15 images of the diverse birdlife of Spain’s plains of Calera

A Lesser Kestrel rests on the tiles of a derelict barn photographed during one of the NaturesLens photography holidays to Spain

In this second trip report on the birdlife of Spain, I look back at our week in Calera. We arrived in Calera Y Chozas after a week of predominantly raptor photography in the Sierra Morena area.

The Spanish Birds of Calera has been running every year for the last five years. The focus of the tour is to capture images of owls, kites & other endemic Spanish birdlife. I’ve seen some incredible photographs from my colleagues when they have guided in this location previously. The area is rich in wildlife with a diverse range of species available, a wildlife photographer’s nirvana! However, would it match our high expectations after an astonishingly fruitful week in the Sierra Morena?
Day one saw one of the guests & I in the Carrion hide to photograph Griffon & Eurasian Black Vultures. I was confident we’d get some excellent access to these scavenging raptors as I had heard much about this hide. I also have to admit to being a bit excited about photographing Eurasian Black Vultures after seeing them in Adamuz.
What I wasn’t quite expecting was just how many Vultures! As we sat in the hide, over 100 Vultures, plus Common Storks & the occasional Red Kite & Common Buzzard crowded into the small area in front of the hide window. This hive of activity was an incredible onslaught on the senses! Some of the birds came within just a few yards of the hide & others remained further in the distance. Trying to isolate individuals or small groups without other birds being a distraction proved to be challenging. However, challenging is also enjoyable & the colours in the wildflower meadow made for stunning surroundings.
Calera also offered us another chance to photograph Little Owls & Bee-Eaters, but in different surroundings such as farms & olive groves. Photographing the Bee-Eaters was a particularly enjoyable session as some incredible light flooded the plains. There were lots of opportunities to photograph individual birds & pairs squabbling amongst themselves.
The Hoopoe hide proved to be a firm favourite with all of our guests. Without doubt, the best shots were when it raised its marvellous crest & it did this as soon as it landed, but only for a second or so. It certainly kept us attentive & ready to get the shots we wanted. Like the Vultures, photography of the hoopoe was challenging but enjoyable.
Morning sessions with an Iberian Shrike were also fascinating & we enjoyed photographing them in some beautiful light. I’ve never observed Shrikes for a prolonged period & it was incredible to see how it behaved with its ‘larder’ of prey.
A population of Lesser Kestrels provided us with a fantastic session in their habitat, a dilapidated farm building. Around five or six pairs were nesting at various points around the roof. The hide, which is elevated on stilts, provided an excellent viewing point in a unique location. As an added interest, the same site was also popular with Spotless Starlings.
Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to revisit hides to photograph species in a different light. The Hoopoe proved a popular choice where back-lighting through the crest was an exciting & enjoyable exposure challenge.
The raptor hide was a hive of activity with Black & Red Kites gathering then swooping down in amongst the wildflower meadows. This gave us the opportunity to photograph them in flight, perched in morning light & in conflict with each other. I think it is safe to say that photography sessions at this hide provided regular & exciting action!
On the water’s edge, the Lake Hide provides photographic opportunities of Common & Ringed Plover, Stilt, Egret & Gadwall with options for the guests to use hides with a low water level viewpoint as well as a higher seated vantage point.
Our time in Calera certainly didn’t disappoint even after our fantastic week in the Sierra Morena area. I wouldn’t say one was better or more photographically fruitful as they were very different in terms of species, opportunities, light & habitat. What is safe to say is that these two photography holidays offered amazing wildlife photography experiences & incredible opportunities with the birdlife of Spain & to increase our guest’s photographic portfolios.

10 images of the diverse birdlife of Spain’s Sierra Morena

A Bonnellis Eagle poses amongst the wild flowers photographed during one of the NaturesLens photography holidays to Spain

My first two trips as a photography guide for NaturesLens took me to some beautiful wildlife hotspots in rural Spain during April & May of 2019, the focus of the tours, to photograph the diverse birdlife of Spain.

In this, the first of two trip reports, I’ll be looking back at our week in the Sierra Morena where Spanish raptors were our main subjects.
After arriving in Malaga & meeting our NaturesLens guests, we headed to the village of Adamuz, our base for the week. After settling in at our accommodation & enjoying lunch in the sun, we headed out to photograph Golden Eagles from a purpose-built hide with the most incredible mountain & woodland vista as an unspoilt background.
Hide photography can often be a trial of patience, but we didn’t have to wait long for the star of the show to arrive. As a pair of Golden Eagles circled effortlessly above us, we enjoyed visits from Azure Winged Magpies & Jays. But Golden Eagles were to be our target subject for our first afternoon, & they didn’t disappoint. It was an incredible opportunity to photograph these fantastic raptors at such proximity, & it’s fair to say it set the bar very high for the week ahead!
Throughout the week, we visited different hides aimed at photographing different species. Our group had options of returning to hides as opportunities were available to photograph species again to consider different compositions or in a different light or to capture different behaviour.
One of the highlights for all of our group were the sessions with the wonderful Bonelli’s Eagle. For some of us, it was the first time we had seen the species so to be able to photograph it too was very special. Like the Golden Eagle hide, position & backdrop were very well considered. Our low viewpoint also offered us fantastic opportunities to photograph bird species such as the Blue Rock Thrush & Woodchat Shrike amongst the grass & wildflowers.
A large & fast-moving shadow would give us the heads up that the Bonelli’s Eagle was close. Some hide discipline was required, & we allowed several seconds to allow the Eagle to land, become comfortable & feel safe before taking photographs.
Our group also enjoyed photographing Little Owls in a beautiful olive grove, an Imperial Eagle, Common Buzzard & Common Kestrels too. Although raptors were our main subjects, we also had the opportunity to use hides in an area visited by European Bee Eaters, a stunningly beautiful & photogenic small bird. It is easy to see why it has enduring popularity with wildlife photographers! Much to the joy of our group, the odd Eurasian Hoopoe also popped up too.
At times, our weather conditions were not what we’d typically associate with springtime in Spain with periods of intermittent torrential rain & hailstorms. We can’t control the weather, but I’m a great believer in changing our approach & working with the conditions we were given.
During this time, & on one of our last visits to the Golden Eagle hide, I encouraged our group to experiment with slower shutter speeds to create ‘streak’ effects with the rain. A little bit of timing & luck is required to maintain sharpness on the subject, especially when working with untypical wildlife photography shutter speeds as low as 1/70. The rain gave us something different & I have to say, it looked incredible on the Eagles.
After a fabulous week of wildlife photography in superb locations, we said goodbye to Adamuz & the Sierra Morena & headed north to Calera Plains for week two – which would add even more images of the birdlife of Spain to our photographic portfolios.

14 days with the astonishing wildlife of Costa Rica

A Red webbed Tree Frog photographed during the NaturesLens Costa Rican Wildlife Photography Holiday 1

This blog post about the astonishing wildlife of Costa Rica has been challenging to write … principally because of a case of what to leave out rather than what to include. Without having visited the country, it’s easy to think of Costa Rica as ‘just another Central American country’ … ‘I don’t know much about it, but it’ll be just like the others, won’t it?’ … Well, I haven’t visited the others but having visited Costa Rica, I have to say it, & it’s wildlife are genuinely like nothing else!

A few facts first & some of them are surprising. Costa Rica is about twice the size of Wales in area & population. It has no Armed Forces. It has a 97% literacy rate. In 2016, renewable energy supplied about 98% of the electricity demand. Its geography has created several microclimates from the mountains to tropical rainforest. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that there is incredible bio-diversity, which brings us to photography & potential sensory overload!
We departed on New Year’s Day, flying into San Jose via Toronto. We hired a car & drove on roads of variable quality, heading north to a purpose-built eco-resort in the rain forest. The gardens were a riot of brightly coloured birdlife with the first sighting of a classic species, the Toucan. It was difficult to know where to point the lens! The facilities were excellent with the viewing verandas sheltering you from the sun/rain, with feeding stations attracting the birds, & also placing you very close to the dining area & coffee dispenser! Almost paradise.
The people of the country take immense pride in the wildlife of Costa Rica & realise what an asset it is to the country. So before long, we were being taken to the gardens of the staff’s houses to view hummingbirds, other birds, & a variety of frogs – both by day & night. Hummingbirds – cue frustration getting the right camera settings & technique. Back at the lodge, there was a selection of snakes to photograph. There was also a specially-built hide to view the King Vultures close-up without disturbing their behaviour.
Our next port of call was in the Sarapiqui Valley, further south but still north of San Jose. The climate there is less humid & the wildlife of the region has a different character. Imagine if you will, a small nature reserve. Walk into the garden, look up & there’s a three-toed sloth & baby, two steps further, there’s a basilisk, six further steps & there’s a small pond & the air is thick with birdlife. Incredibly, this is someone’s back garden only 500m from the main highway! This prolific spread is the nature of the wildlife of Costa Rica, & the contacts that we met throughout the trip!
Next day, we frogged out. Our host, his colleagues & family, have taken a family farm & turned it into a haven for amphibians, & other wildlife too. Purpose-built habitats & considerate handling meant we were able to take our time with each species. Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Spiny Glass Frog, Strawberry Poison Dart Frog … & did I mention the three-toed sloth that climbed down from a tree to take a look at us!
The frog images were captured using a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens but the Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L also worked very well!
For a bit of variety, we pushed a couple of hours west towards the Arenal region, much to the excitement of our resident volcanologist, who was hard-pressed to decide whether to point her lens at the volcano or the snakes. In a well-organised, controlled (thankfully) environment, the two handlers got us closer to some famous names than I’ve ever been before or ever want to be again – feu de lance, eyelash pit viper, rattlesnake, & 3 types of a boa constrictor, to name but a few. That said, they’re fascinating creatures & very photogenic.
Moving on, we went south-west & up into the central mountains to another nature reserve but on a grander scale. The owner has created tracks through several areas of different character & wildlife; but this was hummingbird country, albeit different species from our first encounter. The colours were just flamboyant & we were beginning to get our eye in, confident enough to experiment with shutter speeds despite the birds being free to move around at will. An interesting counterpoint was a party of photographers who had bought with them multiple flashguns, triggers, & manufactured backgrounds, against which to capture the hummingbirds. I have to think that we had more fun, success & more original images of this one of the smaller & certainly faster aspects of the wildlife of Costa Rica.
The next day a long journey to the high mountains to the south-east of San Jose started the quest for the Resplendent Quetzal. This iconic bird was high on the list of everyone’s ‘must-haves’. With the best of guides, in the early morning, we were on it, albeit fleetingly. What a strange-looking but utterly compelling bird & it was reassuring to see the efforts that the locals had made to conserve the bird & provide it with every opportunity to breed.
From then on, it was just hummingbird overload, with the whole morning spent on the balcony of our lodge with so many hummers & so many epic images captured. We would never have thought it possible, but the passing idea of ‘too many hummingbirds’ did cross our minds!
The next day we found a real gem of a location. It’s an embryonic enterprise, still under development as a side-activity by a hotel worker, but just wow! I hope this is on a future itinerary.
On then to our final hotel & back to the Sarapiqui Valley but this time, to a discrete location to capture a rarer hummingbird – the black-crested coquette.
This time, experience & environment left us shooting hand-held; oh how we had changed!
We also took a cruise along the Sarapiqui River, taking photographic opportunities with Howler Monkeys, Green Iguana, Amazon & Green Kingfisher, Sungrebe & Anhinga.
Costa Rica is such a beautiful country. The bio-diversity is immense & the local people are so friendly & welcoming. Furthermore, Costa Ricans take so much pride in their country & it’s wildlife. We had but scratched the surface & there is so much more to see or to see again. I can’t recommend Costa Rica enough as a place to visit, the contacts that NaturesLens established will ensure that anyone visiting Costa Rica with them will have the best opportunities to capture fantastic images.
If you want to visit Costa Rica, & photograph the amazing wildlife, then just book it up, you will not be disappointed, I know that the pair of trips for late 2019 filled almost immediately, but those for 2020, both in November & December have spaces … & an early booking discount attached at time of this blog post being published!

10 inspiring images of the White Horses of the Camargue

An inquisitive stallion walks up the beach as photographed during the NaturesLens White Horses of the Camargue Photography Holiday

I wanted to share more images from our White Horses of the Camargue photography trip in September 2018 to give everyone an idea of the sort of photographic opportunities available. You’ll notice that I haven’t included any images of the frenzy of white horses running towards you with water splashing everywhere. The point of this blog post is to demonstrate what else can be achieved.

A group shot of these stunning horses is a definite must-have. The reflection shot was taken at sunrise using a Canon 1Dx Mk 2 & Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM at ISO 640, f/7.1, 1/250s, -1ev at 80mm. As the horses started to move towards us, I changed settings because I wanted a tight group shot. For those of you interested in my settings, this shot was taken at ISO 1000, f/8, 1/500s, 0ev at 300mm.
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9 Gorgeous Bird Images from Alan’s Zimanga Photo Safari – Mkhombe hide

An African Brown hooded Kingfisher captured at the Mkhombe Hide during the NaturesLens Zimanga photo safari

I mentioned at the beginning of this series of blog posts that Alan attended our Zimanga Photo Safari primarily to photograph birds. So, it seems only right that I dedicate this final blog post to his visits to the Mkhombe Pool Hide.

For those of you who have read my journey to photograph the South African Wildlife of Zimanga report, you may recall that I mention that this hide almost turned me into a bird photographer! The variety of bird species available to photograph here is simply immense & watching these pretty coloured birds come & go will put a smile on your face.
Alan used a combination of the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM with a Canon EF 1.4x III extender to photograph these stunning birds. It is also possible to use a 500mm lens to get tighter portrait shots.
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10 beautiful images showing what can be captured during our Dalmatian Pelican Photography Tours

A beautiful trio of Dalmatian Pelicans photographed during one of the NaturesLens Dalmatian Pelican Photography Tours

Our Dalmatian Pelican photography tours take place at Lake Kerkini, a premier location for birdwatchers & photographers. Mountain ranges protect three sides of the lake which provides a mild climate & an abundance of fish for over 300 species of birds, many of whom are migratory birds en route to the South East of Europe or Africa.

We time our trips to coincide with their breeding season which is when these charismatic birds look their best with their bright red pouches & crazy hair-dos.
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Beautiful safari images from Alan’s Zimanga Photo Tour

A goose stepping Vulture photographed during the NaturesLens Zimanga photo tour

The NaturesLens Zimanga Photo Tour is a combination of traditional game drives & hide sessions. In part three of this series of Zimanga blog posts, we showcase Alan’s beautiful images taken during game drives & from the Scavenger Hide.

When you are on a game drive in Zimanga, you are in one of only three vehicles on the game reserve. This means you are not competing with other cars to get the shot & you can stay with your subject for as long as you want.
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10 images of the magnificent Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter

One of the stunning Golden Eagles photographed during a snow storm this image was captured on the NaturesLens Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter Photography Holiday 1

The excitement & anticipation of our trip to photograph the Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter was unbearable for all us including our guests! The expectations of photographing the wildlife & especially getting up close & personal with wild Golden Eagles in this beautiful snow-capped Swedish pine forest was going to be epic!

It all started with a trip around the M25 towards Heathrow where I met our first guest as we started our journey’s final destination to Skellefteå Airport in Sweden. I met our other guests for this trip at the Swedish airport as they were flying in from Hong Kong!
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