May 2022 Highlights
We’ve added some pretty spectacular and intriguing images to our site this month. Read on to discover flamboyant sea creatures from Georgette Douwma, unique killer whale hunting behaviour with Gabriel Rojo, dancing egrets by Bernard Castelein, and a great mix of other subjects. Our photographers tell the stories behind the images in their own words…
Georgette Douwma – Colours of the Deep Blue Sea
I created these composite images by isolating sea creatures from photographs I had taken in a natural setting and placing them on a black background.
The sea star montage (left) comprises of huge 30cm wide honeycomb sea stars (Pentaceraster alveolatus) and one single chocolate chip sea star (Protoreaster nodosus). The species display a surprising and extravagant variety of vivid colours but unfortunately I am unable to find out why. Cuttlefish, however, are flamboyant and charismatic (centre). They show various colours and patterns based on age, mood and activity. For example, juvenile and hunting cuttlefish show very bright and intense colours but resting cuttlefish camouflage into their surroundings.
I enjoy creating these composite images because it emphasises the striking colours and natural beauty of the marine creatures.
Andy Rouse – A Pesky Encounter
The beaver wasn’t actually doing much, just hanging out watching us. Then a dragonfly appeared and started hovering above the beaver’s head, before dive bombing it a few times. A couple of times it landed and the beaver shook it off but the dragonfly didn’t take no for an answer. The beaver had obviously had enough and submerged just as the dragonfly landed, not surfacing until back at its dam!
Oscar Dewhurst – Bird Behaviours of the UK
A cold snap one February caused a lake, home to an Egyptian goose pair with recently-hatched goslings, to freeze over (below left). I spotted the geese on an island far out in the middle of the lake and thought I’d wait to see if they came closer. After a while, the parents led the goslings off the ice to feed. Hurrying to keep up with the adults they ran across the ice when I took this photo.
I think mandarins are one of the most spectacular birds we see in the UK. Introduced from China, they are particularly common in London where I took this image (below middle). As the sun was rising, I wanted to photograph into the light to capture the bokeh. This was a case of waiting for one of the birds to swim in the right place before I froze!
The high tide wader roost in Norfolk is a magnificent spectacle (below right). In the autumn, there can be up to 100,000 birds. In winter the population swells with birds on their migration south. The birds feed on mudflats, but during the highest tides these are covered, forcing them onto a set of small lagoons just inland. They cover all available land and as they jostle for position it creates waves that ripple through the flock. These birds were the front-runners, allowing me to capture their reflection as they marched towards me.
Doug Perrine – Exploring The Blue Desert
The ‘grand prize’ of whale watching is to get ‘mugged’. This is a term we use in Hawaii to describe an event where whales decide to interact with the boat. In this image (below left) a young female humpback whale repeatedly approached the boat doing spy hops, tail lifts and blowing bubble rings.
Whale exhalations normally come out as loose clouds of bubbles so to release air in a perfect ring requires a deliberate effort. It’s a skill that presumably has to be learned by practice, but invites the question: How do they learn to do this as their eyes face downwards and the bubbles rise upwards? This is the second time I have seen a whale blow perfect rings in roughly 30 years of observing humpback whales. I took the photo by leaning over the gunnel of my boat and shooting blindly with my camera under the water hoping I had the wide-angle lens pointed in the right direction.
This image (below right) was a result of my second “mugging” in the 2022 season. I stopped my boat just outside the legal approach distance limit (100m) from a female humpback and her calf that were resting at the surface and turned off my engines. A few minutes later we were surprised to see the pair swimming directly toward our bow. The bow is too high for dip-camming, so all we could do was watch in amazement as the whales passed so close that they nearly touched the boat before swimming off again. Apparently their curiosity was not satisfied. They immediately turned around and swam back towards us, this time approaching the stern. My companion and I rushed to the back of the boat and held our cameras over the side, as deep as our arms could reach. The mother and her baby swam straight towards us, turned, approached a third time, then slowly meandered away.
We were tracking a very relaxed female traveling with her calf and a male escort when suddenly the mood changed and the action heated up (below left). The whales began swimming faster and more erratically. Sprays of water started erupting from aggressive interactions between whales. We realized that our calm triplet had been joined by some male challengers seeking to displace the escort and claim the female for themselves.
I sent up the drone to track the action from a better vantage point and got this view of the escort charging the two challengers to separate them from the female. The trail of bubbles streaming from the escort’s blowholes is a very large advertisement of his dominant position warning to the challengers to keep away. Some scientists believe that the ‘bubble screen’ may serve as a visual shield to prevent the challengers from seeing the female. However, my observations indicate that the bubbles rarely, if ever, occlude the visual field of the challengers.
Even in the ‘blue desert’ of the open ocean, every animal is woven into an intricate web of life that connects and sustains all the members. This oceanic whitetip shark (below right) was associated with a pod of shortfin pilot whales and other sharks. The sharks feed on feces and regurgitations from the whales and probably benefit in other ways yet to be documented. A pair of pilot fish stay close to the shark and feed on scraps from the shark’s meals. If you look closely you can see two small remoras or sharksuckers – one attached at the corner of the shark’s mouth and the other on its anal fin. Meals are few and far between in the open ocean, and the sharks are obliged to investigate any novel item, including humans with cameras.
Jack Dykinga – A Collage of Birds
I have been tracking and photographing Yellow-headed black bird murmurations for several seasons in various Arizona wetlands. The autumn colour of the foliage and bright yellow of the birds are magnets for cameras! However, the complex gyrations of the murmurations are a challenge. There’s no predictability in terms of timing, location or duration. I am conflicted as to whether I focus on the landscape or the action. The solution is to do both by using long telephoto shots to capture the explosions of flying birds while switching to medium format to capture the detail of the marshland.
Gabriel Rojo – The Hunt
I have been photographing orcas for two decades. It is always a great challenge as these intelligent whales are unpredictable. They can disappear for over 20 days and when they have been gone too long I have to come back the following year.
These images were taken in the famous ‘Canal de Ataque’ in the Valdes Peninsula, Argentine Patagonia. Here orcas display unique hunting behaviours known as intentional stranding. In March to April vulnerable sea lion pups distractedly learn to swim and play on the tide line. This 70-meter-wide beach is known as the ‘attack channel’. The orcas swim up to the beach and catch the pups right on the tide line, stranding themselves in the process. As the beach is steep, the orcas can crawl back into the water like a worm ready for the next attack. The community of orcas is around 30 strong but not all of them have learnt the technique.
This area is protected and I was only able to photograph here with a special permit from the Government of the Province of Chubut. I took the images from the beach 50 meters in front of the attack channel and waiting for 6 hours during (3 hours either-side of high tide when the orcas were hunting) each day to capture the events.
This image captures an orca playing with its prey, a common behaviour for orcas. They usually give the prey to the young to play with, similar to felines and domestic cats. I have also observed that the orcas hunt, play with their prey and then let it escape intending to recapture it. Sometimes they let it go safely, although I think with many blows.
It is a bit sad to see the orcas kill baby sea lions but it is the drama of life. These beautiful animals must also eat and feed their family, and there are thousands of sea lions in the area. In fact, this year I saw a new baby orca around 3 weeks old.
Bernard Castelein – Bird Behaviours of The Gambia
Black-crowned Night Herons
Black-crowned night herons are a common sight at night-time near the Allahein river in the Gambia. But during my stay in late October I was surprised to see them regularly during day (left image). It was so striking that even my local guide, who spotted one of the birds from a distance, said “there, another day heron”. This local temporary behaviour lasted a week and was probably linked to a peak in food supply in the river coinciding with a need to feed their young.
This was a completely unexpected picture (second to left image). I was in a small hide near a reed bed with the intention of capturing orange-cheeked waxbills when I heard a high-pitched scream. It was juvenile gabar goshawk plundering the nest of a weaverbird just behind the reedbed. I could hardly see it through the top of the reeds so I decided to stand up to get a better view. The roof of the hide resting on top of my head and my camera and tripod in hand I made a few steps sideways in the hope of finding a window in the reeds. I successfully captured one single picture. The gabar goshawk was also successful and it flew away with two young weaver birds.
Western Reef Egret
The western reef egret’s ‘dancing behaviour’ fascinates me to no extent. Reef egrets use different hunting methods. They can lurk motionless waiting for prey, slowly patrol a shoreline or run after small fish in shallow water. Running after fish is what causes dance like behaviour; they sprint, suddenly stop, make sharp angles, open their wings, jump and start all over again. It is a challenge to photograph them but this behaviour always produces a smile because it is elegant but also very funny.
Emanuele Biggi – Amazing Ants
I was living in a small wooden hut in the middle of the Bornean rainforest in Kubah National Park, Malaysia when I captured these images.
This image (left) shows a rare interaction between weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) and parasitic lycaenid butterfly pupa. The butterfly larvae excrete a nutritious substance that the ants feed on and in turn the ants protect the larvae. However, in this image the ants are protecting the butterfly pupa before the larvae have hatched. Usually, the ants loose interest in pupa as they do not provide any nutritional benefits so I was amazed to witness this behaviour right outside my hut.
Weaver ants are amazing predators, able to subdue big, belligerent and dangerous prey. In this image (right) they’re subduing a finger-print ant (Diacamma sp.) which could easily sting a single weaver ant to death. But strength is in numbers. Weaver ants pinch and cover their prey in formic acid before tearing their bodies apart. I was walking on a path early in the night when I saw a commotion on the ground and stopped to document the small-size predation. It really reminded me a pack of wild dogs taking a gazelle down in a strange savannah.
Ripan Biswas – An Unlikely Pairing
I found these two queen weaver ants standing over eggs in West Bengal, India. I thought one of the ants was probably the mother, and after some time they started to take care of their eggs. The queens were helping one another to clean and wrap the eggs in saliva to protect them from fungal infection. They were acting as midwives to each other, which is an exceptional behaviour, as normally only one queen starts a colony. I was fortunate to even come across this nest, as normally weaver ants make their nest up in the canopy to avoid predators, and yet I found this one at eye level.
Take a look at our May Highlights gallery for more of our favourite images from this May: May Highlights Gallery .
Or you can explore our print site where you can find a gallery for May highlights: May Highlights Print Gallery .