A great aspect of nature photography is that it allows us to look at our natural world in a different way. It allows us to change perspective, and I don’t just mean a change of visual perspective! This is especially the case for close-up photography, which enables the appreciation of animals in all their detail. Here I made a selection of 10 of the most awe-inspiring close-up photos of animal faces from some world-class photographers that I hope will make you change perspective too. Enjoy!
Although most bird species already lack the ability to detect sweet flavours, penguins loose out on even more and are not even able to detect bitter or pleasant savoury tastes. By analysing the genomes of a range of penguin species, scientists discovered that all penguins appear to lack the genes that allow them to detect these flavours.
It is likely that penguins lost their taste between 20 and 60 million years ago, a period that saw dramatic climate cooling in Antartica, as the necessary protein are inhibited at very low temperatures. It may also be down to penguins slippery diet, as the primary aim of their bristles-covered tongues (see photo below!) seems to be to catch and hold their prey after which it is swallowed whole.
Penguins thus perhaps do not need taste perception, although it remains unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss, according to the study published in Current Biology. Unfortunately for the penguins it still means they are left with only sour and salty sensations when enjoying their slippery meals.Zhao H, Li J, & Zhang J (2015). Molecular evidence for the loss of three basic tastes in penguins. Current biology, 25 (4) PMID: 25689905
One of my favourite birds is the exotic-looking hoopoe. It is an magnificent bird that lives across most of Europe, Asia and Africa and is famous for its giant mohican-like crest. Hoopoes often nest in cavities in the walls of derelict buildings, as is brilliantly shown in these stunning pictures by Peter Damerell.
Peter, a good friend of mine, was conducting research on the critically endangered Saiga antelope in the remote regions of the Ustyurt Plateau, Uzbekistan. While taking a break from work to avoid the 40+ degree heat, he found a nice cherry tree to rest under. But as soon as he sat down, he suddenly heard the chirping of nestlings nearby and discovered a hoopoe nest a couple meters away hidden in the wall of a crumbling outbuilding .
Peter set-up a cleaver trigger system to take these amazing photos of the birds coming to feed their young, even without them knowing as Peter explained:
By observing the parent’s behaviour I could accurately time their arrival and set-up my DSLR whilst they were away foraging. I then set-up a remote trigger that I could control while hidden away in the shade of the cherry tree, thereby minimizing my impact and at the same time enjoying a few cherries. I like using a remote camera in this way as it provides minimal disturbance for your subject, something that is really important to me.
Hoopoes mainly forage on bare ground, probing the ground with their long curved bill to look for big grubs and other insects, clearly visible in these photos. It’s salmon colour with black and white wings and extraordinary crest make the hoopoe instantly recognisable. I very clearly remember the times I managed to see them in the wild whilst travelling in Spain and France, a wonderful experience. However, I still hope to see them on an English lawn sometime as these birds do actually arrive in Britain each year!
Peter has travelled and conducted research across the world and is currently doing a PhD at the University of Cambridge to look at the relationships between people and wildlife in Romania. You can see more of his amazing photos and learn about his work on his website.
NB: When birds are nesting it is very important that they are not disturbed as this can cause them to abandon the nest. If not sure wether you will disturb a bird, then the simple rule is not to take the picture at all but just to enjoy watching the birds. Thanks!
Most textile arts like knitting and crochet result in the warm cloths we wear, the cozy pillows we sit on and the funny bags we carry. However there is a kind of textile art that is there purely to enjoy: cute miniature crochet animals!
Su Ami is a Vietnamese family of five that have created a large range of the most adorable miniature animals that easily fit on the tip of your finger. From dogs and cats, to tiny turtles and even platypuses, all made using crochet. It is impressive the crafters were able to give these tiny animals so much detail and showcase the animal’s main features, such as the cat’s whiskers, the platypus’ beak and even the kiwi’s egg!
I am always fond of artists and craftsmen playing with the natural world and these tiny pieces of craftsmenship are a great example of that. The crochet animals are for sale in Su Ami’s own Etsy shop, see some of my favorites below.
Birds of paradise are amongst the most amazing and beautiful animals on our planet. Found in the nearly inpenetrable jungle of New Guinea, they are an extraordinary example of evolutionary adaptation. Sexual selection in particular, which explains why females choose mates based on certain characteristics, thereby increasing the chance that those traits will pass on to the next generation.
In New Guinea, food is abundant and predators rare, therefore these birds were able to flourish and exaggerate their most attractive traits to an absurd degree with the goal to attract a mate. The displays of male birds of paradise are unrivalled in the animal kingdom and combine extreme feathers with vibrant colours and crazy movements.
The males of the birds of paradise have special display feathers, which are highly evolved versions of a basic feather that do no longer have its standard structure. Some even evolved into large plumes or stiff wires and now only serve to improve the male’s chances to court a female.
Some of the most unusual feathers can be found on the king of saxon bird, which has feathers coming from behind the eye and extend to more than double the size of the bird and are fused into a plastic-like structure!
But having amazing feathers is not enough, therefore the males move their feathers in a special way and perform peculiar dances to impress the females. Several kinds of birds-of paradise even transform their bodies into a dark oval shape when they display, thereby creating an amazing contrast to show off their bright patch of vibrant colourful feathers.
Just as each species looks different, they sound different as well, but females have the final decision, and even after seeing the beautiful feathers and stunning dance of the male birds and hearing their remarkable tunes, they remain choosy and touch the males to make make their final decision.
The Birds-of-Paradise Project is the first to capture all 39 species of birds on tape. Evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman spent almost a full decade trekking in this isolated wilderness in pursuit of all 39 species of this miraculous family. The explorative couple went on a total of 18 expeditions and logged a total of over 2,000 hours simply sitting in blinds, waiting and watching! The video below gives a sense of their monumental undertaking and the spectacular footage that resulted.
The great goal of the Birds-of-Paradise Project is to advance knowledge and promote conservation through exploration, research, and education focused on the birds-of-paradise. Click here to learn more about it and here to see thousands of sound and video clips.
This year almost 43.000 entries from across 96 countries have been submitted to compete in the fantastic annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. This great photo competition by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide celebrates the rich array of life on our planet, reflecting not only its beauty but also highlighting its fragility. After what must have been countless days of comparisons, the international panel of judges has announced the winners of this year’s prestigious competition. South African photographer Greg du Toit has been named Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 for his image Essence of elephants while the 14-year old indian boy Udayan Rao Pawar won the Young Photographer of the Year award with his stung image Mothers little headful. Enjoy these and the other winning photo’s of this year’s competition below!
What a brilliant photo of a female gharial with hatchlings on her head. It was shot in the early morning by young Udayan Rao Udayan on the banks of the Chambal River, India. Sadly although Gharials were once found in rivers all over India, today just 200 or so breeding adults remain..
This beautiful arty wildlife shot is the winning photograph of the wildlife photographer of the year 2013. Although Greg du Toit has photographed African elephants for years, he had always wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that he’d sense when with them. This is the stunning result, a baby elephant and its herd near a waterhole in Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve, photographer from a sunken freight container used as hide with a ground-level view!
When photographing the famous Japanese macaques around the hot springs of Jigokudani, central Japan, Jasper Doest took this stunning photograph of a Japanese macaque near the hot springs of Jigokudani, central Japan. It took him a couple years to get this ultimate shot of swirling steam and snow flakes and a wet macaque.
By a combination of photography and wilderness skills, Connor Stefanison managed to get this amazing shot of a female barred owl in flight in her territory in Burnaby, British Columbia. He watched her for some time and familiarised himself with her flight paths until he knew her well enough to set up his camera near one of the owl’s favourite perches, linked to a remote and three off-camera flashes, and put a dead mouse on a platform above the camera to wait for the swoop that he knew would come.
Another win for Connor Stefanison with this shot of a fox jumping up ready to catch a tasty mouse, amongst the beautiful grasslands of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. A beautiful photo showcasing this fascinating animal.
You can visit the exhibition in the Natural History Museum in London from the 18th of October 2013 until 23 March 2014.
Most of us are used to calling groups of animals by different names. Think for example of animal groups like a flock of birds, a school of fish, a swarm of insects, or maybe a little bit less known but still often used, a murder of crows and a murmuration of starlings. But the list of collective nouns for animal groups does not stop here. Whether it is a cloud of bats, a zeal of zebras or a conspiracy of lemurs, lots of animals have bizarre, unusual names when they are found in groups!
Although some of these group nouns are rarely used, even by scientists, they represent our creativity for linguistics and our deep-rooted affinity for nature. Many of them can be traced back to elitism of the fifteenth century when the first collection of these names was published in ‘The Book of St Albans‘, 1486.
Many of the names for animal groups refer to the behaviour of the animals. For example, a parliament of rooks is derived from the way the birds noisily nest together in rookeries in tall trees while an exaltation of larks is a poetic comment on the climb of the skylark high into the sky while uttering its twittering song.
Some of my favorites are: a mess of iguanas, a flamboyance of flamingos, a smack of jellyfish and a squabble of seagulls!
- A cloud of bats
- A grist of bees
- A shrewdness of apes
- A conspiracy of lemurs
- A pandemonium of parrots
- A knot of toads
- An audience of Squid
- A murder of crows
- A charm of finches
- A zeal of zebras
- A smack of jellyfish
- A parliament of owls
- A troop of monkeys
- An exaltation of larks
- An unkindness of ravens
- A shiver of sharks
- A flutter of butterflies
- An army of catterpillars
- A seething of eels
- A flamboyance of flamingos
- A business of flies
- A deceit of lapwings
- A tribe of goats
- A crash of Rhinoceroses
- A descent of woodpeckers
- A gang of turkeys
- A quiver of cobras
- A mob of kangaroos
- An implausibility of gnus
- An intrusion of Cockroaches
- A bloat of hippopotami
- A flock of lice
- A troupe of shrimps
- A mob of meerkats
- A fever of stingrays
- A rhumba of rattlesnakes
- A clew of worms
- A murmuration of starlings
- A squabble of seagulls
- A volt of vultures
- A train of camels
- A clowder of cats
- A peep of chickens
- A cackle of hyenas
- A mess of iguanas
There are many fascinating stories to be told about the unique feeding behaviours of the 10,000 or so bird species that roam the earth. From hitting your head against a tree trunk 20 times a second, eating bones, drinking nectar, or cleaning a crocodiles teeth! However, one of the most ferocious and graphic ones must be that of the shrike family.
Shrikes are formidable hunters that have the habit of catching insects and small mammals and impaling their dead bodies on thorns! Since they don’t have clawed feet this peculiar behaviour helps them to tear their prey into small eatable pieces. It furthermore serves as a cache so that the shrike can come back later, which may help males to impress a female (Yosef & Pinshow, 2005). Impressingly, the impaling behaviour of shrikes have even enabled them to eat extremely toxic grasshoppers by waiting for 1-2 days for the toxins to degrade (Yosef & Whitman, 1992).
The amazing picture above was taken by Glenn Vermeersch and shows the impaling behaviour in all its detail. Here is his story about how he managed to get this amazing shot:
Yosef, R. & Whitman, D. W. (1992). Predator exaptations and defensive adaptations in evolutionary balance: no defence is perfect. Evolutionary Ecology 6: 527-536. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2005.02.023Yosef, R. & Pinshow, B. (2005). Impaling in true shrikes (Laniidae): A behavioural and ontogenic perspective. Behavioural processes 69: 363-367. doi:10.1007/BF02270696
As a nature photographer specializing in birds, I have been trying for five years to capture this behaviour with no success at all. In northern Belgium where I live, the shrike occurs only as a winter guest. It is also a very shy and intelligent species making it extremely difficult to photograph.
A few weeks ago I found a bird that was slightly less shy than I was used to. It occupied a small winter territory in a protected area. I contacted the owner and got permission to place a hide. Then, a long period of observation began. I got to know his favourite places and in which bush he impaled his prey. While observing, I got lucky and was able to photograph the bird with a freshly caught
Eventually I built a small hide under one of the lookouts of the bird and one evening some it come back with a freshly caught Dunnock! The next morning I installed myself in my hide for the first time and waited for a long time. But it was all worth it because after 4 hours, the shrike came to collect his prey! An unforgettable experience!
On a cold autumn day, Sophie Windsor Clive and her friend Liberty Smith decided to go for a nice canoetrip on the river shannon in Ireland. They thought it would be fun to film that day and decided to bring their camera along, not knowing that within days their to-be taken shots of a starling murmuration would amaze millions of people across the world.
The synchronous movements of large flocks of starlings are definitely one of the most aesthetic pleasures nature can give. Roaming the sky in immense numbers, these starling flocks remain incredible cohesive, often resulting in amazing formations.
The secret behind these swirling formations is that they are self-organized dynamic systems: in a flock of starlings there isn’t a single leader, but the cohesion and movement of the group is created by the massive interaction among the birds where each bird keeps track of the position of its closest neighbours.
As a large group, the starlings benefit from safety in numbers and can feed more efficiently, which may be needed during the cold winter months. Just as fish swim in shoals for safety, the tight sphere-like formations of starlings constantly swirl and change to confuse predators.
This video is absolutely amazing and one of its kind due to it being filmed above the water which gives the benefit of a much wider view and the birds coming closer to the surface. And the 4.5+ million people that have watched it since the two weeks of its existence probably agree!
For more photos and videos of the amazing shapes starling murmurations might have, see my other starling post here.
Bar-headed geese are known for their exhausting migration route over the Himalayas, reaching extreme heights up to 10,175m and traveling distances of 1500km in a single day. Although it was already known these high-flyers are physiologically and biochemically adapted to flying at these altitudes where oxygen levels and temperatures are both extremely low, it remained unclear how they performed this incredible energy-costly feat.