2016 – A year to remember!
Last year was one of great change for me … after spending a year photographing in Australia, it was time to get crack on with my career and put photography on the back burner. Don’t worry - the photography will be back in force in 2017!
I had built up an incredible portfolio of images in 2015, thanks to my time ‘down under’, and I decided to try my luck in a few competitions. It turns out I had some success – who would have thought that would happen?
Well I was delighted to have images shortlisted in Outdoor Photographer of the Year, Bird Photographer of the Year and Australian Nature Photographer of the Year. The two images shortlisted in Bird Photographer of the Year both featured in the accompanying book and my image Murray Magic featured in the Kew Gardens exhibition.
When I got the news that three of my images had made it through to the final of Australian Nature Photographer of the Year, I was excited but didn’t really think too much of it. It wasn’t until a friend (the incredibly talented Trevor Scouten) alerted me to the fact that these three images were actually going to feature in the exhibition, and accompanying media, that it really hit home. In June I was contacted again by the competition, informing me I was either a winner or runner up in one of the categories I had entered. I learnt no more until the results were announced in the press – I found out through the Australian news that I was a winner of the ‘Threatened Species’ category with my image titled Palm Grove Dingo. The image has since been used in the accompanying book, wall calendar, desktop calendar and diary. The image was then used at the main entrance of the exhibition – printed in large format … this for me was the greatest honour.
It wasn’t all about the competitions though. I had a great year of travel once more with trips to India, Tobago and Colombia. None of which were necessarily exceptional from a photographic point of view but I did strike lucky on a few occasions (you can see a selection of images below).
2017 promises to be another great year for me with trips to Africa and Ecuador planned for my own photography. I will be leading two dedicated photography trips in June, one to Skomer Island in Wales for Puffins and the other to Finland to photograph Bears, Wolverines and Wolves. I will also be running one-to-one workshops a little closer to home focusing on Roe and Fallow Deer. If you have any interest in joining me on these trips I would love to hear from you – feel free to email me at any time.
I wish you all a very happy new year and I hope to see as many of you in 2017 as possible.
So for the last couple of weeks we have been based near the popular town of Byron Bay. We are actually up in the hills in the 'hinterland' but the climate is fantastic and there is an amazing amount of life that comes out at night. We are house sitting in the village of Federal and are also looking after a collection of chickens.
One of the biggest problems with looking after chickens here is that there are large Carpet Pythons ... only last night I heard next doors chickens sound an alarm but by the time I got there a 2 metre python had already killed one chicken and was trying to kill a second. It was really sad but if we hadn't have got there when we did, then the whole coop could have been lost!
It isn't just snakes that inhabit the night, there is also an amazing diversity of invertebrates ...
Then there are the amphibians ...
That'll do for now but I will post some more within the next week. I will also update the details for the invertebrates so they are all correctly labelled.
The third day in the Amazon Basin and another early start, this time I was heading to the famous 'clay licks' on the Napo River. These are muddy cliff faces along the river bank, where large numbers of Parrots come to feed on the soil. First though, we had to head across the black lake and a short walk through the forest to get to the motorised canoes. When we arrived at the river side of the lake, we were greeted by a tell tale crashing sound in the canopy. There, above us, were a huge group of Squirrel Monkeys, undoubtedly the same group as we saw upon our arrival to the forest, and joining them were a group of White-faced Capuchins.
They 'monkeyed' around for a while but we couldn't stay long, we were on a mission that had a time limit. After our morning monkey fix we quickly made our way to the motorised canoes on the banks of the Rio Napo. After around a 30-minute ride down the river, we arrived at the large clay cliff where we would not have to wait long for our feathered friends. The noise was what you notice first, a constant noise which can only sound like a group of parrots together. They chatter among themselves, until one builds up the courage to leave the safety of the trees and expose themself on the bare cliff face. The parrots have to come back every few days, a wide variety of species are reliant on these clay licks to ensure that the minerals in the soil counteract the naturally occuring toxins in their diet. If they couldn't get these vital nutrients then they would not survive. Occasionally the odd Boa Constrictor ambushes the birds as they fly to the cliff face and this is why they are particularly nervous and flighty.
We we were quickly in luck with a variety of different species feeding on two different parts of the bank. Mealy Amazons making up most of the numbers but Dusky-headed Parakeets providing plenty of vocal support.
We next visited the inland 'cave' parrot lick of Napo Wildlife Centre, this was around a half an hour walk into Yasuni National Park and a sit and wait affair. The noise again was staggering, particularly as the birds surround you in the trees above, you know they are there but you just can't see them. Gradually they come lower and lower until one brave individual decides to break cover and starts to carve off small slices of clay which it eats as if it were food. Have a look at the video and you can hear the noise for yourself!
After a long day out and about around the forest and spending time around the clay lick on and off up until lunch, it was time to head back to the lodge and try my hand at a bit of afternoon macro photography. However a very unexpected visitor ended up altering my plans somewhat.
I practised my macro photography as I was meant to be running a workshop there later on in the evening, and having found some good subjects in the shape of spiders and other creepy crawlies I was happy to get some rest. However, on my way back to my room I saw some movement ...
As you can see the surprise animal, and now definitely one of my favourite species worldwide, was the Pygmy Marmoset. This is the world's smallest monkey, in fact it is actually hard to describe just how small this monkey is. Let's just put it this way, it would easily fit into the palm of and adult person. At first I only saw some movement on the edge of one of the walkways, I actually thought it was a small bird. It was only as I approached the tree it jumped into, that I realised I had found this amazing little creature. I tried to find others around the lodge so they could also see this tiny primate but they had all gone out on their afternoon activities.
I was very lucky to be completely alone with the little fellow and at one point was no more than 3 metres away, it was actually quite an intimate moment. Two primates of vastly different sizes, checking on another out and seeing what they are about. It seemed just as intrigued by me as I was by it. That was why after the first shot above, the others are in the open, it was quite content to come out in the open and not hide away.
What a day it was then ... amazing parrot sightings, a trip down the Rio Napo (a tributary to the mighty Amazon) and the world's smallest monkey hanging about and happy to let me take its portrait. I guess that is the beauty of wildlife, sometimes it ends up coming to you and that makes it that much better!
So after my first afternoon in the Amazon I was already and raring to go for my next outing and to see the rainforest proper. It was arranged that I would be heading for the canopy walkway the next morning and so I packed my camera bag ready to go. The main issue being that I didn’t know what I might need, so I took everything … all 16 kg of it! So as you can imagine it was pretty heavy, and with daytime temperatures in the 30s and humidity levels usually well over 95% it was going to be a hard day.
I woke up the next morning, heaved the bag onto my back and headed off into the forest with our English speaking guide, Oscar. We stopped every now and then to see things of interest and then we stopped close by to a particular tree and Oscar set up the scope. He spent a bit of time focusing the scope onto a small hole about 60-70 feet up a huge tree. There in the hole were three Night Monkeys, these small primates always return to the same hole to rest during the day so he knew exactly where they would be. After a pretty crappy photo (due to it being very early in the morning and way up a tree) we moved on to the canopy walkway. Wow, wow and wow! What and amazing experience to be above the forest at such a height, seeing the birds and the mammals and just the trees in all their glory.
There we saw bird species of which all were new to me, things ranging from tiny flycatchers to the Black Vulture soaring above us. We saw three species of monkey; Red Howler Monkey, Black-mantled Tamarin and Red Titi Monkey. So anyway, enough blabbering, here are the pictures from that morning and some from the afternoon.
After a long hard morning, but definitely one to remember, we had a lovely relaxing lunch and some noisy visitors in the form of Speckled Chacalacas right outside my room as you can see above. The afternoon activity was a photographic boat ride around the black lake, the primary focus was meant to be the prehistoric looking Hotazin. This ancient species of bird has remained unchanged for thousands of years and are extremely successful. However on this occasion all the wildlife seemed a little shy and refused to show themselves particularly well. This is when as a photographer you have to try and be a little more imaginative. The herons in the foliage I particularly like for their more artisitc approach of "Animals in their Environment".
The lake and the lodge both made good photographic subjects too. The lodge looked particularly beautiful at night with its warm lighting glowing among the dark forest. The tree frog species you can see, right at the end of the selection of images, came and found us. Whilst sat at the bar in the evening he appeared on the icecream freezer, seemingly enjoying the cold metal and escaping the constant heat even if only for a short while.
So my first full day in the Amazon was certainly educational, introducing me to a variety of main species you can encounter, it wasn't a particulaly good day for close views of mammals but the wealth of bird life was obvious to see. The only down side from a personal point of view was that I wasn't really provided with any great photographic opportunities but you have to take what you can get. The rainforest isn't a forgiving place and you have to work really hard to get good images. Perhaps if this was a pure photographic tour it would have been a very different matter. But full credit must go
Part 3 has a new favourite mammal and a splash more colour ... so keep reading!
On Saturday I was round a friend's house, they have a small pond and it was swarming with Damselflies. As I happened to have my macro lens with me I decided to get some shots.
Firstly my attempts were in vain and I really struggled to get close enough to get any images at all. Any slight movement I made the resting Damselflies took off and found a new perch. The ones that were not perched were flying at high speed after their prey, small insects that were also flying around the pond.
I eventually worked out that if I stayed relatively still, as is often the way then the Damselflies would land by me, with small movements I did my very best to get the shots set up as I wanted.
Below are the shots that came out best.
The Macro learning curve continues
As many of you may know I recently bought the image stabilised Canon 100mm macro lens, and those of you who shoot macro will know it is a whole different discipline to that of traditional wildlife photography. I have also now acquired a remote control for the camera which makes it all a whole lot easier, hopefully this will make my shots that little bit easier.
I decided that I wanted to try and photograph a millipede the other week. Now, I am usually fine with 'creepy crawlies' but I have to say that I have a fear of millipedes so for me this was a big deal. Don't ask me why I have such an odd fear, all I can tell you is that the legs moving in that wave like motion make me feel ill, even thinking of them as I type makes me shudder. Anyway, so I set about photographing these weird little invertebrates as I have large numbers of them in my log pile but they are extremely hard to get to stay still. After nearly an hour I got two shots that I am rather happy with, as you can see below ...
I have also been on the look out for any insects around my garden and paddock, and I have come up with a couple. Now I don't know the species names, so I will have to do some further research, but I can tell you that the beetle is part of the weevil family and the other is fly which I think is part of the Tachina family.
I also have a population of Slow Worms living in my grass heap, I have only managed to get the one shot so far and it was of an absolute tiddler. Here is the little chap for you.
Finally, this evening I decided to lift a few stones around the garden to see if I could find any amphibians and I was in luck. I found a Common Toad hiding under one of the stones and he moved out into the sunlight in search of somewhere else to hide. I took a few shots of him before placing him back under his stone, where it was nice and damp with plenty of invertebrates to prey on.
Beautiful Demoiselle and the Hare
Today at lunch I decided to join a couple of colleagues on a quick circular walk around the office. As we walked down one of the lanes we noticed a damselfly darting through the scrubby hedgerow until it landed on top of one of Stinging Nettle heads. Amazingly I managed to use my Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II USM to lock on and get a few shots before it flew off. The Beautiful Demoiselle, as identified by my colleague, has to be one of our most beautiful insects here in the UK.
As we continued on towards the Badger set, where we have set up a camera trap, my colleague Dan spotted a Hare coming straight towards us along one of the tyre tracks in the crop. To our amazement, instead of darting off, it stayed put and posed nicely for around 30 seconds. I really struggled to get the striking animal in focus as it had plenty of the crop moving around in front of it. Eventually I managed to get the camera to lock on and got the couple of shots I was after.
I promised you all mammal shots were coming but I have to say I was not expecting such a great sighting on a gentle stroll, whilst on my lunch break.