There is a distinctly antipodean flavour to July 2021 highlights.
New contributor Etienne Littlefair provides strong coverage on Australian wildlife from spiders to snakes and endemic birds, Doug Gimesy has rare images of the critically endangered regent honeybird, and Tui De Roy has submitted fascinating coverage on New Zealand’s iconic kiwis. Also well represented are the tropics through Alex Hyde’s Borneo coverage and South American material from Karine Aigner and Maxime Aliaga. Closer to home we have some great British wildlife shots from Oscar Dewhurst and Roger Powell, Andalusian images from Andres Dominguez and marine life from the Canaries and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Roland Seitre has contributed a range of rare rodents, and from North America watch out for prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and the 17 year periodical cicada, for which species 2021 has been a big year!
Our photographers share insights and stories from behind the scenes…
Tui De Roy – Introducing Scooter
If you wanted to design a particularly ornery wild photographic subject, maybe you’d conjure up something that’s nocturnal, is the colour of leaf litter and has excellent senses of smell and hearing. It should also be nervous, like to hide in deep burrows, is also territorial and can deliver slashing kicks with sharp toenails. To cap it all, this critter dwells beneath thick undergrowth in the coldest, soggiest rainforest you can imagine. Combine all these features, and what to you get – a kiwi!
So, when I set out to meet this challenge, I befriended kiwi rangers, working for the New Zealand Department of Conservation in an effort to save this enigmatic flightless bird (which they refer to as an ‘honorary mammal’) from extinction. And that’s when they let me in on a secret: there was one particular individual that they checked on every few months, endearingly called ‘Scooter’, who so hated any intrusion into his territory that he would come out of his burrow in broad daylight at the sound of footsteps, to usher the interlopers away. Scooter actually looked incredibly cute, with furry feathers, long whiskers and long probing bill raised to test the air through nostrils placed at its tip. And he did ‘scoot’ very obligingly after me for several hundred metres. Allowing for a few great shots in his natural environment, so long as I made it clear that I was departing.
Karine Aigner – Ecuador
These images were taken on one of a few Kids Conservation Photography Workshops Karine Aigner has been involved with in Ecuador. She was with a group of 6 students who were shooting, working on stories, and going on wildlife viewings.
Sometimes, you just get lucky
Sometimes, when your group are all taking a nap-and you too are dozing on a hard bench at a clay lick waiting for parrots, one of your students murmurs the word ‘jaguar’. You hear it again, and ignore it as background noise. But the third time he whispers it, you sit up just to make sure he’s not dreaming through his nap. And then you realize you are in one of those moments of ‘SOMETHING.’ And the first jaguar you have ever seen in your life (and your students in theirs) stands big and bold, completely wild, staring back at you from 50 feet away—for two whole minutes.
And then he slips back into the jungle, and you are all left staring where he stood-with gaping mouths shaped in smiles; and you all stop holding your breath at the same time and look on the back of your cameras to make sure it wasn’t a dream. And you again reconfirm in your heart that taking students over an ocean will leave them with experiences they will never forget, and forever change them.
Yes. This happened today. Thank you, Mother Nature. And thank you Lucas and all our students for reminding me of that feeling: the special wonder of seeing things for the first time!
Sergio Hanquet – Youthful Mischief
Juvenile pilot whales, like all marine and terrestrial mammals, are more curious, playful and daring than adults. This baby, measuring barely 1 metre long, did not hesitate to separate from its mother to approach my camera, closing the distance to just a few centimetres! But instantly, as it would have been with any other species, its mother appeared to call it back. The waters off southwest Tenerife, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, are home to a population of about 500 pilot whales, divided into social groups of about 15 individuals. The young are born after 13 months of gestation. In the first months they feed on mother’s milk that will later be replaced by their basic diet of squid. (below left)
Cetaceans generally live in groups, forming highly structured populations and where each individual has a well-defined role. Some species of oceanic dolphins can form groups of several hundred or even thousand, yet other species such as the pilot whale form social nuclei of only 12/15 individuals, although the population of the same area can also reach several hundreds of animals. In the southwest of Tenerife (Canary Islands), about 500 specimens live permanently. Until they reach adulthood, juveniles regularly interact with each other by playing games, stroking their pectoral fins, and even nibbling each other. (above right)
Behind the blue dragon, a tiny sea slug of just 3 cm, hides a dangerous animal – lethal to other marine species and capable of causing a serious sting to humans. The Glaucus atlanticus, the scientific name of this species, begins its life on the surface of the sea, living at the whim of the winds and currents. They have the ability to store and transform the venom of prey that they feed on, such as the Portuguese man o’ war. In the photograph, an individual can be seen in a puddle, feeding on a button jellyfish (Porpita porpita). (below left)
Used to photographing flora that usually grows at ground level, or in any case at mid-height, this majestic plant makes me feel small, almost insignificant. Its enormous size, reaching 3 meters in height, and its intense red colour makes it unmistakable. It is the red tajinaste (Echium wildpretii), an endemic species to the Canary Islands, specifically La Palma and Tenerife, where it grows at the base of the Teide volcano and at an altitude of about 2000 meters. The best time to observe it is spring, when the Teide National Park displays its unmistakable aromas and its striking colour palettes such as white broom (Spartocytisus supranubius), yellow straw grass (Descuraina bourgaeana) or coral red of the tajinastes that contrasts with the black and twisted lava flows. (above right)
Alex Hyde – Musings on Rainforest Photography
Working in the tropical rainforest of Danum Valley, Borneo is a feast for the senses: the continuous soundscape of birds, insects and frogs; the sweet, musty scent of warm decaying leaves; the spectacle of countless thousands of gaudily-marked invertebrates peering out at you from amongst the vegetation. Unlike in the UK where so many of our species have been described in precise detail, one frequently struggles to get down to species-level identification of individual invertebrates in this rich environment and every so often you doubtless photograph something as of yet undescribed by science. What could be more exciting? It would take many of my lifetimes over to do justice to such a place. As a lone individual wondering through with a camera, all you can hope to do is scratch the surface.
The enormous horns of this golf ball-sized Atlas Beetle (Chalcosoma sp.) are possessed by males of the species who use them to fight rivals, the victor gaining the right to mate with a female. (below left)
No two night walks in Danum Valley, Borneo are ever the same. The diversity of invertebrate life in a tropical rainforest is difficult to comprehend, and much of it appears after dark. On this particular night I was in for a real treat. As I scanned the tree trunks with my head torch, my light settled on a large and beautifully-coloured arboreal tarantula (Lampropelma sp.) high up above me. Over the next half hour, I was fascinated to watch her young emerge from the same cleft until the family unit occupied a sizeable area of the trunk. I counted at least 30 young but there were likely more in the recesses. There are many spiders I have witnessed showing excellent parental care, perhaps a more tender side to a creature so often judged solely on its appearance. (above right)
Giant Shield bug nymphs (Pycanum sp.), recently hatched from eggs, with a final individual still to emerge. By staying in a tight group, the nymphs increase the effectiveness of their striking defensive aposematic colouration to ward off would-be predators. I discovered this scene on the underside of a leaf whilst exploring the rainforest at night. (below left)
The wing of this lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi) attracted my attention, the venation picked out in striking green and gold. So often in nature I see pictures within pictures, as the magnification increases life just gets more intricate and beautiful. (above right)
Maxime Aliaga – Hawk Spotting
The Galapagos Hawk is an endemic species from the Galapagos archipelago. This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small population (around 300 individuals). In Galapagos humans are not seen as a threat by wildlife, you can be very close to the animals without scaring them. It was my first time taking a photo of the hawk so close! I was just a few meters from the hawk and I could use a very wide angle, allowing me to compose a nice picture with the beautiful tree. (below left)
The Imababura tree frog is an endemic tree frog from the Chocó–Darién rainforest. This region situated on the pacific coast in between Colombia and north Ecuador, and is considered a hotspot of biodiversity. (above right)
The Iguazu waterfall is considered as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Situated in the middle of a luxuriant rainforest, the waterfall marks the border of Brazil and Argentina. This was taken from the Argentinian side. (below left)
Colours of the Desert
The Bolivian desert of South Lipez is situated between the Salar d’Uyuni and the Chilean border. The landscape there is breath-taking. It is composed of a succession of multi-coloured lagunas with pink flamingos, surrounded by snow-capped Andes, geysers and hot springs. Despite the extreme conditions of life due to the altitude and aridity of the ecosystem, there is interesting wildlife concentrated around the lagunas. (above right)
Piotr Naskrecki – If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Biologist and nature photographer Piotr Naskrecki works in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Bats are some of the most remarkable animals, and Piotr has been studying their behaviour and biology for the last few years. Watch the video below to find out how he spent over a year working to get the perfect shot of a long-fingered bat drinking…
Guy Edwardes – Flying High
During my last visit to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido one of my main target species was the Steller’s Sea Eagle, one of the largest eagle species in the world. These huge birds of prey are found on the sea ice between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands during the winter months. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to take a boat out to find them. I shot thousands of images of them on the sea ice, but I was particularly keen to capture them within their natural environment. A backdrop of the mountains of the Shireoko National Park was ideal. I waited for an adult eagle to pass above some of the most interesting sections of the distant landscape.
Introducing Etienne Littlefair
One of our newest photographers, Etienne is an ecologist turned photographer with a particular interest in unusual subjects, especially freshwater species. He is based in Darwin, Australia where he and his wife, Cara run their photography business, ‘Wild Territory Images’.
Etienne Littlefair – An Orange Blur
This species inhabits some of the most arid terrain in central Australia, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest towns. After finding the bird, the greatest challenge in capturing this image was speed, an exposure of 1/8000th of a second was required to freeze the typical hopping motion – any less resulted in an orange blur. (below left)
Etienne Littlefair – Camera Shy
These frogs call from flooded plains for a few short weeks every year, following the onset on monsoonal rains in northern Australia. Timing is key to capturing this on camera, as after a few nights of enthusiastic calling the frogs become rather camera shy, having somewhat exhausted their urge to reproduce. (below right)
Andres M. Dominguez – Birds through the Seasons
It usually snows once or twice a year in the natural park ‘Sierra de Grazalema’ in southern Spain. But there are some years when it doesn’t happen at all. On this particular day the snow was forecast in the morning, so I planned to visit an area with a lot of hawthorns, where the birds gather to eat the fruit. Thrushes, goldfinches, greenfinches, grosbeaks and other species all feed on these fruits, especially on the very cold days. I prepared the hiding place very early in the morning, even though there was a risk of not being able to return home if the snow got too deep. It started snowing early and proved to be a very rewarding day!
I have been taking backlit images more and more frequently the last couple of years, especially in the natural park ‘Sierra de Grazalema’, southern Spain. I like the silhouette of the birds but especially of this species. The background is yellow because of the autumn date and the image was taken backlit to create this scene. There are also some dew drops out of focus between the bird and the camera. In autumn before heavy rains appear is a good time to take pictures of many species that come down to drink at small ponds. I think the results are quite attractive, so I will continue to work on this type of image this autumn.
Franco Banfi – An Adorable Rascal
When it comes to shells, for me the Hairy Giant Triton is one of my favourites, especially in Mediterranean Sea. It has a tousled look, making it looks like an adorable rascal. When disturbed by a current or tidal flows, it hides its body inside the huge shell, and can hide inside for a long time. When it feels safe again, first the eyes come out, then slowly the body follows. It crawls along the rocky seafloor, with its bristly, ‘hairy’ periostracum (the outer shell layer) fluttering in the water, looking for bi-valves to prey on. The periostracum has several uses, it protects the shell, as well as acting as a camouflage aid.
Adult specimens can reach up to 18cm long – a giant compared to the more common, smaller shelled molluscs. They have an unusually long planktonic larval life stage, known as a veliger, estimated to last about 300 days. During this stage they are carried by the ocean currents and are distributed worldwide (estimated to travel as far as 4000 km). This would go a long way to explaining why they’re found in so many places. After the larval stage they start building their complicated shells – a true masterpiece of broad, spiralled ribs. For me, they will forever remain lovely buddies to observe in shallow water, during my long (and otherwise boring) decompression stops, back from long and deep scuba-dives!
Michel Roggo – The Changing Face of an Iceberg
I first worked in the Ilulissat Kangia Icefjord area in 2014, mainly on meltwater lakes and channels on the Greenland Sermesuaq Ice Sheet. To do so, I had to fly to the Inland Ice Sheet by helicopter. So, I was flying over the calving front of the glacier. At this time, the glacier was still reaching into the sea, so very large Icebergs could break from the glacier, often so large that they were too tall to float down the fjord and get stuck on the bottom of its shallower areas, sometimes for years. The area was famous for those very large floating icebergs.
When I returned to the area in 2019, things had changed dramatically. There were fewer icebergs in the Icefjord, and they were much smaller, with just about 60 meters reaching out of the sea (compared to 120 meters previously). The reason was simple: the tongue of the Sermeq Kujalleq had shrunk dramatically and was not reaching the sea anymore, but was now on the rocky ground. So today there is no calving of icebergs anymore, the ice is instead crashing onto the ground. I wanted to document this. So was able to join a tourist group that had chartered a helicopter to fly over the Ilulissat Icefjord, to the tongue of the Sermeq Kujalleq. Capturing the image was relatively easy, but sadly it wasn’t easy to endure the image of a slowly dying glacier.
Oscar Dewhurst – Celebrating Local
Growing up in west London meant I spent countless hours in Richmond Park, particularly in the autumn when the red deer rut takes place. Most of my favourite images from there are in the open grassy areas, but walking through one of the woods early one morning the dappled light through the trees gave lovely colours in the bracken. This stag standing in the bracken, with an oak tree framing it in the background and a couple of ferns adorning his antlers, made a nice subject as it turned towards me. (below left)
A few winters ago, I spent a couple of days photographing a flock of waxwings that had found a group of berry trees in North London, right next to a busy road. Whilst the waxwings and photographers were very happy about this, the resident mistle thrush had to watch as the trees were stripped of berries at a ferocious rate, thanks to the efforts of 150 waxwings. It would alarm call each time they landed in an attempt to ward them off, but it had no effect. After no more than a week, the trees were devoid of berries, the waxwings had moved on, and the mistle thrush had to look for food elsewhere. (above right)
Nick Upton – Planting Hope
The latest conservation project we’re supporting is the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s work to restore the rare marsh fritillary. The marsh fritillary was once a butterfly with a strong foothold in the British Isles. During the nineteenth century, it was even known to reach plague proportions, when fields would turn black with voracious caterpillars. But times change, and today the marsh fritillary is one of the most threatened butterfly species in the UK.
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s work to restore habitat for the species is a project we are delighted to support. As well as making a donation to this excellent cause, we rolled up our sleeves and helped the Trust to plant its new reserve with devil’s-bit scabious (the food plant for marsh fritillary caterpillars). You can read all about the project in our blog – and also learn more about the most brightly-coloured and sociable fritillary in Britain.
John Cancalosi – Cicadas awaken after a 17-year nap
Periodical cicadas—so named because populations are developmentally synchronized and emerge as adults all at once in the same year—have been busy singing up a storm in Maryland, USA. The insects are especially remarkable because their life cycles are so long—13 or 17 years, depending on the species. This year, three different species of periodical cicadas—collectively called ‘Brood X’—have emerged together.
Pictured here are 17-year periodical cicadas, Magicicada septendecim. They are the offspring of cicadas that bred in 2004. That year, the females laid their eggs in the branches of deciduous trees and shrubs. After hatching, the nymphs (which look like miniature versions of the adults) fell to the ground and burrowed into the soil to suck fluids from the tree roots. Only now have they emerged again to shed their skins, and take their final adult forms, complete with bulging red eyes, black exoskeletons and a shiny new set of wings.
“They were everywhere,” says John Cancalosi, who photographed the insects practically on his front doorstep. “Every morning there would be cicadas clinging to the trees, splitting out of their larval straitjackets and emerging as red-eyed, white imagos, or so-called “teneral adults”. On one morning, Cancalosi went to greet his neighbour and saw a cicada undergoing this process on a small tree in front of his house. “I grabbed my equipment, and for several hours I watched as the insect, after 17 years of patient underground duty, began to emerge slowly as a fresh adult. However, this ill-fated individual had a welcoming committee. At first a few, and then a whole mass, of ravenous black ants descended on the poor creature and devoured it alive, before it even had a chance to spread its wings.”
When cicadas emerge, they provide a banquet for any species with an insectivorous diet. Birds, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, lizards and fish all enjoy a menu of cicadas. The insects are also eaten by people, who describe their flavour variously as nutty, shrimp-like or reminiscent of tinned asparagus. However, despite having so many natural predators, Cancalosi says that the cicadas occur in such large numbers that any potential predators can satiate themselves without making a meaningful dent in their numbers.
Once the freshly-emerged adult cicadas have expanded and dried, they begin the climb into the treetops. Love is in the air, and the males cluster in groups to sing and attract females. The choristers are loud, and Cancalosi says the trees “come alive with their sonorous symphony.” Occasionally, an amorous pair will fall from the canopy, making it possible to photograph them in the act of mating.
At the time of writing, the last of the males are serenading the females with their songs. Others are beginning to die, as all brood X cicadas will do in short order. Those cicadas that manage to mate and lay eggs will begin the life cycle anew. And in 17 years, the same mid-Atlantic trees will once again host a great drama of patience, hope, love and death. “I feel so lucky to have witnessed this great event,” Cancalosi says. “I look forward to the next uprising in 2038!”