Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015

The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were announced yesterday. This is always an important day in the wildlife photography calendar and one I look forward to each year. The overall winner was a powerful image by Don Gutoski showing the brutal aftermath of a battle between a red fox and an Arctic fox. The winning and commended (now called 'finalist') images can be found here.


'A Tale of Two Foxes' by Don Gutoski

I think 'A Tale of Two Foxes' is an excellent image. It is powerful, unusual, well composed (I like the symmetry of the foxes' heads) and tells a story. One can only imagine such encounters between red and Artic foxes will become more commonplace as climate change extends the range of the former into that of the latter.

In my view the competition features some inspirational images this year. There are a number that I particularly like but the following are some of my favourites:

'Shadow Walker' by Richard Peters 

 'Still Life' by Edwin Giesbers

'Battling the Storm' by Vincenzo Mazza - 
this image doesn't quite work for me until you spot the Whooper Swans on the water. 

'A Whale of a Mouthful' by Michael Aw

'Sea Eagle Snatch' by Auden Rikardsen 
(this formed a part of the portfio prize and Rikardsen's portfolio as a whole is very impressive)

...and there are several others that I really like too.

I was particularly keen to see the images in the Invertebrates category. Within this category I try to imagine which image I would have been most pleased to see on the back of my camera. By this yardstick, of the 4 winning and finalist images, my favourites would be 'Waiting for the Sun' (below) and 'Wings of Summer' by Klaus Tamm. These are the two images I would have been most keen to rush home and process had I taken them! I notice that this category only features 4 images - all other categories feature at least 5 I think. One can only assume that the judges felt that only 4 invertebrate images met the required quality standard which perhaps reflects a lack of submissions of invert images or just a general dearth of quality. Both are slightly troubling and suggest that the competition is still struggling to cast off its recent reputation for 'not really doing insects'. By comparison, the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards always features a much larger, and often higher quality, selection of insect images. Hopefully, the presence of the dedicated Invert category (introduced last year) will result in a greater number of high quality insect images being submitted to WPOTY.

'Waiting for the Sun' by Edwin Giesbers (again!)

Overall, I think the judges have done an excellent job this year. All decisions are of course highly subjective and one can never fully agree with all of them. But, this year's winners contain a number of highly original images featuring a wide selection of subject matter. The reduced emphasis on flagship species is very welcome.

However, I can't resist the urge to have a slightly mischievous moan. In my WPOTY blog post 2 years ago (here) I was critical of the number of similar images in recent years and I highlighted the 3 images below

WPOTY 2010 by Marcelo Krause

WPOTY 2012 by Luciano Candisani

WPOTY 2013 by Jordi Chias Pujol

all of which seemed to suggest that the judges couldn't resist side-on head shots of aquatic reptiles! As if to maintain this tradition, this year's competition contains the following image:

'Cuban Survivor' by Mirko Zanni

Individually, all of these are very nice images but given the presence of the previous images, I still struggle a little to understand how this latest image was deemed to be sufficiently original to see off competition from over 42,000 other images.

However, I shouldn't end on a negative note as I think this may have been one of the best WPOTY for several years. Well done to the winning photographers and to the judges too. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

'New' Species

This summer the vast majority of my photography took place at a local nature reserve only 10 minutes from home. There were several reasons for this, the main one being that for some reason I particularly enjoy photographing my local wildlife. I will occasionally venture further afield but I like that to be the exception rather than the rule.

The downside of focusing so much attention on one local site year-after-year is that the insect species that appear at different times of the year become fairly predictable. This can encourage creativity as it forces me think how to photograph Common Blue butterflies or Four Spotted Chasers differently. But I don't normally expect to see 'new' species.

Imagine my surprise therefore to discover 2 new species of large insects at this site within the space of a couple of weeks this summer. The first discovery was this rather handsome Roesel's Bush Cricket found in early July in a patch of rough grass. This is a species that I'd never seen before, not only at this site but anywhere else either. In the UK its range has been expanding from the south east so it is possible that it is a fairly recent arrival at the site.


Later in July, on the same patch of rough grass (while looking in vain for more Roesel's Bush Crickets) I found this female Long Winged Conehead. It is a nymph which is why it has short wings and the straight ovipositor distinguishes it from the Short Winged Conehead. Again this is a species that is gradually moving north in the UK and is now increasingly common in the midlands.

I can only hope that both of these species become established at this site.