The stories and techniques behind my top 5 wildlife photos from this past year.
1. Sacred Flamingos
Strandfontein is one of Cape Town's least known wildlife hotspots - perhaps that's because it's a sewage works! Despite the slight pong, it is an unlikely haven for many kinds of animals which come to feed and bathe in the warm waste waters during the harsh winter months. These flamingos spend the day feeding on the salt-pans and the nights roosting on nearby lagoons. I wanted a shot that captured the special moment when 400 flamingos fly in to roost at sunrise. I knew the sun would rise behind this mosque, so I got into position at dawn, anticipating where the flamingos would fly in from. Like a street photographer, I precomposed the scene and let the flamingos do the rest!
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Greater Flamingos @ Strandfontein Sewage Works, Cape Town (South Africa)
2. Crane Plumes
On a crisp day in late November, I went to WWT Slimbridge nature reserve with my friend Mattia. Our aim was to photograph the Bewick's Swans and Common Cranes that overwinter at this world-renowned wildfowl centre. It was another species of Crane however which won my attention - the Red-Crowned Cranes which live in the exotics collection. This is a bird that I long to photograph in its wintering grounds in Hokkaido, and with a frosty setting sun, I kept it very simple. Just how I like it - a simple wide-open composition, muted colours, strong light and a poetic pose.
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Red-Crowned Crane (captive) @ WWT Slimbridge (UK)
Impenetrable scrubland makes the Bosbou Forest one of the hardest places to see birds in South Africa. We went in search of one of the country's rarest birds, the Victorin's Scrub Warbler, which is heard more often than it is seen. Seeing any birds was a challenge, and our tracking skills proved futile as birds would fly off at the slightest sound of us moving in the undergrowth. Coming to a small clearing, I suddenly caught sight of this Orange-Breasted Sunbird, perched in the open on a long grass. The surrounding golden grass made a soft frame in my camera, leading the eye towards the iridescent bird.
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Orange-Breasted Sunbird @ Bosbou Forests, Wilderness (South Africa)
4. Peregrine Flight
Back in the summer, I embarked on a personal photo project to capture the flight of the peregrine falcon. Bristol is a fantastic place to see these aerial masters at close range, and the Avon Gorge gives unrivalled glimpses into their lives both at the nest and on the hunt. As the world's fastest bird, they are the ultimate pigeon-killing machine, flying at top speeds of 400km/h. With a lot of patience and luck, I wanted to show what the unfortunate pigeon sees milliseconds before it falls victim to the peregrine's talons. Emotion, adrenaline, elegance and precision all in one shot, or so I hoped! For this shot I used a slow shutter speed (1/125sec), much slower than I normally would for such a fast bird. As this male flew by, I panned very quickly with him. This results in the bird being frozen but the background being streaked, suggesting fast movement. It takes a lot of bad attempts (I'm not showing them!) to get one good shot.
Click here for photos from my projects Peregrines: The World's Fastest Bird
Peregrine Falcon @ Avon Gorge, Bristol (UK)
5. Waders at Dawn
At the end of November, I returned to one of my favourite places for birdwatching in the UK - the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh - to give a wildlife photography workshop to a small group of keen snappers. North Berwick beach is a hotspot for winter shorebirds such as purple sandpiper and sanderling. As our lenses were too short to photograph these small birds closeup, I encouraged everyone to get shots of the birds in the coastal environment. Using the curved shapes and muted colours of the shoreline, I got this shot of 2 redshanks feeding at dawn. Setting my ISO to Fluorescent rather than Auto gave this bluish calming look, and shooting towards the sun made the bird's silhouettes stand out against the sun's silvery reflection.
Click here for dates for my upcoming workshop Scottish Shores
Oystercatchers @ North Berwick, Scotland (UK)
Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!