Friday, 4 July 2014
Monday, 21 April 2014
We are delighted to finally announce that our new updated website is now live! Come by for a browse, we hope you like the new design, images and additional information. More new pages to follow shortly.
NEW! Website: www.imagesofwildlife.co.uk
NEW! Blog: http://www.imagesofwildlife.co.uk/blog-2/
Our blog is also now moving from here to a blog page in our new website. Soon we will be adding a 'follow us' button on the new blog so that you can sign up for updates when we post blogs.
This 'blogspot' blog will be closed down shortly but we hope you will follow us to our new website based blog.
You can follow our new blog from the website menu or by clicking here
The new address is: http://www.imagesofwildlife.co.uk/blog-2/
We hope yoy enjoy!
Friday, 7 February 2014
Thursday, 2 January 2014
It was December 30th and the Amarula was going down quite nicely as the three of us were watching TV. Every evening we would regularly pay a visit outside for a 'cloud check' whilst we all avidly checked the NASA website for the current aurora activity. This particular evening was no different. It was around 11pm and Andy had just checked the update which showed a KP value of 1, certainly not strong activity but enough to potentially provide a show in the sky. He took a wander outside into the icy cold and instead of coming back with the usual glum look that had typified the last few days he exclaimed that actually the skies were clearing.
Bored with TV and so desperately wanting to give every single opportunity of seeing the aurora a chance we decided to take a drive out. Fortunately Andy had stayed on the hot chocolate that night, whilst munching his way through a giant bag of Doritos and a huge bag of chocolate buttons! Andy and Angela suited up in a zillion layers whilst I, feeling a little pessimistic and not expecting to be out for long doned a pair of jeans and just a few other layers. Oh how I wish I had also 'thermaled up that night' (thank goodness andrenilin keeps you warm....well for a while anyway!!)
We took a drive in the direction of Geysir, and we all continued to look skyward. We had not realised how many small hamlets and houses dotted the route and we soon realised this was not the best direction to head, in order to avoid the distraction and light pollution from these properties. Especially with such a low KP index we needed to search for the darkest skies possible. We pulled over for a short time and scanned hard, sometimes convincing ourselves that we could see the aurora. We had heard that sometimes the aurora can be active but not always visible to the eye, the only equipment that can sometimes capture the lights being a camera. So Andy braved the cold and decided to test this theory, just in case this magical spectacle was playing hard to get. Angela and I expected Andy to return back into the car with negative news. However, this was not so and instead greeted with "guys get yourselves ready I think we have the aurora!" and at the same time showing us an image just captured where indeed you could see a very feint glow of green in the sky. However, masked a little by the orange glow of some nearby properties. This was time to get serious, we hoped this was the start of activity that could increase in intensity.
We made a quick about turn and decided we needed to get to somewhere darker, with Thingvellir National Park just 30 minutes away we felt this was the best place and we were desperate to get the lights above the mountains. As we drove the skies darkened and the stars increased. The skies were continuing to clear of cloud as well as ridding of any nearby light pollution.
It was by now past midnight but with the adrenelin pumping it felt like midday. We pulled up to a location with the shadow of mountains ahead of us, nothing else but the stars lighting the sky. It was bitterly cold but fortunately the wind had totally subsided. Initially we could see very little of the aurora with the naked eye except a very slight green tinge to the sky, that you could have easily missed had we not been glued to the skies! To confirm we were indeed looking at the aurora we took another test shot and sure enough it provided the affirmation that we needed.
We set up the tripods, all three of us in a row and hoping so desperately for the aurora to increase. After all the Northern lights (as well as Orca's) is why we had come to Iceland and we really did not want to leave without one or the other! We all had remote camera releases attached to our cameras to minimise the effect of camera shake. Taking images of the aurora certainly requires a different technique from our usual speciality of wildlife photography. To capture the lights required as little movement as possible due to each shot requiring the camera shutter to remain open for at least 30 seconds. With the camera in manual mode and the lens focussed to infinity.
As we were setting up and cameras pointed above the mountains we started to notice an increase in the green colouring and a slight change in its movement. For the first time we could see it with the naked eye. With each release of the camera shutter 30 seconds seemed like an absolute eternity before we could review each image.
For a few moments at one point the lights grew in strength, we watched as the lights 'danced' above the jagged mountain peaks. The great thing about photographing the aurora through remote camera release means you don't have to have your eyes glued to the eye piece and have the opportunity to absorb this spectacle with your own eyes whilst at the same time capturing stills.
Finally we were getting to see what we had travelled to Iceland for and although it was weak activity compared to how it can occur we were greatful for the chance to see another one of natures' spectacles. Our patience and vigil though the cold nights had finally paid off.
Every now and then the lights would fade giving us the chance to 'regroup' and change our location slightly for a different perspective. By 4am the activity had totally subsided, and by this point the excitement had been overtaken by tiredness and so now it was time to call it a night and head the 30 minutes back to our base. Although we wanted more and of course had hoped for a more intense show of the lights we were really pleased to have seen them. Although on reflection we would have liked to have experimented a little more with different camera settings to provide optimum results. However, we certainly felt a little more content that we would now leave Iceland with some images of the Aurora Borealis.
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
We arrived at our apartment in Laugarvatn after dark, driving en route through Thingvellir National Park and were pleasantly surprised at how nice and large it was, with a great location overlooking a large frozen lake. Similar to Grundarfjordur the village of Laugarvatn is small with less than 1000 inhabitants. Nestled at the base of a small mountain and close to many of the main 'attractions' of the 'Golden Circle'
That night we kept a check on the skies above but again the sky was cloaked in heavy cloud. In the morning we woke to crazy winds, in excess of 50mph and decided to head back to Geysir and Gulfoss waterfall. Both places that we had visited in warmer climes back in 2012.
The sun barely managed to cast light through the thick and with such high winds on occasions as the Geysir spouted it blew the hot steam in many directions and to some unsuspecting tourists provided a shower of hot sulpher scented water! As the winds peaked to a point that it practically knocked you off your feet and so we decided it was time to head off to Gulfoss waterfall, just another 20 minute drive away.
Unlike our visit in September 2012 there was no spray visible from this mighty waterfall as we approached, and fortunately unlike 2012 no rain!
We were met with perilous icy steps that guided us down to the falls. Turning the corner for our first view we were met with a huge wall of frozen water, with just a minimal waterflow in some parts of the waterfall.
What an incredible sight, to see such an immense area frozen, with huge icicles sculptured into beautiful works of natural art. Even though it was mostly frozen it by no means comprimised its beauty, and a great contrast to see how the huge glacial flow changed through the Icelandic seasons.
Before we all turned ourselves to icicles from the bracing cold icy wind we headed back to our apartment and wandered what the evening may bring. The outlook did not look good for aurora as the heavy clouds started to bring snow and so Angela and I consoled ourselves with a couple of glasses of Amarula, while Andy decided to abstain. It turned out this was a good decision..........
On our last evening at Hotel Framnes we were again hindered by thick cloud and sadly no aurora activity, indeed disappointing but as there is little you can do to affect either we all remained bouyant and in good spirits. The next morning we were due to leave Grundarfjordur early to make our way to the small village of Laugarvatn in the 'Golden Circle'. However, as we came down to breakfast the hotel staff advised us that they were going to run an Orca watching trip at 11am. Needless to say after our trip the day before was cancelled it didn't take long before we made a rapid change of plan and decided to abandon an early departure and booked ourselves on the trip. We suited up with thick heavy overalls provided by Laki tours and waddled our way to the boat. It was still bitterly cold, but the wind had dropped and the skies for the first time crisp and clear as we boarded the small vessel that took only 30 passengers, on this tour just 18 others joined us making a total of 21 passengers on board.
As we started making our way out to sea the captain advised that we were headed to a nearby fjord, where orcas had been spotted already that morning by local fisherman. A ripple of excitment came from all on board as we headed out of the harbour. This was our first opportunity to get a really good view of the mountains that surrounded this lovely little village. The tops of the jagged peaks were revealed and the sight was quite something against the blue sky, where the sun just about poked high enough to cast a beautiful light over the stunning white giants that towered over Grundarfjordur.
It was only around 20 minutes into the voyage that we started to notice the seas becoming far more choppy, the swell seemed to be increasing. As we had left the harbour it was inevitable that we would enter less sheltered waters. However, the boat seemed to list rather precariously as it cut through a swell that seemed to grow minute by minute. Already one or two on board had fallen victim to the undulating waves and were turning green and sadly already seeing their breakfast again!
Despite this we were distracted by the prospect of orcas and our slight concern over the increasing rough waters was well averted when suddenly Angela spotted a fin, shrieking with excitement in the meantime!!! Although not an Orca we soon saw that one fin became several, then a small pod of dolphins appeared and came hurtling toward the boat. We could see they were white beaked dolphins and for a very short time they swam alongside the boat, riding the bow wave with speed and agility that was a sight to behold. Their movement too fast to capture any images (added to the fact that it was near on impossible to hold the camera steady in such rough seas!) but a fantastic sight even so.
As the dolphins left us after a few minutes we suddenly realised our course had changed, no longer did we appear to be heading in the direction of where the orcas had been sighted earlier. Our fears were confirmed when a crew member advised that the seas were just too rough to continue any further and that we were heading back into more sheltered waters. This was disappointing, we had come so close to seeing orcas in Iceland but no sighting is ever worth putting 21 passengers in jeopardy. Despite this once we had ventured back in calmer seas we continued to search for more marine mammals and took in the beautiful scenery. We were not lucky to see any cetaceans but it had been a enjoyable boat ride and we were pleased to have seen the dolphins.
After a short time we were back on dry land, we quickly checked out of the hotel and jumped in the car, as it was time for us to leave Grundarfjordur. Just a few miles out of the village we stopped the car along the fjord where the orcas had been seen. The captain had recommended this could be a good plan in the hope that maybe they had tracked close to the land. We did see a few seals pop their heads up but no sign of the orcas. One day we will return again to Grundarfjordur and perhaps next time lady luck may be on our side.
The wind had certainly whipped up on land, driving snow blew horizontally across the icy roads as we drove through more stunning scenery and headed on the 4 hour journey to Laugarvatn. Here we would spend our last three nights before heading back to a wet and windy UK!
Well insulated in thermal (and ill-fitting) suits!
Looking back on the mountains
Sunday, 29 December 2013
Our latest travel blog brings us back to Iceland. In contrast to our visit in September 2012 this time we have chosen to come back in the winter. Iceland in the winter certainly provides a different kind of experience but our main aim this time is to capture the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and hopefully a chance to see Orca whales.
Arriving late on the 26th December with an overnight in Keflavik first we then travelled up to the western part of the island, to a place called Grundarfjordur. With just 930 inhabitants and around 250km from the capital Reykjavik this was our base for two nights. Here we had hoped to have a chance of viewing the lights as well as being one of the best places to view Orcas in the wild, who from late November to spring feed on the plentiful herring in the surrounding waters.
The journey up was certainly an interesting one! firstly it was a rather strange experience driving at 1030am in the dark, with the sun rising at around 1130am. At this time of the year just 4 hours of daylight occur and so careful planning to time our activities during light hours will be needed! We navigated intense icy roads and in some areas met harsh snow storms that created an almost complete 'white out'! It was certainly a marked contrast the the fairly mild and wet weather we had just left behind in the UK.
As we arrived into Grundarfjordur, we were greeted with a quaint little fishing village, surrounded by beautiful mountains and fjords, some of which were partially iced over. Snow covered fields housing the hardy Icelandic ponies and a multitude of frozen waterfalls dominated the landscape. Our base in here in the town was a small hotel called Hotel Framnes, a friendly establishment that although basic carried with it a certain charm with very friendly staff and everything that we needed for our short stay.
Sadly thus far during our stay here we have been rather unsuccessful in seeing the Northern Lights. The weather has been extremely cold and windy on both days and marked with heavy cloud and occasional snow falls. Last night we had hoped we were in luck when around 9pm the skies finally cleared so Andy, Angela (our good friend who also joined us) and I doned our thermals and headed out in the car, driving just 20 mins from town and where there was no light pollution. Here we sat cosy in our hire car watching the skies for 3.5 hours hoping for a glimpse of the Aurora. The predictions for activity have been low in the past few days. However, we hoped we would be lucky as the predications for activity are not always accurate. However, sadly we were not and at 1230am we decided to retreat back to the comfort of our beds!
Hourly we continue to check the space weather centre websites for updates on Aurora conditions. This site measures the particle flux from the Sun and how it is interacting with the Earth's magnetic field, a phenomena that causes the Aurora spectacle. The Aurora are measured by a 'KP' index with ideally a grade of '2' plus needed. The predictions sadly look poor, with a KP index hovering around 0-1 and with very cloudy conditions continung for at least the next few days across most of Iceland the outlook is not looking too promising! However, we will continue to remain optimistic!!
Today in daylight hours our attentions turned to whales, and we booked a boat trip to hopefully view the Orcas. However, just 15 minutes before we were due to depart the trip was cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions! A disappointment but when it is for reasons of safety we are not one to argue with the captain of the boat! It seemed thus far luck was not on our side and Iceland was certainly giving us a show if its infamous unpredictable and fast changing weather conditions!
Instead we took a really lovely scenic drive further west and into the Snaefellsjokull National Park. Continuing on roads literally blanketed with ice we were pleased to be driving in a robust 4X4. We drove through immense lave fields covered in snow, with imposing mountains cloaked in cloud looming ominously above. Here where the lava fields meet the sea we watched a beautiful sunset. However, just getting out of the vehicle to photograph this even provided a challenge! The wind chill is quite something, not only icy cold but on some occasions almost knocking you off your feet!!
Tomorrow we head to our next destination, an area known as the 'Golden Circle' and where we will spend the last three nights of our trip. Here we will once again return the the famous spouting Geyser and of course every night (after the sunsets at 4pm!) will be avidly watching the skies hoping for a show of the Aurora!
En route to Grundarfjordur
Kirkjufell mountain in Grundarfjordur (463m)
Fjords 10 minutes from Grundarfjordur
Snaefellsjokull National Park
Sunday, 20 October 2013
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Saturday, 19 October 2013
In the last few days the weather has changed a little, lovely sunrises but the afternoons marked with cloud and a slightly increased rainfall as well as a rise in temperature. Fortunately so far the rivers remain low and allowing us to still cross over.
A few days back we were treated to quite some action. Starting first with an attempted hunt by three cheetah's, all offspring of a cheetah mum called 'Amani'. That consists of two males and a female, all under two years old. When we arrived at the sighting we looked skyward and saw that one if the cubs was aloft on a car belonging to a friend of ours, a tactic that many of the cheetah in the Mara seem to be adopting with increased frequency in order to scan for prey. Not long after all three were mobile, and had locked onto a warthog family. Barely getting a chance to reposition the vehicle for a good spot and anticiptaing their direction the cheetahs were off! Starting at some distance away but running at high speed toward us. During the intense chase on of the cheetah lost its footing slightly as one of the adult warthogs turned to face off the cheetah, in an effort to defend them against their small piglets. The cheetah darted after different individuals and it was incredibly hard to keep locked on to them and they sped across the plains! Up and down the many undulations and at one point coming so close to succeeding in an effort to secure a meal. However, with the distraction of the warthog family darting in different directions the cheetah soon lost ground and no sooner did this happen they ground to a halt and gave up on their attempts. The warthogs, for now would live to see another day and were reunited as a family further up the plains. The sun began to set and as it did the cheetah all began to settle, tomorrow would be another day that would allow them to hunt.
The next morning we headed to the Musiara Marsh, yet before we even got as far as the area we spotted a startled group of wildebeest and not long after saw the cause. A small clan of spotted hyena, around 5-7 individuals. The wildebeest began to run from the hyena and as they did we noticed an adult, who was possibly lame and lagged behind. At this point we knew that the fate of this animal was sealed. The hyena soon isolated the individual and circled it, then each moved in closer. Then the inevitable happened, as one or two of the hyena started biting at the legs of the wildebeest. This was all happening at quite some distance but we saw that very soon the wildebeest was down. Now, we knew it stod no chance. The way in which hyena hunt and dispatch their prey is not for the feint hearted and their is no easy way to describe what we saw. Whilst the animal was still alive they bit at it's rear and pulled it down, on one or two occaisons the wildebeest tried to rise but it was a fruitless effort as each time the hyena dragged it back down. The hyena would bite chunks and then looked up scanning for any other imcoming predators, their faces becoming more and more bloody as the poor wildebeest struggled. This continued for about 15 minutes until at the point that which the hyena went for the stomach, opening it up. At this point the pain was over for the wildebeest and the hyena fed in a frenzy. Whilst we admit this was not the most pleasant thing to watch we were incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such behaviour and an illustration of what successful hunters Hyena actually are. Contrary to many who mark this animal as being a scavenger alone. Statistically they are actually more successful hunters than lion. However, witnessing such behaviour is often very hard given such hunts usually occur at night. The first time in nine years of travelling to Africa that we have actually witnessed this!
We evetually made ot to the Marsh, and managed to find two of the four marsh males (Morani and Hunter) as well as five of the sub adults belonging to the pride. They were inactive with the males popping up their heads out of the croton every now and then! The subs all looked rather hungary but this would not continue for long given that the marsh is always an area with plenty of game.
In addition we have returned again to look for the Notch Coalition of lions, now finding all four males on this trip and to get more ID shots of some of the females in the rongai area. As well as looking for the lionesses with cubs. we have been successful in finding them as well as some new lions not seen so far on this trip, including 2 more sub adult males (who we think originated from the Rekero Pride) with a female. An intetesting sighting in which the female trailed the males, who would only tolerate her at a distance. In large given that times are now tough with little game in the central area of the Mara most times the lions have been inactive, often when finding them deep in the shade of a tree or large bush.
As well as lions we have found a lovely pack of jackal pups, they were tiny and stayed close to their den. Sadly they remained quite hidden so we were only able to get a few limited shots in bad light, before the sun rose and they entered back into their den to rest for the day.
We have also found another cheetah, one that we have followed for a couple of years now, her name being Malaika. When we saw the cheetah we could barely make her out and only knew it was Malaika as we talked to our friend Elena who is one of the cheetah researchers here in the Mara. She confirmed the cheetah was malaika and delighted in telling us she has given birth just four days prior to at least 4 cubs who with her hidden deep in long grass but out of sight for us to take any images. An important time that vehicles need to be kept away from her. This was awesome news! However, on the other hand the news was marked with some concern given that she was literallly 500 metres from lions. Sadly the next day our worst fears were confirmed as Elena advised she lost 3 of the 4 tiny cubs to lions. Now leaving only one. We can only hope that she now has the ability to focus on the one remaining cub and whilst it was such sad news it is unfortunately part of life and death on the plains of Africa.
Hunter (Marsh Pride)