Tag Archives: bird photography

Wetlands once more

One of the advantages of having been born under an Aquarian star sign is that I love water.  I have always been happy in it, on it or beside it whether it be fresh or saline in its nature.  Given that it is home to an array of wildlife that you just don’t see in any other environment I’m glad I am as comfortable being in it as I am especially as it opens up the possibilities of some very different images and experiences.

Those of you who know my work of old may recall a trip I made to Bulgaria a couple of years ago and wrote about here.  Given my almost lifetime obsession with the Grebe family  the time spent with them, in particular the Black-necked Grebe which has to be one of the most striking birds of all the wetlands in Europe, was one that I was really looking forward to taking a small group of guests to experience once again in the same region of northern Bulgaria around the shores of the mighty Danube river.

Blog 1

As you can see the Black-necked Grebes once again excelled and this was the very first shot of the trip, taken on a drizzly first evening after the first flight of the day from Luton airport while everyone was getting used to how the challenges of working from a floating hide could best be managed.

The water levels at the area I had spent my time previously were even higher this Spring and as a result were too deep for many of the birds – they can’t dive that far to search for food – and so although we tried a session there which involved flippers and a lot of swimming, we were mostly working in a new wetland area not far away.  The amount of foliage was much greater which made manoeuvring that bit harder and getting a clear shot also that bit harder too but on the occasions when these striking birds did then it was always a treat.

Blog 2

Blog 3

Blog 4

Over time the foliage, and in particular a long channel (the deepest area of this particular wetland where I could only just touch the bottom) which was full of bright yellow flowers at times provided a very picturesque setting in which to photograph the birds, whether they be Grebes or Ducks.

Blog 5

Blog 6

Of course there were plenty of other settings and species to work with as well and the beauty of working in a floating hide like this is that given time to slowly and carefully (and therefore unobtrusively) re-position yourself most viewpoints, foliage allowing, could be achieved. The pockets of reed beds provided a great setting for Pygmy Cormorants to rest and dry their wings or the constantly singing (and very loudly too) Great Reed Warblers to proclaim their territories.

Blog 7

Blog 8

Because the water levels were that much lower than I had worked in here in the past and also because of the increased level of foliage, there were greater numbers of long-legged water based birds to be found too.  They would be standing stationary around the fringes or on bits of foliage waiting to pounce on one of the many Marsh Frogs or Fire-bellied Toads that there were in the water.  They were very wary and so approaching them in the hide was a slow and careful process but there were some very close encounters with Night Heron, Grey Heron and even Little Bittern: it’s a very different experience being at water level with these birds.

Blog 9

Blog 10

Blog 11

I’d never had a clean view of one of these smaller relatives of the European Bittern we occasionally see here in the UK and when this individual moved into a great position on a willow tree (surrounded by water and reeds) it took me almost an hour to work carefully into position for a clear view.  When the sun then came out fleetingly and lit him up perfectly in the shadows it was well worth it though.

Blog 12

Blog 13

Around the fringes of the wetland areas were an array of passerines – while getting changed into our wetsuits every session we would be serenaded by Cuckoo, Nightingale and watched over by a Red-backed Shrike – the bird diversity here is as good as it has been the dozen or so years I have travelled and photographed in Bulgaria I’m pleased to say.  One bird that was well into its breeding was the extraordinary Penduline Tit and his fantastic construction of a nest had been taken up by a female and he was busily providing food for her almost constantly and so we spent a very enjoyable afternoon trying to capture images of him as he returned.

Blog 14

But I was always drawn back to the Grebes in particular.  The one European species I have always ironically found the hardest to photograph well is the Little Grebe or dabchick as I fondly still call it.  They are very shy and retiring and although I have plenty of images from iconic and less-visited locations at home they have never really done them justice.  Of all the species here it was them I wanted to really try to work with this time if I could.

They could be heard all around the area – if I had to count I would have guessed at least a dozen pairs, some in close proximity to one another too.  But they remained as elusive as they always seem to be.  They are small and adept enough to dive and swim underwater to feed in the tightest of reed beds quite happily so have little need to come into the open patches of water except to move speedily to another sheltered area.  As a result opportunities with them for the first couple of days proved frustrating and environmental in their nature.

Blog 16Mind you when the environment consists of the aforementioned yellow flowers though then it does produce settings that really sing and with amazing texture to the images as well.

Blog 17

Blog 18On occasions though patience and perseverance is rewarded, and although it was an encounter that totalled less than a minute when one bird popped up from his dive almost in front of me in beautiful morning light and a setting that was nigh on perfect too then the hours of wading, avoiding the leeches and having to clean the wetsuit of mud twice a day was more than made up for.

Blog 19

Blog 20

Blog 21

Stunning birds (and probably my favourite family of them) a stunning location and great company (thanks Martin, Jeff and Peter for joining me and my good friend Emil for helping pull it all together as always).  This aquarian will be back in the water again soon for sure.


There’s more than one star in Texas

If you talk about Texas with most people here in the UK there are a number of things that will probably come to mind initially: cowboys, George Bush, oil, Dallas, JR…. the list goes on in terms of iconic ingredients that make up the story of this, the 2nd largest state in the US both in terms of size and population, but also at times probably the most controversial too. It’s known as the lone star state, part of the deep rooted sense of independence that it still nourishes but when I visited around this time last year there were several stars to be found as far as I was concerned.

One of the many enjoyable parts of my work is the chance to visit new places both for their own sake but also as a rec. for a potential future trip that I might be running, and so it was that hot on the heels of 2 weeks in the wintery conditions of Yellowstone I found myself in the t-shirt surroundings of south Texas, a combination that always makes packing a challenge and arriving at McAllen airport in lined snow boots look just a little out of place.

I was meeting local photographer and guide Ruth Hoyt for a few days introduction to the bird photography ranches that have quietly mushroomed in this corner of the country as the draw of strikingly colourful birds, unique as far as the US is concerned, are to be found. None more so probably than the Green winged Jay.

Green Winged Jay 1

Green Jay

You can just see the intelligence in that look can’t you? Vivid green wings and an almost superhero like blue and black mask to its face just add to its overall impact.

The reason these unique species are here is simply one of geography: being situated in the far south-west corner of the country and right on the Mexican border of the Rio Grande river sees a number of central American species drifting up and clipping this corner of the country alone.

As you might expect in the big state many species are on the large size – the golden fronted woodpecker (highly spotted black and white wings and bold yellow and red patches on a buff coloured head) simply dwarfs our largest here.

Golden fronted Woodpecker

Golden Fronted Woodpecker 2

There are some bizarre named ones too – Pyrrhuloxia for instance is as complex a non-Latin bird name I know anywhere but it’s certainly a striking species.


Some are clearly named after just how they look – the iconic male Cardinal is clearly based on the appearance of the Roman Catholic robes associated with that position, although the female is frankly just as spectacular in my view.

Cardinal 2


Cardinal female

Some are named after their behaviour too – the long-billed thrasher does exactly that to the grass and shrubs in search of insects to feed on.

Long billed Thrasher

Given that we are in a state of the south it was also apt to come across mockingbirds quite regularly too.

Northern Mockingbird


But at a personal level it was the raptors that really drew me in. This is the wild habitat in which to find harris hawk – a common sight at falconry centres across the UK but here surviving in the dry shrub grasslands that these vast ranches now consist of.

Harris Hawk

Vultures here (often referred to locally as buzzards which can be very confusing) are of the new-world varieties and therefore very different to those in Europe and Africa: there are Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures to be seen with the same prevalence as Common Buzzards are now to be found at home in the UK, although they are maybe not quite as pleasing on the eye.

Turkey Vulture

Then there is the caracara. This is known locally as the Mexican eagle, and is a species I have photographed in southern and Central America before, but it is truly at home in these vast empty ranches surviving on snakes, rabbits, hares and ground dwelling birds such as the highly prevalent northern bobwhite quail (a favourite of the hunting fraternity here in the same way as pheasants at home). They are as uniquely impressive a bird as you can imagine and a real experience to see up close, whether the brightly coloured adults or the more muted but equally distinctive juveniles.

Northern Caracara

Northern Caracara 2

Northern Caracara on ground


The quail themselves were equally as impressive, scuttling around at breakneck speed, scrambling in the dirt for insects and seed and it was nice to see a game bird in its natural habitat in comparison with the plethora of pheasants we have at home.

Northern Bobwhite male

Northern Bobwhite scraping ground

The other really enjoyable feature of photographing here is the chance to work on some real old-school style bird photography.  Ruth and I had seen the fabulous looking Black-crested Titmouse around at one of the blinds but failed to get an image we were happy with: they are even speedier than long-tailed tits here at home.  So we focussed on finding a really nice complimentary perch and trying to encourage the bird to use it for a good couple of hours one evening and after lots of oohs, aahs and near misses the final results were well worth the enjoyable time spent.

Black crested Titmouse

So Texas may be a state of controversy and opinion that doesn’t always fit easily with all, but there are pockets of it starting to see that it’s natural resources are worth cherishing, conserving and presenting to a different audience who simply wants to appreciate them in their environment. They and the amazing array of birds that they have on their ranch properties are to be applauded and appreciated as well, and I have indeed pulled a return trip together for next Spring, full details of which can be found here:

Natures Images: South Texas Birdlife

This is truly a mecca for bird photographers – great species, great places to work with them and what a bird that Caracara is! Hope you might be able to join me with the many avian stars of Texas next year.

Crested Caracara 2

Black-browed beauties

In my last post here I talked about my high levels of excitement when spending a number of days photographing King Penguins during the course of my visit to the Falklands last year. They were only half of the story though in terms of my anticipation – the other half belonging fairly and squarely with the chance to spend some time in and among breeding Albatross.

There are 22 species of albatross, some 17 of which are classified as globally threatened.  They are the ultimate sea-faring birds, spending huge amounts of their lives flying across the roughest seas of the planet, those that wrap themselves above the continent of Antarctica.  They are the stuff of legends (think Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner) and for a long-term bird lover before taking it up professionally photographically, a further rite of passage.

During the 3 week trip, I had planned for us to visit two colonies of Black-browed Albatross, the predominant species of the Falklands and where some 70% of the worlds population actually breed. The first of these, the ice-breaker if you like, was a reasonably small colony but nicely located one and planned on a day when there would be no other visitors so we had the place completely to ourselves; it was on the island of West Point.  After a short walk from the landing point with the local warden we reached the brow of a hill and looked down to the gathering below, perched almost perfectly on top of a dramatic coast line.

Blog 1

Like a white scar cutting through the surrounding tussock grass, an array of birds were perched on their cone-like nests, intermingled with Rockhopper Penguins filling in the spaces it seemed, all seemingly calling or clacking their beaks at each other; looking up the perfect early summer sky was full of gliding birds as well – all in all a truly uplifting sight.

After initially taking the scene in I felt I really needed some time to simply soak up what I had come to experience – we were going to be here all day so there was no rush – and so I made my way through some of the tunnels in the tussock grass to an extreme edge of the colony and found a single bird sitting patiently and simply sat down.  My camera stayed in the bag for a full 30 minutes or so as I simply absorbed where I was and just how special it felt to be sharing this small corner of a remote island in the south Atlantic with this stunning bird.  Who knows how far it had flown in its life to date – countless thousands of miles no doubt – or what weather and conditions it had experienced too; for now it was just the two of us here on the cliff top and both seemingly totally at ease with each other too. The camera dod come out of the bag eventually and I was treated to some great wide-angle images, an attempt on my part to really give a sense of just what it felt like to share this time and space.

Blog 2

Blog 3

As with all of the birdlife here, fear of human presence didn’t really seem to come into play so providing I showed respect and acted sensibly all the birds here remained very relaxed at all times.

The skies above were full of birds gliding too and fro and given a combination of their low flight paths and huge wing spans of some 2.5 metres I found myself in the unusual position of using a wide-angle lens to photograph them in flight too!

Blog 4

Throughout the day I found myself watching as much as photographing, enjoying the opportunity to capture simple portraits, little aspects of behaviour such as grooming, and given the incredible bonds that these birds have once they have committed to being a pair for life, the high levels of affection they demonstrated towards each other too.

Blog 5

Blog 6

Blog 7

Blog 8

West Point was an amazing place to spend the day with these beautiful birds – their naming extremely clear given the subtle striping across their eyes.  It was though just the appetiser, because 24 hours later, given the opening in the weather that I had planned in hope for basing us at this western edge of the Falklands for a number of days to allow it to come, I was again on a boat and headed to the far north-west of the archipelago, a journey of some 6 or 7 hours, and to the remote and uninhabited island of Steeple Jason.  This is a place that has long been very high indeed on my bucket list; it’s a challenge to get to (the boat journey is pretty much head on into the prevailing winds and they most certainly can blow down here, although local boatman Michael Clarke did a great job of getting us there and back safely – thanks) and totally uninhabited.  With permission and accompanied by Rob McGill, the warden responsible for it though, we had a 48 hour opportunity to visit what is home to the largest colony of Black-browed Albatross in the world – some 200,000 pairs.

The shape of the island is testament to its location and the weather it has to cope with, it’s narrow high escarpment cutting down its centre like the scales standing proud on a dinosaurs spine.

Blog 9

Head to its westerly end though and after battling through the surrounding tussock grass, the sight (and sound)  of the colony is simply breathtaking.

Blog 10

Blog 11

There are birds here as far as you can see – all of the white in the above shots are birds on the ground and in the same density as those in the foreground.  A walk around the edge of the tussock grass you can see edging the colony here simply revealed more and more over the horizon and wrapping off towards the far side of the crags.

When faced with monumental choice like this it is very easy to be overwhelmed photographically.  My first thoughts, and appreciating just how lucky we clearly were being in terms of the clear blue skies, was to capture the bigger picture – the setting and scale of these first two images.  Sticking with the setting which is equally as breathtaking I then concentrated on some contextual portraits as well as looking to isolate individual birds with both long and short lenses, looking to work as creatively as I could with the light and angles available.

Blog 12

Blog 13

Blog 14

Blog 15

Before I knew it the sun was starting to set, warming the light but also casting shadows across the colony too so after one last set of shots it was time to retire briefly to the research hut and among the food that we had brought out with us the somewhat surreal option of Waitress frozen cheesecakes among the fare!

Blog 16

Sleep for me was brief, such was the level of adrenalin still flowing, and as the sun rose a few short hours later, we made our way round to the other side of the island to work with the new days light direction – effectively the other end of the colony.  Again it involved a walk through the tussock grass (it is mostly over 3 metres high so a tussle to get through in places) and as this cleared and the rest of the colony was revealed the true scale of this place really hit home.

Blog 17

The white stripe here that is stretching out and round the far distant point is all breeding Albatross.  The previous afternoon had been spent round the corner and none of these birds had been visible at all – they are all additional!  The total colony stretches some two and a half miles around the coast here, and look in the far distance and you can see how it is starting to stretch up the side of the hill too.  I have been lucky enough to visit some amazing seabird colonies in my life but nothing like this!

As the sun crept up into the sky, gradually lighting the colony, it was back to work with the combination of lenses looking to capture place, work with said light and isolate behaviour.

Blog 18

Blog 19

Blog 20

The interaction process is not only a reinforcement of the bonds of a relationship, but for the first season ashore in adulthood it is actually a process birds go through in terms of finding and selecting a life-long partner so it is a serious business of courtship too and a joy to watch.

Blog 21

Before I knew it it was mid-day (time flies so fast when you are completely absorbed) and time to leave: my 24 hours here was done and the long boat trip back awaited.  After one last shot of the truly amazing scene the return journey was one full of reflection – what an experience, what a sight, what a stunning spectacle of the natural world and more than that what a privilege to have been able to experience it.  Now I just can’t wait to go back: the birds will be returning to their colonies about now but for me it’ll be another 12 months until I get to go back but it’s most certainly worth waiting for.

Blog 22



The wonders of wetlands

I suspect many of you have been watching the excellent series of Springwatch that has just come to a conclusion, based from the excellent reserve at Minsmere.  I first went there some 30 or so years ago and all my children visited as part of their early education in the wonders of reed beds and wetlands as a habitat to enjoy: it’s certainly one that is special and increasingly challenged in the UK and across Europe too.

One of the continents greatest areas wetlands is along the eastern end of the river Danube as it gradually makes its way into the Black Sea, and it was to the magnet of these   expanses of water, natural flooding and reed beds that I was drawn to join my good friend Emil Enchev in northern Bulgaria last month along with 3 guests (Nigel, Roger and Ian) who were joining us.

Blog 1

As you can see it is a wonderfully rich environment and full of life; both flora and fauna.

Blog 2

Blog 3

Blog 4

These Marsh Frogs (of which there were hundreds, competing with Fire-Bellied Toads to see who could make the most noise) took on a whole new appearance when they filled their air sacs to make themselves heard.

Blog 5

A half hour spell standing at the spot in the first image one afternoon led to 8 different grass snakes being seen just swimming through – a really rich environment, and one that we had permission to explore using floating hides: simple individual constructions of polystyrene, and a small dome hide which are manoeuvred by either slowly walking or (mostly) swimming slowly through the habitat until finding a quiet place to stop and settle and wait to see what swims by.  Hopefully that didn’t too often include leeches of which there were plenty and we all had a bite or two for our pains!  All worth it for the wonderful low perspective and very individual images that working this way can allow though.

Blog 6 Being at the beginning of the breeding season as we were many summer visitors to the area were busy pairing up and establishing both nests and relationships, including the very vocal Whiskered Terns, one of the freshwater birds of this family as opposed to the more often seen coastal species.

Blog 7

Blog 8

Those of you who might have followed my work over the years though will know that one of the families of birds I have always had a huge affinity for and enjoyed some incredibly engaging experiences with in the past though are Grebes, and this was an equally excellent time to be there for them in terms of numbers and activity too.

Black-necked Grebes have to be one of the prettiest birds there is when in their summer plumage and at this point in the breeding season large numbers of them will gather in breeding areas to sort out partnerships and nesting locations.

Blog 9

Blog 9a

Being in such a wonderful habitat and at the same time able to work at a perfect photographic level with them was completely absorbing, even when trying to paddle quietly to keep still as I was often out of my depth in the water!

Blog 10

And when a passing bird gives you the odd quizzical look too it feels like that effort is worth it as you have indeed become part of the scenery.

Blog 11

There were actually 4 of the 5 European species of Grebes to be found here, and one that I was especially keen to try and spend some time with was the Red-necked Grebe: quite a bit bigger than these and with a different conformation altogether.

Blog 12

They seemed to be more elusive but this bird, photographed late one evening, gave me something to work on locationally the next day and which proved to be rewarding as an uninterrupted 2 hour encounter that morning was completely absorbing.

Blog 13

Blog 14

You know that you have really become accepted when birds start to relax and preen, and in this birds case also call for an errant mate!

Blog 15

Blog 16

One of the facets that I particularly enjoyed about working in these wetlands was just how the light would completely change both the look of the birds but also the habitat, reflections and therefore image opportunities as well – the colours of both these Grebe species were multi-faceted in warm late and early light respectively.

Blog 16a

Blog 17

It meant that keeping a watchful eye as birds moved into different pastels and shades of water created fresh image opportunities aplenty, even when they were just swimming through.

Blog 18But one morning that will long remain with me alongside some of the other great Grebe experiences I have been fortunate to witness, saw the final sorting out of the pairs of Black-necked Grebes and very real establishment of where they wanted to nest in the coming weeks – fighting it seems gets the testosterone flowing too!

Blog 20

Blog 19

They may not have featured on Springwatch (mind you those Bitterns were pretty special too) but these beautiful little water birds are certainly one of the many wonders to be found in the wetlands across Europe, and reason enough to ensure it’s a habitat we hang on to.

Blog 21





The Secret Lives of Puffins

It seems like a long time since I added any content to this blog – and quite simply that’s because I’ve been away for the last 7 weeks.  With images from False Bay in South Africa, across a wide array of locations in Namibia and then the Salmon Run and Grizzly Bears in Alaska all awaiting processing then I can promise a bit more on the update front in the next few weeks though.

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:


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.

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!


Heavenly Hortobágy

When I was a keen bird-watcher and before the photographic side of things really took over my love affair with the natural world,  I remember visiting the Austria:Hungary border back in the early 1980’s and gazing over the then imposing border fence at the distant specks that were displaying Great Bustards.  Hungary was inaccessible really for the likes of me to go and enjoy the riches of it’s birdlife, but the Hortobágy region, an area of flat grassland/wetland habitat, was one I longed to visit such was the diversity of species and subtly different habitats it offered.

Fast forward to today and things have changed dramatically on the political front, but in the natural world the area remains a well managed example of how farming and wildlife interests can work together when there is an understanding and collective approach, and as a result the diversity remains intact, from wintering Imperial Eagle to summer breeding Bee-Eaters and huge numbers of migratory Cranes passing through each autumn.

I have been there a number of times now, and was this year leading a trip for Natures Images so was able to share the cracking hide based opportunities that local conservationists Janos, Atilla and co have quietly established here.  In the style that Hungarian photographers have pioneered these are all glass fronted in their construction, a reflective coating ensuring that the birds can’t see in and with the added benefits of no moving lens hoods sticking out and a fantastic vista from inside too: the 2/3rds of a stop of light lost in the process is the tiniest of compromises.

The habitat here is wonderfully varied and the combination of permanent and substantial yet movable hides gives the opportunity to work at fixed sites as well as be a touch more opportunistic, and one such hide placed near an ever drying wet area in the grasslands gave an excellent chance to spend a morning with the long-legged and elegant Black-winged Stilt.


With the glass front running right down to the floor of the hide the chance to photograph at ground level really emphasised the length of legs these birds have.


This Spring had seen good numbers of all 3 species of Marsh Terns (as opposed to the coastal Terns we are more used to seeing here in the UK) and during the morning several pairs of dainty White-winged Black Terns alighted in the dry patches starting to appear and reinforcing their pairing off.



One of the permanent hides, built on a platform in the heart of a reed-bed and again allowing water level photography appeared to be THE haven for Whiskered Terns though and they too were at the early stages of nest-building and the associated courtships.


The pool area the hide overlooked is a setting I have enjoyed photographing Pygmy Cormorants in the past and they didn’t disappoint with much swimming, splashing and classical wing-drying activity throughout the afternoon.


With the occasional (and intensely coloured) Ferruginous Duck floating by and the sound of Great Reed Warblers among others in the surrounding reeds it was once again a great place to see more of the areas diversity of birdlife from.



The grassland habitats offer an excellent selection of food for some of the small birds of prey, and the careful placement of nest boxes to ensure their continued presence in the area means that the tower hide that allows the chance to photograph the incredibly pretty Red-footed Falcons here also gives the chance to enjoy watching their behaviour on an almost non-stop basis as well: I spent 23 hours in a 35 hour period here over the course of 2 days and can honestly say I wasn’t bored for a single minute with preening, feather cleaning and very regular mating activity to observe and photograph.




Even an afternoons heavy rain shower provided a welcome chance to both record the conditions and also the drying out process required afterwards!



There were chances too to photograph some of the colourful ad iconic Central and Southern European birds too and although I wasn’t able to fit in the Bee-Eater hide that guests did I was able to spend a short time with an obliging Hoopoe and an excellent couple of days with the stunningly colourful European Roller.



The Rollers too were busy bonding, food passing, mating and generally establishing themselves in a strategically placed nest box – often overlooked when compared to their Lilac-Breated African relatives the setting here with an intense dark brown background though really made their colours sparkle in my eyes.



On the outskirts of the Hortobágy National Park sits the town of Debrecen, and the mixed deciduous woodlands that surround it are as rich with birdlife as the grasslands themselves, and a couple of drinking pool hide setups there gave ample opportunity to work with both difficult and more common UK species in a different setting – Hawfinch and in particular Turtle Dove have seen massive declines here in the UK but were regular visitors here.



Again on previous visits I had enjoyed photographing a number of Woodpecker species including the Middle-Spotted that we don’t see here in the UK – mind you once he’d had a bath then it would be a test of anyones identification skills to be absolutely sure which species he was!



The bathing opportunities were taken as much advantage of as the chance to drink and it was equally enjoyable seeing a Hawfinch and the easily overlooked and highly colourful Common Starling enjoying themselves, often with great vigour.



And these last two images summed up the week and the photography here perfectly for me – a combination of everyday and challenging species to work with and fantastic behaviour to watch and capture due in part to the thought in the settings but also due to the amazing views that the glass-fronted hides offered.  With no frontiers preventing me you can be sure that the Hortobágy and Hungary will remain on my photographic agenda for some time to come.

A bad hair day…..

It’s been a crazily busy start to the year but I’m now managing to do a bit of catching up with the post processing: sometimes it’s not a bad idea to do this a few weeks after the event so to speak as I find I am able to be a little more detached from the experience and objective about the images I select for processing.

In late January I enjoyed an all too short but extremely enjoyable 4 day trip to Lake Kerkini in northern Greece to concentrate on photographing the Dalmatian Pelicans there, a trip on which I was helped by my good friend Emil Enchev, an excellent Bulgarian-based wildlife photographer.


At this time of year these exotic looking birds, who enjoy an unusually friendly relationship with the local fisherman as you can see above (unlike the Cormorants who regularly get chased away from their nets) are coming into their breeding plumage and colours and become exceptionally tolerant and curious of people – especially  when there’s the possibility that said fisherman might be sharing some of their catch with them!


The most noticeable change  comes in the coloration of their pouch which takes on a truly vivid orange colour quite unlike any other Pelican species that I’ve photographed before.  As one group gathered just offshore on the first morning though I couldn’t help but notice the other plumage change in the form of their head feathers which seems to grow both excessively and chaotically at the same time.


As the morning’s wind blew it was clear that they struggled to keep their feathers under control!


It did however add a certain something to their character and personality though which was becoming more apparent as I worked on more intimate close-up portraits: the bright orange contrasting with their almost curly feathers provided lots to work with both in the foreground as as a splash of colour in the background too.



A year previously I spent some time photographing Brown and White Pelicans respectively in Florida and had noticed that the way they hold their heads has a huge impact on just how they come across – beak down and they look menacing but lift it up and they look much more friendly – a contrast that really stands out in these next two tight portraits of the same bird just a few moments apart.



The comical side of their nature was never more evident though when they gathered close to the shore as the fisherman looked to throw some remnants of their catch into the water for them – at which point all hell would break loose as they fought to grab a single fish.



There have been a number of high profile images of this behaviour taken in the last couple of years and as dramatic as it is, from a personal perspective I found myself much more drawn to the tranquil scenes and photographic opportunities that involved a single bird and which the bright overcast conditions really complimented, especially when they continued to throw in a little “look” with their almost foppish hairstyles at the same time!



I really enjoy this type of photography – one subject in one location and offering an array of options to build a mini-portfolio that does them justice as it does lead to a more interesting set of images than racing around constantly.  I look forward to enjoying more time with these dandy Dalmatians again soon!



A taste of Florida

The trouble with going to Florida for bird photography at this time of the year isn’t the distance involved and certainly not the weather (even if like me you prefer colder climates to hotter ones). No it’s the fact that it’s long been a birdwatchers mecca and with good reason – there are birds everywhere and they are incredibly approachable by comparison with here in Europe – so when it comes to blogging about the last couple of weeks I’ve just spent there (1 week holiday 1 week running a Natures Images trip) it would be all to easy to simply roll off image after image of different species in an almost tick list manner.

Given that I have the luxury of being able to post across 3 different blogs though, I’ve decided to use that to my advantage and concentrate here (the first post) on how I always seek to get as much in depth coverage of species as I can when travelling as that’s what really motivates me. You can see more coverage of the trip here and also here .

There are two types of Pelican to be found in Florida at this time of year – the resident Brown Pelican and the winter residents the White Pelican.  Behaviourally very different from each other the resident browns can be seen in a bewildering array of plumages from mature adults as above through juveniles and breeding adults (with a chocolate brown neck) as below.

The Brown Pelican is actually a common sight around the coast and associated lakes and lagoons across the state – every fisherman there (and there are many) knows them well as they regularly hang out at fishing piers and around boatyards in search of any throwaways.  They may be highly visible now but back in the 1970’s they were in serious decline as the local equivalent to peregrines here in Britain being at the top of the food chain that suffered with heavy use of DDT and similar pesticides in the food chain.  thirty or so years of conservation work and they are now recommended to come off the threatened species list here which is great news, as an evening spent sitting on a fishing pier watching them splash around like swans as the day drew to a close was particularly enjoyable.

Unlike their White relatives who fish as a group, herding their prey for a collective feeding frenzy, Brown Pelicans act as individuals, either diving from flight or skipping across shallow lagoons to grab at fish, holding them tight in their enormous pouches until they have manoeuvred them into place and drained the water out in order to swallow them down.

Occasionally though they attract the attention of the local Gull population when they have made a catch and some of them can be particularly keen to get part of the meal that’s on offer and take full advantage of the delay time that draining takes!

White Pelicans move up country and away from the coast to breed and certainly live a much more co-operative lifestyle – it was rare to see one on it’s own and if it was it was never to far away from others, and they help each other when it comes to herding fish all of which are caught from the water surface. As they enter the beginnings of the breeding season they also grow unusual plates on their upper mandibles, no doubt to show off their prowess.

Ever since I first became interested in US birds one species that I have always wanted to spend time with is the truly unique and quite extraordinary Black Skimmer.  In past attempts both here in Florida and also in California I had always been unlucky and so it was with great relief and with many thanks to local photographer Michael Wolf who very kindly pointed me in the direction of his local late wintering resident group that I was finally able to spend some time with these fabulous birds.

It didn’t look particularly hopeful when we first arrived – the beach was heaving with people and was overlooked by huge buildings and I simply couldn’t believe they would be there.  But Michael was true to his word and sure enough we found a group settled up on the sand and enjoying the afternoon sun just like the human visitors!

All they wanted to be doing for the afternoon was resting and the occasional beak stretch and preening exercise.

This extraordinary proximity to large numbers of people is one of Florida’s highlights, but sadly the birds are not always respected.  Michael told frustrating tales of parents setting their phones on video and sending their children charging into the group to film them all taking off, and although illegal here people walking dogs who chase them around.  Even while we were trying to take pictures people seemed quite oblivious to their presence (and ours) and simply walk right through them!  Definitely some scope for a bit more local awareness methinks!

As the day came to a close the birds would head off individually or in small groups for a drink and a bathe, very occasionally dragging that characteristic lower mandible through the water (their feeding style – a nerve in it snaps it shut when it touches a fish or similar object) before eventually flying off en masse to their overnight roost.

Two magnificent species, real highlights of Florida in my opinion and certainly among the many highlights of a great trip.  Look out for more on the Natures Images blog soon too!