhole in Liuwa Plains National Park, Zambia. This happens late in the dry season, when it has not rained for at least 6 months. As the waterhole dries and the water levels drop, it becomes much easier for birds to catch the trapped fish. The dominant bird species catching the fish, were Saddle-billed Storks and African Fish Eagles – except the eagles had worked out it was easier to steal a fish from the highly successful storks, than to try and catch one for themselves! Flying in with their talons exposed, the storks would always be intimidated by the eagles. However, once dropped, the storks would occasionally attempt to reclaim their meal.
Franco Banfi – Free Souls
A band of Atlantic spotted dolphins, followed the zodiac for a while. I was in the middle of no-where with about twenty spotted dolphins very interested to surf the small waves alongside the hull and to play which one another, jumping over the surface to splash back to the ocean. I could not ask for more fun. It is always a great pleasure to share time with these acrobatic and playful mammals, feeling their curiosity and observing the behaviours of the group’s individuals. They are free souls of the marine vastitude, and usually they do not tolerate people sharing the water to close. With this though in my mind, I glided alone in the water, dressing only mask and fins, holding my camera steadily, and trying to disturb as little as possible to merge with the dolphins. The entire group came to look at me for a few seconds, before turning back to their path. That day I was very lucky indeed!
The image was shot on the way to Formigas islet, part of a submarine volcano located about 25 miles northeast of Santa Maria island (Azores archipelago), which hardly come a dozen metres above the sea surface. The rocky outcroppings are very small and isolated in the vast blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, which makes them a hot-spot of marine life.
Jack Dykinga – Wrens and Wonder
I live in the Sonoran Desert next to the Santa Catalinas (a Sky Island Mountain range). I am privileged to watch in real time the ebb and flow of desert creatures as they negotiate a life fraught with difficulties of survival in an arid land. The cactus wren is my curious neighbour. He survives by assembling a nest in the protective embrace of the spine covered chain cholla cactus. Somehow, he threads plant scraps into a complex dwelling without fear. Cactus wrens are amazingly curious jovial little devils that enter any opening including open windows or door. I spend the best mornings sipping coffee as a voyeur at their construction site.
In Arizona, it’s simply called ‘The Canyon’. It’s assumed that it is indeed ‘GRAND’. But, during the winter months the high desert of the South Rim is a mecca for cameras when the temperature drops and storms flow though the high country. Trudging through troughs of new snow offers a significant reward, when the miracle of light paints the cliffs. After forty years of devoted observations, the sense of wonder never ends.
John Shaw – Blooming Gorgeous
The Columbia River Gorge, running almost due east from Portland, Oregon, for about 60 miles, is best known for the many waterfalls that tumble from the steep walls, and for the strong winds the gorge creates. For a short period in spring an intense wildflower display may happen on a few of the open bluff tops. I say “may” as so many factors affect the bloom from year to year. Being there on a good year, at peak bloom, and in calm weather can be more a matter of luck than of planning. For a photographer it means returning again and again. Late one afternoon I arrived at a small bluff opening when weather, flowers, and soft light merged into opportunity. Knowing that I most likely had only a short window of time to photograph, I anxiously searched until I found this arrangement of balsamroot and lupine. I used a wide-angle lens positioned close to the balsamroot in order to emphasize the foreground blossoms, while at the same time including the background plants. (below left)
Tony Wu – Hairy Frogfish
This is a large male hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus) with his esca, or lure, extended to entice prey. The esca is situated at the end of a long rod called the illicium, which is the fish’s front-most dorsal fin. The white hair-like protrusions on the fish’s body are actually small skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae), clearly visible at 100% magnification. The water during the late summer and autumn is thick with nutrients, with nearly every available surface covered with filter feeders of all description. It is possible that the small crustaceans were making use of this fish as a mobile platform for catching prey. This photograph was taken during the frogfish’s reproductive season, five days prior to this fish spawning with a smaller female.
I found the colour combination of blue eyes set against the fish’s orange body to be visually compelling, close to being complementary colours. The colour of the eye depends to some extent upon the angle of reflection. By adjusting the light, I could shift the colour more toward green, but I preferred blue. The angle of light was also better suited to accentuating the nooks and crannies on the fish’s body. (above right)
Doug Gimesy – A Drink Between Trains
It was late and raining, and I had just got off the train to come home in Melbourne. Walking along the platform as the train departed, I noticed a ring tail possum jump down from a tree onto a platform bench to drink from some water droplets that had gathered.
People walked past without noticing, which was sort of sad, but also nice as the possum wasn’t disturbed. I waited, quietly pulled out my camera, knelt down in the rain, and was lucky enough to get a few shots under the platform lights before he/she finished drinking and jumped back up into the overhanging trees. (below left)
Robert Valentic – Growling Grass Frog
This was a shoot that brought forth mixed emotions. Initially, I was excited, happy to be viewing this highly photogenic species through the viewfinder. I thought how lucky I was to encounter this particular frog, as in the past decade I could go years without seeing one. Then I found myself reminiscing about my childhood in the mid 1970’s and the vast amount of time I had spent frequenting that very stretch of creek. The populations of Growling Grass Frogs and indeed the entire natural world, were in a radically different state back then.
Back then, this was the most abundant frog in the outer Melbourne suburbs. As a boy I would wade along the bull-rushes lining the pools of this creek in summer catching them. These frogs were in such numbers, they would shoot into the water like emerald green bullets fired from a roaring machine gun upon my approach as they basked in the fringing vegetation. These frogs were collected and used to feed the snakes housed at the Melbourne Zoo and used as a test species in science laboratories throughout Victoria. Back then, there was no urban sprawl and habitat obliteration, no threats of chytrid fungus, no global warming or over-population to speak of, no pressing pollution issues in our waterways and no threat of extinction for the Growling Grass Frog. And then I realised, ‘back then’ really wasn’t that long ago. It was about then that I was pervaded by feelings of great sadness and loss. (above right)
David Tipling – Hares and Hair-dos!
Each June I visit a favourite field that is covered in Ox-eye daisies and is favoured by hares. I have spent some memorable summer evenings photographing here. Hares are creatures of habit and tend to move along the same routes and so by sitting close to one of these hare highways that are obvious through the flowers I wait. This image was taken last June on one of my evening visits. The hare loitered for a few minutes feeding on vegetation and occasionally looking alertly through the flowers.
I have been visiting Richmond Park to photograph the deer rut annually for around 25 years. On this morning there was very little activity, the deer were quiet and so I set off away from the usual areas where I photograph to look for birds. While walking along a path something caught my eye, it was a tiny speck of antler poking out of the bracken and very close only around 3 metres from the path. I realised it was a large stag sat deep in the bracken so I moved slowly until I could get a clear view of him. He was so covered in bracken that when you moved a metre or two either way he became completely invisible. Successful wildlife photography is often about waiting until something happens, so I stood back and waited for him to move, it took 2 hours until he decided to get up and show himself better which allowed me to get these shots.
David Fleetham – Parrots and Unicorns
The beak of a parrotfish grinds away at hard corals in order to ingest the algae that grows along with the corals. After the flora is digested the remains pass through, and sand comes out the other end. It is estimated that a single parrotfish can expel hundreds of pounds of sand annually and are massively important to a healthy reef environment. The fish leave the reef when defecating and swim upward to do so. I have several photos of this, but one can never have too many! I was following this individual around waiting for the right moment when I caught him munching on these polyps.
Unicornfish are part of the surgeonfish family and have the tell-tale blade back by their tails. The all begin feeding on plant life growing on the seabed, but unicornfish, as they age and their horn grows, are forced to switch to feeding on planktonic morsels in midwater. I photographed this individual at night when it was sleeping down on the reef.
Jeff Vanuga – A Second Look
This grizzly boar was actually pursuing a sow in heat. When the sow reached the other side of the highway the boar finally crossed the road, through parked cars that were already on the side of the road observing the bears activities. This woman was walking to her car and had no idea the boar was crossing behind her. As the bear ran across the road it momentarily glanced at the woman as he was passing by, when I captured this image. She was rather careless for not paying attention to the whole situation, but was not being chased by this bear (as it may at first glance appear). At the Bridget-Teton National Forest where this was photographed, people are allowed to get out of their cars to watch and photograph the bears. This is in contrast to the adjacent National Parks where there is distance law for bears, which to me is also just common sense!
Doug Perrine – Let Sleeping Turtles Lie
Turtles, as reptiles, are derived from ancestral fish that left the water to live on land. Sea turtles, in a case of reverse evolution, then re-adapted to living in the ocean. The transition, however, is not complete. Sea turtles, lacking gills, must rise to the surface to breathe air, and females must come ashore to lay their eggs in pits dug in sandy beaches. This is a laborious process as the turtles, having adapted to zero gravity while buoyed by seawater, must drag their heavy bodies up onto the shore using flippers that are designed for swimming, not walking. Slow and clumsy onshore, turtles become easy prey for large terrestrial predators such as jaguars, crocodiles, and humans. Therefore, in most of the world, male sea turtles never come ashore again after hatching from their eggs and scrambling into the ocean. Females normally only leave the water long enough to lay their eggs and cover the nest.
In a few locations, so remote that large land-dwelling predators never arrived, green sea turtles of both sexes may come onto the beaches frequently and lay there dozing – a behavior termed “basking” by biologists. This is regularly seen only in the Galapagos and Hawaiian Islands, which have no animals ashore that would eat the turtles, and where humans arrived only relatively recently. This behavior vanished from Hawaii after humans began harvesting sea turtles for consumption. When sea turtle soup became a popular item on tourist menus, sea turtles nearly vanished from the islands as well, before they were protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973. As the population recovered, basking behavior began to re-emerge.
Basking ashore has several potential advantages for sea turtles: protection from large tiger sharks that patrol nearshore waters; eliminating the need to partially awake and swim to the surface to breathe while sleeping; escape from strong ocean surges and waves while sleeping; possible reduction of ecto-parasite loads and algae accumulation by drying and over-heating; warming the body to speed digestion, etc. In Hawaii, however, sandy beaches are increasingly surrounded by resorts, condominiums, and luxury homes, and turtles basking ashore may be surrounded by curious, noisy humans, posing themselves next to the weary animals for selfies. While all shorelines are legally public in Hawaii, laws requiring public access are not universally enforced. Beaches without easy access seem to attract the most turtles.
This picture was taken at a small beach with a private residence (visible) on one side, and a condominium complex (out of frame) on the other. Accessing the beach requires either passing through a coded gate at the condominium, or wading around a rocky point in the surf. Turtles come ashore here most frequently around sunset, and tend to spend a few hours onshore before returning to the ocean late at night or early the next morning. I came on a night when the full moon was nearly bright enough to balance out the artificial lights outside the house next door. Exposing the turtles and the stars in the night sky required keeping the shutter open for an extended period with the camera on a tripod. The turtles remained nearly motionless, but a light breeze shook the palm trees at the house, blurring the fronds, and a gentle surge washed waves up and down the beach, rendering them as a dreamy mist.