dannygreenphotography Blog

 

14th December 2011

A Northern Summer ............

Gannet Colony

This summer I spent four months travelling to many parts of Europe working on a long term project about Seabirds. I spent time in Iceland and Norway but most of that time was spent in one of my favourite locations, the Shetland Isles. I have been going to these northern Isles for over twenty years now and I never get bored or feel I am going over old ground, as these islands always offer something new. I was moving about a lot but basically my first visit was in early May. I wasn't planning to visit at this time because I was trying to get onto two more outlying islands, Sule Skerry and Lunga. It was a disaster because the weather was terrible with such strong winds which made landing on these islands impossible. So I went to plan B and headed to the Shetlands.

Gannet colony

Once on the Shetlands I could then go to locations without the need for a boat and therefore a tricky landing. One of the best places to visit is Hermaness National Nature reserve on the island of Unst. This is the very top of the British Isles and in my opinion one of the best places because of its dramatic coastline and abundant wildlife.

Gannet colony

Gannet

The weather can be very unpredictable at the best of times but during my first visit it was as bad as I can ever remember. It was so windy it was extremely dangerous walking along these high cliffs so I had to take great care. The high wind caused a great swell on the sea though which was perfect for showing this remote and dramatic location.

Gannet

Gannet

Gannets

I have never really had the opportunity to work in these kinds of conditions before so made the most of it and concentrated on getting images of Gannets flying over these turbulent seas. I also tried shooting with very slow shutter speeds too and so blurring the moving swells to produce a more artistic feel to the overall images.

Guillemots

Hermaness is also an excellent place for photographing Great Skuas as the reserve supports over eight hundred breeding pairs. They breed on the large expanse of moor land on the reserve but you don't have to go too far to find them because some pairs nest right next to the board walk.

Great Skua

Great Skua

Great Skua

Be warned though because as soon as you step-off the boardwalk and head into their territory they start becoming very aggressive in defence of their eggs or chicks. This image shows a male in a dive bomb attack.

Great Skua

They will attack anything that crosses into their territory and it was great watching them attack these sheep. People that know me know I hate sheep so you will imagine how much fun I had watching this.

Great Skua

My favourite member of the Skua family is the Arctic Skua. This is such a beautiful and graceful bird. Over the years I have noticed a sharp decline in the numbers of birds returning to the Shetlands to breed. The main factor for the decline is the failure of other seabirds like Terns and Auks because of the lack of sand eels. Arctic Skuas are masters of the air and they rob other birds of their catch, so if birds like Terns fail to breed so do Arctic Skuas.

Arctic Skuas

I photographed this pair on an Island called Mousa which is in the south of the islands. Mousa is also a great place to photograph another Shetland speciality, the Black Guillemot. Black Guillemots are members of the Auk family but are very much different in their breeding habits. The other members nest in large colonies but Black Guillemots nest in discrete colonies, they also lay two eggs compared to just one by the other Auks.

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

There are not many trees on the Shetland Isles so small passerines are low in numbers. The ones that do breed are special though and one of my favourites is the Wheatear. This small bird is quite common but it is very difficult to get close enough to photograph them. This male was very confiding though.

Wheatear

The other small birds you are likely to encounter are Meadow Pipits and the Shetland Wren which is a subspecies to its mainland cousin.

Meadow Pipit

Wren

Wren

The Shetlands is also an excellent place to find migrant birds during the spring and autumn and can boast of some very rare birds. I came across this male Snow Bunting that was feeding along the edge of a cliff. I usually only see them in their winter plumage but he looked wonderful in his summer plumage.

Snow Bunting

There are not many mammals on these islands but Rabbits have found a niche after being introduced by man. The youngsters always make great subjects. Many Wading birds also return each spring to breed and one of the most conspicuous is the Oystercatcher.

Rabbit

Oystercatcher

Because I was working on Seabirds I did spend most of my time along the coast. This gave me many opportunities to photograph Fulmars because they are a very common bird on the Shetlands. They have expanded their range considerably over the past one hundred years and in fact whereas most other seabirds are declining this bird is doing the complete opposite.

Fulmar

Fulmar 

This was my longest stint in these northern Isles and I still feel there is so much more to see and photograph. I think I will never be finished with the Shetland Isles as it has got to be one of the best places to visit in the UK. It has everything to offer the wildlife photographer in terms of dramatic scenery, vast numbers of birds and that feeling of working in a remote location. If you haven't been before then seriously add it to the top of your list.

Fulmars

 

 

 1st December 2011

Iceland Land of Fire and Ice ............

Whooper Swan

OK I know I am out of suit with the blog as it has been a very busy year and it is only now that I have finally got the chance to process some of the images that I took during the summer. We ran a very successful trip to Iceland in June through Natures Images and so I thought I would share some of the images that I achieved. I went to Iceland for the first time in 2010 and I have developed a love/hate relationship with this country. It is such a beautiful place and the wildlife that can be found there is so special. On the other hand it is so bloody cold and the weather can be awful at times. The first time I went I spent three weeks camping but this time we had accommodation so at least you could get warm and get a warm shower (sometimes, you know who you are Mark G). We had set a very ambitious programme for this tour and wanted to visit many different places in such a short space of time. So the distances covered were huge but well worth it.

Whooper Swan

Our first port of call was a small reserve just along the south coast. When I visited here in 2010 the weather was awful and we didn't even get out of the car but this time it was fantastic with not a cloud in sight and the light in the late evening was beautiful. Our main target here was Red Throated Diver but we found a lovely serene scene in the form of this Whooper Swan family. I was very pleased with these images as I have never really covered Whooper's during the breeding season.

Red Necked Phalarope

Iceland is fantastic for Red Necked Phalarope and this cracking little wader can be found on most small lochs. It is also a very tame and confiding bird so makes a great subject for photography, they are not easy though as they are constantly on the move. Red Throated Divers are also very common in parts of Iceland and again this is such a fantastic bird to add the Iceland portfolio.

Red Throated Diver

Red Throated Diver

All these shots were taken from one evening session and we had another morning planned at this location. At this time of the year the sun only sets for a couple of hours so we only managed a couple of hours sleep before we got up again for another session. My experience in Iceland tells me you have to make the most of the weather conditions when they are good but as we found out we hardly got any sleep during the night throughout the whole trip and in fact most of the sessions were through the night. I hope people have now recovered.

Red Throated Diver

Red Throated Diver   

After this morning session we then set off on a long drive to Jökulsárlón (the Ice Lagoon). I had mixed fortune with this location too on my last visit as again the weather was terrible. We got there in the evening and it wasn't looking great either and because we had only got a short time here I thought I had missed the opportunity again. We set the alarm clocks early again and it was a good job we did because the clouds had cleared and we were blessed with a beautiful morning. Jökulsárlón is a great place for landscapes as Icebergs that carve from the huge Vatnajokull Glacier get trapped in the bottle-neck of the Lagoon. Feeding amongst these growlers are many birds like Eider, Turns and the beautiful Harlequin Duck. 

 Great black backed Gull

Harliquin Duck

Snow Bunting

We also came across a very confiding male Snow Bunting too, which for me from a personal level was fantastic as this species has been a bit of a bogey bird for me, especially during the summer breeding season. He was really busy defending his territory and trying to attract a female, singing from the photogenic rocks, he was such a star. After Jökulsárlón it was another mammoth drive to Lake Mývatn, that was going to be our base for the next four days. The long drive was through some atrocious weather and once we had got there the weather had completely changed. The sunshine had gone and was replaced with falling snow and freezing temperatures, a typical welcome to the Icelandic summer. The conditions were beautiful though and it was a mad dash to find something to photograph in these unique conditions. After a long search we did come across this male Golden Plover and the resulting images were my favourite from the trip.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

The snow didn't last long though and quickly melted so we were left with a couple of days with dull overcast weather, perfect for some landscape photography or so I'm told. Now I am no landscape photographer but even I enjoyed taking these pictures of Godafoss. Now I could take credit for this image but I won't lie and tell you I have seen the light in terms of my landscape photography. Mark Sisson helped set it up and I then used Nigel's 10 stop filter, Ann's camera, Mark's tripod and I think Dave's lens but still it was my card so technically it is my shot and I have to say it is one of my favourite landscape shots I have ever taken.

Godafoss

Godafoss 

But enough of that and so back to the birds. The sun came out again which was great because our target was water birds and they do look crap in dull light. One of our targets was the Great Northern Diver and we came across a pair that was feeding around a large bay which was part of the Mývatn lake. At close quarters I think this has got to be one of the most beautiful birds on the planet. I got some decent stuff last time but this time I managed to get them in much better light.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

We also worked with Slavonian Grebes and many other species of Ducks. Lake Mývatn is one of the finest places in Europe for photographing wildfowl and waders, with so many different species and big numbers too. Most of the small ponds around the lake hold breeding Slavonian Grebes and are also very good for ducks like Long tailed duck and Common Scooter.

Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe

Long tailed Duck

You never know what you are going to bump into too and lots of waders can be found along the lake edge. This Black tailed Godwit looked great in the late evening light. 

Black tailed Godwit

After our stint at Myvatn it was then time to move on again to the wonderful seabird cliffs of Latrabjarg. This was our final destination of the trip and it really was worth the effort in getting to this wonderful place. Latrabjarg is famous for its Puffins but there is so much more to see and explore around this area too. The weather again was superb which meant very little sleep and I am sure by the end of the trip everyone was completely knackered. Iceland is a place that will draw me back time and again, I am already putting together plans for a trip in 2013 so if you would like to join me to this Island of Fire and Ice then just drop me an email and I will forward more information.

Puffin

 

 

 

25th November 2011

Beautiful Bandhavgarh ..........

Bengal Tiger

Bandhavgarh National Park is a rich mixture of Sal and Bamboo forest mixed with rich rolling meadows and is one of India's finest reserves. This beautiful park is also one of the best places to see and photograph the majestic Bengal Tiger as it supports one of the highest densities of Tigers in the world. I last went to Bandhavgarh nearly ten years ago and so I was really pleased to be back and try my luck at photographing this elusive feline once again.

Bengal Tiger

Tigers once ranged widely across Asia from Turkey in the west to the very far eastern edge of Russia. Since the beginning of the 19th century they have declined by 95% due to habitat destruction and poaching for their skins and body parts which are used in traditional medicine practices. Now there is estimated to be only just over 3,000 wild Tigers left and that number is still shrinking. The populations that are left are so fragmented that only a few populations can be self-sustaining. A dire situtation for one of the most impressive large carnivores that has ever walked the earth.

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger

Whilst I was at Bandhavgarh news also spread about the sad death of one of the worlds most famous Tigers, B2/Sundar. He was an old male of 14 years of age and had dominated the Tala range of the reserve since the age of three. He was one of the most popular Tigers and was also a very impressive animal. He died as a result of a territorial fight with another male called Shashi who has now taken over Sundar's range. Madhra Pradesh has now lost 4 tigers in the past month alone, two of which were to the hands of poachers which just goes to show the intense pressure that Tigers face. When I last visited Bandhavgarh I was very lucky in seeing and photographing Sundar and I was so hoping to see him again. This news of his death was a very sad time for the people that work in the park as he was such a loved individual.

Bengal Tiger

Our first sighting was of a female Tigress called Wakeeta who we encountered along a road in the Barua Nallah region as she was busy marking her boundary to her territory. The excitement in seeing your first Tiger is an amazing experience and it really does get the adrenalin flowing.

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger

It is always a nice feeling to get your first sighting in the bag as it takes the pressure off you. As Wakeeta was scent marking she was turning round and then doing what is called the "flehman response" which is basically smelling her own scent and was also smelling the scent which was left by another Tigress called Vejaya.

Bengal Tiger

Our next sighting was of a female called Jaya who was a beautiful Tigress of four years of age and we encountered her along the Nilgai Marg road. The first set of images are of her as she was walking straight towards our jeep. Our driver was excellent in backing off and giving her space so she carried on walking and then sat down in the road for a quick rest. She was on a mission though and was busy hunting. When she walked into the forest it gave us the opportunity to capture her in the environment. One of the main reasons why I ran this trip in November was seeing my good friend Andrew Parkinson's shots of Tigers and the lush colour of the vegetation that he achieved in his lovely portfolio. It is harder to see the Tigers at this time of the year but for me that is the challenge in producing something slightly different.

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger

The following morning we got lucky again and bumped into Jaya again this time along the Suki Dam in the Raj Berha meadows. It was still early in the morning so the light was at its best; she was also walking in the meadow habitat which was great in placing her in context with this beautiful environment. This set of images was my favourite by far and she really was a beautiful Tigress.

Bengal Tigress

Bengal Tigress

Bengal Tigress

Light is always the key in any image but to photograph such a beautiful animal as a Tiger was a real privilege. As she walked past the edge of the forest she then turned and headed straight towards our vehicle.

Bengal Tigress

Bengal Tigress

Bengal Tigress

I am extremely grateful to David Fidler at Canon UK for getting me the loan of their new 300mm F2.8 lens as this was the perfect lens to use working with the Tigers. The light can be very low in the Jungle at times and because I was shooting from the back of a Jeep a tripod was out of the question and most of the images were hand held. The extra 4 stops in the image stabiliser was a real bonus and even hand holding at around 1/60 of second gave me some really sharp results. The auto focus is spot on too and never missed a beat and as the lens is much lighter than the older model it wasn't a problem for me in carrying this lens as well as my 500mm F4. This is certainly going to be my next purchase of equipment as it's such a good lens. Our next sighting was of the new dominant male that has taken over B2's range. This new male is called Shashi and we encountered him in the Chakradhara Meadows.

Bengal Tigress

Working with the 300mm gave me the chance to photograph the Tigers in a slightly different way than if I was working with the 500mm and so I have included more of the beautiful surroundings. This next image was my favourite from the whole trip and shows Shashi surveying the Chakradhara meadow in the early morning for any potential prey. 

Bengal Tiger

Bandhavgarh is not just about Tigers though and a whole range of animals and birds can be found in this wonderful park. Hanuman Langurs are always available and make great subjects too.

Langur

Langur

Wild Boar

Wild Boar

One of the reasons why Bandhavgarh supports such a healthy Tiger population is the availability of prey. Spotted Deer or Chittal are their favourite prey but they will also take Wild Boar, Samba and even Langurs too. One of the best ways to find a Tiger is to listen out for the alarm calls, especially of the Chittal Deer. When a Tiger is on the move the whole Jungle erupts.

Spotted Deer

The birdlife too is very rich and many species can be found from Rollers, Bee Eaters and the elusive Scops Owl.

Roller

Egret

Owl 

Tigers are not the only predators in Bandhavgarh as the park also supports Leopards and Sloth Bears which we had a glimpse of the latter. We also had good sightings of two of the smaller predators in the form of Jackals and this lovely Jungle Cat.

Jungle Cat

Jackal

I ran this trip through Natures Images and I would like to say a big thank you to Kay and Satyendra Tiwari our hosts in India. I would also like to thank Hariam and Sanjay, our drivers in the park for their skill and knowledge that they were so keen to share. I would also like to thank Sam, Mark, Andrew and Peter for their great company on this trip and this image of a pair of young Rhesus Macaques is for you guys. As you can imagine the jokes were running fast and even though it was childish it was a very funny moment. As Hariam said those berries are damned good.

Rhesus

I can't believe it has taken me ten years to go back to Bandhavgarh and I won't wait that long to go back. I am running a trip there in February 2013 so if you would like to join me then please drop me an email and I can pass on all the information. Just to round off with two more images of Jaya who was such a star and I hopefully I get the chance to meet her again.

Bengal Tigress

Bengal Tigress

 

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