This morning we awoke to big blue skies and headed into the spectacularly beautiful Hornsund. This massive fjord is surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks and destructive glaciers. Being so far South, I have to admit I really wasn't expecting to see as much of the truly specialist Arctic wildlife.
Upon arrival in this stunning setting a female Polar Bear was spotted on the shoreline and then moments later another larger bear was spotted on the far shore (perhaps a male). We would be going on a Zodiac cruise to see if we could get any closer to the bears and then on to explore the fjord ... little did we know what was in store for us all.
We all met on the deck and waited to board our Zodiacs for our afternoon cruise, I was with the Naturetrek leader Peter Dunn and expedition leader Jan Belgers. We set off as one of the lead boats and headed toward the small headland where we had earlier sighted the female bear.
As we approached the shore line we realised that the bear had moved on and as much as we were scanning both the water and the shore we were unable to see anything. Peter then spotted some movement on the water's surface way out in the fjord ... it was the bear, it had managed to slip by us in the ice-cold water. The bear approached an island and we all held our breaths as we prayed the bear would be a 'quality' bear.
It was definitely a 'quality' bear ...
The real benefit of the island was that the bear felt completely at ease and we could travel all the way round for a constantly changing backdrop. As a photographer you always want to try and capture that image that stands out and lingers in the mind, this really was the perfect photographic opportunity. Even then this was one of those moments where you just have to put the camera down and really take in the moment!
We slowly moved around the island the backdrop was more than you could ever have dreamt of. We slowly moved closer and closer, all the time keeping an eye on the bear to make sure it was completely at ease. We all go the odd glance and a quick sniff but it certainly wasn't affecting its scavenging behaviour. The bear was obviously search for whatever food it could find, it is known that a variety of birds breed on this island in the summer months.
After a wonderful hour with this remarkable Polar Bear we thought it would be best to leave it in peace and leave it to carry on with its search for food. With a few months remaining until the sea ice returns this bear will really have to try and conserve its energy and find whatever scraps that are available.
We move further up the fjord to see whether we could approach the second bear, he was a huge male but he was not at ll interested in us and remained in his slumber. We carried on towards the head of a glacier to explore the amazing landscapes and the ice-filled water.
I really hope you have enjoyed looking through all of these images and with only one more post left, I think that this is perhaps the highlight of the cruise. This day was quite possibly the most memorable of my life outside of my time in Africa, with jaw-dropping landscapes, danger and unbeatable wildlife encounters I am not sure what can beat it.
Coming up are some charismatic reindeer and a few more landscapes so please keep on reading.
A village just down the road from my company's office, a small and quaint little place called Cheriton, has a lovely village green which is currently occupied by 3 Mallard Duck families. One mother has 6 chicks, another has 5 but one seems to have around 20 ducklings. Truly amazing!!
So anyway, after work the other day I decided to head down there and see if I could get any shots of these cute little critters. I parked up, and headed towards the village green, within moments I was flat on my stomach with a duck family only a few metres away.
Before I knew it I had spent over an hour photographing them both in and out of the water as they fed, slept and explored. Anything this cute in nature, definitely deserves to be photographed.
Out and About
The weather, as I am sure a lot of you will know has been lovely in the UK over the last week or so, it really makes everyone feel so much better. However I have not been able to get out with the camera as much as I would have liked. Here is a selection of images from the last couple of weeks when I have been able to get out and about with my camera.
First off, here are a couple of shots of Greylag Geese in Northamptonshire, they were not too comfortable with me as they sat on the lake edge. They quickly took to the water and seemed a lot more content. I usually do my very best not to disturb wildlife but they were on a route I had to take, unfortunately.
A species that I see almost everyday, either on my way to work or in the field behind my house, is the Pheasant. Now I know these birds are not native to the UK but they are absolutely everywhere and some individuals are particularly striking.
My next subject is once again one of the animals I see nearly everyday, the Mallard Duck. As my office is based on the River Itchen we have plenty of waterfowl about but the most common is definitely the Mallard. Although they are extremely common I still think they are a rather striking bird.
Now onto the many smaller species of birds that I have seen recently, you maybe asking what about the mammals but the simple answer is I haven't really seen any. I am planning to photograph Stoat, Weasel and Rabbit in the next few weeks but for the mean time these little critters will have to do. The Sedge Warbler was almost completely tame, it showed absolutely no fear as it sang its territorial song. The Reed Bunting is regularly seen around the office and the Great Tit was gathering food for its young chicks. The Blackbird was a cheeky little chap following me along the riverside path.
I hope you liked all the different images in this blog post, next time I hope to share some more macro images that I have taken in the last couple of weeks. This new discipline of photography is certainly hard to master but I think I am starting to get the hang of it. I'll post something on the macro work by the end of the week.
A Spring Sunset or two
This weekend I visited my girlfriend and we decided to go out on an evening walk around some lakes near to her house. We started off by visiting a quiet spot where there are often Great Crested Grebes, and there were two pairs there just as we thought. They were performing their beautiful courtship dance in the middle of lake and it is always a real privilege to be able to watch it. It was a little too far away to get a good shot but I did manage to get an individual as he came up from a dive.
There were the usual culprits to be found on British waterways; the Mute Swan and the Mallard Duck. In fact, with one Mute Swan we had quite a close encounter as it approached us on the lakeshore. It seemed to be after food but with nothing to give, the individual quickly moved on. On the same piece of water were a pair of the ever present Mallard Duck. They started to swim towards the reflection of the setting Sun and I took the opportunity to go for a more arty approach, the colours were beautiful and the water surface was incredibly smooth.
On our way home we saw something large flying off across the meadow. At first, I thought it was a Buzzard as it had a long brown wingspan and it was flying off from a post. Then after a moment I realised it was definitely not a Buzzard, its head was too broad and its underside was almost completely white. My heart was racing as I suddenly realised that this was a Short-eared Owl, there were in fact two birds and perhaps a third. Unfortunately we were the wrong side of the river and could not get close enough for a photograph. So we decided we would head down to the same spot the following evening.
As you can see we were in luck on the second night, although I have to say we did have to wait a while. We set ourselves up underneath some electricity pylons, to try and ensure our silhouette was not immediately obvious, and waited for nearly two hours. Eventually, I saw a low flash of white sweeping across the golden grass and I knew we were in luck. The owl was hunting in complete silence with such agility and beauty, it was one of the most wonderful wildlife encounters I have had in a long time. The large yellow eyes were glowing in evening sunlight, the white face staring intently across the meadow before disappearing headlong into the long grass.
As the light started to fade, we noticed another owl hunting nearby and when the two birds had sighted one another, they flew up high into the sky before heading back down towards the grass. We were able to observe the one bird, I managed to photograph, without disturbing it by staying still and keeping as quiet as possible. The amazing thing was that there were plenty of dog walkers around and people enjoying the Spring sunshine. The owls did not seem to be bothered and continued hunting until we left them in peace. What a wonderful way to spend an evening in the early Spring sunshine and what was better was that I got to share the moment with somebody else, for a change.
Ducks and Deer
Over the last few weeks, around Naturetrek's offices, we have had a pair of Mallard Ducks as regular visitors. They are keeping close to the mill, trying to avoid a marauding group of bachelor male Drakes. The lone Drake has been desperately trying to block the advances of these rogue males but he has not been entirely successful. After days of stressful combat with the bachelor group, the pair are spening lots of time resting as close as they can get to the safety of the mill.
At times the lone Drake seemed to be completely exhausted at times but on this occasion he decided to try and fight off advances of another male. He was successful and both he and the female were left in peace for the rest of the afternoon.
Above, you can see the female hiding in the growing reeds. Her partner was not too far away and he was keeping a watchful eye on her. Perhaps this was a tactic to try and keep the bachelor away, by laying low. Below, this was one of the Bachelor group who was pushed off the female by the lone Drake. It seemed this individual was not prepared to fight for his conquest.
Last night as I left the office I went for a quick stroll along the main river channel, when I saw some movement in the long grass. I looked up to see a male Roe Deer bounding across the water meadow, leaping over grass tussocks and the smaller river channels. He eventually came to a stop to have a quick look at me, before making another leap across a river channel and heading off towards a small copse of woodland.
It was only when the deer stopped that I noticed he had a slightly odd pair of antlers. His left antler was growing in an unusual manner, it certainly wasn't growing symmetrically to the other. This is the second Roe Deer Buck I have seen with an odd antler in the last year, and at first I thought they might be the same individual, although it is very difficult to tell.