Lion in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

World Lion Day

It’s World Lion Day and time to celebrate these magnificent creatures. Unfortunately their population has decreased 43% since the early 90s and they’re listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

There is nothing more satisfying on a safari than coming across a pride of lions.   Watching them hunt and then feast on their spoils or socialising among the pride it is always a very special experience.

If I think back to the very first time I had the chance to really see them in their natural habitat I was entranced.   It was 25 years ago whilst on a safari in Tanzania.    They’d killed a zebra hours earlier and were resting after pretty much demolishing their prey.   The remains being a bloodied rib cage sitting starkly on the grass near a watering hole.   Several lioness lay with massive bellies lay panting on the ground as they tried to digest their meal.

Having been lucky enough to have two further trips to Africa each with the most fabulous lion experiences it just never gets old.  Each time I see a new behaviour or a different family group whose interactions are just as unique as they are.

I’ve taken a dive into my digital images collection to find some of my favourite lion images taken from my most recent two visits over the past 6 years.

The incredible Red Crowned Crane in Hokkaido, Japan. fluffs the tail feathers in readiness to dance.

Red Crowned Cranes, Japan

A few years ago I came across some images of Red Crowned Cranes in the snow. From that moment I knew that I’d have to experience and photograph these incredible birds for myself!!!

These endangered birds were once thought to be near extinct in Japan until a small number were discovered in Hokkaido’s Eastern Marsh way back in 1924.   Today there are less then 3,000 globally, with about a third of these living on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Symbolising luck, longevity and fidelity they stand an impressive 5 feet high with a wing span of 7-8 feet. Many spend their days feeding and socialising in the bitterly cold winters around Tsurui.

Tsurui Ito Tancho Crane Sanctury in the village of Tsurui is free and has plenty of action as birds fly in/out to dance, socialise and feed.     The Akan International Crane Centre has a nominal entry fee  with a couple of different outdoor areas for viewing. There’s also a delicious small noodle shop for very welcome hot drinks and yum bowls of ramen.

Whilst it would be easy to visit just one of the sites where you’re able to see these majestic creatures, if you’re interested in photographing them then you really need to try out each of the sites.

It’s bone numbing cold but so worthwhile. When you see these incredible birds perform their ritual unison dance, something they’ll do many times throughout their lifetime.  It’s a magical and spectacular experience to be standing, with snow falling all around you, as these wonderful creatures leap into the air and prance around together.

Whooper Swans on Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan.

Whooper Swans of Lake Kussharo

Every year several hundred Whooper Swans spend their winter hanging around the warm thermal waters on the shores of Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan.    Whilst much of the lake is frozen the edges remain free of ice.  This is where you’ll find the swans hanging out during the day paddling and feeding around in the mist or resting & socialising on the ice.

What you might not be able to see in these images is just how massive the Whooper Swans is!  They have a wing span of up to 2 metres and are one of the heaviest of flying birds.    To ensure survival they need to be around water as their legs cant hold the weight of their body for extended periods of time.    Watching them take to the skies is probably the equivalent to seeing an A380 take off, but you cant see this when they’re gracefully gliding through the mist feeding.

On the shores of the lake in Sunayu is a great little restaurant with huge windows that overlook the lake.  Pair that with an awesome curry or yum Ramen and you have the perfect lunch spot.

Gentoo Penguins Porpoising

Penguins Porpoising in Antarctica

Gentoo Penguins Porpoising

Capturing these penguins porpoising in Antarctica as they rocket out of the water at speeds of up to 36 kmh (22 mph) was definitely a challenge.    There were many, many frames where I had nothing but water in the shot.

What you don’t see from this shot is that only a few minutes before there were a group of 30 or so Gentoo Penguins porpoising towards us.   The number had petered out a bit by the time they got to us, but it was still another incredible Antarctic moment!

Humpback whales frolic and feed in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctic Peninsula.

Whales Frolicking in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica

Humpback whales frolic and feed in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctic Peninsula.

We’d spent the morning cruising around the bay in zodiacs exploring some of the incredible icebergs.     The water was glass-like shimmering just as silk does and reflecting ice all around.  It was a world of white punctuated with glistening blue icebergs.

 

Not long after getting back on the boat there was the call-out to say that whales had been spotted.  I grabbed my camera and took off for the deck.   Minutes later whales were being spotted in every direction, our expedition leader had made the call to delay our departure and get all the zodiacs back in the water – we were heading back out to explore!

 

The next hour or so was just magic.  The setting was already picture perfect so to add a bunch of whales feeding in the krill-rich waters of Wilhelmina Bay, you end up with a totally amazing experience.

Deer Silhouette - Bardiya National Park, Nepal

Bardiya National Park, Nepal

Deer Silhouette - Bardiya National Park, Nepal

 

Walking through Bardiya National Park in the early morning, on my second day of seeking out a tiger, I had a moment!  The result of that moment is the above shot!    It was totally fleeting where all I managed was a single frame.   The deer had walked out of the dense forest and stopped on the path ahead it turned to look at us; then it was gone.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see a tiger that day – however my camera did – I have a shot where there’s an orange blob way off in the distance.     We came close a second time, however a loudmouthed guide and his clients managed to be raucous enough on sighting the elusive creature to scare it back into the bush.