Archive for European Wildlife

I am the 2014 European Wildlife Photographer of the Year!

Posted in African Wildlife, European Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2014 by Neil Aldridge

It’s with humility and immense pride that I can announce that my photograph ‘Living Rock Art‘ has won me the overall title of 2014 GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

The photograph is an artistic take on two blesbok antelope stampeding across the plains of South Africa’s Kariega Game Reserve. The shot was entered in the competition’s Nature’s Studio category before being awarded the overall title by the panel of judges. However, it’s a photo that very nearly didn’t happen…

I was in South Africa working on a story about the rhino poaching crisis and one particular rhino named Thandi that had survived a brutal attack by poachers. I think I had photographed Thandi from every possible angle so my guide – and now good friend – Brendon Jennings and I decided to take a break and explore the floodplains of the Bushman’s River. That’s when we found the herd of blesbok.

With the light on the plains fading fast, I decided to switch to a longer exposure and shoot in a more artistic style than my usual documentary approach. I stepped off the side of the vehicle to use the vehicle as a blind and to get a ground-level angle of the animals stampeding past. That’s when I heard a loud crack…

My ankle had turned in a hole. I landed in a heap in the dust. The pain was unbelievable but, fortunately, I had somehow planted my tripod and camera safely as I fell. I was able to sit up just in time to see the blesbok approaching. I grabbed my camera, locked my focus on them and panned smoothly as they careered past. Only once they had disappeared in a cloud of dust did I turn my attention to my injuries.

My fall may have been but the picture was no accident. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I know that, but I was working hard to capture their movement in a still photograph. What I hadn’t banked on was that the shapes created by their striking black and white leg markings would so closely resemble Bushman rock art, which influenced the title of the image.

I collected my prize in Lunen, Germany at a ceremony marking the competition’s 14th year surrounded by incredibly talented photographers that I have nothing but respect for…which makes this win all the more special.

I’m pleased to say that my success in the competition was not just restricted to Africa’s plains. My photograph of a shoal of tiny Okavango robber fish swimming up the Selinda Spillway in northern Botswana was selected as Highly Commended in the Underwater category too.

All of the winning images can be seen on the competition’s website www.gdtfoto.de

You can see my winning shots and more on my website www.conservationphotojournalism.com

BBC Wildlife feature my Estonia tour images…

Posted in Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, Travel, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by Neil Aldridge

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I’m proud to say that BBC Wildlife Magazine has chosen to feature a selection of photographs taken by myself and Remo Savisaar during the trip that we co-led for Estonian Nature Tours in 2013. You can enjoy the gallery online at their website discoverwildlife.com

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If this taster of what Estonia has to offer excites you, Remo and I will be introducing guests to Estonia’s fantastic wildlife again in 2014. During this nine-day tour you will have the chance to photograph from hides, boats, vehicles, viewing towers and on foot as we seek out bears, beavers, birds and other animals in Estonia’s vast forests, bogs and wetlands. You can see the full itinerary and tour details on my website conservationphotojournalism.com

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Super Squirrels…

Posted in European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by Neil Aldridge

© Neil Aldridge

Okay so let’s get one thing clear – these aren’t actually flying squirrels, they’re red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). More specifically, they’re Scottish red squirrels. Most of my previous attempts to photograph these wonderfully iconic creatures have been fruitless, which makes me even happier with the resulting pictures from a recent trip to the Highlands.

© Neil Aldridge

If I’m honest, while planning this trip to Scotland I was visualising and hoping for snow…and lots of it. Yet, while neither myself nor fellow South African photographer Ben Cranke came away with the wintery images that we had prepared for (and I always try to plan my shots before a shoot), the show that the squirrels put on and the opportunities that we had to capture their antics were beyond our expectations.

© Neil Aldridge

Ben and I spent two days working a set-up in Glenfeshie (check out the Northshots website for info) in the Cairngorms National Park, moving between a hide by a drinking pool and a hide positioned on the edge of the forest. We managed to learn the habits of the squirrels pretty quickly and finally get the best jumping, drinking and feeding shots that the lighting conditions would allow. While we may have arrived in the middle of a strange mid-winter heatwave, the sun was still low in the sky and barely broke above the treeline, making me pretty glad I had the f2.8 capacity of my Canon 400mm and 70-200mm lenses. I was also quietly happy to see Ben struggling to autofocus in the low light with his much vaunted Nikon D4* (*Disclaimer: this may not have happened).

© Neil Aldridge

It’s neither a secret nor is it new news that red squirrels in the UK have been squeezed out of their natural range by non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels cause such damage to the UK’s native fauna and flora that they are listed in the IUCN international list of 100 most impactful invasive non-native species. They are not only larger and out-compete the native reds for resources but they also carry the parapox virus. While greys can carry the virus without being affected, reds are highly susceptible to it. Research shows that in areas where both species occur and where the virus is present, greys can displace the reds up to 20 times faster. This makes protecting red squirrel strongholds both more important and more difficult.

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Having been won over by Glenfeshie’s super squirrels, we left the comfort of the hides behind and spent two days on the surrounding snow-capped mountains searching for ptarmigan. Check back soon to see how we got on looking for white birds in a white landscape in horizontal blizzards.

© Neil Aldridge

Check out more images & news at conservationphotojournalism.com

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

Wild Estonia

Posted in European Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Estonia’s bogs, ancient forests and meadows support a diversity and abundance of wildlife long forgotten in most European countries. This richness makes the country a pleasure to explore as a photographer and wildlife watcher. Estonia is fast becoming one of Europe’s birding hotspots and having watched short-toed eagles, nutcrackers, honey buzzards and three-toed woodpeckers during my recent trip, I can see why. It can also be one of the best places to see some of Europe’s large mammals like bear, wild boar, elk, lynx, wolf and beaver.

With food plentiful and the forests thick with growth, summer can be a difficult time to see these large mammals but it was the wealth of healthy ecosystems supporting this wildlife that really drew my attention as a photographer. The dedicated portfolio on my website is just my take on why Estonia is so special and why I cannot wait to return. Keep an eye on the Safaris & Workshops page for details of how you can join me on an exciting photo tour to one of Europe’s smallest but wildest countries, organised in partnership with Estonian Nature Tours.

It is not only wildlife that is intrinsically connected to Estonia’s various habitats though. Many people still gather wild food in the forests, fish the large lakes and hunt for meat. This connection with the offerings of the land reinforces just how important Estonia’s landscapes are. However, many Estonians that I spoke to fear that the awareness of the importance of the country’s habitats is being lost. Wildlife tourism through local pioneering companies like Estonian Nature Tours not only helps to celebrate Estonia’s natural heritage but it generates valuable income for local economies. And one knock-on effect of a successful eco-tourism industry is increased protection for wildlife and wild places.


Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Badgers: To cull or vaccinate?

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, UK Wildlife, Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Neither the governments of England nor Wales seem to know what to make of the science, advice and opinion at their fingertips surrounding the culling of badgers. What’s more, the vaccination of badgers against TB seems to be overlooked as an alternative in many discussions. Want to make your own mind up? Check out this month’s BBC Wildlife Magazine for a news piece by Julian Rollins on culling plans in England, illustrated by one of my shots from my recent Badger vaccination shoot with BBC Wildlife in Gloucestershire. Be sure to get next month’s issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine to see the whole special investigation feature on Fera’s Badger Vaccine Deployment Project.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Signs of spring

Posted in Conservation, European Wildlife, Photography, Take Action, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Despite a bitter winter in western Europe, the dry start to 2011 has meant that many typical signs of spring are appearing early in the UK. Looking back, the impressive ‘supermoon’ that appeared in the night sky on the northern hemisphere spring equinox should have been a clear indicator that this year’s season of growth was going to be something special.

Spring means different things to different people. For some, it’s the return of swallows from Africa. For others, it’s the burst of colour as bluebells carpet our woodland. Whatever your favourite sign of spring may be, in our changing climate it is more important than ever to record these moments to map how our wildlife is adapting or being affected. If you are out and about in the UK and you’re seeing butterflies or hearing cuckoos then you can help build a picture of spring by logging what you’re seeing via the VisitWoods website.

For me, spring came alive in Suffolk over the Easter weekend as I was fortunate to hear my first booming bittern. The males of this red status bird only make this far-carrying call in the spring but the rarity of the species in the UK means that few people get to hear it. I also tracked down and saw my first cuckoo of the year after following its distinctive call. Hobby falcons skillfully catching dragonflies overhead and adders basking in the sun were unexpected but equally compelling.

After the cold and dark winter, the vibrant colours of spring are just as evocative to our senses as the sounds, smells and antics across the country. The brilliant yellow of gorse and the breathtaking blue of carpets of bluebells have inspired me to find, enjoy and photograph (in that order) as many signs of spring as possible. I’ll be adding images to the dedicated Signs of Spring portfolio on my main website as I go, so be sure to check it out.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

British Wildlife Photography Awards

Posted in Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Exhibition, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

One of my white-tailed eagle photographs from my last visit to Skye will be featured in the winning portfolio of the 2010 British Wildlife Photography Awards. All of the winning and commended photographs will form part of a series of exhibitions, launching at London’s Hooper’s Gallery on the 14th of October. The portfolio of images are also available for the first time in a book. For a full schedule of the UK-wide exhibition tour, visit the BWPAwards website. My main site conservationphotojournalism.com features more of my work on white-tailed eagles.

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

Peregrine Falcons

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

I have been photographing this pair of peregrine falcons for the last 4 years but I don’t think I’ve been treated to such an acrobatic flying display in perfect conditions quite like what I enjoyed last week.

Just after I had set myself up in a carefully-chosen position, both birds came back to the nest carrying food. Shortly after, the female took off again carrying the remains of a bird in her huge talons. She climbed higher and higher and then without warning, dropped the food, tucked herself into a stoop and followed it towards the cliffs below.

Now, you’re probably asking why I don’t have better pictures but following the fastest animal in the world with a lens equivalent to a 728mm (400mm plus a 1.4x teleconverter on a 1.3x crop camera body) is just about manageable when soaring but such erratic flight takes a true master and, I must admit, my technique hasn’t been kept up to scratch. Still, it was good practice for my forthcoming trip to Scotland and it has whet my appetite for a return to the site once the chicks have fledged.

Peregrines have become a symbol of conservation success since their recovery from persecution and pesticide poisoning, which peaked in the 1960’s. Their tendency to nest on high-rise buildings in towns and cities across the UK has also helped to engage a large sector of the UK’s urban public by showing that you don’t have to travel into the countryside to find awe-inspiring wildlife.