Well what a year! It’s easy to say that at the end of every year but 2012 really has been one to remember – not all for the best of reasons. So what have been the good bits? I mean the REALLY good bits? That’s tricky but if pushed, I can think of three very special moments that are etched on my mind for always. They weren’t necessarily planned or indeed expected; the resultant images are nothing more than pleasing, but for different reasons, the experiences remain vivid in my mind.
In 3rd place…
At midnight our work was done and although the Icelandic sun never sets at this time of year, we felt we’d had the best of it and headed back to our hotel. Our group were tired and so was my co-guide, Mark Hamblin, and I. But then the most surreal mist rolled in off the sea and my mind started racing. Mark and I have worked with each other often enough to know pretty much what the other is thinking so by the time we reached base camp, we knew we were heading out again. Along with the hardy few we looked for a subject to bring the scene to life. Given the choice I’d have gone for a red-throated diver and ten minutes later, that’s exactly what we’d found.
At 2.30am I was lying beside this small mist-enshrouded lake in the shadow of an ice-capped mountain, the silence broken only by the mournful call of this most enigmatic of all birds. And the sound of a handful of shutter buttons!
In 2nd place…
In all honesty I should have some of the best osprey shots ever taken. Not only do I live in the bird’s UK stronghold, I have a pair nesting just a stone’s throw from home. I could make excuses about the difficult position of the nest, but that’s just what they’d be – excuses.
This year I took a slightly different approach (more of that in a future blog) and it’s very much a work in progress. Meantime, one afternoon from the comfort (read discomfort) of my hide, I was confronted by a brief and violent downpour, which coincided with the male osprey landing right in front of my hide with a fish. It was a heart-stopping moment as any encounter with this conservation icon always is. A few minutes later however, my heart was pounding for a different reason. The osprey nest sits next to the River Feshie, one of the fastest spate rivers in Europe. My hide sits on a shallow shingle spit in the river bed and I sit on a flimsy stool inside the flimsy hide. It’s all a bit flimsy if truth be told but everything works fine…as long as it doesn’t rain.
And the top 2012 moment…
The polar bear had been feeding on a seal long before we spotted him in the distance. By the time we arrived on the scene, he was satiated and was intent on a long snooze. It was 4 in the morning and most of our small group were asleep in their cabins. Undeterred we decided a low-level shot from the zodiac might be worth pursuing and after several minutes of banging on doors, we had a bleary-eyed group of less-than-eager photographers assembled on deck.
Approaching the slumbering bear at a painfully slow speed we edged up to the ice floe and were initially met with nothing more than a dismissive glance. But bears being bears, this one wanted to check us out. He raised his lumbering head, then his lumbering body and started lumbering – straight towards us. He had that swagger of a top predator and all of a sudden we felt like trespassers, like intruders, like vulnerable intruders.
As he stood eye-level, too big to frame with my 500mm lens, you could power half of London with the electricity in that zodiac. As one of our guests remarked afterwards: “That was a thoroughly pleasing encounter.” (or unpublishable words to that effect)
Here’s wishing everyone more life-affirming experiences in the natural world during 2013. My thanks to friends, colleagues, guests and associates for not only the special moments above, but many more besides.