October has seen a return to Africa. One of the great game parks is Etosha in Namibia. My previous visits have always been hard work but very fruitful. This time of the year is hot and dry with most of the action going on near the various natural and man made waterholes. We tend to stake these out and are rarely disappointed. Initially we stayed at Mokuti lodge on the edge of the park. This is a nice lodge, but has the disadvantage of being outside the park boundary, which opens at sunrise.This means that getting into the park proper can take a frustrating 10-15minutes in the morning, and you have to remember to get out before sunset. This can mean missing some very nice light, but rules are rules! There has been an increase in rhino poaching recently, so control of who is in the park is important. The two nearest waterholes to the lodge are at Klein Namutoni and Chudob. Chudob is good in the mornings and has always yielded some good lion activity as well as masses of herbivores. On my first morning, I caught a glimpse of a couple of lionesses who were walking towards Chudob but were in thick scrub. I got down to the waterhole and then enjoyed the site of six lionesses coming down to drink. They had clearly eaten well, but the sixth one was huge.She was full and pregnant, and could hardly walk!

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Although the middle of the day is not always ideal, you can often see elephant activity, and we regularly saw families coming down to drink and play. A truly wonderful and moving sight.

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As well as the local elephant families at Klein Namutoni, we had a nice sighting of a very relaxed female leopard art the waterhole.

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Etosha is very hot and dry, and this landscape lends itself to some dramatic scenes.

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After a couple of days at the eastern end of the park, we drove across to our second destination, Okakuejo. This camp is within the park and has a fantastic floodlit waterhole.. This is a very reliable site to spot black rhino. One night, there six around the waterhole at once! Amazing.

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Lovely to see young rhinos in spite of the disgusting poaching that continues. This area has another great waterhole, Nebrowni. It is a few minutes from camp, and provides a different type of image for photographers. Although we saw lions here, the bull elephants were the stars. There are a large number of these huge elephants around the park, and they also need to drink. They are easy to spot and always fun to watch.

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In spite of their huge size, they all have small and broken tusks. This is probably due to calcium deficiency, but may be a life saver as they are not such a target for poachers as the great tuskers of East Africa.

We spent one night listening to the fantastic sound of roaring lions. As soon as the sun came up,I drove out to try and find them They were about 100m from camp and provided some great images.

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Not all the predators are as big as the lions, and early morning also revealed some local bat eared foxes. These are small and quite shy, and sometimes all you can see is the large ears on show!

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These open plains are also home to another very characteristic bird present in large numbers in Etosha, the ostrich.

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After a few days, we headed back east to Onguma. This is a separate privately owned reserve on the edge of Etosha. I wanted to go there as they have built a hide at a waterhole. This is always an attractive option for a photographer as it allows you to watch the animals at eye level, rather than from a vehicle. It proved very successful with lots of animals coming to drink. The highlight of the whole trip however was when two lionesses with four six month old cubs came to drink and play. I didn’t what to look at with plenty of amazing action in every direction!

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As well as the group shots, the cubs came so close to the hide to investigate that portraits were very easy, so close that I could pat them on the nose!!

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The mums were not quite so pleased about this and kept us on our toes!

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Lions were not the only visitors at this waterhole. It provided a chance to see some of the gorgeous small birds that can be so difficult to see on a normal safari.

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At the other extreme, giraffe also came to drink.

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Black backed jackals are always busily running around. They seem to be on a mission, always running in such a purposeful manner!

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Lots of herbivores need to come and drink in this very hot environment. There was a virtually constant parade of these guys coming to drink. Some of them such as the zebra were not surprisingly, very wary!

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I thoroughly enjoyed the hide, and enjoyed shooting with Bill Gozansky who shared some of the sessions with me.

Our last few days in Etosha were a really special experience.It seems to get better every time I go. We yet again failed to find a cheetah in spite of looking hard. Everything else however behaved  as well as we could have asked for.What was best? Elephants are always such amazing animals.

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Rhino are so special and the continuing poaching is so tragic. Even cutting off the horns makes no difference, but lets hope that the market in China and Vietnam can soon be shut down before these animals disappear.

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But the best? Lions. Just can’t get enough of them!

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I tried to photograph these birds last year while nesting. No joy as they nested late! So I decided to try again, a little later, in the hope of getting some shots of young birds, which are a little less nervous. We headed back to Lisbon, where we started with a delicious custard tart and visit to the Time Out market for some fantastic food.We headed out to the country to try and track down the kites and yet again, they proved difficult. Several birds were around but remained extremely shy, taking flight as soon as we got to within about 100metres. Even with a 600mm lens and 1.4 converter, they were too far off. It was a shame as they are stunning. I got some flight shots but in the very hot air and great distance, they are all a bit soft.

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This became even more frustrating when a kestrel decided to have a go at one of the kites.

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The following morning, I finally got some nice shots of a young bird on a perch.Beautiful!

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There were some other nice birds around the area including this bishop.

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And a squacco heron.

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We went back to Lisbon for a couple of days. There was a visit from the Irish President so our last morning was spent enjoying watching this cavalry unit doing their stuff!

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It was a fun weekend.Thanks to Elder for his help.

August has been a month to shoot nearer to home. My main subject has been the local roe deer.They are quite shy and always hard to get a good shot. I was hoping to find some rutting males, and although I did come across a pair of bucks squaring upto one another, it was almost pitch black so no pictures! The next morning however, I did see this buck hot on the tail of his doe, with clearly only one thing on his mind!

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The other lovely sighting was this youngster that I came across on another evening out.

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Last weekend,I spent a very enjoyable afternoon shooting harvest mice. These tiny rodents do not hang around so also proved to be quite a challenging subject.

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When they stop for a second, you can get some nice poses. These two are youngsters. Childhood doesn’t last long for these guys as they grow and breed quite quickly.

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It was nice to get them in various environments, though sadly the classic wheat stem eluded me. A bramble bush was a nice alternative though.

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It was great fun, thanks to Pete Whieldon for this.

In june, I finally got back to Costa Rica, 5 years after my previous trip. This time Nicky joined me. We travelled with my friend and guide Jeffrey Munoz.  The trip started with a dire 4 hour delay at the immigration hall in San Jose. Four wide bodied jets land within minutes, and only 4 agents to check all the passports! Not a great start, but things rapidly improved. Next morning, we drove to the Arenal volcano. The Arenal Observatory lodge was a perfect base for the first few days. We had hoped to see a margay in the area. Sadly no joy, but on our first day there, we did have some amazing opportunities to photograph some of the snakes that live in Costa Rica. This included some beautiful eyelash vipers.
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The highlight however was the chance to shoot this stunning bushmaster. This is central America’s most venomous snake, and although it was clearly quite relaxed, taking pictures with a wide angle lens at this range was quite a thrill
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The next day was spent on a visit to the Cano Negro wetland area on the Nicaraguan border. This was a great area for bird photography with our first owl of the trip, these screech owls.
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There were also a number of other great birds like this kingfisher.
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From Arenal, we moved up to Bosque de Paz, our first hummingbird site.  This small lodge was a great site with gardens full of hummers. Initially, I shot using natural light, fun but difficult as it was so dark.
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The next day, we set up some flash guns and spent the whole day shooting the humming birds. This was huge fun and totally addictive. I managed to get many good shots, very many!!
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There was also a little surprise for Nicky here when she came across a tarantula on the path one afternoon. Cute!
From here we moved back down to sea level to spend a few days at the Selvaverde lodge. Here we met a very strange character , known by Jeffrey as Elmo, due to his vocal similarity to the Muppet character. The was hot tropical rainforest and provided some amazing wildlife. We were able to photograph some of the wonderful little frogs that live in this humid forests. They are great fun, but again a challenge in low light. They tend to hop around quite rapidly too!! This little guy is a glass frog, transparent and only 2cm long!
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The next day,I met Coppee, an amazing guide. He hacked through the rain forest and found some great stuff. Within a couple of hours in the baking hot, humid forest I had photographed two species of bat, and two species of owl amongst others.Amazing.
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In the afternoon, we had quite a laugh shooting an ant pitta. This little bird is quite shy, and it appeared within the root system of a large tree.We then waited for a couple of hours while it teased us by starting to come out into the open, then rushing back into the dark. Eventually, it relaxed came out and flew so close that I thought it would land on the camera!
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The next destination was back up in the highlands. We travelled to the Paradiso de Quetzal to try and find the resplendent quetzal, said by some to be the most beautiful bird in the world!! Last time I came to Costa Rica, I only saw one at the top of a very tall tree in Monteverde. This time was much more successful. With the help of Eric,our local guide, we found some wild avocado trees which were fruiting, and before long, the quetzals appeared, stunning indeed!
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We the did another great session with the humming birds, including the amazing flame throated hummingbird. High up in this new ecosystem at nearly 3000m , there were lots of other stunning birds to photograph such as this chlorophonia.
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Our final destination, was on the Pacific coast. The Parador hotel in Quepos is right by the Manuel Antonio national park. Here we found the mantled howler monkeys the had woken us at 5am when we were at Arenal. The hotel was amazing and having monkeys, sloths and many birds on the property was amazing.
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We got some great views of sloths at long last, Both here and in Brazil, I had been unable to see a sloth, so it was great to see both 2 and 3 toed varieties.
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On the final day, we went looking for birds again. Several great species, but it was probably the ferruginous pygmy owl that was my favourite. Like all these small owls, they seem to have a great attitude.Tough characters.
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It was a great trip.I came home with over 22000 images, some idea of the almost continuous shooting. Thanks for all your help Jeffrey, you did a great job. Look forward to returning soon.

May has been centred around Luke and Laura’s wedding, so wildlife has taken a bit of a back seat, at this most busy time of the year. I was however delighted to find a little owl nest here in West Horsley, and have spent the last few evening watching the adults coming into the nest hole and hearing the rather unpleasant racous calls of the owlets demanding food. Here is the male,I think. He seems much more relaxed in my presence than his partner.

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April this year has been busy in every sense. Frantic at work, but with two very different trips to enjoy as well.

The first was an adventure to Svalbard on a land based trip searching for polar bears. I have beeb here twice before in the summer, but this is the first time that I have tried earlier in the year.

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The idea was that in early April, the sea ice should be breaking up and the bears coming into the fjords to hunt for ringed seals in the last remaining areas of ice where the seals are giving birth. The good news for bears, but bad news for photographers is that this year there has been much more sea ice than for the last five. This means that the bears had a huge area to roam in search of their prey out at sea(ice!). We arrived at our base, the old coal miners cabins in  Longyearbyen and sorted out the snowmobiles before venturing out for eight days and over 1000km on the search!

Initially we had some success finding arctic fox and reindeer so we were very optimistic.

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It is amazing to think that these animals scratch a living in this savage environment.

Our first full day found us driving across a glacier in a white out, and later a couple of the guys managing to crash through the surface ice on one of the fjords (definite need for bicycle clips for them!!!!) quite exciting!!

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Riding these things at uptown 100km/h was quite fun to start with, but after a while………!

Anyhow, the search continued and we focussed initially on the old Russian  settlement of Pyramiden, where a bear had been sighted. This is a bizarre place which used to have a coal mine, but is now just inhabited by a handful of Russians in an old hotel! They have to stay there year round in order for Russia to maintain her claim on the area.The town itself is completely deserted, and would be a landscape photographers dream. After a very long day, we reached our destination and found a newborn ringed seal on the ice near the old town .It was delightful.

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It’s mother was clearly anxious to get it into the safety of the water, but these youngsters are not able to swim for the first few days.

Whilst in this area, we also had the best fox encounter with this beautiful white example.

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There was also a much more cautious dark form of arctic fox hunting in the area. He kept his distance but was nice to watch!

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From here, we decided to head to the east coast as we thought this would be our best chance. En route we saw many more reindeer.

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Following the reindeer, we were also able to get close to the only bird to make an appearance, the ptarmigan. They often follow the reindeer looking for food where the snow has been disturbed. These stunning white birds were also fantastic in the white landscape.

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This is a very beautiful place and the ice we encountered was fantastic, as were the glaciers seen from the very unusual perspective of being on foot near their fronts.

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The bears remained elusive. The scenery was amazing and we spent quite a while including a very cold and uncomfortable night on our snowmobiles out on the sea ice, looking.

_DSC4517While driving between icebergs on the sea (that last time I visited, I was on a ship!!) we finally found our bear. A female with two new cubs, no more than 30m away. We had to back away rapidly and she took her cubs in the opposite direction into an oncoming snowstorm and some very difficult terrain. We could not follow her and that was it!

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This was the only shot I grabbed before she disappeared.Hard to believe that even with tracks to follow, we had no joy!

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Better luck next time.

It was a great trip nonetheless. Our guide Pieter was fantastic, and the the other guys great companions. Thanks to all of you.  I look forward to another crack at polar bears soon.

The second trip was back to see Carles and Roger in Catalonia. These guys have a great selection of hides, and my targets for the weekend were twofold.First, was the display antics of a very Spanish bird, the Little Bustard. Although they do live elsewhere, Spain is probably the world’s major population for this wonderful bird. They live in grassland and arable farmland, and the males display in the mornings at a lek. It is a very comical display, with the bird initially just calling.

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But then starting to puff out his collar and leap about a metre into the air. My male must have done this fifty times in the hour or so before he got bored!

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This morning display was followed by an evening with a very unusual animal.The genet, a small carnivore looking quite like a cross between a cat and a large mustelid. They are normally extremely shy and highly nocturnal, but this wonderful female has been getting sufficiently used to my guide Ivan, that she now appears before dusk.

It was truly incredible to be so close to this animal that I had never seen before.

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She seemed quite relaxed and allowed me to shoot for several minutes before disappearing back into the forest.

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It was also nice to se that she was heavily pregnant.  My final day, sadly ended with another whole day from before dawn in an initially freezing, to a subsequently boiling hide waiting for a goshawk. I spent a day in this hide two years ago with no success and should have learnt my lesson. I could even hear the bird calling, but he would not come into view. Might try back in Norway where they seem much more co-operative!

Spent a couple of days in Estonia. I went looking for Ural owls, but sadly the weather did not co-operate. It was quite windy and not really cold enough, so they stayed tucked up in the forest. My guide Remo, has great knowledge of the area and fantastic field skills, but even he could not find one. What we did find was a great Pygmy Owl. This is Europes smallest owl, and we heard this character responding to a call from quite a distance.

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We enjoyed his company for a little while, before he got a bit peckish! From about 7 or 8 meters up he suddenly dived down and caught a mouse. Very impressive. Got a quick snap before he disappeared back into the forest!

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We spent some time following some very fresh and quite large wolf tracks. No sign of the wolves sadly. There were plenty of roe deer around, with the bucks sporting their velvet covered antlers.

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We also got a glimpse of a small group of elk one early morning. Hard to believe animals this big can disappear so effectively!

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The last treat was a nice tawny owl, with quite grey plumage doing his best to look like the Ural owls that I couldn’t find!

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