t was the half-way point on Wildlife Worldwide’s inaugural Mana Pools: Wild Dogs & Elephants Photography tour, but today would prove to be a little different. As with any day in Mana Pools National Park, we arose bright and early, ready to search for the painted wolves once more.
This morning it took as a while to find the dogs, they had moved deep into the scrub, away from the alluvial plains of the Zambezi and we found them resting near a dry pan. The habitat here reminded me of some the southern areas of South Luangwa, it was very different from the open forest of the valley floor. The pack were busy doing what they do best after a night’s rest, playing. The young adults and the pups were running around at full pelt, leaping over fallen trees, just enjoying themselves. It is always an honour when wild animals allow you to approach to on foot and we were spoiled on this particular morning.
About an hour after we had climbed out of the vehicles, the alpha pair decided it was time to move on in a determined manner. This usually only means one thing, they are looking for breakfast. The speed at which the dogs can move is incredible. African wild dogs are athletes of the highest pedigree and in order to keep up with them, we had to jump in the vehicles once more.
They were heading back down onto the flood plain and when we caught up with them they were half heartedly chasing a warthog. Then, in a bizarre moment, a small herd of impala approached the dogs and a more determined hunt began. This time, when we had caught up with the pack, they had brought down a pregnant impala. The following images highlight what happened next …
The pack seemingly target pregnant female impala at the end of the dry season and on this particular morning they pulled down an individual with an unborn youngster. Of course, sights like this are hard to see, but it is nature and to witness this behaviour is actually an honour. You can see two of the pups above playing with the foetus.
Once the dogs had finished with the kill, the hyenas quickly moved in ...
After watching the hyenas fight over the impala remains, we followed the wild dogs down to long pool. We left them to it and decided to spend a little time photographing a pod of hippos.
The afternoon was a different proposition altogether. My group had gone out looking for the painted wolves on every single drive, so we decided that this afternoon we would head out on a canoe safari down the mighty Zambezi.
If you haven't ever been on a canoe safari ... well you must! Here is a little taster for you. The proximity you can have with the elephants when on a canoe is truly remarkable. The video footage below was taken on my phone ...
Be sure to join me later this year in Mana Pools for incredible encounters with African wild dogs and elephants. Please visit the Wildlife Worldwide website for more information.
With the start of our trip to Mana Pools being so successful, particularly with the African wild dogs, the pressure was off and the whole group could just enjoy themselves. There is nothing better for me as a leader than knowing your group are happy after their first couple of days on safari.
When I asked everyone what they wanted to focus on for the next few days, half the group said they would like to try their luck with the southern carmine bee-eater colony, while the other half wanted to keep following the dogs. I kept with the wild dog group to keep numbers nicely balanced and we had a brilliant time with the dogs.
It took a little time to find the dogs this morning as they had moved some distance overnight. Nick Murray (our guide and the BBC’s Dynasties series guide) and I used our combined tracking skills to eventually find the dogs much further to the east. The pack had come across a small herd of zebra and decided that this was a good lesson for the pups. Zebra are not typical prey for these painted wolves, they focus their efforts on impala, but that is all part of the learning curve for young dogs.
We watched them play with the zebra for 10 minutes or so before they went off at high speed after a herd of impala. Even in the vehicle we couldn’t keep up, such was their speed. When we eventually caught up with them, they had found a warthog and were desperately trying to catch it. However, every time they got close the warthog, which was a very healthy large male, he backed himself into a drainage culvert.
Eventually the pack gave up and just went about the daily routine of getting ready for their siesta. This is a great time to photograph the dogs as the sun is often still low in the sky, meaning you get some lovely rich light. At the same time, a large bull elephant appeared and started to browse the high branches of a fruiting sausage tree. We were truly blessed with some excellent photography. We also came across a small pride of lion just a hundred yards or so from where we had a breakfast stop on the banks of the Zambezi.
After a little while, all the dogs eventually crossed a drying pool and ended up resting in a shady dry gully, where the sandy soil was still moist with small pools of water. We found the dogs in the same spot in the afternoon before they suddenly got up, crossed one of the small pools and sprinted across the open plain towards the higher ground of the park.
Above the floodplain the vegetation is radically different and we lost the dogs in the thick undergrowth. It was only the noise of the dogs on a kill that meant we were able to locate them in a dense thicket. The photography opportunities here were limited, but the proximity to the pack and their kill was incredible.
It all got rather exciting as the light started to fade. As we were watching the pack finish off the last scraps of the impala carcass, a small herd of elephants arrived on the scene. Within moments the elephants had the scent of the wild dogs and charged – the only issue was that we were between the two and we had to make a very speedy retreat and move back towards the vehicles. Our guides were absolutely excellent, keeping the group out of harms way without any hesitation or panic. Clear, calm and incisive commands kept us all safe with some heightened adrenaline levels.
If you ask me where I feel most at home, there is only one answer and that’s ‘Africa’. So, why Africa I hear you ask? Well, quite simply, it is home to some of the world’s finest wildlife, wonderful people and stunning landscapes.
Well recently I went to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, while leading for Wildlife Worldwide, and I can honestly say that my life has changed forever. That is the second time I have said that after a trip to Africa in the last year and I stick by it. Mana Pools has become synonymous with the African wild dog (or painted wolf) as per the BBC’s fantastic Dynasties series. In fact, I spent 8 days in the park following the star of the show Blacktip and her pack.
It is possible to go on walking safaris in Mana Pools, which is just like many other parks (particularly in Zambia), but here the wildlife can be very approachable and the wild dogs are especially habituated to people on foot. On top of that there are few elephants that are particularly special and allow a wonderfully close approach.
Anyway, I won’t rattle on too much more. Here are the highlights from the first couple of days …
The first encounter with the dogs was definitely one of the most frantic. Just as I approached the dogs with my group, the whole pack got up and started to try their luck hunting a herd of impala. All hell broke loose and we somehow ended up right in the middle of it. At one point we were surrounded by around 10 dogs as they tried to panic the impala into a mistake.
The next morning we found the dogs in almost the same spot as where we left them, and they allowed even closer approaches. When you struggle to fit your subject in the frame it is always a good day ...
After a fantastic morning in Mana Pools the evening proved to be even better. We found the pack fairly close to where we left them, they were enjoying an afternoon siesta. Not long after we arrived, the dogs started to wake and start their bond renewal routine. African wild dogs are one of the world's most social species and the level of their communication skills are far beyond our understanding. We watched the whole pack greet one another and play in wondrous orange light.
Mana Pools is one of those places that gets under your skin and I hope that this overview of my time there inspires you to go for yourself. Join me in 2019 and discover the next chapter of Tait's & Blacktip's Dynasty - Mana Pools: Wild Dogs & Elephants Photography.
After a very busy summer leading trips all over, exhibiting at Birdfair with Wildlife Worldwide and prepping for the next few months, it was time to take a bit of me time. Of course, when you are a wildlife photographer, that means going in search of some incredible wildlife – so my girlfriend and I headed off to Uganda for a trip of a lifetime.
Uganda is best known for its primates and that was the major draw for us too, particularly the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south west of the country. We had booked to stay at Buhoma lodge and I can honestly say that it was one of the very best places I have ever stayed. The lodge itself is situated in the rainforest so don’t expect super luxury, but it is spotlessly clean and the service is superb.
On the morning of our trek we headed down to the registration office, accompanied by Ivan (from Buhoma) who sorted everything out for us and listened to the briefing. We had to drive around the mountain to start our trek and were to be going in search of the Habinyanja group, with Makara the silverback as the head of the family. Our trek started off in the tea plantations of the surrounding villages before we reached the boundary of the forest.
What happened next was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I have been very privileged to see some pretty special things.
The gorilla group was only around 150 yards inside the forest but this involved a very steep descent into a river gully and back up the other side. This was not particularly demanding and took less than an hour to negotiate, a lot less than we were anticipating, but that is the luck of the draw sometimes.
The first gorilla we saw was an adult female who was fast asleep, she was no more than 5 metres away and didn’t even open her eyes as we stumbled through the thick vegetation. I genuinely couldn’t believe what was in front of my eyes. It was completely surreal to be so close to such a remarkable, wild animal. Some 30 metres further down the slope was the silverback and his family were strewn across the vegetation between us. The next hour of my life flew by and a lot of the time I didn’t even take any photos, I was just mesmerised by the majesty of the moment.
I really focused my efforts on the youngsters of the group who provided some of the most wonderful moments and at times were less than 30 centimetres away from us. The following images really don’t do it justice, but I hope it at least gives you an idea of what we were treated to.
I will just finish by saying that if you have not yet had the opportunity to visit Uganda (or Rwanda), then I really can't recommend it enough. It is one of the most incredible things you can do in life, a genuinely life-changing experience beyond anything you can ever imagine ... book your place now!
I am really proud to work and lead trips for Wildlife Worldwide, one of the UK’s largest specialists in wildlife travel. What I particularly enjoy is that the office is set within an old barn in the charming village of Bishop’s Sutton, what’s more is we have a resident pair of barn owls.
Earlier on in the summer I spent a bit of time trying to photograph the owls. They are really easy to spot, but not so easy to photograph, particularly as there are quite a few buildings around. Anyway, here is a little taster of what I have been privileged enough to watch after finishing work in the evenings.
I just wanted to share a single image today as I thought it was a pretty special place. Earlier this month I visited Angola (where my sister lives) and went on an adventure to some of the country's most spectacular locations. One of these was Kalandula Falls, and it was without a doubt one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been.
Below is a panoramic of the falls taken from a beautiful hotel run by a charming couple - Pousada de Calandula. I really think Angola is one of Africa's most stunning countries (from what I have seen) and it has so much potential to become a world class travel destination.
I am no landscape photographer, but I do hope you like the photo below ...
That's right folks, I have been to Skomer once more and it still isn't enough. It is never enough!!!
My third and final visit of the year was leading Wildlife Worldwide's second Skomer's Perfect Puffins tour in 2018. It as a roaring success and I was joined by acclaimed photographer and film maker Ben Cherry - check out his awesome work here.
Now then, normally a visit to Skomer Island coincides with gale force winds, lashing rain or perhaps ice blasts. Well this trip was a little different - it was quite literally like being on an island in the Mediterranean summer. To be succinct, it was sublime.
To top it all off, we had a great group of people and some fabulous wildlife and epic light. You really cannot ask for more than that. So on to the pictures...
When it comes to photographing puffins, it nearly always starts with a classic portrait. It is just good to get yourself warmed up, then you can start to be a little more creative and try a few different types of shots.
For me, having already accumulated thousands of images of puffin, I now try to capture something different and this trip was no exception. What was incredible though, was watching the sun rise over the Pembrokeshire peninsula and setting over the Irish Sea, without there being a single moment it disappeared behind a cloud. So we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine from 4.45 all the way through to 22.00. Remarkable!
It also wasn't just about puffins. When you have guillemots, razorbills and a friendly seal there are near endless photographic opportunities.
After a the magic of being able to photograph the puffins in some wonderful light, our final excursion was out to Grassholm island in search of one of the world's largest northern gannet colonies. Here is just a little taster of what this remarkable place looks like...
It has been a crazy few months for me – I have been leading trips left, right and centre. No moaning from me though as it has been absolute delight to take so many fantastic people all over Europe, showing them some of the most incredible wildlife and hopefully helping them get some great images too!
The next instalment in this summer’s schedule was a trip to one of my favourite spots, right on the Finland’s eastern border with Russia. It is here I lead Wildlife Worldwide’s Boreal Predators Photography tour, which gives my clients a chance to photograph European brown bear, grey wolf and the feisty wolverine.
All I can really say about this year’s tour was wow, wow and well… WOW!
We were treated to a remarkable number of sightings of all three species and the photography opportunities were mesmerising. Even with a faulty camera I was able to capture some awesome images, my clients images really blew me away so it was a hugely successful trip.
And now to the photos, all I will say is that I hope you enjoy them…
It must be said that every night in the hides was productive and they allowed the entire group to capture a wonderful array of images. What I have included here are just a small taster. I have only included on wolverine as I was always in a hide that didn't have the prime views.
It is very important to me that my clients are the ones who get the best images, after all it is their holiday and I want them to get the most out of the experience.
On the last night of the trip the whole group were treated to some breathtaking sightings and unrivalled photography opportunities.
The images above (I think at least) perfectly demonstrate why Finland is such a superb destination for a photography holiday. The light is absolutely brilliant, the wildlife is stunning and the photography is very hard to beat.
So if you fancy joining me in 2019 for another foray into the boreal forests of Finland, be sure to visit Wildlife Worldwide's website for more information.
Yes that’s right everyone, I have been back to Skomer once again. This time I was leading Wildlife Worldwide’s Skomer's Perfect Puffins trip – a short three day break on this stunning island and our timing could not have been better. It is the height of the breeding season on Skomer for pretty much everything that calls the island home and my clients were spoiled for choice.
We arrived on the island and found one of the resident short-eared owls resting right by the old farm, our base for the next two nights. We immediately got out the camera gear and started taking a few pictures of the owl, which had decided to rest only 20 yards from the path and was surrounded by the stunning floral display of red campion.
If only I had known that the owls would be so cooperative, that way we could have spent all our time at the farm and ignored everything else. Of course I am only joking! Now to some photos, just to whet your appetite…
For most people it is the large colony of puffins that draws them on to the island, but once they arrive they realise there is so much more on offer. We were particularly lucky as we had a whole day on the island to ourselves as the day boats were cancelled – it was heavenly. The island’s carpet of red campion was accompanied by an infusion of bluebells and led to a stunning patchwork display of colour. You really can’t ask for me when you have such a beautiful scene all to yourselves. As well as the owls there were a very obliging pair of whitethroat around the farm and of course the breeding swallows that seem to breed here every year.
Of course, I managed to get a few puffin photos too…
As you can see from the images above, we were blessed with some amazingly cooperative wildlife and the scenery was absolutely stunning.
Having the owls put on a display like this is particularly rare and the whole group made the most of it, but the puffins still seem to be the main draw for most. If you would like to join me on Skomer Island, then you will need to contact Wildlife Worldwide here.
Just to warn you... There is a huge amount of interest in the trip and with limited spaces there is a long waitlist.
My first photography tour of 2018 was to the beautiful country of Slovenia. In the middle of May, I took 8 clients with me to the Dinaric Alps, where everyone was hoping to photograph brown bear. This was Wildlife Worldwide's Brown Bear Photography tour.
Now I need to make something clear from the start, Slovenia is one of Europe's hidden gems. It is a country filled with history, stunning landscapes and fabulous wildlife. To top it all off, the food is fantastic.
Slovenia's Dinaric Alps, in the southern reaches of the country, are home to between 700 and 800 bear, one of Europe's most important populations. This karst landscape, filled with caves, disappearing rivers and lakes, also supports and array of other species including Ural owl, beech marten and even wolf.
This trip was focused on the bears and the Ural owl, with of course the stunning mountains, wild flower meadows and charming villages as a wonderful backdrop. Over the course of the next 6 days we were treated to some superb encounters and all of the clients managed to capture some excellent images.
After a great first night in the hides we went in search of the Ural owls and were blessed with some great encounters. Slovenia is home to the highest density of breeding Ural owl in Europe, so with a bit pf persistence, you can often come away with some good photography.
The karst limestone landscape is famed for its caves and Slovenia is no different. If you read my last blog post on Slovenia (from last year), you will have seen that I visited Križna jama - a beautiful cave filled with water. We journey a few kilometres underground and explore the remarkable caverns and their unique rock formations.
Of course, for most people it is all about the bears and that was this unique trip is all about. So all of the group spent the majority of their afternoons in the hides, waiting for the bears to show themselves.
As you can see from all of the images above, Slovenia offers something very different from other bear watching destinations and it really is quite magical.
If you would like to join me on this amazing trip in 2019 then please head over to Wildlife Worldwide and find out more.
As many of you will know, I live on the edge of the South Downs National Park. This is the UK’s newest national park, a range of stunning hills and rolling farmland, and is home to staggering number of roe deer.
I have become pretty good at photographing roe deer and luckily for me, I can often see them right behind my own house. In mid-May I noticed a handsome buck as I arrived home from the office and spent around 40 minutes trying to work out my approach. The wind had been swirling and it was nearly impossible to get close enough as there was a real lack of cover.
Eventually, I was able to get within 20 yards and the deer ended up approaching me – the perfect scenario.
To start with the male deer was actually too close to photograph, his inquisitive nature meant he approached to within only a few yards. I stayed perfectly still, the deer alert to my presence watched me, but never tried to run. It slowly moved away and into the dense crop of oilseed.
As you can see, I was blessed with a very cooperative buck, standing beautifully in the yellow flowers of the oilseed crop. It wasn't the longest photography session, as the deer decided to slowly move away into the deepest part of the field, but I managed to capture some beautiful imagery in the short time I was there.
All of the images were taken on my 500mm lens, which is usually perfect for photographing roe deer.
All I can do is apologise for the lack of posts on this blog … there is no real excuse. Sadly, I haven’t been out with my camera enough recently and with a very busy year ahead leading a range of tours, I took a few days off and headed to Skomer Island with my old man.
The trip was a Christmas treat for my dad, but it was also an excuse to get out there and try my new 1DX II and the new EF Canon 500mm f4 IS II USM lens.
The main reason for going to Skomer is to spend time with the puffins. However, this year has been unseasonably cold and all of the seabirds seem to be a little behind their usual breeding cycle. The island’s plantlife has also been delayed, so we spent a few rather cold days in a pretty brown landscape. Let’s just say I wasn’t left disappointed as this provided something completely different to what you usually get on this rocky outcrop in the Irish Sea.
I must say that the first day was a little wet. Scrap that, the rain was relentless and after only an hour out in the sodden landscape I was soaked through. We beat a hasty retreat back to the relative warmth of the island’s accommodation. I only took a few photos in the evening but the light was, well it was awful.
The fact it was easier to photograph the island's large rabbit population, rather than the puffins, speaks volume as to the day's activities.
The second day on the island was a completely different story – the Sun shone for the day’s entirety. And the photography opportunities were almost limitless. It wasn’t just the puffins that cooperated either, there were a myriad of other species who were keen to get their moment in the spotlight.
The puffins were particularly quiet during the day, but as they are either sitting on an egg, or ready to lay said egg, or perhaps out fishing it wasn't a complete surprise. However, as the sun started to set I was blessed to an hour's worth of exquisite light, obliging birds and countless photographic opportunities.
The above are some very low res version of the images I managed to capture in that glorious golden hour. They are only a sample of what I was able to capture, but I hope it gives you an idea of what you can do by playing around with light and trying out different ideas.
I will be back in Skomer in May and June this year, leading trips for Wildlife Worldwide, so keep your eyes peeled for more images in the coming months.
Next week I am leading a trip to Slovenia's Dinaric Alps with Wildlife Worldwide - you can find out more about the tour here.
I have had an incredible past 12 months, winning two major awards and visiting a myriad of amazing destinations. I could not be more thankful for the opportunities that have come my way, including my latest trip to Papua New Guinea.
I got the opportunity to travel through Wildlife Worldwide & the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority, on a 12-day trip to one of the world’s last frontiers. I will be leading a dedicated photography tour to Papua New Guinea in 2019, with Wildlife Worldwide, and this adventure was a great way to learn the ropes. After a monster journey, which included 4 airports, 3 countries and 3 flights, I made it to the town of Kokopo in East New Britain.
A little heads up, the cultures and landscapes of New Britain are more closely aligned with the Soloman Islands than PNG itself. I wish I was an underwater photographer, that way I could show you the real magic of the region’s wildlife, but instead I had to make do with shooting topside and photographing the region’s fascinating culture.
Swimming with the local Spinner Dolphins was truly remarkable, a wildlife encounter I will never forget. Hearing the clicks and whistles as a pod of over 100 dolphins swim all around you is something that is utterly captivating. It wasn’t just the dolphins that are a draw offshore, the smaller islands, turquoise waters, beautiful reefs and local islanders are equally fascinating.
For me though, it was on the last night of our stay in Kokopo that really made the biggest impact … I was able to witness the mesmerising Baining Fire Dance. No it isn’t one of those tacky shows where dancers swing fire balls around their body, this was altogether more dangerous - maybe jaw-dropping is better way to describe it.
The Baining people perform their fire dance as a coming of age ceremony, a ceremony rarely witnessed by the outside world and so I was incredibly lucky to witness the evening’s events. Young men dress up in some of the largest tribal masks in the world and move to the rhythmic beats and chants of their elders. A large fire is gradually built up, the flames fuelled by more and more material before the action really kicks off. The masked individuals seem to reach a point beyond fear, pushing themselves onwards to brave the flames and embers.
One by one the dancers move towards the fire, running, walking and kicking their way through the inferno. The sight is like no other, a mass of swirling fireflies seem to go up with each spectacular movement, all the while the masks are softly lit and silhouetted against the orange glow. Time and time again the masked characters approach the flames, seemingly try to out do the show put on by the previous dancer.
Photographing the magic of the dance is particularly challenging, but I really hope these images give you an idea of just what I was lucky enough to witness. I am a wildlife photographer, that is where I feel most comfortable, and I tried to use my skills in low light photography to capture the dancing in a slightly different way.
I can’t thank Robin Russel-Pavier enough for looking after us throughout and helping to organise such a remarkable introduction to Papua New Guinea. My thanks must also go to Wildlife Worldwide for their continued support and allowing me the opportunity to travel.
Be sure to read the second part of my blog for the next leg of my adventure.
Well what can I say other than the fact I am delighted to announce that my photograph ‘A Perfect Landing’ was picked as the winner in the Birds in Flight category in Bird Photographer of the Year 2017.
This is a relatively new competition, but don’t let that deceive you. The standard and the number of entries has been truly remarkable. In fact, in my category alone, names such as Bence Mate, Jamie Hall, Paul Hobson, Georgina Steytler (a seasoned Aussie pro) and Pål Hermansen all featured. These guys are all at the top of their game and to win this award, with such fierce competition, is a fantastic reward for all my hard work over the last few years.
Of course there will be a lot of differences in opinion when it comes to photography competitions, some people might not rate the winners and others will rave out about them. The key thing here, is that any photograph is subjective, and it must be made clear that the winners are picked by a select judging panel.
Congratulations must go to all of the winners and also all of those who made it into the stunning book! You can buy a copy of the book here.
I was delighted to receive my award at the ceremony, held at Birdfair in Rutland Water, and for the incredible support I have since received. I was extremely fortunate to be picked to appear on the One Show (on BBC1) and briefly talk about my image.
It really feels that this is another step towards the dream of becoming a professional wildlife photographer. I really couldn’t have made it this far without the support of my family, girlfriend and a lot of determination. For all of those who have helped me along the way, I can only say thank you for the opportunities and the advice.
If anyone would like to join me on a one-to-one workshop, or join me on a dedicated photographic tour (in partnership with Wildlife Worldwide) you can find out more here.
A land of countless lakes and seemingly infinite forests, Finland is one of Europe’s wilder corners. In recent years the country has become well regarded as the finest bear watching location outside of the Americas.
However, I had heard of a particular location (right on the Russian border), where it was possible to see and even photograph European Brown Bear, Wolverine and even Wolf. This place sounded too good to be true! So after a lot of digging and hours of reading through reports, I had all of the information I needed.
In the end I decided it would be a great place to run a wildlife photography tour with Wildlife Worldwide. We have named the tour ‘Boreal Predators Photography’ and it certainly lived up to its name this year. Towards the end of June I set off with 6 eager clients, all keen to photograph the iconic species of this border region, or ‘no man’s land’, between Finland and Russia.
Now I must start by saying that Finland hasn’t really had a spring in 2017, and therefore all the wildlife’s behaviour has been particularly unpredictable. We spent a total of 4 nights in the hides, all of which were different. This year was particularly cold, which makes it much harder to get comfortable within the hides, but our perseverance paid off in the end.
The first night was a little disappointing with only a couple of bears seen at a bit of a distance, one of which was particularly nervous. Don’t get me wrong, it is still incredible to see the magnificent mammals, it was only disappointing from a photographic opportunity point of view.
The second and third nights made up for it though, with at least 4 different wolverine spotted across 3 locations (the group had to be split on the second evening), the very nervous bear made another appearance and the icing on the cake had to be two Grey Wolves seen on both nights. On the second evening, a client and I were treated to a pair of Wolverine – the light was at its worst when they appeared, but we got a few acceptable shots in the end. Just as we thought the evening was coming to a close, it was probably around 3 am, I noticed a light shape moving on the edge of the forest. It was obscured by a light mist, but there was no mistaking what we had in front of us. It was a Grey Wolf … in fact there were two wolves. It was a magical encounter, a real privilege and a challenge to photograph in such low light and the mist.
It was the last night of the trip when everything really came together. We were only going to be in the hides until around midnight as we had to leave first thing for our flight back to Helsinki. I decided we should try our luck at the pond, where I had previously seen the two Wolverine and wolves.
I can honestly say that the evening was one of the very best I have had in my career. The light wasn’t necessarily the best, but the sightings we had are some of the finest anyone could possibly ask for. In fact, the evening actually started relatively slowly. It all seemed like it might be disappointing end to the trip.
As the sun was losing its strength and retreating over the tree line, one of my group spotted a large bear moving through some marshy ground. It was heading right at us, slowly powering through the swamp. You could hear the strength of every movement, it was absolutely incredible. The bear posed perfectly for us and the whole group managed to get some wonderful shots. Having had its fill on the salmon scraps left out, the bear slowly made its way back towards the forest, slowly melding into its wooded surrounds.
Having had such a remarkable encounter, everybody seemed to be settling back into their seats (figuratively speaking), when I noticed a familiar light shape on the edge of the treeline. I stopped myself from saying anything, took a breath, then raised my binoculars and my jaw slowly dropped. I knew what it was, but I didn’t really believe we could be so lucky. Surely I was suffering from sleep deprivation?
There some 70 yards away was a white wolf, the one I had seen at a distance on the previous two nights, and it was followed by a second wolf. The white wolf was the female, whilst the second was tan colour, and this was the male. The female slowly made her way towards the hides, seduced by the smell of the fresh meat of a carcass.
The next 15 minutes were spellbinding. She came to within only 20 metres of the hide … it was her size, her obvious power and that stare that left me breathless. I have never known a stare like it. I have been all over the world, photographing Polar Bears, Leopards and Tiger, but never has an animal looked at me with the same intensity or intelligence. This really was a once in a lifetime encounter and one that will stick with me for the rest of my days.
If you would like to join me in Finland, I will be leading another ‘Boreal Predators Photography’ tour with Wildlife Worldwide in June 2018. I can’t promise the tour will be the same as this year’s, but I can guarantee it will be a great adventure.
For the entirety of this trip I was using a Canon 500mm F4 IS II USM lens which was kindly provided by Fixation. I will be writing a separate post with a review and my thoughts on using the lens if the field.
Towards the beginning of June I was fortunate enough to lead a small group of photographers to the island of Skomer. This rocky outcrop, which sits just off the Marloes Peninsula, is one of the UK’s seabird strongholds and supports around 6,000 pairs of breeding Atlantic Puffins.
These charming little birds are what most visitors come to see on Skomer Island and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It has to be one of the UK’s finest wildlife experiences – quite simply it is hard not to smile when you see your first Puffin. Only about the size of a pint glass, these small birds are one of the world’s great ocean wanderers, their tenacity and dedication to their chicks is truly inspiring. They provide the perfect focus for this short photography break.
I spent 3 nights on Skomer, having only planned on staying for 2. It turns out that my clients (and me) were experiencing some of the worst low pressure systems for many a year, we were stranded on the high cliffs of the island for an extra 24 hours. Although it was a little inconvenient it provided further opportunities to enjoy the island’s varied birdlife including 300,000 pairs of Manx Shearwater (only possible to see in the dead of night), thousands of gulls (Greater and Lesser Black-backed as well as Herring), Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Short-eared owl and the list goes on.
I thought I should give you a little taster of what this exciting trip is all about, so here are some of my favourite images from the trip.
After arriving on the island around 1pm on the first day and then having a hearty lunch, we set out to photograph the Puffins at 'The Wick'. The Wick is famed for its large colony of Puffins, all along the top of a dramatic coastal inlet on the southern side of Skomer. As the afternoon went on the skies cleared and provided us with some spectacular light for photography (see below).
The second day started quietly, as most of the Puffins had already left their cliff top burrows, they spend as much time as they can catching fish for the pufflings (yes that really is the name of the chicks). The light was already pretty bright, but the group managed to get a few images of a Raven and of course a few Puffins here and there.
I was lucky enough to capture one image as a bird flew in across the water in the blustery conditions, capturing it all in a muddle in mid air.
The afternoon proved to be another puffin bonanza, and many of the group tried their hand at bird in flight photography. This is known to be one of the hardest skills sets any wildlife photographer can learn, but photographing a bird this small in gusting winds is near impossible. However, a few of us got lucky and their persistence paid off.
But there were also opportunities to photograph an obliging Oystercatcher and the Rabbits were about as tame as you can get!
Having stayed on the island of Skomer for an extra evening, strong winds and poor visibility meant that no boats would be crossing over from the mainland. So after a morning of horrific weather, not even good for capturing images of Puffin in the rain, we headed out for one final time to add to our portfolios. For the most part, I kept my camera off, going around the group and making sure they were all getting what they wanted.
So even with some of Britain's finest summer weather (by that I mean gale force winds and torrential rain), we managed to spend plenty of time with the 'clowns of the sea'. I hope to be hosting more Skomer photography trips in 2018, all in partnership with Wildlife Worldwide.
The small country of Slovenia is home to some of Europe’s most stunning vistas, from the towering peaks of the Alps, the picture postcard city centre of Ljubljana, to the forest covered hills and mountains of the Dinaric Karst.
It is when you dig a little deeper, exploring the country’s sprawling forests that the true magic of Slovenia is properly revealed. These wonderful forests, a mixture of pine and beech, hide some of Europe’s finest wildlife – a population of brown bears. With the help of Slovenian Bears, it is possible to spend your evenings enjoying fantastic bear encounters from the comfort of purpose-built hides.
I spent the vast majority of my time in the Notranjska region, home to the country’s core population of bears, but the area is also filled with incredible caves and other features typical of a limestone karst landscape. I managed to explore the incredible cave network of Križna Jama, travelling up to 4km along the water filled passages, and the delights of Lake Cerknica, the largest intermittent lake in the world.
The beautiful meadows are filled with wild flowers, including an array of delicate orchids, the copses are alive with the sound of birdsong while in the forests the call of the Cuckoo resonates through the trees. For the lucky few, an encounter with the striking Ural Owl is certainly one of the region’s avian highlights, with up to one pair every square kilometre this surely one of the best places to see them in Europe.
In reality though, I went to Slovenia for the bears. With between 400-700 bears in this small country, there is a very good chance that you can have superb encounters over the space of a few days. I have to admit I was unsure of what Slovenia would be like for bear watching and particularly in regards to the photographic opportunities, but I needn’t have worried … my 5 nights flew by with countless bear sightings.
Sitting in the comfort of the hides, waiting and willing for a bear to appear through the sea of trees is a thrill in itself. Every noise has you on the edge of your seat, a crack of a twig – it must be a bear? No, it is just a family of Jays bounding across the forest floor. The alarm call of a Blackbird rings loudly in your ears, but still no bear appears. But then, in complete silence the first bear comes into view, a young bear tentative in its approach, aware of those watching and waiting in the hide. After a few minutes though the youngster relaxes and goes about its business, only pausing to check that there is no immediate danger. After a few minutes the bear’s ears go up, the nose starts to twitch and the eyes focus on something I cannot see. Then over a rocky outcrop, two more bears appear, both with a golden hue to their coats and walking purposefully towards the hides. Now three bears are within only 20 metres of the hide, the two new arrivals keeping their distance from the first individual and all of them ignoring the deep thud of camera shutters firing as they go about their business.
This was just my first evening in one of the many hides on offer, and what a great introduction it was. I hope to be heading back to Slovenia later this year to try my luck again, so you can expect another flurry of images over by the autumn.
Here is an array of other images captured during the following nights.
If you are thinking of a long weekend away filled with wildlife (particularly bears), I can highly recommend this beautiful and welcoming country.
I am already planning a return visit to the area and hope to operate a photography tour in 2018 with Wildlife Worldwide.
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.
As many of you will know by now, this year has been a breakthrough year for me. I haven't learnt anything new, or really changed anything about the way I photograph ... instead I have been recognised by my peers and that really means the world.
Back in January I found that I had three images shortlisted in the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition. It wasn't until the day the exhibition opened, towards the end of August, that I found out I was a winner of the 'Threatened Species' category with my image 'Palm Grove Dingo'.
Sadly I wasn't the overall winner but to be only one of nine category winners was a real achievement. If you want to see my images in exhibition, you can actually see them right now in the South Australia Museum in Adelaide or the Australian Museum in Sydney.
The two other images that were shortlisted and featured in the exhibition are those below, the Red-eyed Tree Frog was taken in Lamington NP in Queensland and the the Green Ants were taken in Airlie Beach in Queensland - you can see them both below.
To have got so far in such a prestigious competition is a massive achievement and I feel incredibly proud to be a category winner. Fingers crossed that my success continues and I have further luck in next year's competition.
Since the start of spring I have been out trying to photograph my local population of Roe Deer. I have heaps of practice with this lovely species but they can still be a tricky subject to photograph. They have truly incredible hearing and a superb sense of smell ... you only have to make the slightest mistake and the opportunity will have passed.
Recently I haven't had much luck as my valley has been having a swirling wind pattern. This means I have been unable to keep down wind of the deer and they smell me coming from a long way off.
Finally the long, warm evenings have given me the perfect opportunity to get out and about to search for the local buck. I know the field that he likes to rest during the day but the challenge is to get close enough and stay down wind.
After a few attempts I finally succeeded and had one of the best, and particularly close, encounters with this magnificent Roe Deer Buck.
It was a truly wonderful encounter and what made it all the better, was that the buck wasn't at all startled and when I was done, I was able to slip off and leave him in peace.
I will be turning a couple of these images into high-quality prints which will be available in my online store. Please let me know if you have a favourite.