New Zealand Blue Duck Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos. New Zealand. Richard Sidey, New Zealand.
'My first encounter with New Zealand's rare and iconic freshwater duck, the Whio (Blue Duck). Whio live on fast-flowing clean rivers, and are an indicator of the river's health. Due to habit loss and introduced pests their numbers are under 3,000 and it is rare to see one. On this day I had spent several hours hiking the length of a remote valley on a hot summer's day with a heavy camera hoping to spot one. Nearing the end of my hike I took a swim in one of the beautiful deep river pools to cool off and dove deep to the bottom. When I surfaced moments later i almost collided with a Whio coming into land on the pool I was in, landing gear out and coming in at speed. We were both as surprised as each other, but the Whio quickly relaxed and climbed onto a rock just metres from me. Slowly I swam to the river's edge where my camera was resting, collected it and returned into the middle of the river, neck deep, where I was able to take this intimate, low-angle portrait of one of our most treasured species. The encounter lasted several minutes and has personally reinforced the urgency to protect our precious Whio.'
Emperor Penguin Aptenodytes forsteri. Snowhill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Martin Grace, United Kingdom.
'Emperor. Penguin. Individually words of little distinction, but together an icon of near-mythical proportion. Flightless. The only bird that completely forgoes land. The march. The crazily dedicated parenting. Arguably the most difficult bird in the world to see. But forget for now the travel nightmare, the two days turbulent torture of the ‘never-again' Drake Passage, the teetering on the edge of will-we, won’t-we? Decades of aspiration are finally approaching a culmination. An unexpected route appears through storm-packed sea ice and Antarctica’s fickle summer opens a calm window of blue. This miraculous conspiracy permits no more than half an hour at the colony, including walking time from landing. Borrowed boots pinch, clothing is stiflingly excessive, frustration also boils as the camera tangles inside the rucksack. But actually having made it is too overwhelming, too emotional. I shoot a few images then put the camera away, and for fifteen minutes it is just me, the Emperors and heaven.'
'The Common Loon (Gavia immer), with its haunting repertoire of calls and dances, symbolizes the northern outdoors for many Canadians. On a still, summer night, there is nothing to compare to listening to the loons calling across the water. Early in the morning we are sometimes treated to a territorial display, where with great effort and splashing they rise and dance on the surface of the lake. So, this past summer I was so pleased to find a loon's nest and to be able to watch the mama during her four-week vigil incubating her two eggs. I arrived early one morning to find two empty egg shells, a wonderful occurrence, as often one of the two does not hatch. Peace and quiet joy filled my heart when I spotted the two tiny chicks, safely riding on mama's back. Nature at its best.'
Long-tailed Duck in a Snowstorm
Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis. Arctic Norway. Conrad Dickinson, United Kingdom.
'I very rarely get the chance to get close up views of Long Tailed Ducks where I live, and the occasional sightings are of very small specks off the Northumberland coast. So when the chance came to view long tailed ducks in Arctic Norway I jumped at the chance. "What time did you say"?..." What 0330, in the morning?" So I was up ready and had a snack breakfast and was standing at the harbours edge in the pitch black in -20C. The floating hide was equally dark, and lying on the concrete floor didn't add to the warmth. Light slowly appeared; and they started to arrive in small flocks; Stella's, King Eider, Common Eider, and finally Long tailed Duck. And then it snowed. Heavily! The cold, the location and the snow brought it magically into perspective when this totally serene and relaxed Long tailed Duck drifted into view; absolutely and beautifully at home in its environment. I was hooked.'
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. Norfolk, United Kingdom. Vince Burton, United Kingdom.
'In the past I have spent a lot of time and driven many thousands of miles to photograph this beautiful bird. In the meantime, I have always been looking in my local areas for an opportunity to set up a hide and photograph a Kingfisher of my own. I have walked miles of ideal habitat, fallen in various rivers during adventurous crossing attempts. And when I've identified the perfect habitat and found resident Kingfishers, been turned down the opportunity to set up a hide by the landowners. After years of searching, I finally found a pair of Kingfishers on a local stretch of river less than a mile from my home. And even better, not only are the landowners happy for me to set up on their land, but were interested in what was going on and welcomed updates about the pair. This was an opportunity to study the pair, learn about the behaviour through the different seasons, and share with the landowners' children, educating them and encouraging them to enjoy and protect our wildlife. When setting up a hide, it has to be done carefully and over a period of time so as not to disturb your subject or scare it away. Being in the right place allows for perches to be slowly introduced and soon the pair were using these to fish from. Carefully a camera can be introduced and the birds became used to the sound of the shutter. To me there is nothing more rewarding than a subject choosing to be close to the hide and being so relaxed in your presence that it acts perfectly naturally. This was one of those first such images where the Kingfisher decided to land outside the hide and just sit and preen itself. It is an honour to be accepted by and to be in such close proximity to such a beautiful bird. These encounters I treasure and shall never forget.'