Top 3 mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, mouth-watering 2012 moments!

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!

Red-throated diver, Iceland

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.

Osprey male eating fish in torrential rain, Glen Feshie, Cairngorms National Scotland, Scotland

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)

Polar Bear in snow, Svalbard

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.

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10 thoughts on “Top 3 mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, mouth-watering 2012 moments!

  1. I love the polar bear shot… and the story. It’s the way the bear is looking down the bridge of his regal nose at you… talk about eye-contact!!

  2. OK Pete.

    3rd for me is getting back into wildlife photography after a recent illness. Two trips with you this year, Ospreys and Svalbard have allowed me to realise why I like doing this. Seeing the animals in their natural environment.

    2nd is getting covered in whale ‘snot’ as the whale breathed out right next to the M/S Origo. A great experience.

    1st. Well, I read your post on facebook and was thinking through my top three before posting here. For me it was that eyeball to eyeball encounter with the polar bear. Most views of the polar bears were from the Origo, where you are looking down on the bears. Here we were at the same level as the polar bear and you got a real appreciation of the size and power of the beast as it eyeing you up, just a few yards away. Phenomenal.

  3. Two are easy Pete since I joined you on Svalbard: the polar bear and the whales are hard to beat. Those were moments I will never forget. The third one is closer to home. I followed a pair of great crested grebes mate, lay eggs and watch the little ones be born and raised. Though most photos will never make the cut because the location of the nest was far from my liking I stayed with them the whole time just to watch and experience it. I was fun to start the day with a hour visit to the nest, then get to work and have some coffee and return in the evening to see if the eggs had already hatched.

  4. I love them all! What great work. I want a polar bear shot just like that one.
    This is what keeps me signing up for the tours… #escape from my crazy life, #relaxation, #learning from the best.

  5. The polar bear shot is superb. But I do wonder if the bear would have welcomed closer association with you. Yes, I’m serious. Having just eaten it would not be hungry. Most animals seek harmonious relationships with other species and form the occasional cross-species friendship.

    That it occurs so rarely with people is due to two factors: firstly, if you want trust you must give it — and hope that it’s not misplaced. Most people decline to take the risk. Secondly, the human determination to control everything. ‘Wild’ does not mean ferocious or dangerous, merely independent — neither reliant on nor controlled by man. But being independent does NOT imply unfriendly. To many creatures it comes as a pleasant surprise to discover that some human is prepared to grant them respect and consideration.

    It doesn’t always ‘work’ — but when it does a window is opened onto a wonderful world.



  6. Hi Peter, All the shots are amazing, I love the Red Throated Diver and Osprey shot the best, but the Polar Bear shot is great too. See you next month, I can wait to visit you again in the Caingorms.

    Best Wishes,


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