As 2013 slips away into history and with the dawning of 2014 in the New Year, I spent some time reflecting on the highs and low’s of the year and realised that photographically, it was a challenging, exciting and extremely interesting year.
2013 was the year that I decided to take the proverbial “leap off the cliff into free-fall” and leave the safety net of formal employment to begin my own environmental consulting business. Together with good friend and colleague Arne Purves, we also launched African Conservation Photography and we will be using this as a platform to raise awareness for conservation through the use of iconic imagery and supporting text.
Although it is still early days, it certainly seems that my decision was the correct one with more and more of my images and articles being used across the globe to promote the conservation cause. My field-trips to the Wild Coast, off-shore guano islands, Northern Cape and Mozambique, amongst many others, brought some great stories, many of which are very sobering as to the extent of the damage that we humans are causing to the planet.
The time spent away in the field was not easy for my family and yet they constantly and unfailingly supported my urge to go out and gather the needed material that can promote conservation – To them, I say a HUGE thank you! Special thanks also to Arne Purves, Kobus Tollig, Martin Taylor, Thomas Peschak, Jean Tresfon, Ross Wanless, Scott Ramsay Etienne Marais, BirdLife South Africa, the team from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Green Matter, amongst many others, for a brilliant year out in the field and I look forward to raising the bar with you all even higher in 2014!
Below is a selection of some of my favorite images from the year that I have chosen not only from a photographic perspective, but also from a point of igniting memories of experiences. When looking at the images, I see that I was privileged with a diversity of photographic opportunities that took me from aerial platforms through to photographing birds, mammals and landscapes to undertaking specific conservation projects. I hope that you will enjoy the selection that I have put together and perhaps in someway be inspired to either challenge your own photographic skills and/or just get out there and promote the conservation of our fragile world. I also hope that you will follow me on my newly launched Facebook page, where I will be regularly posting images and updates about my conservation work.
1 of 25: Cape Gannet pair in greeting ritual: Early in 2013, I spent time on Malgas Island within the West Coast National Park supporting a team from National Geographic. While we were on the island a thick blanket of mist enveloped us, reducing visibility to only a few meters and meant we had to focus our attention on individual birds as opposed to getting wider shots of the colony. This image is certainly one of my favorites from the trip and shows the strong pair bonding of the pair. When posted on 500px it received well over 4500 views in less than three hours.
2 of 25: Aerial view of the Heuningness River and Estuary: When Jean Tresfon invited me for a flight in his gyrocopter, I could hardly refuse and the first afternoon flight that we undertook, carried us across the stunningly picturesque coastline of the southernmost tip of Africa. We veered slightly inland to take this image of the Heuningnes River as it flowed through the estuary and into the sea
3 of 25: Aerial view of salt marshes draining in to the Langebaan Lagoon: Over the last few years I have been focusing a lot of my photography on gathering material that will help promote South Africa’s marine protected areas. Jean Tresfon once again kindly assisted with a gyrocopter flight up along the west coast and over the Langebaan Lagoon and adjacent marine protected area. This image was also used in a book produced by the Table Mountain Fund and where I was the principal photographer.
4 of 25: African Black Oystercatcher pair running on the beach: Those that know me, will know that the African Black Oystercatcher is a favorite photographic subject of mine and I am always looking at a different way of depicting the lives of these charismatic birds. I found this pair walking along the beach at De Hoop Nature Reserve early one morning and used a slow shutter speed and panning motion to obtain this image
5 of 25: Morgans Bay cliff line before dawn: The Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is very aptly named but it is also one of the most picturesque sections of our coastline. Just to the west of the small hamlet of Morgans Bay, high rugged cliffs drop down into a deep blue ocean and getting up long before dawn, I managed to obtain this rather moody image of blues offset with green.
6 of 25: Tourists watching a Great White Shark swim past their boat: Wilfred Chivell and his team from Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust have been long term supporters of my work promoting the marine environment and it has always been a privilege to head out on one of their vessels to view either Great White Sharks or Southern Right Whales. These vessels play a critical role in educating the public about dispelling the negative myths that have been built up about the sharks.
7 of 25: An African Elephant Calf being helped by its mother and aunt: Addo Elephant National Park is a family favorite and we make an annual pilgrimage to this reserve during school holidays. These elephants are an obvious favorite with my family and are also amongst the most relaxed anywhere in Africa. Here a newly born elephant calf struggled to climb out of the high walled waterhole and was immediately assisted by its mother and aunt that carefully placed their trunks over the calf, pulling it free.
8 of 25: Cape Vulture Blur: Cape Vultures are true masters of flight and most photographers “freeze their flight” in a crisp sharp image that gives no indication of the vultures flying ability. Here, I deliberately slowed the shutter right down to create an indication of the speed and movement of the vultures’ flight.
9 of 25: Eurasian Bittern in flight: I have been providing monthly birding destination stories for Country Life magazine for five years now and when Martin Taylor from the avi-tourism division of BirdLife South Africa invited me to cover a 5000km journey through central Mozambique, I leapt at the chance of seeing, photographing and writing about many highly sought after species. The Eurasian Bittern was high on the list of most sought after birds to be seen and it was an incredible privilege to have this handsome bird fly directly past me in early morning light.
10 of 25: Mozambique military convoy: Being a photo journalist in Africa always brings excitement, either through the chance of catching a long list of tropical diseases or through visiting wild and sometimes dangerous country. Recent conflict in Mozambique meant that we had to join a police convoy to travel north of the Save River and although our trip was fortunately uneventful, it was sobering to pass the burnt out hulks of vehicles that had been destroyed by rebel forces in previous ambushes.
11 of 25: Gorongosa Forest: A life long dream of mine was to be able to visit the Gorongosa National Park and nearby mist-belt forest on Gorongosa Mountain. Years of civil war within Mozambique sadly precluded me from being able to make the dream a reality. When I was finally able to visit the area together with BirdLife South Africa and Etienne Marais of Indicator Birding, I was not disappointed with the incredible birding to be had on the vast floodplain within the game reserve. The forest itself was covered in a thick mist that created a mystical atmosphere that is indelibly sketched into my mind, making it be one of the real highlights of my 2013 year.
12 of 25: Friendly Mozambican child: Despite years of hardship and poverty, I found the Mozambican people to be some of the most dignified, humble and friendly people I have ever met. Passing a homestead while slogging up the slopes of Gorongosa Mountain, the entire family, including this young boy, came out of their huts to greet us.
13 of 25: Male Red-Throated Twinspot drinking: During the birding trip through central Mozambique, our northern turning point was the banks of the Zambezi River and we spent a few days at the Mphingwe Camp which had numerous bird baths scattered through its grounds. Martin Taylor and I spent a very productive afternoon photographing over 16 species of birds that came to bathe and drink, including this male Red-Throated Twinspot.
14 of 25: Young Eland bulls sparring: De Hoop Nature Reserve is a regular haunt of mine and I visit the reserve several times each year. During late winter and spring, the Eland form up into large breeding herds that may number a few hundred. Young bulls test their strength with one another and the setting of these two bulls on green grasslands and against the backdrop of the distant dune fields gave a distinctively De Hoop air to the image.
15 of 25: Greater-Striped Swallow pair: With the onset of spring, migrating birds return to southern Africa, including these intra-African migrant Greater-Striped Swallows. The swallows build their nests under the eaves of large buildings and I spent several happy hours watching this pair return repeatedly to this water puddle to collect mud pellets in their mouths with which to build their nests.
16 of 25: Early morning Trek-net Fishers in False Bay: Given South Africa’s extensive coastline, numerous communities depend on the seas for subsistence. In False Bay, the Trek-net fishers are well known and I wanted to get a picture that clearly showed the setting in which they lived and fished. This image shows the fishers pushing their heavy wooden rowing boat into the water in the early morning and with the silhouette of the mountains that ring the western side of False Bay showing in the background.
17 of 25: Hovering Black Harrier: The Black Harrier was little known in the late 1980’s and I spent two years monitoring the breeding of the species in what soon became the West Coast National Park and from my work I was able to produce my first research paper on these iconic birds. At the time, photography did not feature highly on my agenda and since then I always yearned to be able to photograph the birds hunting in their characteristic manner of quartering low over the veld. Late this year, I was finally able to photograph a Black Harrier during a late afternoon spent at the Gondwana Game Reserve in the Garden Route.
18 of 25: Researcher and African Penguin: In September, I worked with Green Matter and the Seabird Division of BirdLife South Africa on a story promoting the plight of the African Penguins and our oceans. While on Dassen Island, a few penguins were fitted with satellite tracking devices that would provide much needed information on the movements of these birds.
19 of 25: Dawn call of Blue Cranes: Blue cranes are regularly encountered on the farmlands in the Overberg where I live and at the start of the breeding season, this pair was found calling at dawn as a light mist hung in the air.
20 of 25: Caspian Tern nest: Seabirds have always been a firm favorite of mine and I have spent countless hours watching and learning about their ways and habits. For years, I have tried to find the nest sites of Caspian Terns without any success. This year, I finally located a small breeding colony, comprising of several nests that is also a new breeding location for this threatened seabird.
21 of 25: Mokala National Park electrical storm: My last field trip of 2013 was to the Northern Cape to gather material for a series of birding stories for Country Life. While at Mokala National Park, afternoon clouds soon transformed into intense electrical storms that rumbled heavy thunder with repeated lightning bolts across the skies.
22 of 25: Leaping Springbok lamb: While in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I drove past a throng of vehicles that were snarled up watching sleeping lions. A few hundred meters further along the Nossob Riverbed, I found a large herd of Springbok. The young lambs were playing with one another by sparring, chasing and pronking. This youngster made repeated leaps high into the air providing great photographic opportunities that were way better than any that could be provided by the sleeping lions.
23 of 25: Colors of a Swallow-Tailed Bee-eater: Bee-eaters are firm favorites with birders and photographers due to their beautiful coloring and sweeping flight In trying to capture something different, I photographed the back of this Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater as it landed and flared its feathers to full extent and thus exposing the beautiful patterns and coloration on its back.
24 of 25: Portrait of an African Spoonbill feeding in the shallows: For me photography is not only about the final image but also about the experience and privilege of being in the outdoors. I have spent much time photographing the birds of the Agulhas Plains. At at one waterhole, I spent several hours with this African Spoonbill. In the end the bird was so relaxed with my presence that it was feeding totally unperturbed within a meter of me.
25 of 25: Hovering Whiskered Tern: Late rains over the Agulhas Plains have left numerous water-filled pans that have become feeding haunts for countless waterbirds. Large flocks of Whiskered Terns have spent weeks in the area hunting and feeding on the thousands of developing tadpoles. The birds hover into the wind before plunging down to snatch up a hapless tadpole, providing perfect photographic opportunities.
More of African Conservation Photography images may be viewed in our image gallery.