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Cranes of the Hula valley

Posted on May 13, 2016
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It has been a while since my last blog but this time I don’t have an excuse of being lazy with my processing, it’s just that I have been away travelling to various places since the middle of January. I have had the chance to look and process some of my images from these trips so here are some images of my first trip of the year which was to the Hula Valley in northern Israel. I went to this wonderful place at the same time last year and my first impression of this place for photography was impressive. So I was really looking forward in going back as I like to work in locations more than just a single visit. That way you get a different feel to the place because no two years are the same. It proved it this year because the conditions were much better for photography, with clear cold nights and cracking light for the early mornings.Cranes at dawn 4

Now the reason the Hula Valley is so special during the winter is because it attracts a wintering population of nearly 40,000 Common Cranes. The Cranes arrive each autumn from their northern breeding grounds and this sheer number of birds is one of nature’s great spectacles. The Agmon Crane centre harbours the majority of the Cranes because during the winter they feed the birds. By feeding the Cranes it stops them going to other areas to feed on farmer’s crops and so keeps tension between the birds and farmer’s at a minimum. The Agmon Crane centre has an ingenious way of getting closer to the cranes. Tractors go into the fields to feed the Cranes at certain times of the day and so now they are used to these vehicles. Another tractor then pulls a large trailer into the field with people on and so it acts as a large moving hide.Cranes at dawn 2

We can then position the tractor to whatever position we feel is the best for the light and can then move accordingly as the light changes. On last year’s trip the mornings were cloudy and so the light was uninspiring but this year we were blessed with some great conditions. The nights were cold and so mist formed along the valley. The Cranes roost on a large shallow lake for the night and so we got ourselves into position whilst it was still dark. It is a fantastic experience watching the Cranes leaving the lake to return to their feeding areas. At first it is too dark for capturing images but as the sun started to rise the light was great. I still tried though and sometimes by experimenting you can produce something different. Long exposures and black and white is not everybody’s cup of tea but I quite like the end results.Cranes at dawn 9 Cranes at dawn 7

You can’t beat a bit of light though and once the sun started to rise the colours were intense, which acted as the perfect backdrop for capturing the cranes leaving the roost.Cranes at dawn 10

 

 

 

Cranes at dawn 11

Common Cranes leaving roost at dawn 1 Cranes at dawn 3After an hour or so most of the Cranes had left the lake and so we then headed off into the fields to photograph the large flocks of Cranes feeding. I mainly used the 70-200mm Lens for the Cranes leaving the lake to incorporate the environment. Once the birds were feeding though, I liked using the 500mm lens so I could get a much tighter crop to pick out the behaviour of the birds.Common Crane calling 1 Common Crane calling Common Crane displaying

Common Cranes 1

I also used long exposures to show a sense of movement within the flock, again it doesn’t always work but I like to experiment in situations like this.Cranes at dawn 8 Common Cranes in flight

The best way of working with large groups of birds like this is to use a variety of lenses and techniques as that way you come back with a complete portfolio. Not everything will work out but at least it is fun trying. I never forget the more conventional images though.Common Crane in flight Cranes feeding Cranes at dawn 5

This is a great trip and the Hula Valley is a fantastic location for photography. I would like to thank the guys at the Agmon Crane centre, you always make us feel really welcome and will bend over backwards to help in our demands. I would also like to thank Yossi Eshbol and Chris Gomersall for helping put the trip together. Not forgetting the guests that came on the trip with me that we organised through Natures Images. We are already planning on our next visit so get in touch if you fancy some of the best crane photography around. I will just finish off with a few more from our early morning sessions.Cranes at dawn Cranes at dawn 6 Cranes at dawn 1

Danny

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Finnish Predators

Posted on December 23, 2015
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During late September I was running a trip for Natures Images to Finland to concentrate on the iconic predators that roam the wild forests along the eastern border of Russia. This is the third time we have run this trip but in the past we have been in early July. This year I wanted to try and photograph these beautiful mammals in the autumn colours. This is a high risk trip and you can spend many hours sat in a small hide waiting for something to show up. During July you have light for most of the night so stand a much higher chance in getting images but during late September it is dark by 7.30pm and it is a long cold night waiting for morning. I have spent many hours sat in these hides and I have failed more times than I have had success but once you have got the bug you just can’t give up. We were based at two locations for this trip with our targets Wolf, Bear and Wolverine.Wolf at dusk

 

 

 

 

Wolverine 3Our first stop was at a remote location near Kuhmo which is owned by a good friend of mine Lassi Rautinen. Lassi has been feeding Bears and Wolves for many years now and his hides offer the best chance in seeing these elusive predators in the wild. Wolves were the main draw for our group and during our week in the hides we had some fantastic encounters on most nights. It is so exciting seeing a wolf edging its way out of the forest and into the clearing. The wolves in particular were very active during the early part of the evening.

Wolves at duskWolf at dusk 2
Wolf at dusk 1We had four individuals visiting the feeding site and it is an amazing sight watching them make their way across the clearing. The Alpha Male would always lead the way followed by another large male. The Alpha female was always the last to appear as she seemed more nervous. At one point we had four wolves in front of our hides and you have stop and pinch yourself, it is just hard to believe that you are witnessing one of Europe’s most elusive mammals.Wolf Alpha male at dusk
Wolf at dusk 3Most of the nights the wolves would turn up once the sun had set behind the forest so the light levels were low, meaning high ISO’s. Modern digital cameras produce amazing results at high ISO’s. In the days of film or even early digital models it would have been impossible to get these shots. On one evening though the light was exquisite and the wolves decided to come out a bit earlier. The light was amazing as it filtered across the swamp and as the wolves stepped out into these pockets of light you can kind of pray for light like this and with such a beautiful subject.Wolf at dusk 4 Wolf Alpha female at dusk Wolf at dusk 5
Wolf at dusk 7Wolf Alpha male runningDuring the middle part of the trip we then headed further south to another location to try and photograph another elusive mammal, the Wolverine. This site is fantastic for this species and that’s why we make the effort to go. Again I have spent many hours in the hides waiting for this powerful predator and it is such a thrill to see one in the wild. During previous visits I would have to wait in the hide all night for maybe a ten minute glimpse, but not on this trip.Wolverine 1
Wolverine 4Within the hour we had our first wolverine turn up and throughout the afternoon we had eight different individuals turn up. It was constant with so much activity; this site has just worked so well this year. We had a female with her two cubs turn up and they gave us the best opportunity. Like I said it is amazing to see these wonderful predators in the wild. This was a new location for me as I have only been to Ero’s original site; this is so much better with better light and setting.Wolverine 2Wolverine 9 Wolverine 10Wolverine 11Wolverine standingWolverine Wolverine 5So after such a successful session with the Wolverines we headed back to Lassi’s for another go at the Wolves and Bears. You are probably wondering where my Bear shots are but I didn’t manage to get any images of them as they would only come out at night. It was a bit disappointing as I really wanted to capture the Bears in the autumn colours but hey that’s why Finland keeps drawing me back. I will finish off with a few more Wolf shots though and to be honest I feel we had such a good luck with the wolves because they can be very difficult at times. Thanks to the guys that came on this trip with me as you knew it was a risk but I think it paid off.Wolves Alpha female and maleWolves at dusk 1 Wolf Alpha female at dawn Wolf Alpha male running 1Wolf Alpha male at dusk 1

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Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears

Posted on November 6, 2015
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Grizzly at Dawn

During early September I was in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. I was co-running a trip with Mark Sisson and this was my third time visiting this wonderful part of the Alaskan coast. Our target for this trip was to try and capture the dramatic images of the Brown Bears that congregate along the coast each autumn. The Bears are waiting for the Silver Salmon to run as they migrate back to their spawning grounds. This natural event is so important to this population of Bears as they need to build up their fat reserves ready for the onslaught of winter. I fell in love with this place three years ago and it is without a doubt one of the best experiences that you can have in the natural world.Grizzlies at dawn
This year was an exceptional year for the Silver Salmon and the guys at the lodge where we stay said it was the best ever for terms of numbers. Surprisingly their where less bears around than what we have encountered in previous years but it didn’t matter because at least there where here. As we did a U-turn to land on the beach in our small bush plane we flew over two bears fishing in the estuary, a welcome sight. Last year on our trip we had many opportunities to photograph a female called crimp ear and her two young cubs. She was back for another year and her two cubs had survived the winter and were looking in great shape.Grizzly resting Grizzly Cubs

 

 

 

 

 

Grizzly with a fishThese cubs were crimp ears first and she has done so well to get both of them to this age. It was such a good Salmon run though and the cubs were looking pretty well fed. She is an expert at catching Salmon and it is an amazing sight to witness as she charges through the water after her prize.Grizzly fishing 2 Grizzly chasing a fish Grizzly fishing 3
Grizzly fishing 5In previous years it was much easier to catch these kinds of images because it was much harder for her to catch the Salmon, not this year though as the fishing was so good. It did give us lots of chances to photograph her with her catch.Grizzly with a fish 1 Grizzly with a fish 3
Grizzly with a fish 2 Grizzly with a fish 4During this trip the tides dictate to when we are likely to find the bears and so by high tide the Bears find it hard to catch the fish in the deeper water and so find somewhere peaceful to rest. This year was different again because the bears then headed up the creeks to continue their fishing which was great for us because the autumn colours seemed really intense this year.Grizzly in autumn colours Grizzly in autumn colours 1
Grizzly Cub in autumn colours Grizzly Cub in autumn colours 1I love the excitement in trying to capture the bears hunting the Salmon but I really liked the opportunities to photograph Crimp Ears cubs as they were so photogenic. The portraits of her two cubs are some of my favourite bear shots.Grizzly Cubs 3 Grizzly Cubs 1
Grizzly Cubs resting Grizzly Cubs resting 1Grizzly resting 1Crimp ear had her favourite spots for fishing but throughout our stay she was being challenged by another female bear for the right to fish it. Once this female turned up she would usually back off taking her cubs with her but on one occasion she had just had enough of this intrusion. I have got to say this was the most exciting 6 minutes of my photography career as crimp ear finally stood up to this other female. It was an amazing spectacle to witness and the old adrenalin was pumping as the fight unfolded just a few feet away.Grizzlies Fighting 3 Grizzlies Fighting 1
Grizzlies Fighting 4Grizzlies Fighting 5Grizzlies Fighting 6 Grizzlies Fighting 2Crimp was so much smaller than this female but she is a real scrapper and eventually got the better of her. She managed to get around to her back and gave a nasty bite to back of her rival. The sheer power of grizzly unfolded before our eyes and our respect for them went through the roof.Grizzlies Fighting 2

So there you go another selection of bear images to add to my portfolio and I am already looking forward to next year. I am going back in late June next year to try and capture some different type of images but whilst we were there David offered us a chance to go back in early September to run another trip. We have already sold a few places but if you would like the opportunity to join us on this amazing adventure, you can book through the Natures Images website. I would like to thank all our guests that shared this amazing experience with us and I would also like to thank David and Joanne for making it such a warm experience. Thanks also to Dave, Brian and Rick our guides, your knowledge gets us into the right places. I will just finish off with a few more of my favourite from this wonderful place.

DannyGrizzly portrait Grizzly fishing 1 Grizzly fishing Grizzly Cubs 4

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The land of Fire and Ice

Posted on October 9, 2015
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Common Scoter in flight 3

During early June I was in Iceland. This was my forth trip to this wonderful location and every time I go Iceland throws up a few surprises. I was co-leading a trip with Edwin Kats for Natures Images but I went out with Ed and a good friend Steve for a week just to recce before the trip started. Now Iceland is not renowned for its warm conditions and I have experienced all kinds of weather here, just in one day. When the light is good though boy is it good. Our first stop was at Lake Myvatn which is in the north east of the country. I have travelled to many parts of Europe in search of images and I would put Myvatn in a top ten destination for wildlife photography. There are so many species here and in good numbers too. I had a few target species myself that had eluded me on previous trips and one of them was the Common Scoter.Common Scoter in flight
I have a thing for ducks and my first trip to Iceland in 2010 was to just to concentrate on a couple species. Common Scoter was one of them but it eluded me and has done ever since. So you my might question my logic spending a week working with a little black duck but I enjoyed every minute of it. They are very elusive and shy by nature and so getting close to them can be tricky. We found a small pool with a resident male and it was perfect for putting a small canvas hide along the edge. Then the wait would commence. The resident male was not stupid and would spend most of his time on the far side of the pool. Every now and then though a female would fly in accompanied by four or five other males and so all hell would break loose. The resident male would then start chasing the other males away and try to keep the female to himself. The action would only last few minutes but it was intense and it gave me so many opportunities to catch some great action. It was a long wait but worth it.Common Scoter in flight 2 Common Scoter in flight 1 Common Scoter 1 Common Scoter
It was great fun working with the Scoters and I loved every minute of it. Myvatn is such a good place to spend time around and the beauty of working from a small hide you never though what is likely to drop in. Long-tailed Ducks are another elusive species but a pair would show up on the pool most evenings.Long Tailed Duck
There was always a Red-necked Phalarope or ten that would drop by too. The other iconic birds of Lake Myvatn are the Slavonian Grebes. Most of the small pools around the lake support a breeding pair. One of the most beautiful birds of the area though is the Red Throated Diver.Red Necked Phalarope

 

 

Slavonian Grebe blog Red Throated DiverThe tundra surrounding the lakes is also excellent for many other species during the short summer breeding season. The long day light hours and abundance of food attracts many species. Black-tailed Godwits travel back to Iceland from their wintering grounds in the UK each spring and these beautiful birds evocative call can be heard on the moors around Myvatn. These moors are alive with other wading birds too like Whimbrel, Dunlin and Golden Plover.Black Tailed Godwit at dusk Black-tailed Godwit resting
The Tundra also supports a healthy population of Ptarmigan which are resident and good numbers of Geese breed in the more secluded parts.Ptarmigan Male Greylag Goose
Lake Myvatn is fed by underground springs and in turn deeds into the Laxa River. This river is an excellent spot for one of the most beautiful birds of Iceland, the Harlequin Duck. These stunning birds can be found feeding amongst the rapids of the river and it is a joy to witness them battle the strength of the river. I have photographed this species many times so I decided to try a different approach on this trip. I used a slow shutter speed to try and show the movement of the rushing water. I had to take a lot of images because I wanted the head of the birds to remain sharp. A lot of waste for only a couple of images, thank god I don’t still use film.Harliquin Duck and rapids 1 Harliquin Duck and rapids
It is much easier when they are resting on the bank to try this sort of image. The image below was a new technique for me. This male was resting near to this small waterfall but I couldn’t get both in the same frame, so I took two images and stitched them together. It doesn’t look that effective at this size but looks great big on the screen.Harliquin Duck and Waterfall
After my time at Lake Myvatn I then headed south to the Jökulsárlón Glacier (Ice Lagoon). This is another place that I would put into my top ten places to visit for wildlife photography. This location is excellent for photographing birds feeding amongst the icebergs and growlers. I have spent a good amount of time here in the past but I have never really had the great light that I know you can get here. On a couple of occasions I finely got lucky. There were some good numbers of birds around too especially the Common Eiders, a species that drew me here in the first place.Common Eiders Common Eider Male 1 Common Eider Male

Common Eider Male 2The Lagoon was also excellent this year for Arctic Terns which were breeding in big numbers on the tundra by the side of the lagoon. The Terns look great against the setting sun especially when that subtle light hits their delicate wings.Arctic Terns at dusk Arctic Terns at dusk 1 Arctic Terns
Arctic Tern on IceWhen I work with my 500mm lens the nature of the lens usually means you go in tight but I think in a location like Jökulsárlón it works much better to incorporate the environment. I also used a variety of lenses for my visit this year. What was great about this year was the various species that could be found in the lagoon. One morning we had a small group of Razorbills and Guillemots.Razorbill amongst Ice 4 Guillemots resting on Ice Razorbill amongst Ice 2
These Razorbills and Guillemots looked great resting on the blue ice and so by placing them small in the frame really showed the beauty of the setting. I might have gone a bit too small at times though.Razorbill amongst Ice Razorbill amongst Ice 3
Another great species that we saw in the lagoon was barnacle geese. This species mainly breeds in Greenland and Svalbard but a small population has started to breed in Iceland. I first saw chicks on my first visit and was surprised to find them breeding here. It was only a short visit but enough to grab a few shots.Barnacle Geese amongst Ice 1 Barnacle Goose amongst Ice 1
Barnacle Geese amongst Ice Barnacle Goose amongst IceIceland Gull was another new species for me in the lagoon and at first we were not what sure what we looking at. Although it is called Iceland Gull it doesn’t breed in Iceland and can only be found in the winter. It breeds in Canada and Greenland but there were quite a few birds hanging around the lagoon. Again they made great subjects especially against the deep blue ice of some of the icebergs.Iceland Gull and Blue Ice Iceland Gull and Blue Ice 2
So there you go another trip to Iceland and a whole set of new images to add to the bag. Iceland really does through up some surprises and goes to show you never though what you can get from a location. That’s why I always like going back. We are not running a trip there next summer but we are planning on going back in 2017. If Iceland is on your agenda then please get in touch because we do know the place well now. I will finish off with one of my favourite shots from the trip, another Iceland Gull.

Danny

Iceland Gull and Blue Ice 1

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A Finnish Winter

Posted on September 4, 2015
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1 Black Grouse in a snowstorm

At the end of March I was in Finland leading the Finnish Winter trip for Natures Images. It seems a long time ago that I was in Finland but I have only just got round to processing my images from this trip. I have been to Finland many times now and this wonderful country and its wildlife keeps drawing me back time and time again. This year I planned my trip to coincide with the late winter as I wanted to target the elusive forest grouse, Black Grouse and Capercaillie. I wanted to get images of these beautiful birds in winter conditions but this can be tricky as the timing has to be critical.

2 Black Grouse displaying 2

This winter was a hard one in Finland and by the end of March showed no sign of relenting. My first visits to a black grouse lek in the Kuusamo region proved unsuccessful as it was still too cold for the males to visit their lek. With temperatures hovering at around minus -25 it was no surprise and after a four hour stint in a hide in those conditions I wished I had stayed in bed too. It was a real shame because the conditions were perfect and where what I was really hoping for.

3 Black Grouse fighting 1 4 Black Grouse fighting

Eventually the temperatures started to rise and the male Black Grouse started to drop down to the lek to perform their elaborate courtship ritual. I always feel that these early days during the season give you more opportunities for capturing fighting males as they have not worked out the dominance at the lek. I have covered most things in Northern Europe now but spending those early mornings at a black grouse lekking arena is certainly one of the most rewarding experiences.

5 Black Grouse fighting 5 6 Black Grouse displaying 3 7 Black Grouse displaying 4

After a few days of warm conditions the temperature started to drop again. Most of these images were taken on one particular morning where the temperature had plummeted to -20. As I was driving to the site I could really see the potential but you have this nagging doubt that the birds won’t turn up. After an hour and a half there were no birds in front of the hide but I could see them in the tops of the trees. Then one bird flew down and the rest followed. The conditions were amazing with a thin veil of mist clinging to ground and with clear skies it wasn’t going to be long before the sun rose which would produce some lovely backlighting for the scene in front of me. You need luck on your side for wildlife photography and boy did I get it on this morning.

8 Black Grouse displaying 9 Black Grouse fighting 2 10 Black Grouse fighting 3 11 Black Grouse fighting 4 12 Black Grouse displaying 1

My other main target for this trip was Capercaillie, again a bird I have photographed many times before but just feel I will never finish. These pictures were of a rouge male which is not as good an experience as photographing them at a traditional lek but it does allow you to work in a different way. Rouge Capercaillies are quite rare but every now and then a bird turns up. This one had set up his territory on the slopes of a ski centre and had been attacking the skiers.

Capercaillie displaying male (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

Capercaillie displaying male (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

Again it was cold conditions and so I positioned myself to shoot into the early morning light which would then pick up the capers breath as he called. The early morning light as it filtered through the trees was great at highlighting his beautiful fanned tail too. I went to see him a few times throughout my trip which enabled me to get a range of images in different conditions. I must stress though that I only spent a maximum of 20 minutes with him once we had found him which was more than enough time and we feel didn’t waste too much of his energy. When you are working with grouse in this way you are done by 9.00 so I then spent some time at a few other locations.

Capercaillie displaying male in the snow (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

Capercaillie displaying male in the snow (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

15 Male Capercaillie displaying 3

Capercaillie male displaying in the snow (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

Capercaillie male displaying in the snow (Tetrao urogallus), Finland, March 2015

17 Male Capercaillie displaying 4There is a very special river in Kuusamo that stays ice free during the winter and it attracts a huge amount of Dippers. Most of the rivers are completely frozen over and so that is why this small stretch attracts the numbers. I have been trying to get an image like this for a while now but it has proven difficult as I am using a very slow shutter speed to blur the movement of the water but of course dippers very rarely stand still so it has taken me a while. Whilst in Kuusamo I also went to Oulanka National Park and back to a hide which gives you a great opportunity in photographing golden eagles and other species like great spotted woodpeckers.

Dipper on an Icy River (Cinclus), Finland, March 2015

Dipper on an Icy River (Cinclus), Finland, March 2015

20 Golden Eagle 19 Great Spotted Woodpeckers

After Kuusamo I then headed a bit further south to try and photograph European Brown bears. I have been to Martinselkonen many times but it has always been during the summer’s months. We have always had a 100% success rate here when we have run trips but I wanted to try and some different images of the Bears in the snow. Easier said than done.

21 Great Tits in falling snowAfter eight nights and a total of 120 hours spent in the hide I didn’t get one sighting of a bear. The long winter had caused the Bears to come out of hibernation a little later than usual and also the deep snow was a hindrance for them to cover the distance to get to their feeding site. It is a long time to spend without taking any images but I was able to set up a feeding station during the day which was attracting a number of small birds like great tits, redpolls and bullfinches. I also had some very tame Red Squirrels coming to the feeder too.

Male Bullfinch in the snow (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Finland, April 2015

Male Bullfinch in the snow (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris), Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris), Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel running in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

Red Squirrel running in the snow (Sciurus vulgaris) , Finland, April 2015

On my last night in the Bear hide I did get an eight minute session with a young male that came through. It was so exciting seeing him it felt like my first encounter with a bear. He looked so good in his winter coat and the winter conditions really set the scene. During my time in the hide I had some wonderful conditions which would have looked amazing with a bear in the scene. Ah well that’s what takes me back to Finland time and time again. I have been running trips there now for a number of years and I am going back next winter during March and April to run a Finnish winter trip and then also do a winter bear trip. Both trips are fully booked but if you would like to put your name down for 2017 then just drop me an email. Thanks to the Antti and the guys at Finnature and to Markku and his family at Martinselkonen. See you next year. Danny.

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

Male European Brown Bear in the snow (Ursus arctos), Finland, April 2015

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The Pelicans of Lake Kerkini

Posted on April 25, 2015
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Earlier this year, I traveled to Lake Kerkini for a weekend trip with Natures Images to photograph the Dalmatian Pelican; I’d photographed here the previous year with Danny and was really keen to return again. I must admit that I have a bit of a thing about Dalmatian Pelicans, they had put a spell on me the year before and I couldn’t wait to see them again. Pelican-stareIt’s hard to believe that the Dalmatian Pelican is a threatened species, however human persecution and drainage of its habitat have decimated the population. At Lake Kerkini, a glimmer of hope is visible for this rare and beautiful bird, and thankfully a number of pelicans now breed and winter on the lake.Pelican-gathering

The winter months are in fact the best time to photograph the pelicans. At this time of year they are in their breeding plumage and their red pouches and wild head feathers provide characterful images. Some people say they look like Andy Warhol… I’ll let you make up your own mind about this one.Pelican-with-breeding-feathersThere are so many photographic opportunities at Lake Kerkini, the winter light is always changing. We had a period of soft light which created reflections on the water and up-lit the pelicans as they swam close by.Pelican

When the breeze dropped, the water was as still as a millpond and because the birds swim close to the shoreline these lovely reflections were created.

Relection-of-Pelican-beakPelican-reflectionI particularly enjoyed the chance to take some portraits of these magnificent birds when they were resting and preening on the lake’s rocky island  (the local fishermen take you to the island by small boat). In fact I think these are some of my favourite images from the trip.Pelican-and-featherPelican-preeningPelican-portraitThere were also a number of juveniles at Kerkini this year and I was really encouraged to see their numbers were greater than the year before. While they don’t have the curly head feathers or red pouches like the adults, I like the subtle colours of their eyes and feathers.Pelican-juvenileSo there you go, just a few images from a great weekend in northern Greece. One species, one location and a fantastic way to build a portfolio of images.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Paul Hobson, Emil Enchev and fellow guests on the trip who were great fun to be with.  And if you’re interested in joining me to photograph these rare and beautiful birds, the trip to Lake Kerkini is running again next year.

Here’s a final image from a fantastic weekendPelican-on-water

Ellie

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A Highland winter

Posted on April 17, 2015
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Mountain Hare

At the beginning of March I was in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland co-leading our annual Highland winter trip with Neil McIntye for Natures Images. I think this was our sixth year in doing so and it has become a permanent fixture in our calendar. I have been travelling to Scotland for many years now, when I was younger I kind of took these trips for granted but as I get older you really start to appreciate your time in this wonderful part of the UK. We had many targets for this trip and were successful in finding most. The way we organised the trip for the guests was to split the group into smaller numbers with Neil taking half to his local Red Squirrel feeding site. I then took the rest of the group up into the hills in search of one the most beautiful animals the Mountain Hare.Mountain Hare resting
Mountain Hares are stunning animals throughout the year but they really do take some beating during the winter. Most turn white in the winter which acts as the perfect camouflage which they need to avoid their main predator the Golden Eagle. I went up looking for the Hares on most of the days of the trip. At first the weather was mild and there was not alot of snow lying on the ground but as the week progressed the winter conditions had returned and they was a good dusting of the white stuff. On most of the days we bumped into this lovely male which had not turned into his winter coat. It is not unusual to find a hare like this as it really is in their genes. He just doesn’t turn. He was a great character though and he allowed us some really close views.

Mountain Hare 2Mountain Hare resting 1Mountain Hare resting 3

Mountain Hare resting 6The following day we went back up and heavy snow had fallen through the night. I thought it would be hard to spot the hares but they are creatures of habit and usually rest in the same forms each day. He was in his usual place but you could hardly see him because of the snow that had built up around him.Mountain Hare resting 5
It was good timing as just after we took some images he decided to get up and go for a wander. So he shook off all the snow and the shot was lost.Mountain Hare shaking

Mountain Hare 1

We came across some other Hares during our time here too. A female was usually in close attendance to our brown male. She was a little bit more nervous but if you took your time you could get close to her too. It was great to have a different Hare to work with and a real bonus that her winter fur was more the norm.Mountain Hare resting 2
Mountain Hare 3Another target whilst in Scotland was Red Deer. The Alvie estate is a great location for this iconic highland Deer and Graham the resident stalker has been feeding the deer during the winter months for many years. As a result the Deer have become unbelievably tame and it is so hard to believe that you are actually photographing wild Deer. I have wanted to go to Alvie for many years but I really wanted to capture the Deer in the winter conditions. On the days that we went up the conditions were perfect. Thanks to Graham too for letting us go at such short notice.Red Deer and Snow 5
This was my first time at Alvie or so I thought as I actually spent a week at the bothy near to where Graham feeds the deer back in the early nineties. Graham remembered and knows my friend John that I went with, small world. It won’t be my last time either because it is such a great experience and you can get some good shots. It helps when it is actually snowing and boy did it snow on this day.

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Red Deer and Snow 11Red Deer and Snow 10At first there were just some light flurries but as the afternoon wore on the snow got heavier. The deer were eventually covered in snow too and they made great shots as they headed down through the trees to where the food was put out. I can count on one hand the chances of photographing subjects in these conditions as it is son rare to be in the right place at the right time.Red Deer and Snow 2
Red Deer and Snow 8Red Deer and Snow 1The great thing about Alvie is you are not stuck in a rigid position so you can move freely and also change lenses. This is great at producing a range of different shots from tight heads shots and also incorporating the environment of the Deer.

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Red Deer and Snow 7Red Deer and SnowIt was going to be hard to beat Alvie but the other subjects we covered were Crested Tits, Red Grouse and Ptarmigan. Crested Tits are a real speciality of the Spey Valley and is high on everyone’s target list.Crested Tit 1
Crested TitCrested Tit 2Red GrouseRed Grouse 1Ptarmigan are not easy birds as it is a relatively long walk into the deep corries of the Cairngorms where these beautiful birds can be found during the winter. The effort is worth it though just to see this bird. They can be remarkably tame at times and allow a close approach.Ptarmigan Male running
Ptarmigan MaleAs the week went on the weather turned mild again and as quickly as the snow arrived it had disappeared again. I still went back up to the mountain hares though for one last time as I wanted to capture the brown male again. He was in his usual spot and it was great capture some different images of him and his female which was still close by.Mountain Hare shaking wet fur
Mountain Hare resting 4Well that is a selection from my recent trip into the highlands and I will no doubt be back again next winter. The winter theme continues as I am just heading off to Finland for another of my annual trips to hopefully photograph Boreal Owls and Black grouse. I want to try for Brown Bears in the snow as well as they are just coming out of hibernation. I will post some images on my return.

Danny

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A Japanese winter

Posted on March 20, 2015
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During February I was co-leading a trip by Natures Images to Japan with Edwin Kats. This was my second visit to this wonderful country and its beautiful wildlife. I always enjoy going to a location on a second visit as I am more prepared and know what to expect.

It was always going to be hard to beat my first trip as we had the perfect conditions, but this trip certainly did that. Now I don’t speak Japanese and most people only speak a little English so we used our same guide as the previous trip. Harumi was our guide and she delivered everything we had asked of her, what a star. Our first visit on our whistle stop tour was to see the Snow Monkeys just north of Nagano.

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We had arranged for three days to be spent at the Monkey Park. The weather conditions are so important here and just prior to us arriving lots of snow had fallen. So everything was fresh for the first couple of days. Now the park gets a lot of visitors and I do find it hard with all these people around. Most of them go to the thermal pool where the Monkeys hang-out during the day so this year I avoided going myself. I think the best shots are along the river anyway and because of all this fresh snow it was easy to make to images of them.

Snow Monkey blog Snow Monkey 3 Snow Monkey 1Last year I was trying to capture an image of a youngster riding on their mums back but didn’t quite manage to do so successfully. So I concentrated on this bit of behaviour whilst I was there. Still only managed a few results though.

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Another shot I didn’t manage last time was of the youngsters play fighting. That is why it is always nice to visit again because you can work on different images. These two were really playful and kept getting scolded by their mums.

Young Snow Monkeys fighting blog

Our next stop was the island of Hokkiado and so we headed back to Tokyo to catch an internal flight to this fantastic island. Now I think I have mentioned before that I love Cranes and the most beautiful species is the Japanese or Red-crowned Crane. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip and to try my luck at photographing them again. I apologise to the people that don’t like Cranes as I have found it difficult not to process too many but in the end couldn’t resist.

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There are a number of places to try your luck at photographing them and one of my favourites is the Arkan crane centre. It is a very civilised place and the two old Japanese ladies that serve curry and rice are very nice; it is a great shame that they are retiring, I will miss our conversations. The cranes are excellent here too and they are tempted with corn, so big numbers visit.

Japanese Crane displaying blog

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This beautiful Crane was nearly extinct and to think we nearly lost it as a species. It was thought to be extinct in Japan but a few pairs were found to be breeding in the Kushiro marshes and a recovery programme was put in to place. Now there are just over a thousand cranes in Hokkiado. The Cranes do all sorts of things so it is good to build up a portfolio. Lots of preening happens between feeds and because you are close you can do lots of detail work.

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They also do a lot of displaying at this time of the year and you can capture some great shots of this elaborate courtship ritual.

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There are other areas to visit around the Kushiro marshes especially early in the morning and later in the day. Harumi took us to a great place to see the Cranes fly in from the surrounding fields back to their night time roosting sites.

Japanese Cranes in flight at dusk
The other great spectacle at the Arkan centre is the feeding of the White-tailed Eagles. This happens every afternoon and the action is fantastic but brief. It is a great place to capture this impressive raptor in flight and we got lucky with some good conditions. Light snow was the order of the day and it wasn’t too much to fool the auto-focus.

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The great thing about photographing the eagles at Arkan is the snow that lies on the ground as it acts as a giant reflector which is great at retaining the detail it the feathers.
We spent four days at Arkan which was great because it gave us the time to work on lots of different shots.

One thing I missed last year was the chance to capture the cranes performing their elaborate dance routine. On one of the days a pair started to perform it and then others started to join in, it was great to witness.

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After our dance with the Cranes it was time to move on to our next location which was Lake Kussharo. This is a great location for photographing Whooper Swans; well it is when you can get to it. A huge storm was hitting the area and all the roads in and out where closed. This meant we were confided to our hotel for a couple of days. It was very frustrating as we were only 15km from the Swans but we just couldn’t get there. Eventually the roads to the south opened and we could now move on to our last stop on this trip. We headed to the town of Rausu which is on the Shiretoko peninsula.

Steller's Eagle blog
During the winter large numbers of Steller’s Sea Eagle winter on the peninsula. Most of these birds come from Kamchatka in Russia. During the latter part of the winter great rafts of Ice appears along the coast on Shiretoko. The ice drifts in from the Sea Okhotsk. It is not pack ice like you get in the Arctic but comes from the huge Amur River along the border of China and Russia. As the fresh water ice breaks up it then drifts with the currents to settle of the coast. It is always hit and miss whether it appears but we got extremely lucky as a few days before it wasn’t close by. But the huge storm that came in and left us trapped at the hotel in Kussharo brought in the ice. Perfect timing for our boat trips and eagle encounters.

Steller's Sea Eagle
The best way to see the Eagles is by hiring a small boat which takes you out each morning. We had two days out on the ice and the guys that own the boats are local fisherman. The eagles have been following the boats for years and so recognise a free meal when they see them. The fisherman throws out dead fish to attract them down and at one point we counted over thirty birds. It is amazing being this close to such beautiful birds in such a wonderful setting. It is great for getting intimate portraits and trying to capture them in flight when they come in.

Steller's Sea Eagle 1 Steller's Eagle and Crow Steller's Sea Eagle 2

It is also really good for White-tailed Eagles and again it is amazing to be this close to a wild eagle without having to be in a hide.

White-tailed Eagle White-tailed Eagle in flight 5
After our short stay in Rausu we then had another couple of days to try and get back to the swans at Lake Kussharo. By this time the roads had all re-opened and so we could get back. It would have been a shame to miss out on the Swans and so we were thankful for the chance to go back. Next year we decided not to run a trip to Japan but I am regretting not doing so as I would dearly love to go back. I will be putting a trip together for the following winter though, in 2017, so if you would be interested please drop me an email. I would like to thank Harumi for all her help throughout the trip and I would like to thank the guests that joined me on this trip. Thanks for your patience as we where holed up in Kussharo. I will just finish off with a couple of Swan images.

Danny

Whooper Swans in flight Whooper Swan in flight

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Red Deer Rut

Posted on February 6, 2014
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Well 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.

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When 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-Hind

After 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.

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When 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.

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That 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.

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The 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.

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The 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.

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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.

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So 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.

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Danny

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Winter in Churchill

Posted on December 13, 2013
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During 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Some 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.

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I 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.

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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.

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So 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.

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