The stories behind my favourite 7 wildlife photos from this past year.
1. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit
At first glance, the Chihuahuan Desert of west Texas seems to be sucked dry of life. Predators camouflage themselves among the orange sands, and prey remain hidden in their burrows to avoid the stifling mid-day heat. Yet at Big Bend Ranch State Park's visitors centre, there is a rare oasis of green pasture where an abundance of animals flock - from Jack-Rabbits and Apache Pocket Mice, to Scaled Quails and Elf Owls. Jack-Rabbits have wonderfully long ears, so I sacrificed my evening shower and spent a pleasant if somewhat sweaty half-hour photographing this fine animal against the dusty sky.
Click to see more photos from my trip to the Texan deserts and swamps back in April.
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit @ Big Bend Ranch State Park (Texas)
2. Yucca Tree
It had been a rough night. A fierce sandstorm ripped through our tent, filling our sleeping bags and camera gear with sand. But by sunrise, the White Sands Park in New Mexico was transformed into a "winter wonderland". I was amazed by how smooth and straight the dunes were after the storm. When I found this Yucca Flower, leaning into the wind, it was the cherry on top of my abstract photograph. Using the high midday sun and a hand-held flash to remove shadows, I climbed up the dune to create a clean image made up of lines, with the Yucca cutting diagonally through the lines. In spite of it being one of the worst nights of my life, the landscape is etched in my mind as one of the most beautiful and unique natural wonders I have seen.
Soaptree Yucca @ White Sands Park (New Mexico)
Whilst researching workshop locations in the Abruzzo National Park in Italy, I found a family group of chamois foraging on the high montane ridges. Chamois are the ultimate mountain specialist, with an amazing ability to scale sheer rock faces with no difficulty at all. Photographing these striking animals in their habitat was an undoubted highlight of the year as, once we gained Mother Chamois's trust, we could happily photograph the kids at close range right up to sunset in breathtaking surroundings.
Apennine Chamois @ Abruzzo National Park (Italy)
4. Ephemeral Forest
A morning trip to the Forest of Dean in search of wild boar with my friend Mattia resulted in a different magical encounter. The forest, in light mist, was full of atmosphere. Using a favourite photo technique of mine, I tilted my camera during a long exposure, resulting in a mystical image of the forest. What I like about this technique is that it shows texture, light, atmosphere and the essence of that forest in a painterly way that a simple photo cannot.
Trees @ Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire (UK)
5. Prairie Dog
Made famous by Western movies, the High Plains of the USA extend from the Texas panhandle right up to Canada. The Prairie-Dog, a type of large rodent, is an important flagship species of this grassy habitat. They dig vast networks of burrows which in turn provide home to a variety of species, some more welcome than others, including rattlesnakes, owls and ferrets. It was clearly this animal's turn to act as guardian of the burrows, as he barked enthusiastically to alert his neighbours of my presence.
Black-Tailed Prairie-Dog @ Caprock Canyon State Park (Texas)
6. Bat Flight
Registered bat-carers Stewart and Kiri watch Pluto, a young soprano pipistrelle bat, taking a test flight around their sitting room. Pluto was caught by a domestic cat a few months earlier and had been taken into care by the couple who run a small bat hospital in their Bristol home. This photo was one of many I took as a photo-journalistic passion project for Avon Bat Work Group (ABG) and Avon Bat Care (ABC) - two volunteer organisations who rescue, rehabilitate and release close to 100 bats every year in the Somerset area. The shoot was full of challenges, such as photographing this fast-flying bat in low light conditions whilst balancing on a stepladder!
For the full photo story, click here.
Soprano Pipistrelle @ Bristol (UK)
Courtesy of Avon Bat Group and Avon Bat Care
7. Autumn Hailstorm
On our final evening in Italy in search of the rare Marsican Bear, I headed to a well-known viewpoint with my friend Mattia for one last try. When we arrived, the heavens opened and drenched the surrounding valley in hail. At first despondent, my mood changed again when I saw the light cast over the trees - creating a painterly interplay of liquid-gold and shadow that gave texture, energy and mood to the scene. It wasn't what we had come for but it resulted in my favourite scene from the trip.
For more photos from my Abruzzo mountain trip, click here to see the gallery.
Forest @ Abruzzo National Park (Italy)
These are just a few memorable highlights and I already have many exciting trips lined up for 2018 - including a new Photo Tour and Workshop to the amazing Abruzzo National Park in Italy. If watching wild bears and wolves in breathtaking mountain scenery takes your fancy, I will be posting details of this trip very soon.
Have a wonderful holiday season, thanks for visiting and see you in the New Year!