I plan to add new images to the home page of this website on a regular basis: it helps keep everything fresh and relevant after all. As well as the images appearing in an appropriate gallery I thought that keeping them altogether, along with the thoughts and experiences that accompanied them, might make for an additional and interesting collection and insight to the work of recent months too, so starting with the latest here they all are as originally posted…
I spent most of October in the hot and sticky Pantanal region of Brazil, finally able to return after delays created by the pandemic put plans to do so on hold. It was well worth the wait though as jaguars are such stunning cats and this is the best place to be able to spend time with them. This particular sighting and indeed whole afternoon, was particularly special. This is a young 4 month old cub called Kyavera and we spent a wonderful afternoon with her, her mother and more timid sister completely undisturbed by anyone else. It meant that the cubs were relaxed and curious as I think her expression here shows. All in all a magical set of moments and what wildlife photography will always be all about to me too.
This time last year I was lucky enough to be able to return to one of the most iconic reserves in southern Africa, that of Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. I had visited prior to the pandemic with plans to return with some guests on a trip a year or so later but it took nearly 5 years until it was able to fall in place again.
Although the trip proved challenging in terms of the iconic wild dogs of Dynasties fame, this is one of the very best places to photograph elephants that I know with options for ground level working particularly high and appealing to me. The percentage of images taken with a long lens that had to be portrait in orientation was a testament to this as I looked through them all on my return.
Mana Pools is well renowned too for it’s amazing quality of light and this particular image, taken early on the very first morning as it happens, is testament to just how special it can be when everything falls into place – the combination of low side-lighting and dust is for me a very potent and pleasing combination that whilst not strictly a recently taken image merited sharing here as I didn’t manage to reflect the trip in last years musings.
In August I visited the justifiably renowned Galapagos Islands for the first time and wasn’t disappointed. It was another of those locations where the wildlife is fundamentally unbothered by your presence, thanks in part to very careful management of where you can go and how many people can do so at any one time. One of the more flighty species were the crabs though and, liking a challenge, I spent an enjoyable couple of hours working with these lively little Ghost Crabs as they popped out of their holes and scuttled across the sand in search of some morsel of vegetation to whisk back with before the tide came in. I can certainly see where Nickelodeon got the inspiration for Mr Krabs in their SpongeBob Squarepants cartoons now too!
If you know me as well as my work you’ll know that cats are pretty much at the top of my list in life so it was exceptionally enjoyable guiding a trip to southern Chile this month where they were the main focus once again. This is Petaca, a female puma who in the preceding few days had kicked her 18 month offspring out and begun the search for a new mate. Here she is sitting atop a typical rocky outcrop on just that search and looking suitably regal too. This was my third visit to this corner of the world to work with these striking cats and by far my most productive to date, so I look forward to sharing more images and experiences from it in a latest news post soon.
Every photography safari I have ever been on or guided has a number of standout moments. These are the ones that have everyone talking even more enthusiastically at the first break that follows and are still being mentioned in dispatches after several more have passed too. My recent trip when guiding in Botswana had its usual high number of these such moments but two early mornings spent at a wild dog den were right up there: watching the excitement that coursed through them all when the puppies came above ground for food and company was totally infectious, something I have tried to catch in this particular image. It provided an array of opportunities too and I’ll try to get a Latest News post on it together in the not too distant.
Over the years my appreciation of where I am photographing as well as what has increased exponentially. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than when working in Namibia as I was again earlier this month, and especially in the dry river system in the extreme north west of the country which is among my favourite places just to be. Even more so when this old bull elephant called Arnold yet again puts in an appearance as he has pretty much every time I’ve returned over the last 15 or so years. He’s almost 40 years old now, very happy with his solitary life and quite by chance a few days later and several hundred miles away I met a local guide called Arnold who was among a small group who gave their names to the handful of male elephants when he was working in this remote area all those years ago thus christening this old fellow.
If you know me and my work you will know just how much working on the coast generally and islands specifically has always been dear to me. In the UK the draw of Shetland in particular has always been very strong in this respect and it was great to get my annual fix again as winter came to an end (there was a covering of snow and heavy hail as I made my way from the airport on arrival) and spring showed it’s early signs too with calling red-throated divers on the voes and the sound of golden plover flocks returning on the moorlands. I was there for otters specifically though this time and with the Easter season being one for families generally, spending time with this mother and her two cubs as they managed some serious chill time was a special a moment for me, as I hope this image is to look at.
I am often asked what my favourite subject to photograph is and always answer “the last thing I spent time with”. It’s not meant to be a glib answer but I genuinely am as happy photographing blue tits from my own local hide as I am some more exotic species in a far-flung place; as long as there is behaviour, light or setting to enjoy then what’s not to like about the more everyday species? Another season of workshops at my Woodland Birds hide finished this month and I’ve published dates and am ready to go again next season; then the dramas these little dynamos have to offer will be back on my favourite list once more.
I made a welcome return to Kenya’s Maasai Mara this month to guide a trip for Natures Images which was focussed on Big Cats, and which I have written more about in my latest news. I’d not been in the country since March 2020 when the tentacles of the pandemic were closing in, the borders were shut and I returned home to find the same happening there. The trip was a reminder of what I’d been missing and especially this exceptional early morning when mist in a marshy area, created from heavy overnight rain, attracted both a small herd of elephant and some of the most exceptional light as the rising sun hit the damp airborne moisture.
I returned to the Falklands as the New Year began for a second trip in the space of a few weeks and it is always special to return to the same colonies who were collectively on eggs or nursing small chicks but are now engrossed in the hard work of parenting to teenage versions and all their demands. It seemed to me that these Magellanic Penguin parents were sharing their stories of the day as bedtime approached once again for junior!
Before Christmas I was finally able to return to the Falklands after a two year absence as a result of the pandemic. Not only was it great to see some good friends again it was equally good to be back photographing in some of my favourite places too. When working in places I know well and have documented over a long period of time it’s nice to be able to take my time even more than usual and look for little scenes that I might otherwise miss, and one morning on Steeple Jason this lone Rockhopper standing proud above the colony of roosting Black-browed albatross was one such moment. It looked to me as if he was almost walking across them in his own form of crowd surfing! I’m heading back in the New Year and hoping for some similarly different scenes.
Sometimes, as exciting as the long lens opportunities are (and those lovely reflections most certainly were), it is important to stop, pull back and stick a shorter lens on. Only then do you come away with the images that allow you to truly appreciate and relive the sense of being somewhere special. This is Rhino Vlei in the Savuti region of Botswana, one morning last month on a 2 week trip that I was guiding there this August. It was a mobile bush-camping fortnight which ensures you are well and truly close to nature throughout and so an image like this that captures as big a picture as possible will always evoke the full array of memories of the place. It’s sometimes good to reflect on what you’re taking in more ways than the obvious!
Earlier this year, in what was my first long haul travel coming-out of the pandemic restrictions, I visited Alaska in what was the tail end of winter. I’ve been there many times before but not at this time of year and the season meant that my focus was very different and sea otters were very much to the fore. Working from a boat with a dropdown ramp allowed a wonderful water level view and to slowly drift along whilst these incredibly cute mammals dived over a mussel bed and returned to the surface to break them open and feed on them, and all in one of the most stunning and peaceful inlets I’ve visited anywhere was really special and a great step back into something akin to normality once again.
As a wildlife photographer I’ve always liked to think I know when special moments are unfolding in front of me, and if the opening few months of this year have reminded me of anything, it is to recognise and embrace them at the same time. One such moment happened on the last afternoon of my latest of many trips to Namibia which I was finally able to get away on this May. A late afternoon sandstorm blew through for a mere 20 minutes or so and just as a small group of iconic Gemsbok emerged from the shade of the nearby dry river valley to begin their evening grazing whilst the sun headed towards the horizon. It was a genuinely magical moment combining so many elements that have never aligned this way inspire of many trips here. If it was meant to remind me of the fleeting and special nature of things it certainly did so.
The first couple of months of 2022 proved to be a challenge for all of us as the greatest wave of the pandemic swept across the UK. As well as directly affecting us this time, a family bereavement close on it’s heels meant it was far from the best start to the year. It meant some changes of plans with a return to Kenya having to be put on hold, but a week guiding in Scotland offered a very necessary opportunity to get some photography time in. It never ceases to amaze me just what restorative powers spending time in nature seems to have, and a snowy week was capped by a fabulous couple of mornings with my good friend Neil McIntyre’s well known red squirrels. I’ve been heading up here for almost 20 years now and these were the very best wintery conditions I have ever had to work with these beautiful little mammals in in all of this time. The motto “out of adversity does opportunity emerge” never seemed truer.
This autumn has seen me back out on the coasts of eastern England once again and simply enjoying some of the wildlife we have on our domestic doorsteps. The UK is home to around 40% of the entire world population of grey seals and by lying quietly as low tide turned and started to rise, bringing this particular colony slowly closer, I was able to enjoy watching this pair of juveniles scrapping away in the waves in a manner that belies their awkwardness on land. I particularly love the look on the face of the seal on the left as he scraps with his adversary and copes with the oncoming wave! I’ve been fortunate to photograph many species of pinnipeds around the world over the years but evenings such as this are as good as they get anywhere.
I’ve actually got two images to highlight here this month as although I haven’t been a participator in the world of photography competitions for a decade or so now (this has been down to a combination of shortage of time and other focuses/priorities on my part) the pandemic and lockdown changed that late last year and so I entered the Bird Photographer of the Year competition for the very first time as it happens. I was pleasantly surprised to achieve two Highly Commended awards – there were over 22,000 entrants this year apparently too! Both were taken in my beloved Falklands with the first in the Portraits category called a Nod to the Setting Sun, one of a a number of highlights of a truly magical evening at a Rockhopper colony and the latter, A King’s Necklace, a reminder of just how beautiful the light can be late at the very end of the day at a King Penguin rookery.
With my new book Wild Islands: the Nature of the Falklands now published and available for sale it was great to have a couple of images from it achieve this recognition.
Although the frustrations involved in international travel remain pretty much in place, this spring and summer has at least seen more opportunity to plan with certainty as far as UK focussed work is concerned. I’ve done my level best to make the most of this, and whilst calling it a voyage of re-discovery might be a step too far it’s where I cut my teeth all those years ago after all), it is always enjoyable to be out with any wildlife especially when it’s as iconic and beautiful a species as badgers. This sett is one in Dumfries & Galloway under the watchful eye of long-standing friend Alan McFadyen and it’s one of relatively few I have worked at where early opportunities prior to dusk are a regular occurrence – all the better when some late evening sunshine fills the scene of the sett too.
I have visited and photographed my local population of the diminutive and scarce Silver-studded Blue butterflies on numerous occasions each and every summer for the last 20 or so years now. The site and season is not one conducive to early morning dew settling on the heather where they roost and so images of them with tiny water droplets that have settled overnight are few and far between in my experience. We had a morning late this June when faint drizzle fell for the last hour or so of darkness and this produced the same effect photographically and was a real treat for this long-standing aficionado of the site and species. Nature always amazes me, even when I think I’ve seen it all!
This Spring, for the first time in well over a decade now, I have focussed all my photographic efforts locally. In some respects it has been a trip down memory lane and one such journey took me to a small patch of local woodland where I remembered finding a small display of wood anemones a good dozen or so years ago. I headed out out more in hope than expectation and was delighted to find not only were they there in their obscure location, but had clearly thrived as there were considerably more than I recalled. They still had a few more days of growth left in them so I returned again a week later, with the light also as I wanted it (predominantly bright, overcast with early evening tones) and enjoyed an absorbing session. It was a great reminder that left alone, in many respects nature is more reliable than anything else we bring to the party and clearly it can thrive without our input or interference too.
I have always been fascinated by the way that light works, and how even small changes in it can can have such huge impact on how an image can unfold. Often theses subtleties aren’t always apparent with the naked eye and it is how you as a photographer choose both the camera settings alongside the nuances of how different lenses capture things as well. This particular evening in Hwange National Park Zimbabwe a couple of years ago now, was just such an evening when a scene that was great to witness in terms of the elephants congregating at a water hole, was turned into something special by the way the light folded over the dry and dusty bush scene they inhabited. Prior to the pandemic I had spent over 4 months of the previous year somewhere on the African continent: I have to hope the chance to return isn’t too too far away as evenings like this are soul food as well as great for images.
Strictly speaking this isn’t a recent image but towards the end of February last year I headed out to Kenya to guide two consecutive trips in the Mara first and then the north of the country. During the course of the two trips it became increasingly clear just what the state the pandemic was starting to turn the world into. Although the trips both finished on time and there were relatively few travel issues in terms of people returning to their various countries as they did, it remains hugely sobering to reflect that 12 months has now gone by and in many respects things will never be fully the same again. I have always reflected just how fortunate I have been to do the sort of work I have done in the wildlife photography world and hold no regrets with what I have been able to experience whilst doing so too. Leopards are the most elusive of Africa’s Big Cats and so to have this image and it’s associated encounter as a last memory of the Mara for now at least, will do for me. The time will come again soon enough…
One of the upsides of an enforced winter at home has been that I have been able to respond to the weather when wintery conditions have justified more time with the camera in hand than normal. It has been a better winter in terms of opportunity in this respect too so far, with a wonderful freezing fog/hoar frost day early in the month and a couple of proper snowfall days as January comes to an end as well. When there is snow all around to act as a natural reflector that evens out the light just perfectly then it’s a joy to photograph anything, even the humble Blue Tit. That said they have always been favourite of mine to work with and considerably harder to get a good well-balanced looking image of than their relatively common nature would otherwise suggest.
An image very similar to this, taken in one of the high tide roosting pits at Snettisham RSPB reserve in West Norfolk, was one of my first significant competition successes. In spite of the area having strong family connections (my parents live nearby), the draw of overseas work had meant it was not a sight or expereince that had featured on my radar for a few years. These Spring high tide roosts of Knot here are though truly amazing to witness, let alone photograph, and so with COVID changing pretty much all of my plans for the year, revisiting and re-experiencing was one of the undoubted upsides. It was a good reminder that home has plenty to offer too.
2020 has been a challenging year for all of us and the first bit of guiding I was able to do after the full lockdown was to my local population of Silver-studded Blue Butterflies. It’s a site I know and have worked at every year for over 20 years now and so looking for something different in terms of my own images is always a challenge, but one I enjoy too. On this particular early morning there was really dramatic light pouring over the clouds which made for an unusually dynamic background to the scene – it’s certainly unlike any light I’ve experienced there in the past and it was just great to be out with my camera again too!