As spring awakens in the upland birch forest of Vauldalen, Norway, tensions between mountain hares begins to grow. April and May is their mating season, when a surge of testosterone pushes the males into an amorous mood. In their pursuit of females, they engage in nightly brawls. Upright on their hind legs, limbs clash and fur flies. The first one to land a direct hit against the head or body of his rival is usually the winner. THE YEAR IN PICTURES
2021 will perhaps be remembered as a time when the world remained in the grip of a global health crisis. Although some glimmers of pre-pandemic “normalcy” are returning, particularly in countries with high vaccine rates, many of us still feel disconnected or hesitant to return to the simple pleasures of life before COVID-19 – especially with a new, potentially more infectious variant to contend with. We hope that these nature photographs, in some small way, will help to lift your spirits. Science has shown that simply viewing images of nature can boost your immune system, as well as lower your heart rate and improve your mood. So if the idea of being out in the wider world fills you with dread, then why not look at these evocative images – and let them transport you to faraway places.
: On New Year’s Day, Guy Edwardes captured this frosty sunrise from Lambert’s Castle, Dorest, UK, looking across the Marshwood Vale towards Colmer’s Hill. JANUARY
: A female kingfisher dives into an ice hole in Yorkshire, UK. Photographer Oliver Wright watched the bird dive several times, until she was successful in catching her lunch. JANUARY
: Honeycomb moray eel (Gymnothorax favagineus) surrounded by male and female Dancing shrimp (Rhynchocinetes uritai), Indonesia. JANUARY
: A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks among rock boulders partially covered in snow on a mountain top. Central Apennines, Abruzzo, Italy. FEBRUARY
: Common frog (Rana temporaria) submerged in water showing its reflection, Leicestershire, UK. FEBRUARY
: Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) on partially frozen river, Viken, Norway. Highly Commended in Birds Category of GDT photo competition 2021. FEBRUARY
: A pair of Mute swans (Cygnus olor) swim together at sunrise, on misty lake in Poland. MARCH
: Andy Sands spent weeks sleuthing for these slime moulds – no easy feat considering they’re only 1mm tall! “You usually have to crawl around for hours in the woods, armed with strong reading glasses, a magnifying glass and a torch,” says Sands. “It is often cold and wet. But when you catch sight of a line of tiny iridescent jewel-like blobs it is all worth it.” MARCH
: Native to Hokkadio, the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel ( MARCH Pteromys volans orii) is notorious for two things: its cartoon cuteness and its ability to take to the air. With the help of skin membranes called patagia, which span between their wrists and ankles, these big-eyed rodents can make flights—or, more accurately, controlled glides—of up to 50 metres. Capturing the action required a lot of waiting around in freezing conditions, and careful observations of the squirrel’s behaviour. “Plus luck,” adds photographer Tony Wu.
: Black grouse fight it out at their annual battlegrounds in Finland. “Males of equal strength can fight for a minute, even longer,” says Markus Varesvuo, who captured the image in April. “The combatants perform stunning aerial acrobatics, sending each other’s feathers flying.” The fittest cock on the block gets to mate with the best females, and thus the fittest genes are passed on to the next generation. APRIL
: Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) singing during the morning at St Aidens RSPB reserve near Leeds, UK. Photographer oliver Wright spent 3 weeks heading down to the same spot where the wren was often observed singing. For the bird’s breath to be visible Wright had to get the photograph in precise conditions: below 4°C, no wind, a clear horizon to the east, and just as the sun was rising. APRIL
: Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) male displaying on lek. Fort Pierre National Grassland, South Dakota, USA. When displaying, the males erect earlike plumes on the head and blow up bright orange air sacs on the neck. APRIL
: trillions of periodical cicadas sang up a storm across Eastern 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’— emerged together. “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.” MAY
: Golden-tailed sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone) in flight. Pilcopata, Cuzco, Peru. MAY
: A roe deer buck captured in the first rays of a late spring morning. Photographer Andy Rouse says: “t MAY ime with nature is my detox and my healer.”
: Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) looking out to sea, Grimsey Island, Iceland. JUNE
: A heavy swell and a particularly high tide combine to create this dramatic scene from the Galapagos. Marine iguanas prepare for their morning feeding foray out to the nearby algae beds, while Sally lightfoot crabs keep their gills wet from sea spray without exposing themselves to their underwater enemies. JUNE
: A white stork feeds its chick on a nest built atop Knepp Castle in Sussex, UK. After a 2019 reintroduction of white storks on the Knepp Estate, they bred successfully in 2020 – the first UK storks to fledge in the wild for 606 years. This year a further JUNE 14 stork chicks hatched at Knepp, up from four last year.
: Fireflies (Lamprohiza splendidula) light up a forest at dusk in Bavaria, Germany. Photographer Konrad Wothe left his camera shutter open to record the glowing flight trails. JULY Only the males can fly, weaving around each other as they perform their synchronised light displays. The worm-like, flightless females wait on the ground for the signal, and then respond by glowing themselves – thus, these insects find their potential mates.
: Standing on his tippy-toes, a male Leach’s sea star (Leiaster leachi) releases streams of sperm into the ocean near Kyushu, Japan. The behaviour is known as broadcast spawning, a form of sexual reproduction that take places in the water, rather than inside the body. In order to achieve high rates of fertilisation, the males must eject their gametes at the same time as the females release millions of tiny eggs into the water. JULY
: Pair of Marbled white butterflies (Melanargia galathea) on Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) at sunrise, Dorset, England, UK. July. JULY
: Will Burrard-Lucas photographed an all-black serval kitten with its spotty, golden-coated mother. The unusual all-black coat is the result of a genetic accident; a mutation which causes an overproduction of the dark pigment melanin. Black servals are very rarely photographed, but Burrard-Lucas’s images are even more remarkable for the fact that they reveal the juxtaposition of the common and rare coat types. AUGUST
: Young and adult Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) gather on rocks in the sea. Treshnish Isles, Southern Hebrides, Scotland. Photographer Alex Mustard says: “i AUGUST t’s rare that shags allow a close approach, but on this day they were totally relaxed. I even went back to the boat and changed to my 16-35mm lens for this shot.”
: Iceberg on the North Atlantic Ocean in front of Qeqertarsuaq coast, at sunset, Disko island, Greenland. AUGUST
: This year, ZooParc de Beauval celebrated the birth of the first viable giant panda twins ever to be born in France. The birth was the result of artificial insemination in March. This image of mother Huan Huan holding one of the twins was taken iwhen the baby was one month old. SEPTEMBER
: A crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus), basks in autumn colours, Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Southern Spain. SEPTEMBER
: Emerald damselfy (Lestes sponsa) at Ledstone pond near Leeds, UK. Focus stacked SEPTEMBER
: Clustered bonnet fungi (Mycena inclinata) growing in moss, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England, UK. “Fungi have always been one of my favourite subjects to photograph,” says Guy Edwardes. “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 creative with my composition and lighting.” OCTOBER
: A gannet found in the waves off Brighton beach, Australia, entangled in a Bureau of Meteorology weather balloon. Despite a rapid rescue from the Marine Response Unit, the gannet didn’t survive. In Victoria, the release of party balloons into the environment is now illegal. Seabirds are up to 32 times more likely to die when they swallow balloons than any form of hard plastic. The use of weather balloons is not illegal. OCTOBER
: An African lion yawns at dawn in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Photographer Andy Rouse says: “ OCTOBER I saw this image clearly, long before it actually happened. It takes a massive effort to not waste such opportunities. Of course, lions sometimes have other ideas but this one worked well and has a nice balance.”
: Leather corals (Sarcophyton sp.) fluoresce at night under blue light on a coral reef. Laamu Atoll, Maldives. Indian Ocean. NOVEMBER
: France’s World Cup-winning footballer Kylian Mbappe and China’s Olympic diving gold medallist Zhang Jiaqi attending the naming ceremony of the Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) twin cubs, Yuandudu and Huanlili. Zhang Jiaqi is godmother of Huanlili and Kylian Mbappe is godfather of Yuandudu, Beauval Zoo, St.Aignan, France, November 18th, 2021. NOVEMBER
: Wild Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops adunctus) swimming with a golden retriever dog (Canis lupus familiaris). Gubal Island, Egypt, Red Sea, Indian Ocean. The dog’s name is Antar. He and his owner Faisal Khalaf spend their days on a liveaboard boat in Egypt, taking tourists for diving experiences in the Red Sea. Antar loves spending time in the water, but if there’s one thing he enjoys more than swimming, it’s swimming with dolphins! According to photographer Alex Mustard, Antar was actively looking for dolphins from the boat, and jumped in as soon as he saw them: “We were in deep water, but Antar was totally relaxed,” says Mustard. “He was not at all interested in the people around him, and only wanted to get close to the dolphins. Being creatures of the sea, dolphins can swim much faster than dogs – and they were also able to see Antar from underwater much more easily than he could see them. The dolphins totally controlled the situation.” What was so heart-warming about the encounter is that the dolphins didn’t choose to swim away. “They were definitely fascinated by Antar,” says Mustard. “The dolphins would swim up to him, slow down and then circle him. It was one of the longest dolphin encounters I have ever had in the Red Sea, with the dolphins sticking around for almost an hour. Maybe the dog was the reason they stayed so curious this time. It was definitely the most joyful experience I have had in the sea!” NOVEMBER
AN EXPLOSIVE YEAR
2021 brought several volcanic eruptions, and Nature Picture Library photographers were on the scene to record all the drama.
After weeks of earthquakes, the Geldingadalir volcano in the Fagradalsfjall area of Iceland started erupting on March 19th, 2021. Unlike the explosive Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010, which disrupted air traffic in Europe for weeks, the Fagradalsfjall eruption had no ash cloud and posed no threat to infrastructure or towns.
People flocked from all around to stand within metres of the lava flows. The eruption happened close to the capital Reykjavik and was not considered too dangerous for the public. People were grilling marshmallows in the lava, bringing radios or even a guitar, and taking their time to enjoy the spectacle. The eruption eventually stopped on 18
th September but the Icelandic meteorological office have stated it may escalate again.
After half a century of dormancy, the Cumbre Vieja volcano fired back to life on 19 September, spewing ash, smoke and lava over the Canary island of La Palma. The lava flow cut a path of devastation on its way towards the coast, destroying roughly 1,000 buildings, as well as banana plantations, roads and other infrastructure. Photographer Eduardo Blanco said: “
seeing the lava flow like an upwelling of water on the mountain, was almost hypnotic.” In late Novemver, six new vents opened on the volcano, sending fresh lava flows towards unspoiled land.
A new eruption from Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano began on September 29th. Kīlauea is one of the world’s most active volcanos. A new vent opened up in the Halema’uma’u crater at the volcano’s summit.
During the initial stages of the eruption, lava erupted in fountains more than 200 feet (61 m) tall, though the height of the fountains declined as the level of lava in the crater rose, partially drowned the erupting vents.
As of November 16, the total erupted volume of lava was estimated to be about 30 million cubic meters (7.8 billion gallons).
MORE OF OUR FAVOURITES
If you’d like to see more of our favourite images from the past year, you can view the full collection right
Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona. Sunset light with whispy clouds over Ragged Top Mountain in the Silverbell range.
A compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) with sunburst close to the surface. Talland Bay, Looe, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom.English Channel, North East Atlantic Ocean.
Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) flying in snow, Mainua, Kajaani, Finland. March. Finalist in the Swiss Vogelwarte photo competition 2021.
Long exposure of the River Ure at Aysgarth, with swirling foam. Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire, England, UK. June.
A rescued grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), aged ten weeks, swaddled in a mumma roll and held by his carer, Bianca Keating. South Oakleigh, Victoria, Australia. Model Released.
Barn owl (Tyto alba) flying at night over track between trees, Pwllheli, Wales, UK. April.
FROM ALL OF US AT NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY, WE WISH YOU A RESTFUL CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY FORTUNES IN THE COMING YEAR!
Male Black grouse (Tetrao / Lyrurus tetrix) at lek, with breath condensing in cold air. Kuusamo, Finland, April.