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8 images of the fabulous Tree Frogs of Bulgaria

A European Tree Frog on a reed photographed during the NaturesLens Reptiles Amphibians of Bulgaria Photography Holiday

The European tree frog (Hyla Arborea) has to be one of the most adorable of all the Tree Frogs of Bulgaria & it is by far my favourite frog. Not only are they super cute & charismatic, but they also change colour! Depending on the temperature they can range from dark grey/brown through to the bright green & this change can happen surprisingly quickly too.

During early spring the frogs gather in breeding ponds or swamps where the males call to attract the females. The noise at these ponds is just incredible & almost deafening as these little frogs all call together. Once the breeding season has finished, they all disperse back across the areas.
We encountered this little frog in a few places, from near the Danube Delta down to the south near Kresna Gorge. They are the most easily recognisable of the frog species found in Bulgaria & the most fun to photograph be it during the day or at night.

6 species of snakes found in Bulgaria

A coiled Young Dice Snake photographed during the NaturesLens Reptiles Amphibians of Bulgaria Photography Holiday

During the 2019 Reptiles & Amphibians of Bulgaria Photography Holiday, of the 16, we found 6 species of snakes found in Bulgaria.

The Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis Caspius) can grow up to 200cm in length. They actively hunt their prey which includes small mammals, birds & reptiles & although usually a terrestrial species, they can climb up to around 7m in search of prey. During the tour, we didn’t find any significant adult individuals, only a young one which quite adorable.
Smooth Snakes (Cornonella Austriaca) grow up to around 70cm in length & feed mainly on lizards. However, they will feed on other snakes & even vipers securing their prey by constriction. They are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos develop & hatch from the eggs within the female. Up to 9 juveniles are born in late August or September.
The Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) can grow up to 100cm & are slender snakes with beautiful markings. They are almost entirely crepuscular or nocturnal & may be found climbing walls or rocky outcrops in search of lizards, with geckos being their primary prey. They are venomous but rarely bite.
Dice Snakes (Natrix Tessellata) grow up to 100cm but can be up to 130cm. They are both diurnal & nocturnal feeding mainly on fish. The female will lay between 5 to 37 eggs which will hatch out in August/September. Again we didn’t find an adult but found a couple of juveniles which certainly had the cute factor.
Eastern Montpellier Snakes (Malpolon Insignitus) grow up to 200cm & are a sturdy, formidable mostly diurnal thermophilous snake. They are a fast predator that actively hunts its prey, which consists of other reptiles, birds or mammals. They are venomous but rear-fanged. We only found a juvenile of this species, but they are far more beautiful with colourful markings along with their large eyes making them adorable.
The Nose-Horned Viper (Vipera Ammodytes) grows up to around 65cm & are easily recognisable due to the horn on the snout. They are diurnal & also crepuscular with adults feeding mainly on mammals or lizards with the juveniles feeding on arthropods. They are highly venomous with both neurotoxic & cytotoxic components. If disturbed, they will hiss but typically only bite if handled or stepped on.
Photographing snakes can be a challenge as they move fast & have very reflective eyes. But spending time watching them pays off & allows you to capture their beauty. If you are lucky, you can get the tongue flicker too. Snakes are a real favourite subject of mine & furthermore, very rewarding to photograph.

30 images of the diminutive Reptiles & Amphibians of Bulgaria

A Common Spadefoot Toad photographed in Bulgaria during the NaturesLens Reptiles Amphibians of Bulgaria photography holiday

For 2019, Reptiles & Amphibians of Bulgaria was a brand new trip that covers the western side of Bulgaria heading north for a few days before heading south for the rest of the trip. Bulgaria is a real wildlife hotspot thanks to its bio-geographical location. The main targets for this trip are some of 37 species of reptiles & 20 species of amphibians that can be found in Bulgaria. The trip was timed to coincide with many of these species coming out of hibernation & starting their breeding season. The trip allows the exploration of different habitats & territories from the Danube River in the North to the Bulgarian-Greek border in the south, from river banks to high mountain lakes & forests.

On arriving in Sofia, we headed north stopping at a couple of locations on the way to search for different species. Although we only found a young wall lizard, we did find a few scorpions under stones. Our first hotel for the night was in the Vratsata Gorge which had the most stunning views of the mountains. After a delicious dinner, we headed off to see if we could find anything around the area.
The next morning it was off to Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park, just a short scenic drive up into the mountains in search of newts & frogs at a pond. While Georgi was searching for amphibians, we took the opportunity to capture images of some of the numerous early wildflowers & even invertebrates that were on the plateau before photographing smooth & great crested newts in an aquarium.
After lunch, it was time to head further north up to the Danube river to spend the whole day & evening exploring the area. The first site we stopped at we were treated to European tree frogs calling & had the chance to see a few in & around the water. Sadly, there was no real opportunity to get decent images. We would return to this site later to set some newt traps in the hope of finding the Danube Crested Newt & other frogs & toads. In the meantime, we headed off to another site where we encountered a young Caspian whip snake & young dice snake along with Eastern green lizards & fire-bellied toads. With the light fading, it was time to head back to site one where it had started to rain. Just a light rain but it was enough to bring out the common spadefoot toads & European tree frogs. After a long but eventful day, it was time to head to the hotel for dinner & bed.
The next morning, we headed back to check the traps & to photograph the European tree frog & Spadefoot toad along with Danube Crested Newts that we found in the traps. Alongside photographing the different species, we had the opportunity to learn all about the habitats & the various amphibians & reptiles before releasing them back where we found them.
Post lunch it was time to hit the road making a couple of stops on the way to Sofia. That evening, there was the option to head out on a night walk to a pond up the hill from the hotel in search of fire salamanders, common frogs & common toads & we were not disappointed. There was a chance to do some more night photography on-site & then it was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
First stop was the pond from the night before where we found some more fire salamanders & frogs. We headed further up in the forest & had the chance to photograph a female fire salamander by a waterfall & to take some in wide-angle habitat shots. We had lunch back at the hotel before heading up to explore Vitosha mountain plateau, checking out hibernacula for adders & a breeding pond for frogs. Unfortunately, following a hard winter, much of the ground was still covered with snow! We decided to head down the mountain & got lucky finding a smooth snake & slow worm. After dinner, we headed back to the pond to set some newt traps, where we also found a baby salamander from last year, & then it was time for an early night!
After checking the traps, we hit the road. We made a couple of stops on the way to Kresna Gorge via Kyustendil close to Osogovo Mountain. One of these stops was a breeding pond where hundreds of alpine newts gather to breed every year. This gave us an excellent opportunity to photograph these beautiful newts in the aquarium. The next stop we finally found a couple of young sand lizards, one male & two females, & spent a fun couple of hours photographing them & some more wildflowers. As it was raining heavily, we opted for an early night in preparation for the next few days exploring Kresna Gorge & Sandanski areas.
On the road again & our first stop on the way to Kresna turned out to be quite a successful one. We found a female cat snake which after photographing, we measured & recorded all the details; a young & stunning Montpellier snake & both male & female wall lizards; & all in a lay-by off the main road! Post lunch we set off to explore the other side of the road in the warm sunshine, finding several Herman’s tortoises & a couple of swallowtail butterflies. Following the path round, we came across a praying mantis & finally found adult & young Greek Stream frogs which we had great fun photographing in the stream. The next few hours we spent photographing green toads, looking for lizards & frogs & setting up newt traps before heading back to the hotel.
We found both male & female Balkan crested newt & a couple of tree frogs in the newt traps so we spent some time photographing them before grabbing some lunch & heading off in search of snakes. Georgi found nose-horned vipers, along with a yellow-bellied toad & agile frog. Before heading for dinner, we set some more traps close to the Greek border.
After dinner, we headed to a thermal pool area which has a good population of Syrian spadefoot toads which we found a few of, along with some green toads, European tree frogs & hedgehogs which gave us the chance for some night photography.
Our last full day started with the usual checking of the newt traps, which came up empty. So, we went in search of lizards & anything else that we could find. Eventually, as the sun came out, we found both male & female Eastern wall lizards. It was great to see the sexual dimorphism between them.
We spent the afternoon back at the thermal pool photographing the Syrian spadefoot toads both in the open & as they buried themselves in the sand & searching for terrapins & had great fun trying to photograph them. Post lunch, & replenishing energy supplies, we headed off in search of snakes & lizards at another site but came up empty. However, did have the chance to photograph Lycosa tarantula (tarantula wolf spider).
After what has been an incredible trip with so many highlights, it was time to go home.
By the end of the trip, we had found & photographed 33 species of reptile & amphibian along with butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets & wildflowers. All in all, it was a hugely successful trip.

PHOTOGRAPH THE REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS OF BULGARIA YOURSELF

To photograph the Reptiles & Amphibians of Bulgaria yourself, join Victoria, in Sofia during April 2020 for a trip lasting seven nights. This photography holiday is ideal for taking photo opportunities with up to 20 species of amphibians & 37 species of reptiles!

The photography holiday is offered on a half board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 3 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Victoria.
All the details of the Reptiles & Amphibians of Bulgaria photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

21 fabulous images of the wildlife of Laguna del Taray

Locked in the stare of a harrier an example of the wildlife of Laguna del Taray that may be photographed during our Spanish Wildlife Birdlife of Toledo Photography Holiday

This was my first visit to the hide network that David had spent a year raving about; this hide network facilitates photography of the wildlife of Laguna del Taray & I was blown away by the accommodation, the setting & the wildlife.

Once you come to the end of the 4km dirt track from the main road you pull through some gates & the sweeping walls of the ex-hunting estate welcome you as tens of swallow explode out of the old stable block that is now used for car storage. The inside is very traditional & combined with the excellent home cooking, wine & sangria really sets the scene for a beautiful week in rural Spain.
The estate is now turned back fully to nature with no hunting & as a consequence the wildlife of Laguna del Taray has really bounced back with several raptor species doing well & some super mammals even cropping up on trial cams!
The raptor hides provide loads of opportunities for marsh harriers & common buzzards, if you’re lucky something even more special can turn up too!
There are some great European pin-ups on offer too with several reliable roller hides & hoopoes popping up in front of just about every hide! In fact, I’d never seen so many, hoopoes were extremely common on the estate.
One of my favourite hides was, of course, the lesser kestrels. These tiny birds are incredibly entertaining as they bring prey back for their semi-fledged young lined up on the roof. The constant activity is enough to keep even the most conservative shooter firing multiple frames a second!
This year was unusually dry which meant a lot of the water hides couldn’t be used, however the water holes are kept filled to the brim & these proved to be fantastic with loads of visitors throughout all the sessions. These were the hides that left photographers a bit worn out because of the endless opportunities to capture. A week with the wildlife of Laguna del Taray can only be described as a brilliant experience & the images shown both above & below are just a small selection to give an idea of the variety!
I’ll be returning in January 2020, for the Winter Raptors & can’t wait to see the changes & variation over the seasons!

PHOTOGRAPH THE SPANISH WILDLIFE & BIRDLIFE OF TOLEDO YOURSELF

To photograph the Spanish Wildlife & Birdlife of Toledo during the Winter, join Dan, in Spain during January 2020 for a trip lasting 5 nights. Over 4 ½ days of photography, you will have the use of a collection of brilliant hides to capture images of a range of birds, including the raptors of the estate, that call Laguna del Taray their home during the winter months.

This winter photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 5 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Dan. Until September 13th 2019, there is a special offer of £1699 available.
All the details of the Winter Raptors of Toledo photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.
However, should you wish to visit this magnificent hide network during the summer, then you can join Alan, in Spain during June & July 2020 for a trip lasting 7 nights. This photography holiday is ideal for photographing a vast variety of Spanish Birds, including common buzzard, common reed warbler, common sandpiper, crested lark, hoopoe, Iberian hare, lesser kestrel, little owl, harriers of varying type, spotless starling, starling, stone curlew, wild rabbit & more besides!
The summer photography holiday is also offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 5 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Alan. Until September 13th 2019, there is a special offer reducing the price to £2249 available.
All the details of the Spanish Birdlife of Toledo photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

9 images showing off the beautiful birds of Lake Kerkini

One of the squacco herons landing on Lake Kerkini photographed during the Spring Birds of Kerkini photography Holiday conducted by NaturesLens

Steen has visited Lake Kerkini with NaturesLens on several occasions prior to this visit; although those visits were all during the winter. During that colder season, the birds of Lake Kerkini are composed mainly of flamingos, cormorants & of course, the characterful Dalmatian Pelicans. When we announced our new photography holiday for 2019 to focus on the Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini, Steen signed up & along with the other guests, waited for the months to pass, knowing that the spring visit would be very different to that in Winter!

One thing was for sure, the bulk of our photography would be conducted from dawn to mid-morning & then again late-afternoon to early-evening. The rest of the time, the light would be too harsh to even contemplate anything in earnest. With so many beautiful birds on offer, we headed out to the lake, to the area which contained a submerged forest. This is the area that the birds of Lake Kerkini make a home within during the Spring & build nests to bring their new generation of young up in.
The first pair of images above, show Squacco Herons. These are found throughout the wetlands, but mainly on areas of floating logs or pads in the water. This meant that we spent considerable time just playing with reflections or trying to get them in interesting poses. The contrast of their plumage to the deep greens of the foliage & blues of the lake waters meant that they really popped out! Lake Kerkini in Spring is home to many different types of Heron, including the Squacco Herons, Grey Herons & Night herons plus we observed & photographed Spoonbills & Storks, various kinds of egret & of course White & Dalmatian Pelicans. The Dalmatian Pelicans are not nearly as numerous in number as during the winter season, nor are they as impressive looking.
Whilst the outskirts of the submerged forest is the habitat of the Herons, the deeper we ventured into the ‘drowned forest’ at the north end of the lake, the more we found a cacophonic environment which is actually a spectacular breeding colony of pygmy cormorants, all the herons, at least three types of Egret, Little Bittern & Glossy Ibis. Each of our 4-hour boat trips onto the lake allowed us to get superb close-ups of these stunning birds.
As we drifted through their habitat, the majority of the birds remained unconcerned by our presence & carried on as though we were not there. Females with hatched young attended to their feeding, many paired birds continued to build nests, other solitary birds posed on branches, cormorants dived for fish & then dried their wings in the sun whilst posing on floating logs.
We were lucky enough to hear about a pair of Penduline Tits that had been building a hanging nest in an area adjacent to the lake. We visited this several times during the week, & each time the progress of the little family was measurable, with the adults firstly building nests & later in the week the male bringing the female food.
New life was to be spotted all over the lake & the surrounding areas, every day this was a constantly changing landscape of freshly hatched young clamouring for their parents’ attention & food.
Towards the latter part of our stay, we ventured out onto the lake earlier than normal, so that we were in position in the middle of the lake prior to sunrise. Each morning we were joined by several pelicans, which of course, lead to some stunning silhouette images of the birds that Lake Kerkini is most famous for against the mountains with the whole scene illuminated in rich amber & golden tones.

PHOTOGRAPH THE SPRING BIRDS OF LAKE KERKINI YOURSELF

To photograph the Spring Birds of Kerkini yourself, join Robin, in Greece during June 2020 for a trip lasting five nights. This photography holiday is ideal for photographing a wide variety of migrant & resident birds, including bittern, black stork, cattle egret, cormorant, dalmatian pelican, great crested grebe, great white egret, grey heron, night heron, squacco heron, white pelican, white stork & more!

The photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 3 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Robin. Until mid-September 2019, there is a special offer reducing the price to £1599 available.
All the details of the Spring Birds of Lake Kerkini photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

21 images of the captivating Wildlife & Birdlife of Toledo

A lesser kestrel perched on a tree photographed during the NaturesLens Spanish Wildlife Birdlife of Toledo Photography Holiday

Graham was one of the group of guests that joined myself & Dan in Spain during July 2019, to photograph the fabulous Wildlife & Birdlife of Toledo – we had a superb group of guests join us, who were a lot of fun, totally engaged & there to make the most of the week of photographic opportunities; along with the superb organisation skills of our hosts, this made for a most enjoyable time.

Graham was lucky in that he captured a few species & behaviours that others didn’t have the chance to experience including crows mobbing the larger raptors at the the various raptor & harrier hides in El Taray …
… & the bee-eaters; sadly the bee-eater nesting had all failed earlier in the summer, the birds tried for a second nesting, but this too failed; the end result of this was that the population of the colony had begun to migrate & disperse earlier than normal. This meant that opportunities with the bee-eaters were to be cherished & made the most of – & Graham did so.
As noted elsewhere, on previous blog posts, the rollers were increasing in activity through the week, with some hides working well earlier in the week, & others becoming highly active in the latter part of the stay; this meant that many of the guests were able to experience the birds in all their glory, & for Graham to capture the quintessential image of a roller tossing an insect into the air to catch in it’s mouth!
When I left, leaving the group with Dan & Luis, the hoopoes were increasing in activity, Graham took advantage of this with a number of visits to the hoopoe photography hides, resulting in some really beautiful images as shown above.
We had timed the trip perfectly for the action on the roofs which the Lesser Kestrel colony have made their nests within, & Graham capitalised upon this, with perched & in flight shots being added to his portfolio.
One of my favourite behavioural moments with Lesser Kestrels is food retrieval, the adults bringing insects back to their young or during the incubation period, the males to the females – the activity on the rooftops was frenetic, with the young demanding food, & the adults making content forays for insects, which they gently passed to the young.
As with each of the other guests, the Stone Curlews at the ware holes were a firm favourite, the drinking shots below, I think capture the pbehaviour of this bird throughout the week perfectly.
As a wrap-up, a few images of the smaller birds & passerines of the estate put on a good show, enabling our guests to capture some great images of them, whilst on a larger scale, the raptors, both harriers & buzzards made their presence known at the hides whilst Graham was ready with him camera.

PHOTOGRAPH THE SPANISH WILDLIFE & BIRDLIFE OF TOLEDO YOURSELF

To photograph the Spanish Wildlife & Birdlife of Toledo yourself, join Alan, in Spain during June & July 2020 for a trip lasting 7 nights. This photography holiday is ideal for photographing a vast variety of Spanish Birds, including common buzzard, common reed warbler, common sandpiper, crested lark, hoopoe, Iberian hare, lesser kestrel, little owl, harriers of varying type, spotless starling, starling, stone curlew, wild rabbit & more besides!

The photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 5 participants & a maximum of 7, plus Alan. Until September 13th 2019, there is a special offer reducing the price to £2249 available.
All the details of the Spanish Birdlife of Toledo photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.

12 images of the fabulous Brown Bears & Cubs of Finland

One of the larger adult brown bears investigates a boat on the edge of one of the lakes image captured during the NaturesLens Majestic Brown Bears Cubs of Finland Photography Holiday

Jean & Kevin were guests on our Majestic Brown Bears & Cubs of Finland trip back in July. In this blog post, we showcase Jean’s images. I love seeing the photos that our guests send us at the end of a trip, but I was especially excited to see what Jean & Kevin would send in. They are both accomplished photographers & I couldn’t wait to “look through their eyes”.

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10 images of the awesome Brown Bears & Cubs of Finland

One of the brown bears peers across at the photographer whilst at the lake edge image captured during the NaturesLens Majestic Brown Bears Cubs of Finland Photography Holiday 1

Kevin & Jean were guests on our Majestic Brown Bears & Cubs of Finland trip back in July. They shared a hide throughout the trip, so I was intrigued to see how different their shooting style would be. Here, we showcase some of Kevin’s beautiful images from the trip.

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