Merry Christmas 2013

It’s the time of year when we round up this year’s photography and make a festive special

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous 2014. Enjoy the festive season everyone, and we look forward to seeing you soon for some more enjoyable photography.

Best wishes from all of us at Natures Images!

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Winter in Churchill

Polar Bear femaleDuring November I spent some time in the small town of Churchill which is situated along the western shore of the Hudson Bay in Canada. Churchill is famous for the high concentration of Polar Bears that head to the area each autumn. The reason they head to Churchill is because it is the first place in the Hudson Bay that freezes over. The Bears have spent all summer waiting for this winter freeze so they can head out onto the ice to hunt their favourite prey, Ringed Seals. It is a location I have been aware off from when I first started out and it has took me a long time to finally visit. My main target was the Polar Bears which I have photographed before in Svalbard but Churchill is different and gives you much more scope. I had planned this trip nearly three years ago and I was so excited to be finally here. Polar Bear Male 2

I first spoke about this trip 2010 with a friend called Gary Kramer whilst I was is Varanger in northern Norway. We were both there photographing King Eider and clearly both had a passion for the far north. Gary had mentioned Churchill and my ears pricked up as it was a place I had always wanted to go to. I was all ears when he said it was possible to rent our own tundra buggy for a small group of people and also rent 4×4 vehicles in Churchill so you could extend your stay and look for other subjects. So we kept in touch and planned a trip. Fast forward three years and finally we were here. What excited me about this trip was the flexibility of having the two forms of transport which would hopefully produce many opportunities. It didn’t disappoint in that respect. Polar Bear female 1

So together with Gary and Natures Images we put a trip together and then had the task of selling the places. Travelling to the Canadian arctic is expensive and so it was going to be difficult to do a recce trip. So I would really like to thank the guys that came with me on this trip and for having faith and trusting me that the combination would work, without you guys I wouldn’t be writing this. Our first night was spent in the town of Winnipeg which we didn’t get to see after a long flight from London which arrived at night. The following morning it was an early flight to Churchill and so the trip could seriously begin. I hate long flights but have to do it; thankfully the flight from Winnipeg to Churchill is not too bad. Red Fox in the snow 4

For the first couple of days we had hired the 4×4 vehicles so we could explore the tundra around the town. On that first day we never really saw anything and didn’t take any pictures so I did question whether this was a good move. I didn’t need to worry though because the following morning we came across an extremely tame Red Fox just on the outskirts of town. He was in beautiful condition sporting his superb winter coat. We spotted him walking in a purposeful manner and then he stopped to settle down for a rest. Our group then all got out of the vehicles and slowly we edged our way towards his resting place. He seemed very relaxed in our precence but just kept one eye on us for most of the time. Red Fox in the snow 5 Red Fox in the snow 1 Red Fox in the snow 7 Red Fox in the snow 8

After an hour or so he casually got up which offered us some different perspectives. It’s always a relief to get something in the bag early in a trip and our little encounter with this beautiful Fox certainly gave us that. It also justified the hiring of the 4×4′s. That afternoon we also came across a female Polar Bear and her young cub. It wasn’t a great setting for photography and the light was detereorating but none the less it was certainly nice to see our first bear. Polar Bear female and cub 2

We had booked the Tundra Buggy trip through Frontiers North. I have used many companies over the years but I have to say these guys were really good. The organisation was spot on and the drivers of the buggies were great, very friendly and helpful. The Tundra Buggy is a very special vehicle and basically it can go over most terrains. It is a unique way of seeing the wildlife of the Arctic Tundra especially Polar Bears. Now seeing Polar Bears around the Churchill area is usually guaranteed before the Ice starts to form on the Hudson Bay. The pattern of the ice forming over the last few years has been much later and has been around early December. Not so this year as a major storm on the 10th November followed by some really cold temperatures saw the bay freeze much earlier. This was great news for the Bears because every day counts and they need all the help they can get. What it meant for us though was low numbers of bears. So that first day out on the buggy was nerve wracking for me. What am I going to do if we don’t see one? Polar Bear female and cub

Again I needn’t had worried because we came across a lovely scene with a mother and her young cub. We got to spend most of the day with her and were rewarded by the cub’s antics throughout. Usually the Tundra Buggies take up to forty people but our group of twelve had the vehicle to ourselves, so lots of room but also we could dictate how long we stayed with our subject. This was really important to us and no doubt helped in our encounter with this female. It meant long periods just waiting whilst the were sleeping but once the woke up they certainly put on a show. I loved watching him play with this willow branch. Polar Bear cub 2 Polar Bear cub 1 Polar Bear cub Polar Bear female and cub 1

So our first day on the tundra in the buggy was a great success and in total we had four days. The next couple of days were hard going and we had to cover some big distances to find bears. The hard work was worth it though as we had some great encounters with some very impressive males. Because the bay had frozen over the setting was perfect and we managed to find a couple of males patrolling this fresh ice cover. Polar Bear Male 5 Polar Bear Male 4

Some bears came really close to the buggy which was an amazing experience and for some members of our group quite emotional too. Polar Bear Male claw Polar Bear Male 1 Polar Bear Male 6

On our last day on the tundra buggy we had a difficult day with very poor weather conditions and no bear sightings. We did manage to find some Willow Grouse and then came across this beautiful Arctic Fox resting during the blizzard. This was a real highlight of the trip for me as I have always wanted to photograph Arctic Foxes in their winter coat. Arctic Fox resting

I have only photographed wild Arctic Foxes during the summer months and to do so during the winter whilst sporting their winter coats has been at the top of my list. On our days in the Tundra Buggies we saw quite a few foxes and it was clearly going to be a very good opportunity to get images of them. It had been a Lemming year around Churchill during the summer and so the local Arctic Foxes had a very successful breeding season, taking advantage of this overabundance of this little rodent. Arctic Fox portrait

Our last two days on the trip were going to be making use of the 4×4 vehicles again and so we really concentrated our efforts on photographing this beautiful mammal. The weather conditions had improved dramatically too and so cold, clear and crisp days were a huge blessing.Arctic Fox portrait 1 Arctic Fox portrait 2 Arctic Fox portrait 3Some of the light we got to work in was sublime and it is a photographers dream to get to work in this lovely pastel pink light, especially with such a beautiful subject. Arctic Fox portrait 4Arctic Fox portrait 5 Arctic Fox portrait 6Arctic Fox portrait 7 Arctic Fox portrait 8Arctic Fox portrait 13 Arctic Fox portrait 27I have done some amazing subjects over the years but this really has been one of the highlights for me. It is such a beautiful animal and to work in this beautiful arctic light is a dream. It was cold at minus -35 and that caused problems with camera equipment and of course the danger of frostbite.  Arctic Fox portrait 12 Arctic Fox portrait 24

After a few successful sessions with the Foxes we then headed out of town in search of one last sighting of Polar Bear. We got lucky and came across this large male. It was amazing to get a low angle to shoot from and these final images are certainly different from our images from the Tundra Buggy.Polar Bear Male 3 Polar Bear Male 7 Sunset and SundogSo there you go I was hoping to show a few images from this beautiful place but ended up showing more so sorry if you have got bored. It is such an amazing place and experience and one that I would love to do again. I remember speaking about Churchill to a famous photographer called Norbert Rosing and he once told me that when you get the Churchill bug you will go back that’s for sure. Well I am planning on going back and I am starting to organise a trip in November 2015. If you would like to put your name down for this experience then please email or call me for more information. I will finish off with a couple of my favourite bear shots from the trip.

Polar Bear Male 10 Polar Bear Male 9Danny

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Red Deer Rut

Red Deer Stag Roaring 2Well it’s been that time of the year again with the annual Red and Fallow Deer Rut. My local patch is Bradgate Park in Leicestershire and I have been photographing this spectacular event for 23 years now and I have to say I am not bored with it one bit, well maybe I have a slight moan at the beginning of October but I soon get over it. The Red Deer rut is what really gets me going though and it is such a thrill to photograph this beautiful animal. This year’s Rut has been testing at times what with the nature of it and the bloody awful weather. In the end though I have been pleased with some of my images.

Red Deer StagWhen I first went up in early October I knew it was going to be a tough one because there has been a bumper acorn crop this year. This happened five years ago and so the pattern of the female Red Deer was exactly the same. They love acorns and so don’t need to come out of the sanctuary to feed in the hills or meadows. This makes certain images difficult to capture and certain times of the day can be very slow. Still images can be had but you just have to work that little bit harder and walk that little bit farther. As the females were concentrated in this small part of the park there have only really been two dominant stags and they have kept the females to themselves. Other Stags have tried to muscle in but they have just not been strong or aggressive enough.

Red Deer HindAfter photographing Red Deer for that long you would have thought that I had covered most aspects but I still manage to improve images from year to year. Early in October I had some great conditions to work in one morning. A large Stag was in front of the ruins and a small band of mist was clinging to meadow. The sun was not quite up but the colours were fantastic and I managed to capture one of my favourite images. Maybe even one of my best from the park.

Red Deer Stag roaring at dawnWhen you mainly work with a large lens the temptation is to fill the frame with your subject but I think the best images always include some of the habitat. The subtle browns and overall seaper tone make this image and of course the Stag roaring was the icing on the cake. I eventually got closer to him on this morning and captured a number of images.

Red Deer Stag at dawnRed Deer Stag roaring at dawn 1That morning was by far the best and those kinds of conditions never repeated themselves. To be honest I haven’t had many conditions like this over the years anyway as it so rare. I have had some good opportunities for getting close up shots of the Stags in the bracken too this year and I am really pleased with some of these as well.

Red Deer Stag Roaring new one Red Deer Stag Roaring 4 Red Deer Stag Roaring 3 Red Deer Stag Roaring 1The weather has been pretty poor for large chunks of my time in Bradgate but on the odd occasion I have had some really beautiful light to work in to.

Red Deer Stag 1Red Deer Hind at duskThe Red Deer Rut started earlier this year but the Fallow Rut has been somewhat later and has only just kicked in over this past week. There is some cracking Bucks this year and the activity has been great in the mornings near the ruins. Fallow Deer Buck at dawn Fallow Deer Buck at dawn 1 Fallow Deer bucks parallel walking

Fallow Deer Buck bellowing

Usually the activity is pretty good up in the hills during the day but this year it has been very quiet. I have still gone up though because you can find some of the younger Stags up here trying to stay away from the big boys. I liked this couple of shots from this sequence.

Red Deer Stag thrashing in the bracken Red Deer Stag thrashing in the bracken 1So there you go just a small selection of images from this year’s rut. I have been up there for most of October and on all of the days I have had people with me as I was running workshops. I would like to thank you all for coming and you were great company during the long days in the park. Some of you got really lucky with the right conditions and for others it was a challenge but I hope you enjoyed the experience. These days fill up fast and I am hoping to run them again next year so keep an eye on the website for the dates. I will leave you with an image of this year’s top dog, he must be spent by now but he has really been impressive.

Red Deer Stag thrashing in the bracken 2Danny

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The Fall: Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

After my Alaskan adventure I then went down to Yellowstone National Park with my friend Kev Bedford to experience the fall colours but also to try and capture the dramatic annual Elk rut. I have been to Yellowstone before but my visits have always been during the winter months. It is a fantastic location for photography during the winter but I wanted to increase my portfolio of this location at other times of the year. My main target during this trip was the Elk rut. I have been photographing the Red Deer rut for many years here in the UK and I was keen to witness the American equivalent as the two species are so similar.

My time was short in Yellowstone as I only had 6 days to try and capture images of this iconic species. I based myself in the town of West Yellowstone which was perfect for exploring the Madison River. The Madison River attracts small numbers of female Elk during the Autumn as they feed in the meadows during the night and early morning. The Madison is also the perfect location for encountering the Elk because it really is a stunning location. Like most river courses in Yellowstone the river is heated by the geothermal activity and if the conditions are right at dawn the mist just hangs over the river, producing an ethereal backdrop.

These conditions were what attracted me to the Madison river basin and on our first morning we got lucky. A small herd of female Elk was feeding in a meadow and was being shadowed by a large Bull Elk. They were the wrong side of the river so it was difficult to get into a position to shoot towards the rising sun. Then a young pretender walked out of the forest and headed straight towards the herd. The sun was just rising over the horizon and bathed the whole scene in the glorious red light of dawn. It only lasted a couple of minutes but the timing was absolutely spot on and I managed to grab the images that I had in my mind. I thought then it was going to be easy but the following five days never produced the same opportunity. What a start though.

Bull Elk in the mist 7 Bull Elk in the mist 5 Bull Elk in the mist 4 Bull Elk in the mist 3After a couple of minutes the intense colour was over and so I switched to the more conventional images. The large Bull had by now noticed the young pretender and had risen to challenge. Bulls have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles. This call is one of the most evocative sounds to be heard in Yellowstone. The Bull came over to warn this young male and so gave me opportunity to capture this behaviour. He was really impressive and much bigger than the Red Deer Stags that I encounter at home.

Bull Elk in early morning light Bull Elk in a meadow Bull Elk crossing a river Bull Elk calling Bull Elk calling 2 Bull Elk calling 1After a couple of hours the females would then head into the forest and of course the male would follow. They would then return in the afternoon and so the show would start all over again. Over the next few days I followed the same pattern. I was desperate for the misty conditions again but alas it never materialised.

Once the Elk started to wander off into the forest I then headed out into Yellowstone to look for other subjects to photograph. Driving along the Madison river we encountered Osprey’s and the iconic Bald Eagles which perch in the trees looking out for a fish along the river.

Bald EagleI was really hoping to encounter Pronghorn too on this trip. The Pronghorn are mainly found in the Lamar or Hayden Valleys which meant a long drive from West Yellowstone. Pronghorn are exceptionally fast, it is often cited as the second-fastest land animal, second only to the cheetah. It can, however, sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs over a greater distance. I had photographed this species before during one of my winter trips but that encounter was brief so I was hoping to spend more time doing so on this one. These next few shots were taken in the Lamar valley. We had been driving for most of the day and never even spotted one. We started to question whether they were here when we spotted a male by the side of the road. At first he wandered off keeping a safe distance. I got low to the ground to get a better angle and this kind of intrigued him because I must have just disappeared. He just kept coming back for a closer look which was great for getting a series of intimate portraits.

Pronghorn Pronghorn 3 Pronghorn 2 Pronghorn 1My next destination was to head down to Grand Teton National Park. I am running a trip here next year which incorporates the two parks and I wanted to check out some of the locations. Grand Tetons is a landscape photographer’s haven and so we headed to some of the more classic locations to try and capture the beauty of the place. Now I have never confessed to being any good at landscapes but I tried my best and hopefully you get a feel for the place.

RainbowThis first location is Oxbow Bend and it was good to incorporate the moon into the image. I also preferred the shots before the sun actually bathed the scene. The second shot is of the Morman Barns in the south of the park, again another classic location.

Oxbow Bend Morman Row BarnTetons is famous for the Autumn colours but like everywhere else everything is slightly late this year, so we were just a tad early for capturing the glorious colours. I was also mainly looking for Moose and like the Elk it is their rutting season. It was much harder to find Moose than Elk but during my five days here I did get one or two encounters. We came across an area which was popular with a couple of females so we staked it out for most of the time whilst here. This is probably the best way in finding the ultimate target, a large male.

Female Moose Female Moose and calf Female Moose and calf 1After the first three days are only sighting was of females so I was getting anxious of seeing a male. This animal is so impressive and I have wanted to photograph a large bull for many years. Eventually our strategy of staking a certain area paid off as we finally got the sighting we were after.

Bull Moose Bull Moose 2 Bull Moose 1It was an amazing experience seeing one of these impressive males. Although the pictures are not great it was still a nice feeling to capture them. From photographing the largest animal to one of the smallest in the park as there was opportunities for seeing other species. Chipmunks were great fun and I also managed a few images of the elusive Beavers. This animal is very easier to spot the signs but it only usually comes out at dusk.

ChipmunkBeaver Beaver 1We also had a bit of luck as someone mentioned an opportunity of seeing Grizzlies. A dead moose was close to an off road track and had attracted the attention of three young Grizzly Bears. These were siblings that had been abandoned by their mother and were still hanging around each other. It was good to see a Grizzly here as it is quite a rare sighting.

Grizzly Bear Grizzly Bear 1So after my short duration in the Grand Tetons it was then a case of heading back up to the Madison River in West Yellowstone. I was hoping for another early misty morning like the first one I encountered and on my last morning before flying out I got lucky. This time a large Bull Elk was in the distance and it nice to incorporate him in the context of his environment.

Bull Elk in the mist Bull Elk in the mist 2So there you go just a small selection of my stint in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks during the Autumn. I was a little bit early for the colours but the Elk proved to be very productive, especially along the Madison. It is not any easy place to work and is very different from the winter. There are more people around that’s for sure and at some places it was borderline silly but it is such a big place you can find your own spot. It was a trip that has been on my mind for a long time and I am looking forward to going back next year. Hopefully it will be a normal year and I get to witness the colours. I am now just gearing up for the annual Red Deer Rut at my local place and I am looking forward to spending the whole of October at home, I am not sure Liz is though. Anyway I will leave you with my favourite image of the large Bull Elk.

Bull Elk in the mist 1Danny

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Majestic Grizzlies

During the first part of September I was in Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. I was leading a trip for Natures Images to this stunning location to see if we could photograph the coastal Grizzlies that descend here each autumn. We had timed our visit to coincide with the annual Silver Salmon migration back to their spawning grounds of Lake Clark. The Grizzlies have been waiting for this migration too. Alaska is a destination that is on most photographers list and it was no different for me. I was inspired by the images Andy Rouse had taken here a few years ago and so just had to go. I have read so much about this northern US state and it was a trip that I planned nearly three years ago and so to be finally here was very exciting. My first stop was a night in Anchorage and the following day we headed to the local airport to catch our small bush plane to Lake Clark.

Flying over this vast wilderness with its countless lakes and never ending forests, you soon realise that Alaska is exactly that, a wilderness. Our flight was only short and before long we were heading to a long stretch of beach to land. Our base was the aptly named Silver Salmon Creek. After a warm welcome we were more or less heading out for an afternoon session with the Coastal Grizzlies. Our timing was good as the Salmon were late heading up the estuaries and creeks this year but the Salmon were starting to run. This delay in the run meant there weren’t too many Bears around as they had moved on to find other areas to feed.

It was not too much of a problem because one female Bear called Crimp Ear turned out to be a star for us and she gave us many opportunities to get some images. She was hunting at the beginning of a creek near to the lodge and the first few days we concentrated our efforts on her. The tides are the key as the Salmon only really run on an incoming tide and so the Bears only really show up during this critical period. It meant a lot of waiting around for the group but the lodge is a good place to wait. We had mixed weather during our stay too with strong winds and heavy constant rain but we also had our fair share of good days too.

Grizzly Bear young female on the lookoutGrizzly Bear in dawn light

Grizzly Bear drinking

I really liked the location the Crimp Ear was fishing because I could get some really nice backgrounds which was the forest along the edge of the beach. One particular session was really rewarding and some of the images are my favourite from the trip. She was hunting in her usual spot but the Salmon were not running. So she crossed the creek and headed over to where we were standing. She looked like she was heading back to the forest to rest for the day but then back tracked and headed straight towards our group. I got as low as I could get to grab these intimate portraits as she walked straight towards me and down the barrel of the lens. It’s an exciting moment to say the least when Grizzly walks towards you.

Grizzly Bear walking Grizzly Bear walking 3 Grizzly Bear walking 2 Grizzly Bear walking 1

She came so close I was able to grab a couple of tight head shots. She really had a beautiful look to her. It is a bit hairy being this close to a Grizzly as they can be unpredictable but she was very placid with us as she has been used to people all her life. We were in good hands though as our guides Dave and Brian were top notch and really knew their stuff.

Grizzly Bear close-up portrait 2 Grizzly Bear close-up portrait 1

In the afternoon we headed further up the beach to another favourite spot as some more bears had been spotted the previous day. We never found the bears hunting along the beach so instead Dave and Brian took us up a small creek that was running through the forest. There was a lot of Salmon in this creek so we were sure to find bears. After a short hike we found a large male that was hunting the Salmon but he had been here a while and was already full. He had settled down on the bank and so we got ourselves into position, ready for him to start hunting again.

It was a good hour and we thought that he was going to be here for long time just resting. Then a young female came out of the forest and without warning plunged straight into the creek. Amazing how such a big animal can just appear from nowhere.

Grizzly Bear fishing

Grizzly Bear fishing 1Grizzly Bear with a fish

It was great to capture the sequence of a fishing bear and I thought it couldn’t get any better but it did. As the sun got lower in the sky, it started to filter between the trees and was casting long shadows in the creek. I under-exposed these next couple of shots to try and produce something a little different, not everyone’s cup of tea but I quite liked these results.

Grizzly Bear in late evening light Grizzly Bear in late evening light 1

The sun was still bathing the coast with glorious light so as we headed back to the lodge we stopped off en-route at Crimp Ears favourite spot. At first there was no sign of her but then she appeared and we just managed to get a couple of images of her before the sun disappeared. She looked even more beautiful in this quality of light.

Grizzly Bear fishing 3 Grizzly Bear fishing 2

She missed on her first couple of fishing attempts and then stood up to get a better look.

Grizzly Bear standing

A day as good as that would take some beating and the next couple of days were ruined with heavy rain. This trip has to be undertaken by people with certain frame of mind as there is the potential for a lot of down time. Our group coped well though. We managed some more sessions even in the gloom. One of my favourite shots which are of Crimp Ear sleeping was taken during the overcast conditions. It is such a nice feeling to be this close to bear that is so relaxed.

Grizzly Bear sleeping

There was a young female hanging around the lodge too and every now and then she popped up offering some picture opportunities. She was very thin as she had not mastered the hunting technique of catching fish. Hopefully she will make the winter. Towards the end of our stay the weather started to improve and we headed back up the coast to see if the bears where fishing the creek again. A female and her two young cubs had been spotted and so we were hoping to get lucky and come across them. Our first encounter was a lone female that was hunting the along the beach. It was good light and so really gave us the best chance of capturing hunting images.

Grizzly Bear fishing 7 Grizzly Bear fishing 6 Grizzly Bear fishing 5 Grizzly Bear fishing 4

Then our own favourite female Crimp Ear turned up which gave us an indication of just how far these Bears can travel. She then started to hunt the channel in the estuary.

Then another female turned up and so we now had three bears hunting this small stretch of beach. An amazing encounter and experience and to top it off, in good light too. Wildlife photography is a lot about luck and we certainly had it on this day with every ingredient coming together.

Then the female with the two cubs came out of the forest and started to head towards the beach. At first she was nervous but then sensed there was no danger from the other females and came closer with her cubs. Amazingly she left her cubs near to where we were positioned as she felt they were safer with us. These sorts of encounters are hard to put into words but you do feel very humble and privileged. The cubs then sat down and watched their mother fish. After a short while they got bored and started to play. You can imagine the amount of images that were taken and the smiling faces.

Grizzly Bear cubs Grizzly Bear cubs play fighting Grizzly Bear cubs play fighting 1

So there you go, just a small selection from my first experience with Alaska and her famous coastal Bears. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every second. I would like to thank all the guests that joined us on this trip and I would also like to thank Pete Cairns and Terry Slater for guiding me in the right direction on the best place to go. Thanks guys you were spot on. I have booked to go back next September and that trip is already full. If you would like to share this experience with us though I have already started planning for 2015 and so if you would be interested then please drop us an email. After Alaska I then went straight down to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. My main target was to capture the annual rut of the Elk. I was also hoping to capture the fantastic autumn colours. I will post another blog in the next few days so please drop by.

Danny

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The Secret Lives of Puffins

I’ve had a busy second half of the summer, away from home in South Africa and Alaska running trips and in between times exploring Namibia to put the final details to a future trip too, but during the time I was away though my latest book was formally published.

The Secret Lives of Puffins is a collaborative work with well-known wildlife writer Dominic Couzens.  Dominic and I actually went to school together (a long time ago now mind) and spent a fair amount of time in our teenage years learning the art and craft of birdwatching together: coach trips to the likes of Dungeness and Pagham Harbour with local RSPB groups still reside in the memory banks.

He has gone on to make a successful career writing about the natural world and I now do the same but using a camera, so when we caught up a few years back it seemed apt to see if we could work together on a project of some sort – the result is this book.

For me it has been been a labour of love for the last few summers – spending time with an iconic and highly engaging bird in an array of locations, in all weathers and all hours of the day at times – and put simply I’ve loved almost every minute of it.

What we wanted to achieve was a blend between a pure coffee table book of images and a heavy, fact-laden read about just one species: using images and extended captions to illustrate subtleties of behaviour, fact and science and accessible copy to both inform and enlighten and lots of images to encourage frequent browsing.  Hopefully it delivers on these fronts and you should be able to find it in “all good bookshops” as they say or the usual online retailers too, including the publishers own website:

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-secret-lives-of-puffins-9781408186671/

The content covers a whole host of locations (many familiar, some less so), captures an array of behaviours (and explains just what’s going on) and some less familiar looking Puffins in their non-breeding phases too – hopefully there will be something for anyone who, like me, loves this ever popular bird.

I’m now in the final stages of pulling together a new talk and slideshow on the book and project which will be getting a number of airings in the forthcoming talk season, so if you are around any of these locations and want more details just drop me an e-mail:

27 September Derbyshire Ornithological Society

1 October Peterborough Camera Club

8 October Shropshire Wildlife Trust: Newport branch

11 December North Staffs RSPB Group

6 January Guildford Camera Club

10 April Gwynfa Camera Club

There should be a feature or two in various magazines to look out for too in the next month or so, and for those of you keen to add to your own Puffin portfolios several of these images were taken at the locations we visit on both our Seabird Spectacular trip in the Spring and our Puffin Bonanza trip in late June – there’s still some places on both for 2014 too!

Thanks to all involved who have helped this particular body of work reach this final stage – sharing the same publisher as the Harry Potter books certainly has a nice feel to it!

Mark

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Butterflies & orchids

It’s been an unusual spell for me this summer – a few consecutive weeks at home!  Although there was a mountain of writing to be done for a whole array of articles and books, with the unusual proper summer weather I haven’t been able to resist getting the macro lenses out and looking at the smaller aspects of summer life within the vicinity of home and trying to make the best of them photographically in these conditions.  A couple of Butterfly and Orchid workshops that I ran for Natures Images also conveniently fell in this decent spell too.

Although late this year, the local population of Silver-Studded Blue butterflies have always been a favourite port of call at this time of year and the numbers appear to my eye to be as good as any year I can recall on the heath which is great news.

I have photographed them many times but the hot and sunny conditions this year, as well as the constant attempt to try something different, have made me experiment a wee bit more than usual looking to emphasise their tiny nature on a Rose-bay Willow Herb plant or playing around with backlighting on both their host plant in the form of bell heather or in some early morning grasses where they were roosting.

I quite like the smaller representation of them here and it worked as an approach with an obliging Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary I also had the chance to spend some time with.

This particular site is one I know that is particularly good for butterflies of a different nature – the Lesser Butterfly Orchid and although the numbers of flowers have been really good too this year there’s always a certain sameness to the classic orchid shots like the first of these, so the chance to pick out the individual flower of one on the edge of the wood allowing for a high contrast black background held greater appeal.

It was an approach that worked well with the abundant Common Spotted Orchids too.

But they look at their very best in a classic meadow setting which offered a particularly strong showing too this year surrounded as they were by the late profusion of buttercups too:  I used a long 500mm lens (+ 1.4x converter) and 24mm wide-angle in these two images to try to present the site in different ways.

But it hasn’t just been orchids that have been in abundance this summer and although the hot spell has almost seen off the Poppies now I have enjoyed a couple of evenings trying to look at them with a different eye too. Being close to home and during a spell when the photography itself is secondary to the admin allows for a little more relaxed an approach and it’s certainly something I’ll be taking with me into the next wave of trips and assignments that I’m now heading off for!

Mark

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Enigmatic, comical & colourful

Everyone has a favourite bird and for so many of us puffins tick all the right boxes. Enigmatic, comical, colourful, aggressive at times yet showing the tenderest of touches at others puffins are one of the real characters of our sea bird islands.

Fair Isle is a jewel of an island lying between Shetland and Orkney. Simply getting there can be a challenge yet the flight in the small plane can be mesmerising with stunning views. We based ourselves at the Fair Isle observatory for this week of intensive photography into the magical world of the puffin. We worked at a number of different colonies, all decked out with gorgeous sea pink (thrift).

Working in this way allowed us to get really intimate with the complex lives of puffins. Often when working in a new location there is an urgency to get shots in the bag early but because we all knew we were here for a good week we could slow down, concentrate on our image creation and work to produce a solid portfolio.

I personally loved the week, the magic of islands never wears off and when I spend it with a great group of like minded photographers, with laughs, shared experiences, meals and hardships (well I missed the only real one in the boat!) I can’t think of any better way to spend a week. Thanks to you all for making it a great and enjoyable trip.

Paul

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Midnight Bears

When I was putting the finishing touches to our trip programme for 2013 it dawned on me that this was going to be what my now now no longer teenage son might call a ‘bear good year’.  European Brown Bears in Finland, Grizzlies in Alaska and Polar Bears in Canada all in the same calendar year is certainly something that really whetted my photographic appetite.

To kick this off, I spent last week running the second of our trips this year to the taiga forests of northern Finland, close to the Russian border with our good friends at Martinselkonen who we have visited and worked with for a number of years now, and if the rest of my bear sortees live up to this first week then I’ve got even more to look forward to than I could have hoped for.

It is actually three years since I personally last visited the bears here in Finland, and I’ve seen so many great images come back from our trips in that time I was itching to get photographing here again.  I was particularly keen to see what had changed if anything in this time too.  One of my favourite hide settings in the past was by a small pool area: this has been moved to a new pool location with beautiful pristine trees and swamp surroundings, but although the evening light on my first night there was stunning there was just enough of a breeze to ripple the water: the setting was still picturesque enough to work with mind.

Almost immediately the sun had set and the silence of the empty taiga had really set in (aside from the odd call of Greenshank or far off nesting Cranes), the breeze finally gave up it’s effort and as other bears visited during the so-called hours of darkness, the reflections were almost crystal clear.

I was really grateful for my new Canon 1Dx at this point – I was having to shoot at ISO 3200 which I have seldom been happy to do before, but the resulting images were as clean and detailed as I could have wished for, so when an ever-watchful mother and cubs passed through around 3am it meant I was still able to photograph the undoubted highlight of the night. It was also a great start to Cathy’s birthday!

One of the nicer settings here is what is dubbed the swamp.  In reality this is an area of classic wetland bog – peat based, covered in moss and interspersed with grasses, bog cotton and the occasional silver birch or conifer in an are surrounded by forest.  It’s an area of open ground through which several bears will routinely pass during the course of the night.

It’s also a habitat in which the bears look very much at home, especially in patches of fresh spring growth, but its downside is a surfeit of mosquitos which bothered the bears as much as me it seemed – my first night here was so hot that I was down to t-shirt and shorts in the hide which was not a pretty sight at all but clearly the many bites I had by the morning may mean I underestimate my appeal, even if it is only to midges!  I also didn’t have the same claws on offer to swipe them away as this young female did.

Given there presence at the pond the previous night I was really hoping that some of the cubs that were around in good numbers this year might put in an appearance and sure enough a cautious Mum eventually appeared out of the forest, naughty youngsters in tow and already up to their high jinks in the background.

Mind you as they walked passed the hide the inscrutable blend of cuteness and cheek was immediately apparent.


Whenever they were around they simply couldn’t help but have fun – whether it was a poking out of the tongue (albeit using Mum as a safety shield) or just larking around with each other and splashing up as much water as they could muster in their play.

There were some yearling cubs around as well at times and they too were just as naughty as the little ones so clearly it takes a while to grow up for Bears too!

When however a large male appeared on the scene mother and cubs, after an initial and speedy assessment of things, would generally beast a hasty retreat into the forest so the cubs could take to the safety of the trees there.  When this happened during the so-called night it offered the chance to play around with slower shutter speeds which is a style I have always liked: the streaks of the cotton grass really add to the sense of their pace and urgency.

On my final night I was able to get an even closer appreciation of the size, strength and power of the male bears and just why the small cubs have to flee like this.  I was offered the chance to use what is dubbed the suicide hide as opposed to the more conventional forest hides we normally used (and as the guests sensibly did).  In essence there is a ground level opening to photograph using short or wide-angle lenses and requires you to lie in the hide effectively looking up at extremely close bears.  It was too good an opportunity to miss and as I lay there watching this male at home in his habitat just some 5 metres or so away then any concerns over mosquitos were completely dispelled: the words are often over-used but it was a truly amazing experience which I can only hope the images can do justice to.

This youngster just settled down in front of me: like all the bears he was well aware of my presence without any doubt – they could all see the lens move, hear the shutter going and probably my heart beating too.

The setting was pristine and the evening light at times perfect and the shorter lens really allowed the setting to dominate whilst allowing the bear to remain a significant part of the image too.

Of course the night here just had to be summed up by the cubs though – as they frolicked around the chance to capture some ground level portraits using a 70-200mm lens allowed for an intimacy and feel that I have not been able to achieve in the past.

My additional thanks to Cathy, Harry, Dave, Raymond (especially as he had to share a room with me), Nigel, Kevin and Martin for your company which was, as ever an equally enjoyable element to a great week, and so it’s round one…tick and if rounds two and three to come can match it really will have been that bear good year!

Mark

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The country that has it all

I’ve seen my fair share of places in Europe and beyond, but one place seems to have it all…Iceland.

I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer…far from it. In fact, before my recent trip to Iceland, I’ve never ever taken a serious landscape image in my life. I have never been inspired to take one but Iceland has changed this. On our way along the coast heading east, we stopped at a stunning glacial lagoon. The ice was floating slowly towards the sea and, for the first time, I was triggered to get out my wide angle lens and my filter set, which I have had for many years but never made the effort to give them a go. It was both the stunning site and the wish to show people at home what I’d just witnessed. The result was not bad at all and I was looking forward to do some more landscape photography. Although not as exciting as shooting wildlife, it has been a great experience to work with these stunning landscapes and dramatic skies.

Along the glacial lagoon a lot of snow buntings were flying around and I managed to get a shot of a male and his reflection.

Divers have been on my wish list for a long time. I’ve seen them many times in the past but never had the chance to spend some time with them. I knew Iceland would be the place to finally spend some proper time with these birds and I have not been disappointed.

Both the great-northern diver and the red-throated diver were spotted many times and after a short but thorough recce, we knew where to photograph them. The best way is to take your time and return to these sites a couple of times to get the best out of it. These birds have been the highlight of this trip and I’m very pleased with the images I’ve taken: what stunning birds and so graceful.

A bird that I only have seen as a winter visitor is the redwing. They were seen all over the island and are as common on Iceland as the blackbird in Holland. Nonetheless…it’s a beautiful bird in its summer plumage and a joy to photograph, especially on a beautiful perch or lichen covered rock.

The red-necked phalarope was another personal target of mine. I have seen them in Norway but like the divers I’ve never had the chance to do them properly. Spending time with these tiny and brave birds was a delight. Their behaviour made me smile many times and it’s amazing that they are spending such a long time at sea before heading inland to breed. It turned out not so easy to get some decent shots as they are very energetic and are always chasing insect in an unpredictable pattern.

Harlequin Ducks prefer turbulent water, both in their breeding habitat, which is along fast-moving mountain streams, and in their wintering habitat, which is along rocky coastlines. The mountain streams are usually at low to subalpine elevations within a closed forest canopy, and have midstream gravel bars or rocks for roosting.

The slavonian grebe was another stunning bird to photograph. They also breed on Iceland and their call is one to remember. As like the red-necked phalaropes, the slavonian grebe is not shy at all and relatively easy to photograph.

When visiting a large waterfall we came across this ptarmigan sitting on a rock with a fast streaming river in the background. Using a long shutter speed I was able to blur the river in the background.

The puffin also breeds in great numbers on Iceland. This puffin was resting on a rock and yawned every now and then. With his beak wide open it gave this sweet clownish looking bird some more attitude. It’s always fun to spend time with them.

Iceland turned out an absolute personal highlight. The stunning landscapes, many bird species and fast changing weather makes this country a true paradise for serious nature photographers and bird watchers. Natures Images is well aware of this and knows how to make the most of it in a relative short time. In twelve days we have taken our guests to the best places in the best possible light. We have been returning to hotspots several times to make the most out of it. We have been soaking wet lying down in the water. We have been well fed in the finest restaurants. We have laughed until it hurts. We have driven over two thousand kilometres to take the group to the most productive places and listened to beautiful and rubbish music on the radio. The next trip to Iceland will be in 2015 and I can highly recommend this trip if you’re crazy about birds and don’t care about getting enough sleep.

Let me thank everyone on this trip for their great company and effort. A special thanks to Mark Sisson and Danny Green for…well you know why. You both turned out real friends and you have my eternal gratitude.

Sjáumst aftur!!!

Edwin

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