Archive for Birding

Join Me – New 2013 Estonia Photo Tour Dates

Posted in Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, Travel, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2012 by Neil Aldridge

Discover one of Europe’s most exciting wildlife destinations with two international award-winning wildlife photographers. Join myself and Estonian photographer Remo Savisaar in May 2013 on a 9-day photo tour as we travel from coast to forest and from bog to riverbank photographing Estonia’s wildlife and wild places.

This exciting new photo tour combines specialist photographic tuition with expert wildlife guiding. We will be photographing bears, birds, beavers and Estonia’s famous bogs, amongst other wild things and beautiful places.

There are only six places available on this trip, so check out the full itinerary on my website and then contact our travel partners Estonian Nature Tours to secure your place.

See the full itinerary on my website conservationphotojournalism.com

Join me at the Rutland Birdfair…

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2012 by Neil Aldridge

I’ll be at the British Birdfair in Rutland this August delivering a talk and promoting my 2013 photo tours. Join me in Lecture Marquee 2 at 2.30pm on Sunday the 19th of August where I will be talking about Africa’s wonderful Limpopo Valley and sharing my experiences of this true Land of Giants.

Over the course of the three days I will also be spending time on the Estonian Nature Tours stand talking about our 2013 photo tours to this exciting European location. We’re relaunching our tour for 2013 so come along and find out about photographing Estonia’s wildlife and wild places in the company of myself and leading Estonian photographer Remo Savisaar.

I have also donated a signed copy of my new book Underdogs to the Birdfair auction (lot 18). This is a great chance to get your hands on a copy of my new book and make sure your money supports international conservation efforts. To date, the Birdfair has raised nearly £2.5million for conservation efforts.

See you there…

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Ospreys aplenty

Posted in Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Those of you who read my last post and followed my tweets will know that I recently set myself the challenge of bettering my previous attempts at photographing ospreys hunting. For this, I needed a reliable location where I knew ospreys would be literally queuing up to catch food for their newly-hatched chicks. There are a few locations on the continent renowned for giving photographers the chance to work close to the action but Scotland’s Rothiemurchus estate on the outskirts of Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park certainly ticks all of the boxes.

My first sighting of an osprey hunting was actually en route to Aviemore. Having stopped at the Scottish Wildlife Trust‘s Loch of the Lowes reserve near Dunkeld to see the resident female sitting on the nest, I couldn’t have been more than a couple of miles up the road before I found the male hunting along the River Tay. He must have gone down for fish five times in the time I watched him from my car, frustrated that I couldn’t find somewhere to pull over.

My frustrations were short-lived however and at first light the next morning I found myself frantically climbing into my hide with two ospreys scoping out the offerings of the Rothiemurchus lochs from above. Unfortunately, the changeable Scottish weather meant plenty of white cloud – nightmare conditions for photographing a predominantly black-and-white bird. When the sun did break through the clouds however, the light was fantastic and I often found my eyes wandering off to admire the Cairngorms reflecting proudly in the still waters rather than watching the skies for approaching ospreys.

My time at Rothiemurchus perhaps didn’t yield exactly what I had hoped for – the high quality shot of an osprey emerging from the water with a fish in its talons – although I must say that was through no fault of Speyside Wildlife and Rothiemurchus who between them provide what must be one of the UK’s top wildlife watching opportunities. Two ospreys carried off fish and there were several other failed plunges during my time by the lochs. Only two hunts happened within view however, and both were at quite a distance in dull morning light. That said, I think I can safely say that I have met my challenge and bettered the only shots of an osprey in my portfolio.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to test your photographic skills, then I couldn’t recommend a trip to Aviemore and Rothiemurchus more highly, particularly as the site plays a vital role in sustaining a healthy and renowned local population of these special birds of prey. Ospreys were extirpated from the UK by 1916 but now, almost a century later, it’s clear they’re safely established once again thanks to the hard work of organisations like the RSPB and people like Roy Dennis.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Lock and load…it’s migration time!

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, Poaching, Take Action, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

Quite soon birds will be leaving Europe for warmer climes. Tiny swallows to huge eagles will be heading Africa-wards to escape the northern hemisphere winter. However, many will not get there and even fewer will make it back again to breed in 2011. Some will be predated along the way and others will fall to other natural influences like severe weather or poor navigation. But it is the human impact on the hundreds of species that make the journey across the Mediterranean that is most worrying.

At many significant points along the way, human development is encroaching on natural habitat that has been vital for migrating birds for centuries. The vast amounts of energy used when flying such long distances makes resting and refuelling stops essential. If these birds can’t find enough to eat along their journey, chances are they will starve and perish. With booming human populations, this global fight for space is a sensitive issue that has no quick fix or easy solution. Similarly, increasing energy demands and the quest for renewable energy resources has necessitated the erection of wind turbines that increase the risk to birds of mid-air collisions. However, one fight that migrating wildlife is losing that can and should be remedied more easily is the illegal shooting and trapping of migrating birds by poachers around the Mediterranean.

BirdLife Malta works tirelessly to monitor and reduce activities on the archipelago that threaten wild birds yet the high density of hunters makes their job difficult. Relatively few birds are resident on Malta in comparison to the 170 species that occur during periods of migration, making spring and autumn the height of BirdLife’s efforts. Almost anything avian is targetted by illegal hunters from beautiful hoopoes and European rollers to black storks and lesser-spotted eagles (check out BirdLife’s 2008 illegal hunting and trapping report). Birds of prey are specifically persecuted and so it’s not surprising to learn that Malta’s last remaining resident pairs of peregrine falcons and barn owls were all shot by hunters.

In 2009, volunteers at BirdLife’s annual raptor camp found the remains of over 200 birds stashed away in the Mizieb woodland and the reports and video footage captured by BirdLife staff and volunteers show that hunters are prepared to flaunt the laws protecting wild birds right under the noses of the authorities.

The presence of dedicated conservationists and their links with the local police may help to deter some poachers on the islands yet the confiscation of smyrna kingfishers and lappet-faced vultures from Maltese hunters after visits to north Africa shows just how far some individuals are willing to go to carry out their killings. It is thought that Maltese poachers bribed their way in to Egypt’s Gebel Elba National Park before smuggling guns and ammunition through various checkpoints. But Egypt is not the only other important site for conservation where birds are at risk on the Mediterranean. It is believed that bird trapping in nearby Cyprus accounted for an estimated 261,000 birds on the island during spring this year. Top conservation blog ‘Migrations‘ gives more in-depth information on the situation in Cyprus where many migratory birds are trapped for the restaurant industry. But if you want to help put a stop to the illegal killing of thousands of birds each year and also get to see the biannual spectacle of this mass migration then check out BirdLife Malta‘s autumn Raptor Camp and its springtime equivalent Spring Watch.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

The sea parrots of Skomer

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

I’m just back from a few days on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast where I’ve been working to plug one of the holes in my UK portfolio. Puffins have always been conspicuous by their absence from my body of usable work so I headed to Skomer, a seabird paradise three miles off the west coast.

On what turned out to be the hottest few days of the year so far across much of the UK, I seemed to have picked the worst time to hit the road as wind and rain threatened to derail my plans and ruin my chances of getting the various shots I was after. Even though the sea mist rolled in, making it hard to track the birds in flight as the camera’s autofocus system struggled in the low light, I guess I can consider myself lucky that I didn’t get rained on and that I even made it onto the island at all. A number of seabird expeditions were cancelled in the days prior to my visit to Skomer due to bad weather and stormy seas.

The island is a national nature reserve managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and is home to nearly half a million seabirds as well as short-eared owls, peregrine falcons and choughs, but it is probably best known for its colony of more than 10,000 puffins. This time of year, the air is full of adult birds flying like bullets from the sea to their burrows with mouthfuls of sandeels to feed their chicks…followed clumsily and aggressively by gulls looking for a free meal.

Between March and August is the best time to see these iconic parrots of the sea as they come ashore to breed in huge colonies. Seeing them in such large numbers in one place like Skomer makes it hard to believe that the puffin is listed as Amber Status in the UK but their numbers have fallen significantly across much of their European range. Terrestrial predators like cats, mink and rats remain a threat to breeding colonies and the species is susceptible to the affects of marine pollution and unsustainable fishing.

Too big for our skies?

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

With Natural England and the RSPB carrying out yet more research, assessments and feasibility studies to see if a reintroduction of White-tailed (Sea) Eagles into Suffolk will have a detrimental impact on the livestock farming industry in the area, one would be forgiven for thinking they were readying themselves for a good old-fashioned western duel, not initiating a conservation project. The immortal threat of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ permeates the attitude of the old-fashioned society that these conservation bodies are up against, generally intolerant of anything with a predatory disposition. Unfortunately for our birds of prey, far too many ‘conservationists’ fall into this club as well, intent solely on protecting pretty song birds and ground-nesting game birds.

It’s astonishing the number of people that I’ve met over the last year or more who all regurgitate the same line of ‘there’ll be nothing left’ when the topic of a White-tailed Eagle reintroduction comes up, as if the bird is some rabid tiger with huge pterodactyl wings. Yes, they are known to take lambs but there are measures that can be taken that don’t include poison or firearms. The birds, mammals and fish that we see around us in Britain today all survived the period when the eagle lived here naturally before we extirpated them, so what would be different if they were to be reintroduced? Or have our interests in self-preservation reached such levels that we honestly believe there is no space for any top predators other than ourselves?

But, with it being the International Year of Biodiversity, I shall try to remain optimistic. After all, Natural England does seem optimistic about starting formal consultation on the reintroduction issue in the second half of this year. Perhaps one day we will see this magnificent bird return to English skies. But for now, in defiance and celebration rather than pessimism and nostalgia, here’s a series of photographs from my last couple of visits to Scotland showing both wild and captive birds doing what White-tailed Eagles do best. Wouldn’t it be great to see this along England’s coast once again…

Land of giants

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

The recent storms in South Africa’s northern Limpopo Province may have been big but they measure up against the region’s landscapes and wildlife. From its trees to its birds, mammals and the river itself, the valley of the great Limpopo River is a land of giants!

The vast landscapes of this place near where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet are dominated by baobabs. These colossal trees support a whole community of wildlife – elephants eat the bark, bats feed on the nectar of the flowers (and in turn pollinate them) and barn owls roost and nest in holes in their large boughs. Many particularly large trees still bear the pegs that allowed humans to climb up and collect rain water collected in troughs in the boughs. In such a hot climate in a place where ground water will have been shared with wild animals, this would have been a vital source of fresh water…if you can reach it.

During the dry winter months, large herds of elephants move into the valley from dryer areas over the river in Botswana. The riverine forest comes alive with a mass of grey bodies shepherding their youngsters and hoovering-up vegetation and the remaining water.

Herds of eland, Africa’s largest antelope, also roam the plains of the valley. Like in much of their range, black rhino’s are here but they are hard to see. The larger and more common white rhino has become synonymous with the Limpopo valley since the discovery in 1932 of a little golden rhino at the World Heritage Site at Mapungubwe.

Even the birds here are big enough to make small children and dog owners feel wary. Black eagles rule by day, surveying the land for their quarry from a perch high up on a sandstone cliff or by soaring the thermals on huge wings. The floodplains are home to marauding secretarybirds, storks, ground hornbills and kori bustards, the heaviest flying bird in the world, while the night is owned by owls. The elusive and sought-after Pel’s fishing owl uses the large trees lining the river to roost in by day and hunt from by night. Also in the riverine bush, hunting silently on a two-metre wingspan in almost complete darkness, the giant (or Verreaux’s) eagle owl hawks for birds and small mammals.

But as rich in wildlife and archaeology as this valley is, it is a landscape under threat. If proposed coal mining in the area is allowed to go ahead, pollution is not only likely to threaten the local ecosystem but important sites further down the Limpopo River system in the Kruger National Park and Mozambique as well.

Plans for the mine at Vele, just six kilometres east of the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, also threaten to derail proposals for a major transfrontier conservation area between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, a scheme committed to by the government. The Endangered Wildlife Trust and BirdLife South Africa are just two of the many organisations fighting the mining application. And while no-one can be certain what either the short-term or lasting affects of the mine will be on this overlooked and sacred corner of South Africa, with so much to experience in this land of giants, my advice is to go there and to go there now!

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com