Welcome to the temporary site for timhearnwildlife.com.

I'll be posting a few shots here while working on the main site, which is currently under construction...

Timhearnwildlife has been a long term passion and project of mine which is now reaching fruition. It is (or strictly speaking, will be) a commercial resource for wildlife and natural history photography and writing.

Over the last 10 years, I've been fortunate enough to travel extensively to all 7 continents, taking photographs and notes, and the site will showcase the results.

Please feel free to browse....

Monday, 29 November 2010


I'm not in a good mood. It's freezing cold, and I've had to cope with a pointless strike on the London Underground today. Which meant that everybody else in London was in a bad mood, too. We all spiralled down together into an ever-deepening pit of moodiness. 

The tube union leader is a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) named Bob Crow. Normally I'd make some light hearted quip at this point about a 'murder' of crows being an appropriate collective noun, but I'm in too bad a mood to even attempt ironic and tasteless humour. 

So, to cheer myself up, here's one of my favourite butterflies- the Gulf Fritillary. It's pretty, isn't it?  I can feel my mood lightening already. 

Actually, no I can't. But it is pretty.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010


It's easy to take the humble impala for granted. The first day that you visit southern Africa, you ooh and ahh over them. The second day, you're kind of 'uh-huh, there's another herd of impala'. Third day, it's 'out of the way, impala scum, you're blocking the route to the elephant.'

Shame on us all. Impala are beautiful little animals, and it shouldn't matter that they're as numerous as Starbucks in a city centre.

They're called the McDonalds of the plains in reference to the black arches on their rumps, and the fact that they provide a constant source of fast food for just about every large carnivore in their distribution range. In fact, they're the key to survival for all those sexy, photogenic predators that we all long to see so much.

And there are few things as heartwarming as looking into the huge, limpid eyes of an impala. They're the very epitome of the gentle antelope.

They are one of the most acrobatic denizens of the plains, able to make huge leaps of up to 30 feet when escaping yet another hungry cat. But they bear all the danger and stress with a kind of docile stoicism.

So if you're lucky enough to go on safari, don't take the impala for granted. Take the time to appreciate its beauty and grace. Stick around to observe its behaviour and habits. You'll find it's well worth it.

And importantly, there's always the chance that you might see it getting snacked on by something really cool.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


It's true. Today, I can exclusively reveal that the penguins that Sir David shows us in the antarctic are hand picked penguin models, straight out of penguin casting. Each penguin is carefully groomed and made up, has its feathers cut and blow-dried, and is placed in the ideal position in the colony, ready for the blue-shirted, silver-tongued, whispering wonder to do his breathless voiceover in a picture perfect setting. 

That's why the BBC penguins all look identical. You won't see any chav, ugly penguins- they aren't allowed near the set. 

Like this poor Adelie, with a face that only a penguin mother could love. Never mind Attenborough, this specimen, who wished to be identified as 'Psycho' (not his real name), wouldn't even make the grade in a Nigel Marven production. 

And I, for one, think it's sad. Perhaps it's time for the lads from BBC Bristol to embrace the ugly penguins, in all their bug eyed glory.

Otherwise penguins like poor Psycho here are going to find themselves with a complex. 

And that would be taking the pingu.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Let's hear it for the dung beetle. One of the smaller, yet most important, animals in the world.

The ancient Egyptians knew this- that's why they didn't call them dung beetles, but sacred scarabs. Much better.

Without dung beetles, the world would be a very different place. In fact, it would, in a very real sense, be a load of crap.

Dung beetles, like vultures, are nature's clean up crew. They feed on the excrement of herbivores and break it down, improving nutrient recycling and protecting livestock and wild animals from aggressive pests such as flies which would normally find a habitat on a plethora of poo.

Without dung beetles, the world would be a much smellier place.

They roll their ball of dung away from its origin (because when you've got hold of a really good poo pellet, you just KNOW some other ba*tard's going to try and steal it...) and then bury it, laying their eggs inside so that the larvae have a tasty treat to consume upon hatching..

And they're strong. One species, Onthophagus taurus is particularly so. I'm reliably informed by Wiki that in human terms it can push and pull the equivalent of six fully loaded double decker buses.

That's a good weight of faeces, even by a curry addict's standards. Certainly enough for a batch of larvae.

Most dung beetles don't eat or drink anything else at all during their lifetime- sadly for them, the dung contains all the nutrients and water that they need.

So let's pause for a moment to thank the dung beetle, and also to offer it our sincere condolences. Because to a dung beetle, the phrase 'eat shit and die' isn't a good-humoured insult - it's all there is to life.

And you thought you had problems.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


For me, the Oryx (Gemsbok) is the animal that defines Namibia. To cope with the incredible heat, the Oryx has developed a cunning cooling system. There's very little water to drink, so sweating is a bad thing. To reduce the need to sweat, Oryx pant heavily, which causes air to flow over the carotid rete - a network of blood vessels around the nose. The nose is also coloured white to reflect the heat. The blood running through the carotid rete is cooled by the air and from there the cooler blood is directed to the brain, keeping it at a reasonable temperature. Simultaneously, the body temperature is allowed to rise. So the Oryx doesn't need to perspire and so lose valuable water. Clever, eh?

Friday, 12 November 2010


Scenery in Namibia is big. I mean, really big. And orange. These are the biggest sand dunes in the world, at Sossusvlei in the Namib Naukluft national park. There isn't a vast amount of wildlife around here, but the scenery more than makes up for it. It's difficult to get a sense of perspective, but to give an idea, the trees at the base of this dune are full-on trees, not little shrubs.

All the dunes have numbers rather than names. You drive down the road, and there are little signs like mailboxes telling you which dune you're passing. Number 26 is particularly photogenic, but suffers from over-touristing. When I got there, about a gazillion fitness freaks were busy proving their climbing abilities to themselves and leaving unsightly footsteps up the knife edge ('blade') of the dune.

So I simply drove on a bit until I came to number 33 (I think) which was picture perfect. Why, I have no idea.  Maybe 33 isn't as macho a number as 26. Maybe 26 was a better climb. Not having the mental fortitude to clamber up bloody great piles of sand in the heat of the desert, (a shorter way of saying this would be 'lazy') I can have no answers....

Here's another dune, this time with Oryx at the base. These attractive antelopes are about two thirds the size of a horse, but next to the dune they appear utterly insignificant. It's difficult not to simply stand there and stare at these dunes with your jaw hanging down. Surely, they must qualify as being one of the natural wonders of the world.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


The pounding hooves of this herd of zebras could be heard from a long distance as we enjoyed the sunset in Namibia.

As they raced past us, we looked for predators. None were visible but the zebra were in a tearing hurry, anyway. What were they running from? I've no idea. Where were they headed? I haven't a clue.

It was a magnificent sight as they thundered past at full throttle. The vibration from the ground travelled up my body, and the clouds of dust played havoc with my nice clean lens fronts. But it was one of those unexpected moments that will stay with me forever.

You get a lot of them in Africa.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Yellowstone Park, USA. Some of the most gorgeous scenery I've ever seen. And some of the weirdest, as befits a national park sitting smack on top of a supervolcano. A supervolcano, for the benefit of the Brits, is one that's very big and not, as the name implies, one that's really rather smashing.

Volcanoes are measured by the amount of stuff they blast out (ejecta). And like the Richter scale, this is measured on a single-figure scale, known as the VEI (volcanic explosivity index).

Yellowstone's last eruption, 640,000 years ago, had a VEI of 8, which means it spewed about 1000 cubic kilometers of ejecta. By comparison, Krakatoa in 1883 was VEI 6, or about 25 cubic kilometers. A supervolcano eruption is a world changing event, which could trigger a mini ice age and possible species extinction. The species in question being, well, us. Or at the very least the good folks of the United States.

Since that would leave us without cheeseburgers and Bruce Springsteen, this puts a Yellowstone eruption firmly inside my definition of a cataclysmic event. And the worrying thing is that in volcanic terms, it's overdue. It could happen at literally any moment within the next 150,000 years or so. Scary stuff, eh?

So, Mammoth Springs is one of the many places in Yellowstone where the earth leaks hot minerals and suchlike. These cool and crystalise, forming extraordinary shapes and patterns. The colours are due to the minerals and the algae and bacteria that live happily in the rich deposits.

I was there in midwinter, and the steam and sulphur dioxide rising off the cooling mineral salts produced an eerie steam and a heinous smell. At least, I think it was the mineral salts.

Yellowstone is great, but Mammoth Springs is like visiting another planet. It has to be seen to be believed.

Oh, and eat cheeseburgers while you can. Lots of them. Because you never know what the next 150,000 years might bring.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Long-suffering-Dilly has returned from Malawi, to find fortress Balham still standing, me still surviving, and fresh milk in the fridge. She has brought with her a tan, a selection of stones (this is normal for her - like a Bowerbird, she leaves shiny pebbles dotted about the house) and, most importantly, duty free cigarettes.

To celebrate her return and the consequent upturn in my quality of diet, (because, although I would never admit it to her, you actually can have too much take-away curry) here are some of the puffins that she so eloquently described on her blog not long ago.

Puffins are jaunty little birds, slightly awkward in manner. They look like rotund clockwork toys when they fly, and, like albatrosses, have never really mastered the art of taking off and landing. To launch, they just hurl themselves off the nearest cliff and flap enthusiastically, and to land... well, it's really just a case of nose dive and hope for the best.

Their magnificent beak colouration only happens during the breeding season. The beak is made of horny plates, and for most of the year is dull. But the puffins are out at sea then, anyway. They only come back to breed and entertain tourists. 

There are three different puffin species. The ones pictured are Atlantic puffins. Then there are Horned puffins (the horn is a fetching mark above the eye that makes them look as if they are wearing false eyelashes)  and Tufted puffins (mostly black, with a serious set of golden eyebrows not unlike the macaroni penguin).

If you'd like to know more about the great puffin adventure that Long-suffering-Dilly and I undertook in Wales on the Isle of Skomer, see Dilly's word-for-word blog under 'My favourite bird is a puffin'. There's a link at the top of the page.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


You'd be hard pushed to name an animal that scares people as much as the Great White shark. Ever since Stephen Spielberg filmed Jaws, this massive apex predator has been the ocean's number one villain.

But does it live up to its fearsome reputation? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that it's a big, menacing shark. When you're in a cage and an 18-foot Great White cruises past, it looks the size of a bus. But they aren't as big as they used to be. So many are killed now, that few live to attain their full size.

What I wasn't prepared for is how charismatic the Great White is. For a start, it's beautiful. The colour varies from individual to individual, but mostly it's a stunning dark grey-green, flecked with gold. The eye isn't black, as I'd always assumed. It's a gorgeous dark blue.

And far from being an indiscriminate killing machine, it's actually appealingly cautious. The sharks tend to circle the dive boats for a while, checking everything out before closing in on the bait. Great Whites can see  above the water as well as below it, so they often make a pass with one eye out of the water when there's a boat around. They're the only shark to do this. They're smart.

And being smart, they have definite personalities and moods. Some are grouchy, some playful and some curious. Some differ on a daily basis. But all are fascinating. I have never been cage diving with Great Whites and been ready to return to shore.

Sharks don't eat people. Unlike seals - which, admittedly, they occasionally mistake us for- we don't have enough fat on our bodies to make it worthwhile. But sharks do have a great curiosity about anything that enters their domain, and that's where trouble can start.

Great whites adopt an investigative method called bump and bite. Basically, they'll give something a bash with their nose, and then a quick bite to see if it's tasty. A human being isn't tasty.

Unfortunately the shark doesn't know that, until after it's chewed off a mouthful. You can see the problem.

The point is, that nine times out of ten, a shark attack isn't an attack at all. It's a feeding mistake. Like eating a pot-noodle. Looks like food, tastes like pot-noodle. You wouldn't do it again. Not sober, anyway.

And the statistics would seem to support this. There are typically only about 80 shark attacks reported per year, worldwide. Fatalities are rare. Only about 450 reported in the last 400 years. Although the key word there is reported. That means that the figures are undoubtedly higher.

But statistically, you're still more likely to be killed by riding a bicycle.

Contrast that to the estimated 70 million sharks killed each year by humans. Going by that statistic the sharks shouldn't get out of bed in the morning. They'd probably be fatally injured.

And that's why it's important that we do our bit to stop the hunting and slaughter of the world's sharks.

Because, dammit, these beautiful creatures deserve their chance to be killed by riding a bicycle.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


In Britain during the 70s, if you were a coffee drinker, you were either a Nescafe person or a Maxwell House one. That was pretty much your whole choice, pre-Starbucks and Costa Coffee. They were basically the same stuff, they looked the same, they tasted the same. 

But sipping on a Nescafe said you were a bit cooler, a touch more edgy, probably due to the presence of Gareth Hunt in the commercials (I know, I know...but we didn't know any better back then). Maxwell house was a rather more staid brand. It just didn't have the glamour of Gareth's famous red cup. 

I feel the same way about hummingbirds and sunbirds. They occupy the same zoological niche, hummingbirds in the Americas and sunbirds in Africa. They both fly around at great speed like little sparkly jewels. But hummingbirds are, to my mind, innately cooler than sunbirds. It's the way they've been PR'd over the years. 


They are the only bird that can fly backwards. They have the smallest bird species (the bee hummingbird). They can fly at up to 35 mph. And many of them are really colourful. What's not to like?

Hummingbirds (or 'hummers' to the street ornithologist) feed on nectar and small crustaceans which they ingest by means of a long, grooved tongue (above). They eat small meals, but a lot of them, in order to replace the energy expended by flapping their wings at up to ninety times per second. A hummer can ingest over twelve times its body weight in nectar every day.

But the most appealing thing about them isn't these Discovery channel factoids. The best thing about hummingbirds is that they're mad. No self respecting bird would look like a Tufted Coquette (below). It's insanely bling. It's like something that's been decorated by a three year old, with all the spikes and the crest and the spots glued on all over it...

And it isn't just the look of them. The temperament of the hummingbird is unstable to say the least. Hummers seem to have no fear. Nobody told them that they were tiny. Hence, they will attack any intruder into their territory with a kind of Banzai good humour. And often see it off, in the same way that a human will try to escape from an irritating insect. Eventually, the little thing buzzing round your head  becomes too much, and you move away. I have stood at hummingbird feeders and have a hummer lower itself into position a foot away from the end of my nose, like an attack helicopter considering its options. If a hummingbird could talk instead of just hum, it would, I've always felt, do the scene from Taxi Driver ("You looking at me...huh"?).

So I always get a bit of a thrill when I'm going to a hummingbird area. These tiny birds have more personality than almost any other species. And, like butterflies, they lift your spirits and cheer you up as soon as you see them, in a way that sunbirds just...don't.

Sorry, sunbirds. But I'm a Nescafe person.