I am delighted to be able to announce that I have a highly commended image in this year's Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (2012). The image will therefore feature in both the book and the exhibition, which tours around the country, starting in London in October. To say I am pleased would be an understatement. This is the biggest competition of its kind in the world, and to have by image among those of some of the best pros in the world is amazing. Here is the image, and the story behind it.
It was taken in the winter of 2010/11, when there was a cold snap just before Christmas. Great Bitterns regularly overwinter at the London Wetlands Centre, but it is only when the water freezes over that they become more conspicuous as they are forced out of the reedbeds to look for food. The day before this, I had enjoyed fantastic close views of them in front of one of the hides there. I returned the next day, and settled down in the hide. There wasn't much activity close to the hide for a while, and then the heavy snow set in. It was unlike anything I had experienced in London before, but really gave the photographs something special. At times it was so heavy that the camera's AF struggled to lock on to the bird, preferring instead to focus on the falling snow! My dad was meant to be picking me up, but he was worried that because of the heavy snow, if he left it too long he wouldn't be able to, so he came back early to get me. Just before I had to go, I turned to see this bird stepping out of the reedbed, and onto the ice. It summed up the environment they were living in perfectly, showing the habitat and weather conditions they have to endure. It was the last image I took of the day, and turned out to be my favourite of all. It was also the last time I saw the birds so well until the last winter, when the cold weather again had the same effect.