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.