April 2021 Highlights

We’ve added over 3000 images to our site in the last month. The April highlights include Maxime Aliaga’s engaging and comprehensive orangutan collection, bold examples of Nordic wildlife, dramatic and revealing aerial landscape images, and lots of beautiful new wildflowers and fungi. You will also find some strong macro coverage on insects and slime moulds, and be able to explore the natural haven of Ethiopia’s sacred forests.

We asked our photographers for stories from behind the scenes, and the challenges of taking these images.


Nick Upton – Neighbourly Bees

Several of these big leafcutter bees nested in a new insect hotel in my neighbour’s garden last summer. They chewed away at the wood to enlarge the burrows so they would fit, and they even evicted some mason bee nests to free up more space. They worked fast, bringing in circles of sycamore leaf every 10 minutes or so, to line the brood cells. Once that was done, they returned at longer intervals to provision their young with pollen, stuck to their hairs under their bodies. To get shots of them flying in, I mounted the camera on a tripod with my macro lens pre-focused to the burrow entrance and waited for its owner to return. As soon as I heard and then saw, a bee approach, I fired the shutter on motor drive with a cable release. I worked over several days during a narrow window of about 90 minutes in the early afternoon, as this was when direct sunlight fell on the nest entrances, providing enough light to achieve a very fast shutter speed, 1/2000th, to freeze the action.

My neighbour kindly told me she’d seen several bees visiting the edge of her pond last spring and asked me to have a look. I recognised them immediately as Red mason bees and could see they were collecting mud for nest building. I soon found they were using an insect hotel her son had recently installed on a post about 30 yards away, and so I visited daily for a week to get shots of them collecting mud and nesting. They came and went every 10-30 minutes or so, bringing balls of mud to line brood cells with, pollen to provision them and then more mud to seal nest burrows up with. This shot, taken with the camera hand held in bright daylight with a fast shutter speed, shows one just emerged from a partially filled nest burrow she’s just brought some pollen to, near two burrows she’s already filled with several brood cells and sealed neatly with mud. I now have the same design of insect hotel in my own garden and mason bees have just begun to inspect it in the April sunshine!

Michel Poinsignon – The Blue Arrow

The kingfisher is my favourite bird. Every year, as soon as spring returns, I walk the banks of my favourite river in search of the blue arrow. All my senses are heightened with each new walk, excited by the prospect of encountering a kingfisher. When I am out with my camera, I like to blend into the environment so I don’t disturb the wildlife, and so I can savour these irreplaceable moments of emotion. During my photo hides, I try to vary the images. This photo took a long time to prepare – several flashes and an infrared cell were used to freeze the movement of the bird in flight as it exited the water.

Mateusz Piesiak – Braving the Elements

It was hard to get out of my cozy bed that day. The thermometer showed a temperature of -23°C outside, and it was well before dawn. But I hadn’t visited Bialowieza National Park to sleep, at least not this time. I had a plan – I had come to photograph the largest mammal in Europe. Having that in mind I packed up and went looking for European bison. After a couple hours of tracking, I met a herd standing at the forest edge. They were nicely contrasted against the snow and frost. I lay down to get a low perspective and am pretty happy with the result. Waking up in the morning was worth it this time! (below left)

A different winter morning, when I was on another trip to Bialowieza National Park, I met these three bison. It was -17°C and they were nicely covered in frost. They were lazily preparing to lay down to digest their latest meal. Soft clouds above them created a natural blend and allowed me to capture this scene in a subtle light and contrasts. (above right)

Magnus Lundgren – The Perils of Plastics

I was surprised to find numerous sea horses in the open ocean, mainly juveniles but once in a while an adult, like in this image. Normally they hold on to the seaweed and other drifting items, but since plastics are so common these days they grab what they find. This shot was taken at night, out in the open sea, while drifting 10 meters from the surface, with the bottom some 200 to 300 meters below. (below left)

This image (above right) was taken in a ‘no take zone’ called Shilang, and it was amazing how friendly the fish were, compared to other sites on the same island where fishing is allowed. The Pacific Ocean move currents along Green Islands shores and unfortunately plastics come in on a steady basis. It is very upsetting as marine life like turtles don’t do well when they mistake a plastic bag for a jelly fish. The turtles eating plastic bags eventually die from starvation, as they are no longer able to absorb food.

Guy Edwardes – Focus on Fungi

Fungi have always been one of my favourite subjects to photograph. I think it’s the sheer variety of colours, shapes and textures that appeals most. Unlike a lot of natural history subjects, they don’t fly or run away and many of them don’t even blow around in the breeze, so I have time to be quite creative when it comes to composition and lighting. I always look forward to the autumn months when fungi tend to be at their most prolific. It’s at that time of the year that I get to work in one of my favourite habitats…the fabulous pockets of ancient broadleaved woodland in the south of England. Watch out for more on Guy’s fungi photography coming soon.

Lucas Bustamante – Feet and Scales!

Scaly Dragon

Laying in the lava rocks, this endemic and colourful male of Galapagos Land Iguana was taking its doses of sun. With my long lens, I tried to fill the frame just showing its stunning eye and the whole pattern of scales of its back, which resembled for me a dragon head followed by the Great Wall of China. (below left)

Big-footed Hummingbird

Let me introduce you to one of the hummingbird’s best adapted to extreme conditions: the Ecuadorian hillstar! This tiny and colourful bird lives on a high-altitude mountain grassland between 3500 and 5200 meters (11000 to 17000 ft). Its main source of food is the orange flowers of the Chuquiraga shrub. Its feet are relatively large for a hummingbird, and instead of hovering while feeding, they usually land and feed while clinging to the plant. This behaviour saves energy in a cold environment where they live. During the night, they go into a torpid state to conserve energy. (below right)

Juan Carlos Munoz – Aerial Wonders

Circles and Stripes

The trees of this olive grove have just provided the hardworking farmer with their fruit, and with the care shown toward the land surrounding them he seems to be thanking the trees for such a generous offering. Since ancient times humans have held olives as one of the essential products of the Mediterranean culture. The traditional work in the fields marks the passing of the seasons. The movement of the tractor creates these circles and stripes in the act of cleaning the surroundings of each tree, in order to promote their growth with the precious water that reaches its roots.

Water Tree

With the arrival of low tide, the landscape of the Oyambre Natural Park wetland reveals one of the most fascinating trees of Cantabrian nature. It is born with shallow water threads that, among vegetation and silts, reveal streams and water sources as if they were the branches of a large tree. Its shallow depth allows the light to add to the magic of vision that lasts just a few hours, until the tide rises again. With a palette of bold blues that light up against the surrounding vegetation whose faded greens reflect being at the mercy of the rhythm of the ocean tides. (below left)

Under the Lines

The swell that reaches the shore of Antuerta beach, although from Atlantic waters, shows a bright tropical colour of tireless wave activity, only cut out by the foam that finishes off the waves. From the air its force is discovered to be even more intense under the surface, stirring the bottom of the sandy area to which it approaches and leaving clear evidence of the physical force of the tides. (below right)

Edwin Giesbers

On both sides of the Dutch-German border lies one of the most interesting and most important nature reserves of the Lower Rhine: the Gelderse Poort. In this beautiful floodplain landscape, there are a number of important nature reserves such as Salmorth (Germany) and the Millingerwaard and Meinerswijk (the Netherlands). Due to the periodic floods, agriculture could not develop optimally. By reserving sufficient surface area for nature in the flood plains, more space could be given to natural processes associated with a river, such as flooding, sedimentation, erosion and natural grazing by large herbivores. This has created a more natural landscape with a prominent place for riparian forests. In 1991, Meinerswijk became the first example site of Plan stork in the Gelderse Poort.

Perhaps the most important mammals that live in the Gelderse Poort are the Konik horses and Galloway cattle. The Koniks descend directly from the Tarpan, the extinct European wild horse. The native Scottish Galloway are polled and have a black curly coat. Both animals are self-reliant all year round and can also find their own food in winter. Both grazers provide the necessary variation in the vegetation. They both have their specific grazing habits; the Koniks exploit the short-grazed vegetation by being able to bite off the grass, while the Galloways make more use of the bushes. And of course the importance of grazing is great, because without herbivores an ecosystem will degenerate because the necessary rejuvenation of herbs and shrubs no longer takes place. The importance of grazing is great because without herbivores an ecosystem will degenerate. The necessary rejuvenation of the herbs, shrubs and trees will then no longer take place.

Bruno D’Amicis – Ethiopian Forest Churches

In the autumn of 2018, after a few years of absence, I returned to the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia on assignment for the German NGO NABU. Our goal was to document the unique ‘church forests’ – orthodox sanctuaries surrounded by a belt of large trees and lush vegetation. According to the belief that trees and nature in general are the best adornment for the otherwise quite simple churches, over the centuries thousands of such religious places have managed to preserve until today many patches of forest, the last remaining in most of Ethiopia. Many church forests can be found along shores of Lake Tana where I’ve concentrated my efforts. From the Fasiladas complex in Gondar, where huge fig trees sprawl their roots over walls, to the churches of the Zege peninsula which protect endangered species, like the African yellowwood, I’ve witnessed this unique and positive relationship between religion and conservation. Representing tiny islands of biodiversity in an often overcultivated or overgrazed territory, conservation organisations want to help protect the church forests from further encroachment and help to connect a few of them to restore ecological interchange among them.

Franco Banfi – Pond Life

How much life can we find inside a simple marsh or a pond? Beyond imagination!
Endless numbers of different eggs, larvae, amphibians, in perfect balance among them and the environment. Blackwaters are liquid microcosms and in those murky ecosystems, armed of great patience and very attentive eyes, we can find eccentric reptiles as coloured and odd as small dragons, like elusive Alpine newts. They are nocturnal animals and spend most of the year on land, hidden among leaf litter and burrows. They leave no traces of their passage in the forests, therefore are quite difficult to find. But I have an ace up my sleeve – they return to water for breeding.

Being a diver, I’m privileged to enter a world hidden to many. I spent several hours in the mud (as happy as a kid playing in a puddle!), fascinated by the metamorphoses of Alpine newts. During their aquatic life (from larvae to juvenile) they breathe through external feathery gills which sprout from behind the head. In late summer, after losing their gills, juvenile leave the water and start their terrestrial ordeals. The terrestrial juvenile “efts” will mature into adults at around three years.

It was really challenging to take good pictures at dawn and dusk (when newts are more active), in low light conditions typical of ponds hidden in forests. They were filled with rotting leaf matter which immediately formed clouds of brown particles suspended in the shallow water as soon as the housing touched the bottom. At the beginning I went crazy, then slowly became more selective and the chose the better sites.

Maxime Aliaga – At the Edge of Extinction

Orangutans are found only in Indonesia and Malaysia and are listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Until recently, it was thought that only two species of orangutan existed; the Bornean and Sumatran. In November 2017 the Tapanuli orangutan was officially described as a new species in a paper published in ‘Current Biology’. It took around 20 years to find out that these orangutans were a distinct species from the Sumatran orangutan. DNA and morphologic analysis eventually showed significant differences between these two orangutans’ populations, and it now appears that the Tapanuli orangutans are actually closer to the Bornean orangutan. Scientists have been evaluating the Tapanuli orangutan population and it thought to be made of only 800 individuals, living only in the Batang Toru forest on the North west of Sumatra. They are already Critically Endangered with extinction, the highest status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In fact they are the great Apes the most endangered of extinction on earth!

This hydrodam in the Tapanuli region (below left), is a small example of what might be an impending disaster. A huge hydro-electric power project is under construction in Batang Toru. Although it sounds ‘green’ it would be the biggest disaster to the Batang Toru Ecosystem. This hydro project has been planned in the richest area of the Batang Toru Ecosystem, in a beautiful primary forest gorge area that has the highest densities of the last remaining Tapanuli orangutans. The project sits at the crossroads of three subpopulations of the Tapanuli orangutan and is likely to separate them permanently, which increases the risk of extinction. Scientists and conservationists are fighting to stop the project from the beginning and avoid its devastating impact on the local ecosystem.

Unlike the other great apes, orangutans are solitary animals. Big flanged male are territorial, they reign over a large territory marking their presence by long calls. Due to the destruction of the habitat they are critically endangered with extinction. Scientists estimate the entire population of Sumatran orangutan to be less than ten thousand individuals. If immediate conservation action is not taken to protect its habitat, they may well disappear in a few decades.

Oliver Wright – Macro Marvels

This wolf spider was photographed in my back garden during the 1st lockdown – when my back garden was really my only option for photography. These spiders were sub adult and very small, so I decided I wanted to try really high magnification portraits. I used the Canon MP-E 65mm lens at 5 times magnification and a set of extension tubes, bringing the magnification to approximately 7 times. I would find them on my garden fence in the mornings, and you can just about see my house and some ivy from the fence reflected in the 2 largest spider eyes. (below left)

I had found Striped Slender Robberflies many times at my local pond site in Yorkshire a few times previously, but always perched on their own. A few times this year I found pairs perched opposite each other. This was taken early in the morning and the dew which had formed overnight. This is a great time of the day to photograph these subjects as they are yet to warm up and therefore don’t move. But you are on the clock because as soon as they get warm, they become active and they are very hard to find perched in thick clumps of grass. (above right)

Emanuele Biggi – A Rare Jewel

The Aurora’s salamander is a very peculiar subspecies of the Alpine salamander. It only lives in a very small patch of woods in the Asiago Plateau in Northern Italy, where it thrives in very humid montane habitats, with lots of mosses and shadow from trees like fir trees. I dreamt about seeing this uniquely golden-patterned salamander since I was very young and tried a few times with no luck. But last time I was lucky enough to be there at the perfect time of year, and right after very heavy rains, which trigger the activity of this elusive amphibian. I was completely soaked in rain water and finally I just found one, but it was enough to make my day (or maybe even my year)! It’s an endangered subspecies, unique to my country and beautiful, a real jewel to protect and love. (below left)

Eduardo Blanco – Mayfly Mayhem

The mayflies hatch en masse at night and some approach the streetlights deceived by their light. Using a flash and a long exposure, I was able to freeze the action of the insects while their path was painted by the light from the streetlight. (above right)

John Waters – Precision Cutting

On a window sill overlooking my back garden I have a piece of drain pipe filled with bamboo sticks – a ‘bee hotel’ which is used every year by leaf-cutter bees to lay their eggs. The females seal up each egg in a compartment with a wadge of leaves. I’ve watched them flying in, hugging a freshly cut roll of leaf to her body, and disappear down the tube. A few minutes later she emerges and flies off to get another one, and so on. I wanted to see how they do it but they always seemed to fly in from another garden so I couldn’t pinpoint where they were getting the leaves from. Then I got lucky! Near the window sill was a small fuchsia bush and one morning I noticed an almost perfect circle cut out of one of the leaves, an hour later there were three leaves that had been cut. I immediately got my camera ready, and didn’t have to wait for long, because within minutes I noticed a bee leaving one of the tubes and flying to the fuchsia bush and start cutting a circle of leaf! Chomping with her big jaws she rotates her body and rolls the cut leaf into a tube under her body. When the cut is complete she just drops off, fires up her wings while falling, then flies back to the nesting tubes. Cutting the leaf takes about 20 seconds, so I did not have a lot of time to line up my shot but to have it happen many times right in front of me massively increased the chances of getting it right. We all need a bit of luck in this game!

Olga Kamenskaya – Spectacular Scenics

Belukha Mountain located in the Katun Mountains, is the highest peak of the Altai Mountains in Russia, and the highest of the system of the South Siberian Mountains. It is part of the World Heritage Site entitled Golden Mountains of Altai. Located in the Altai Republic, Belukha is a three-peaked mountain massif that rises along the border of Russia and Kazakhstan, just a few dozen miles north of the point where this border meets with the border of China. There are several small glaciers on the mountain, including Belukha Glacier. Belukha was first climbed in 1914 by the Tronov brothers. Most ascents of the eastern peak follow the same southern route as that taken in the first ascent. Though the Altai is lower in elevation than other Asian mountain groups, it is very remote, and much time and planning are required for its approach.

Darashkol, meaning ‘beautiful lake’, is a high-mountain lake in the Altai mountains, 2133m above sea level. The lake is located within the Katunsky ridge, northwest of the Ioldo-Aira glacier, in the upper reaches of the valley of the same name. The lake is located in the natural park ‘Belukha’, which also includes lakes Kucherlinskoye, Akkemskoye, and is a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site.

Animal Illusions

Two-headed giraffes! Phantom impala! Man-eating whales! See how chance timing and spontaneous camera work has turned these mind-bending nature photographs into tricks of the eye… Our full story PDF, including text, can be viewed here.

Check out the full April highlights gallery for more fabulous images, or why not buy a print?