January & February 2022 Highlights

We’re heading into March with a selection of the highlights that have been added to the site over the last two months.

*January 2022*

Cats, UK marine life and deserts feature strongly in the highlights of the last month. Alex Mustard reveals the many unexpected gems that live beneath Britain’s seas, Paul Williams has a range of wild cats big and small from the BBC Big Cats series, and we welcome new contributor Ugo Mellone who specialises in documenting desert ecosystems and wildlife. We also have new images of David Attenborough and some dramatic energy images.

Alex Mustard – Life Beneath the Loch

Flame shell beds are a rare and valuable marine habitat in British waters, as the nests that these molluscs live in bind together and stabilise the sediment creating a habitat that supports many species. The challenge for the photographer is that flame shells live hidden beneath the surface in their nests, so it is hard to tell their story. I was very pleased to find this hermit crab feeding on flame shell. I photographed it with a new specialist wide-angle macro-optic, that allowed to me to place the subjects within their environment. The water was unusually cold last spring in northern Scotland, with lots of snow on the mountains, but the seabed was alive with life in Loch Carron. (below left)

Jack Dykinga – Never A Dull Moment

After two-weeks of an exhausting trip chasing non-existent aurora borealis, I abandoned my plans and headed west into Canada’s Jasper National Park. The long hours take their toll on professional photographers as we try to extract images from challenging situations.  But, as often happens, the one evening I decided to kick back under heavy, overcast conditions, the sun broke through at day’s end jarring me from my reverie. I literally sprinted (at least for a 78-year-old geezer) as I broke camp and drove like a madman to a location that I had scouted days earlier.

My timing was good and as the light painted the distant mountains. I had a single moment to make a few images and the light was gone….  Decisive moments! (above right)

 

Paul Williams – A Camp Invasion

In Costa Rica lives a beautiful animal that has been rarely photographed in the wild. An ocelot. We had been presented with an opportunity to photograph a unique individual in her jungle home. An ocelot, known by researchers as ‘Gatillo’, had been rescued 5 years earlier from life as a pet, in a nearby village. She had been reintroduced to protected forest, and ever since she had been living free. One researcher, Marcelo, had a familiarity that enabled him to follow her in the forest, and it was a relationship that we hoped would allow us a privileged view into her life.

It was hot and humid. We walked hours every day through the thick mud in the hope of safely catching a glimpse. Marcelo assured us that Gatillo, was here somewhere, and she was most likely watching us. We spent days without even a sign. Then one night, disheartened by our lack of success, I headed back to my tent. Inside, there was mud everywhere. Something had visited – kit was destroyed, cables had been chewed, and there, just by the door – a single footprint of an ocelot. That night, my eyes turned red, my skin grew itchy and my breath wheezy. I woke early to an eerie sound outside, nom nom nom… nom nom nom…  it was the peculiar sound of an ocelot, but when I looked there was nothing. Encouraged by my experience, but suffering from the nights infliction, we headed into the forest once more, but again there was no sign of Gatillo.

That night… Nom Nom Nom… nom nom nom… and a deep sound of growling came from beneath my bed. My heart was pounding. I switched my headlight on… the growling became more intense. Nom Nom Nom. I slowly peered beneath, and there she was. Her striped coat, distinctive pointed ears, and vicious claws. Fortunately for me, she was preoccupied, tearing my pants to shreds. ‘Shhhhh’ I called until she eventually left leaving the remnants of my underwear scattered on the floor. Once more my skin grew itchy and I became wheezy. Like domestic cats it turns out that I am very allergic to many wild cats, and like domestic cats, it turns out that they are attracted to me.

Ocelot under photographers bed
Ocelot under photographers bed

Why she found my pants so enticing though I will never know. It seemed that curiosity, or perhaps Marcelo’s familiar voice, was drawing her to our camp. Early the next morning Marcelo found her sitting close by. We followed her, as she headed back into the forest, and led us to a huge strangler fig. The tree was enchanting, like a magical scene from the Jungle Book. Dozens of thick fig roots stretched down to the floor, surrounding a space where a great tree, that once provided the support for the fig to grow upon, would have stood. With ease and extraordinary agility, she climbed all the way to the top, weaving in and out of the figs hollow core. She rested her head and nodded off, almost disappearing amongst the foliage. Over the next few days, we developed a routine, and Gatillo seemed to accept us accompanying Marcelo. It was an extraordinary opportunity to film and photograph one of the world’s most enchanting animals as she explored her jungle territory – chasing capuchins, hunting bats that she flushed out of hollow trees, and just being a magnificent cat in a beautiful jungle world.

 

Claudio Contreras – Crab-tastic

Female Fiddler Crabs have small claws, and both are the same size, but males have an incredible size discrepancy in their claws. The small claw is used to pick up food, whereas the huge claw is used to impress females and also to ritualistically fight other males. Obviously if you are the small male, you wouldn’t dare challenge an enormous male, but if the size is similar ritual combat can occur. In terms of composition, normally you would look for the biggest animal and photograph that, but when I saw the tiny crabs, I decided to use the big males as a frame around the small ones. They really are enormous in comparison! (below left)

Hermann Brehm – Frozen Food

‘I have a bird table set up in a disused quarry. In summer time it is an area for Red backed shrikes and a lot of different small birds. In winter a Great grey shrike appeared and stayed almost for the whole winter. A saw him catching mice and fixing them on to the thorn branches of a nearby dog rose. So, I provided dead mice for him, but in this case, it was a mouse he had caught himself. He fixed it on the thorn branch and where it became frozen, and the shrike could feed for two days on the mouse in the “cool box”. When the winter was over the bird disappeared, he is not breeding any more in our area.’ (above right)

 

Ugo Mellone – More Than Endless Sand

This was taken during my second expedition in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, close to the border with Algeria. I like it because it challenges the stereotype of the Sahara as an endless surface of sand: the environmental diversity is much larger. In the picture is possible to see the “erg” (sand dunes), the “reg” (rocky plateau), and “oued” (dry river bed), while the mountains on the background are called “djebel”. Every habitat hosts different species, with high degrees of specialization to survive in such harsh environments. (below left)

Ugo Mellone – A Gang of Grebes

This picture shows a ‘gang’ of hooded grebes (plus a solitary silvery grebe) about to start breeding displays -their crest is also an indication of ‘excitement’. The breeding displays of these grebes are awesome, but also difficult to photograph. Is not easy to find a colony at the right stage, and the action is very quick. I shot my story on the hooded grebe during the 2017-18 season. It was the last year in which breeding was successful. However, luckily, new chicks have been finally observed in January 2022: a source of hope for this critically endangered species. (above right)

*February 2022*

There is a strong feline element to our new material this month. Edwin Giesbers has documented a European lynx captive breeding and reintroduction programme, and we also have new lion and snow leopard photos. Tui De Roy has contributed more great coverage on the unique landscapes and wildlife of the Galapagos, Eric Baccega has returned from the Congo basin with behavioural images of chimpanzees, and you’ll also find mammals from more northern climes – Arctic foxes from Iceland and brown bears and saiga antelope from Russia. Claudio Contreras continues his in-depth study of the Caribbean flamingos of Mexico, Tony Wu uncovers the courtship and breeding behaviour of Japanese fish, and Doug Wechsler has supplied some bold insect portraits. We also have new British landscapes from Guy Edwardes, Australian content from Doug Gimesy and marine life from around the world, including tuna in British waters.

Valeriy Maleev – Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

I spent a few seasons searching for saiga antelopes during the rut period. I eventually found them in Steppe reserve in Southern Russia. The male saigas are very active and aggressive towards each other during the rut, so I was hoping to photograph the action. One day I was sitting in the tent next to a lake, and I was lucky to see two males were fighting in the water. Fortunately, they did not harm each other to much, because the cold water also seemed to act to cool them down. But I did manage to get some wonderful pictures, with the water in the lake amplifying the action.

The next day it was an amazing bright winters day, and a big male saiga passed really close to my tent, so I managed to take a nice portrait in the morning light. Saigas are often considered ugly, with their funny face and huge nose – but I don’t agree, I think they are beautiful!

Valeriy Maleev – Patience Pays Off

With the aid of a snowmobile, we made it to our tiny wooden house in the middle of the taiga, in arctic fox territory. For the first five days the arctic foxes were only appearing at night. I tried to tempt them with frozen fish, but they were too careful and wary – they are very smart animals. Eventually, they understood that I was not a danger, and they then began appearing during the day, and even approached the house to look into our window. But a massive snow storm then wiped out all our plans. It took 3 days to pass, and only on last day of our trip did we get beautiful sunny and bright weather. It was about -30c, and all the trees were frosted. And then the arctic fox appeared.

The arctic fox walking through the snowy landscape looked amazing together. My nose and fingers were totally frozen, but I found what I was looking for!

Konrad Wothe – A Fiery Encounter

In March 2018 I had the chance to accompany a scientific project studying Arctic Foxes in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, which is situated in the very northeast of Iceland. This image shows the attempt of a male fox to mate with a female that seems unwilling to cooperate. Most of the Arctic Foxes on Iceland do not change to a white winter fur like in other areas such as Scandinavia. This seems to be an adaptation to the black volcanic beaches where they find most of their food. Fortunately, these foxes are pretty used to people because of the frequent presence of scientists, so photography was possible without the need of camouflage. (below left)

Nayan Khanolkar – Birds of a Feather

Large mixed flock of Lesser flamingos and Greater flamingos in the Talawe wetland in Navi Mumbai, India. A small pocket of wilderness surrounded by high-rises on one side and mangroves on the other. Usually, the flamingos arrive in December and remain here until June. I used a drone to capture this scene. This was taken as a part of project ‘Mumbai during Covid’ during Covid 19 lockdown in 2020. The main thing I needed to keep in mind was tide timings, as birds arrive on this plot during high tide to feed on algae, and they move away to a creek during low tide. I wanted evening golden hour light on them so had to look out for when a high tide occurred at that time. (above right)

 

Eric Baccega – Fishing For Food

Sitting on the mangrove at the water’s edge, Pépère, 38, waits for the boat to arrive with the men from Help Congo. He gets food twice a day. Fruit is thrown to him and his two companions. Nothing is wasted and if fruit falls into the water, Pépère knows how to grab a branch to collect it.

Pépère has come a long way. Abducted from his mother as a baby, he was placed in the Pointe Noire Zoo at the age of 2. After 10 years of captivity in atrocious conditions, he was released to join a sanctuary dedicated to the protection of chimpanzees, within the Conkouati-Douli National Park, in the west of Republic of Congo. There 21 chimpanzees live on 3 islands managed by the NGO Help Congo and more than 70 have been saved since 1989. When he arrived, the young male was given the name of “Pépère” (grandpa) because he was so sickly and looked so old. Traumatised and in poor health, it took many months of care before he recovered. Today, he is the dominant of the group of 3 males settled on the smallest of the 3 islands. (below left)

Tui De Roy – Underwater Encounters

I may have swum with thousands of Galapagos sea lions in my life, but never have these past experiences dulled the joy and pleasure that I feel each time I have a new encounter with these witty, intelligent marine mammals. Nor has getting good photos of them underwater become any easier either. Forever lively, especially the playful yearling pups, they flit and twirl, dashing this way and that, summersaulting, splashing or blowing bubbles in your face.  And the more you splash about yourself, the more excited they become, as if to demonstrate how very much quicker and more agile they are than any snorkeller. No matter how fast I try to turn, I hate to think of the countless underwater photos of headless sea lions I’ve deleted, ‘perfect’ shots taken just too late as they dart in circles around me! But dogged perseverance does pay off sometimes, and all those thousands of missed shots eventually lead to a few wonderful exceptions, when I managed to predict their movements, or else sheer luck did the trick. This is one of those shots! (above right)

Mateusz Piesiak – Aerial Display

In 2014 I went to Montana in the US, where I was doing an ornithological internship focused on the biology of Mountains Bluebirds. In my spare time, I liked to hang around the neighbourhood with my camera. There was a tree, that Anna’s hummingbirds seemed to be very fond of. I liked to sit on a nearby hill and observe them, and from that spot I had a good perspective for photography. Once, a female appeared in the area, the real show started.

The male, with the star-shaped feathers, danced in front of the female for about 10 minutes. During this time, he was hovering from one side to another, and slowly was getting closer to her. When he was really close, the female liked to bite him in the centre of the pink throat. During the courtship, the male tried a couple of times to mate with her but she rejected him. Only at the end she allowed it, and they mated for a couple of seconds. Afterwards, the male disappeared and the female stayed on the perch and preened her feathers. (below left)

Roland Seitre – Catching Some Rays

This was taken on a great day on the long beach of Pebble Island, in the north west of the Falkland Islands. Nice weather is a welcome rest for all living creatures, including these Magellanic penguins, after hours, if not days, out at sea fishing.

They gather after getting out of the surf to take it easy, sleep, preen, and socialise of course. It was a pleasure to work in such ideal conditions in a part of the world where storms and rain are more the norm. As usual with animals in this part of the world, fear of humans is not really an issue, especially if the photographer crawls towards them. It was definitely worth it in order to capture the perfect sunny day, including the reflection of the birds on the wet beach. (above right)

Guy Edwardes – The Roman Bridge

This small stone packhorse bridge is known locally as the Roman Bridge. It’s an eye-catching sight as you make your way through beautiful Glen Lyon in the Scottish Highlands.  I wanted to convey the fleeting glimpse you tend to get between the riverside beech trees. With the colours of autumn sweeping through the glen, October presented the perfect time for this shot. I used my telephoto lens at wide-open aperture to throw the foreground leaves out of focus, enhancing the apparent depth in the scene. It was pouring with rain (in Scotland, yes!) which, when combined with the overcast light, helped to saturate (literally!) the golden tones of the trees.

Guy Edwardes – Invisible Winds

I’ve been photographing this little hawthorn tree on a steep mountainside in the Brecon Beacons for many years, as it creates a prefect focal point to a view down into the valley at sunset. It clings to the rocky ground despite the prevailing south westerly winds doing their best to uproot it. On the day I took this picture it was perfectly calm with not a breath of wind. But the little tree continues to lean, frozen in time as if the gales were still bending it over.

Claudio Contreras – A Synchronised Display

Caribbean flamingos are at their brightest just when courtship begins. With an orange hue in most of their bodies, resulting from the accumulation of carotenoid pigments from their food. These offer a striking contrast to the black feathers, that result from melanin pigment which the flamingo synthesizes. Enormous flocks gather in the Celestun estuary in northern Yucatan to perform communal displays that allow flamingos to choose a mate for the season. This is believed to be an advantageous strategy because the communal displays arouse all flamingos and synchronizes them so that they are ready to mate and lay eggs about the same time. It is thought that this increases the chance of survival for the chicks because potential predators have vast amounts of food available but only for a short window of time. (below left)

Ripan Biswas – Darjeeling Bush Frog

Years ago, on an overcast rainy evening in the hill station of Darjeeling, enjoying a cup of tea along with some freshly cooked samosa, you could always hear a “Tik-tik” sound from the nearby lawn. But nowadays you cannot hear that sound anymore from the hill station. Rapid urbanization has banished that sound from the city. In the outskirts of the city the picture is not so grim. Every evening during the monsoon, these places still become lively with the familiar “Tik-tik” sound. Though the sound resembles the call of a bush cricket, a keen ear can always find the difference. This sound belongs to once widely spread now confined to a few patches of green, a frog species known as Darjeeling bush frog. The frog is very elusive. It is nocturnal but often can be heard in a gloomy afternoon. In the mating season, they inhale air to inflate their vocal sac to make a distinct “tik-tik” mating call. The call starts in the afternoon and is at peak during 8-9pm.

I have observed a vehement fight between two males in the mating season. Males generally come out in the open, find a good place and start to call after sunset. When two males are in vicinity, they try to overpower one another. First, they compete with their calling. They try to make louder croaks than their competitors. If this fails, their rivalry ends up in a brawl. Two males stuck in an embrace, try to inflate their vocal sac against one another. They hold each other face to face and try to push each other to dethrone the rival. This fight is mainly fought by their inflated vocal sacs. A fight can last from a few minutes to half of an hour. Defeated male give up the place and the opportunity to find a female for the night.

This wonderful frog is now facing some threats which could be deadly for them. Habitat destruction and the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides are major of them. People often clean their lawn and gardens with herbicides unknowingly killing all the frogs hiding in the grass. Chemical pesticides used in tea plantations are also deadly for this frog. Intensive tea plantations are also destroying their habitat. Though they are small, they are not insignificant. They play a vital role in maintaining the food chain. They act as a natural pest controller. Protecting their habitat and use of traditional organic farming methods can save this species from destruction. (above right)

John Cancalosi – Early Bloomers

I had started to notice saguaro flower buds developing earlier and much lower than normal. Sure enough, they started flowering in early April which is unusual from my experience. Stationing myself close to one of the low-lying arms of a flowering saguaro, I would wait for the magic to happen. They generally bloom at night, so the light and the blossoms are best in the early hours.  A procession of birds is drawn to these white, nectar bearing, insect attracting, life giving, floral miracles. Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, Orioles, and Cactus Wrens to name a few.

By pure chance, I was residing right in the middle of the earliest blooming, shortest saguaros that I had ever known. I would awaken in the cool of the pre-dawn and walk outside and see the night’s bounty of blossoms, decide what was the most photogenic and station myself there taking shots until the light was too harsh.  After a couple weeks, the avian attendance at these flowers started to drop off, because thousands of saguaros began to blossom in the surrounding area, thus reducing the magnetic attraction of my early bloomers, which I had enjoyed in the early flush of flowering. Many bloomed not just on the top of their arms, but down the sides as well, which is rarely if ever seen. All of this profusion at a time of extreme drought made me wonder if is this the swan song of the saguaros? Having posed that question to experts, I learned that this year’s fantastic display is probably the best ever and is due to stress although the exact mechanism and meaning are unknown.

My afternoons were taken up by photographing the comings and goings of Gila Woodpeckers to their nest inside another saguaro. They had been bringing food to the young for at least three weeks so I assumed that any day they would show their faces and I would photograph the parents feeding them on the outside for the first time. Having invested well over a week of faithful photography, I was able to photograph the adults coming and going. They brought food and often exited with fecal pellets. So sure was I that the young were about to emerge that I extended my stay, twice. In the process I probably obtained more photos of Gila Woodpeckers with fecal pellets than all the other photographers in the world combined. Unfortunately, the young never showed their faces.

 

Tony Wu – Appreciating the Little Things

I suppose the one common theme for both of these images is that they are subjects that do not get enough (if any) attention. I’m all for people the big charismatic species, but we really need to appreciate the other 99% of life on earth too. Leaf corals and Asian horseshoe crabs pretty much get no love. I think they (and all the other forms of life we tend to ignore) deserve our attention, respect, and love.

The Gamble Pays Off

Pavona decussata leaf corals live in shallow reef environments across the western and central Indo-Pacific region, from the eastern coast of Africa through the Red Sea, through the waters of north Asia, down to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and eastern Australia. In the location where I photographed this, spawning takes place in summer, with fields of leaf corals covering hundreds of square meters coordinating their release of gametes into the water. Once the action commences, visibility rapidly drops to zero as the ocean becomes milky white, a literal soup of life.

Photographing this event was a bit of a gamble. A friend had made an educated guess about the dates and timing when this event would take place, but there was no precedent for observing, much less photographing, the spawning during the time we had chosen. As it turned out, nothing happened during the night we had pinpointed. Recovering from the disappointment of failure, we went into the ocean again the next night. Fortunately, the corals began to spawn within minutes of our arrival—quite the pleasant surprise.

It was difficult to make sense of the chaos of millions of tiny animals ejecting gametes into the water. Though the spawning is coordinated in timing, individual colonies spawn in a haphazard fashion—a stream of sperm being ejected here; a stream of eggs over there. Predicting where and when gametes would be ejected seemed a fool’s errand. I was somewhat fortunate to find myself in exactly the right place at the right time to capture this image showing the peak of sperm release. This happens quickly—a few seconds at most—with the stream dissipating shortly thereafter. Being just a few seconds late would mean losing photographic impact. (below left)

Ancient Mariners

When I photographed mating of horseshoe crabs in 2020, I saw that the fertilised eggs were deposited in sandy, muddy substrate that was exposed to the air during low tide. A bit of research and a few conversations helped me to figure the approximate time when the juveniles would be ready to hatch. I went back to look for the developing eggs about two months later, but there were no eggs. Ocean temperatures were elevated in 2020. I believe that the embryos developed more quickly than I had anticipated and hatched before I went to look for them.

My timing was better last year. With the help of friends, I was able to find several clutches of developing eggs, which we exposed and photographed, then covered again. The baby horseshoe crabs were obviously almost ready. They were “swimming” inside the transparent eggs, spinning around and around in circles. Shortly thereafter, I was able to photograph the birth of some of these crustaceans, with dozens upon dozens of adorable baby horseshoe crabs bursting forth from the mud and gravel and swimming off into the midnight sea. Documenting the lifecycle of these fascinating animals is something that I’ve wanted to do for decades.

Horseshoe crabs have been around for a very long time, something on the order of 400-500 million years. Like many other animals, these ancient mariners are being subjected to manmade stress and pressure—from habitat loss and environmental destruction, to harvesting for food and for use in the biomedical industry. (above right)

 

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The full galleries of images can be found here,

January Highlights

February Highlights

Why not check out our print site where you can find galleries for January and February highlights.