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....

Friday, 28 January 2011


As regular readers will know, Hummingbirds are one of my favourite birds to shoot, largely because they're a big challenge with a proportionally great reward. Their iridescence means that when watched with the human eye, you gain an overall impression of bright colours flashing in the sunlight, but all too often the photographs aren't as beautiful as those that your brain 'fills in' for you. Also the majority of hummers are small and fast flying, so pre-focussing and patience are a requisite.

But the rewards come with shots like this one of a copper-rumped hummingbird. I seldom use flash, but in this case it was just after a thunderous downpour and the sky was threateningly overcast. Added to that, the bird was drying its feathers on a twig right inside a thick bush, surrounded by other, bigger thick bushes. It was bushtastic. And very dark indeed; so out came the flash. 

And boy, was I glad to have it. The flash has defined the textures on the bird with an almost illustrative quality, and the multiple colours revealed in the final shot were spectacular. I would never have been able to fully appreciate them with the naked eye. 

The shot was taken at the Asa Wright Centre in Trinidad. It's a mecca for birders, and particularly good for Hummingbirds. Thoroughly recommended, especially for the chefs home made (and lethally spicy) pepper sauce, made from scotch bonnet peppers grown on the premises. 

And if you ask really nicely, she'll give you some to take home in a jam jar. 

Mmmmmmm......spicy jam jar of delight.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


More bears today, this time of the brown variety, taken on beautiful Vancouver Island in Canada. I stayed at Knight Inlet Lodge, an amazing floating lodge deep in the heart of bear country, and highly recommended. It is pricey, though, so be warned!

Each year, the salmon return to spawn in the same place that they were born the previous year. The river is thick with them, to the point where in places it's impossible to see the river bed. 

The salmon face an arduous upstream battle to find their spot and finally arrive, exhausted and dying, to find dozens of smug grizzlies lying in wait. Which is the last thing a horny salmon needs, really. The bears are there to fatten up on fish before they hibernate, and the salmon are so plentiful that I saw bears simply eating the nutritious orange roe, and leaving the rest of the fish virtually untouched.

Bears can actually hold their breath for a surprisingly long time, and some stick their heads underwater to get up close and pick the really juicy salmon. Then they emerge triumphantly with much over-dramatic snorting and shaking of the head, to rid their fur of the excess water (below).

Others prefer the less athletic option, and simply position themselves at a waterfall, sit on a rock and wait for their meal to literally jump into their mouth.

It makes using a knife and fork feel like a bit of an effort, really.

Monday, 24 January 2011


These shots were taken in Svalbard, the other top polar bear viewing hotspot (other than Churchill, Canada, that is). Polar bears are intensely curious, and will often come close to check out a ship travelling through the ice.

This bear approached the ship from a distance, getting closer and closer, to the delight of the tourists on board. Frequently pausing to examine things of interest, such as his reflection, the bear eventually got to within 5 metres or so of the ship, and then patrolled up and down the length of it, sniffing frequently- the smells from the galley clearly intriguing him (and me, too. The food on board expedition ships is usually extremely good).

Finally, realising that the galley was inaccessible, he retreated a little, and settled down to enjoy a roll in the snow and indulge in a little tourist watching. 

Polar bears are always a joy to see, and this one was particularly endearing. It's a tragedy that such charismatic and majestic animals are becoming increasingly threatened by the results of human activities and the recession of the pack ice that they require to hunt on.  

Monday, 17 January 2011


Yellowstone national park is an incredible place to visit at any time of year, but I prefer it in winter, when there are fewer people around. Granted, you won't see any bears, but there is plenty of other wildlife there.

I visited to get a glimpse of the wolves in the Lamarr  valley- and a glimpse was unfortunately all I got, and that from a long, long distance. Not worth photographing, anyway. But just seeing these incredible animals was a huge privilege. I intend to go back to Yellowstone to try again at some point in the future. Wolves are a big favourite of mine.

Meanwhile, there was a lot to see there anyway, including bighorn sheep, numerous elk, some big moose, owls and this beautiful bald eagle. The sky was a picture-perfect cloudless blue for a single morning, and the eagle looked fantastic against it and those strikingly graphic branches.

In the week that I was there over new year, I don't think we saw another human visitor. It felt as though we had this massive park entirely to ourselves. Even Old Faithful was deserted. Marvelous stuff.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


In the winter of 1974, in the high mountains west of Mexico City, Ken and Cathy Brugge found a few dead monarch butterflies lying tattered by the side of the road. It was exactly what they had been searching for, and sure enough, with a little exploration of the forests in the vicinity they uncovered the answer to one of entomology's great unanswered questions- where did all the eastern monarchs go in winter? The monarch is a common butterfly in North America, but come winter they simply vanished with no apparent trace. No eggs, larvae or pupae were ever found during those months. 

It was known that thousands of adults gathered in the Monterey pines on the west coast. But they were the ones from the west of the rocky mountains. What happened to the vast majority of the monarchs- the ones from east of the mountains- was unknown. It was assumed that they migrated south to sunnier climes. But where, exactly?

Monarch country....

The answer, evidently, was that they went to these forests. Every monarch in the eastern part of North America. That's millions upon millions of butterflies converging on a series of small woodland glades where geographical and climatic factors rendered the temperature, humidity and protection perfect for overwintering. 

The monarch is one of the most recognisable butterflies in the world. It's America's national insect. And it's a superhero amongst butterflies. It can live for over 9 months including hibernation, and a single individual is capable of travelling thousands of miles. The occasional Monarch even shows up in Britain, having been blown across the Atlantic ocean. Monarchs die harder than Bruce Willis.

Monarch larva (full grown)

During summer, they spread out from the Mexican mountain forests across the whole of North America, taking several generations to do so. The large larvae feed exclusively on Milkweed (asclepias sp.) and absorb the poison from the foodplant- hence their warning colouration. Birds do not mess with the monarch. 

Then, just as they've covered the continent, they all turn around and several generations later, arrive back in Mexico ready for hibernation. 

Which is where I found them in February 2001. As I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, the sun was out and by mid morning it was perfect weather for an overwintering butterfly to wake up, give its wings a stretch and head out on a brief sortie to find food and water. In a few weeks, it would be time for them to move on, but for now they were just preparing for their epic and neverending journey.

As I got nearer to the colony, I started to see them. First in the sky, and then on closer examination, drinking from the tiny streams that criss-crossed their way down the mountainside.

A sky full of monarchs

Drinking at a stream

There had been a frost the night before and, as I turned a corner on the narrow trail, I had my first taste of the true extent of the monarch migration. 

Logging had encroached into the surrounding forest, and one theory goes that the damage done by the loss of the trees protection had started to affect the overwintering butterflies, so that a few on the outskirts of the colony had started to feel the cold. The trail ahead of me was liberally carpeted with dead and dying butterflies, suffering from exposure. 

There were so many that I wondered how the colony could possibly survive the loss of such numbers without being severely depleted. But then, a little further on, the incredible truth started to dawn...

Dead monarch carpet

It's the sound that first lets you know that you're in the kingdom of the monarch. It's a sound so unfamiliar to our ears that it took me a while to understand what it was. It's kind of like the sea breaking on the shore, but it's constant- it doesn't swell and then recede like that sound. It's a whisper, but it's loud enough to overshadow everything.

It's the sound of a million million wings rubbing together all at once. And when you realise what it is, you stop dead in your tracks. I have never heard anything like it, and don't really expect to again.

Now and then, you'll hear a sharp crack, as a branch gives way under the weight of butterflies that it carries. Think about that. A pine tree branch, snapped by weight of butterflies! Surely it would take a stupendous number of insects to pull off a feat like that?

And that's when you start to notice the trees. I mean, really notice them. Notice the bunches of grapes hanging from them. And then, a flash of orange tells you that they aren't grapes at all. In some cases, they aren't really trees at all. They're more like butterfly sculptures of trees. And you're standing right in the middle of one of the biggest migrations on the planet

Bunches of grapes...

Not just trees...

Butterfly sculptures

Everywhere you look, there are butterflies. You think you're seeing a tree, you're actually seeing butterflies. That's not a bush- it's a group of 10,000 butterflies. They're everywhere. And as the sun warms their wings, they rustle them gently and open and close them so that it looks like a thousand tiny pops of orange, exploding all over your vision.

Not a bush...

The sun moves higher, they start to disperse and fly afield in search of nourishment, and the clearings are filled with swirling orange confetti. It's a butterfly snowstorm. 

After a couple of hours with the monarchs, I made my way down the mountain. I was still not adjusted to the altitude, so I hitched a ride on a mule. I was pleased about that, but I can't say that the mule was too keen. I think the camera gear may have been to blame. Heavy things, Nikons. Certainly, it couldn't have been anything to do with my weight. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I travelled with Tim Melling and Naturetrek, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my, and I suspect anybody's, life. It took two days for my grin to subside. If I could design a perfect trip, it would be to the sea of Cortez to photograph whales, and then on to mainland Mexico to visit the monarchs. Two weeks of pure natural history wonderment. Brilliant. 

Monday, 10 January 2011


This was one of my first photographs, and remains one of my favourites. While not technically great due to the burnout from the sun reflecting off the splashes, it's one of the few shots that I don't get tired of. The different colours and subtleties of the deeper water, and the dynamics of the splashing, fin motion and the focussed blow hole make it pleasingly abstract and painterly. It's also an unusual angle of the subject.

It's a common dolphin, photographed in the sea of Cortez, Mexico, on a trip to capture shots of blue whales. We found blue whales aplenty, but few that were posing for photos. That's the thing with whales- they're huge and amazing and beautiful and....underwater. The majority of whale sightings begin and end with a glimpse of dorsal fin silhouetted in a vast expanse of sea, or if you're lucky, a fluke. Which isn't as exciting in a photo as it is in real life, more's the pity.

Still, on the way back to La Paz, aboard legendary whale-watching ship the 'Don Jose' a few dolphins escorted us, happily bow-riding ahead of the ship in the calm waters.

It didn't take much encouragement for me to shin along the stem of the bow, clinging on like a portly sloth until I was directly over the dolphin. Then I just held the camera with one hand, the bow stem with the other, and let rip.

Only one of the pictures was useable- the others were all cropped off or badly exposed by the reflected light. Or they had no dolphin in at all.

But this one shot somehow made it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


"The thing about tigers" said the guide, leaning forward conspiratorially "is that they have great powers. If they do not wish to be photographed, they will not allow it." 

I nodded understandingly, whilst enjoying a vaguely colonially-tinged internal smirk. What were they going to do- refuse to sign a model release form? Put blankets over their heads? 

How little these rangers knew of the wonders of modern photographic equipment, still clinging to their quaint camp fire stories and legends. 'Paf!' I thought, again internally. (Paf! is an expression that should only ever be used internally). 'Wait 'til the tigers get a load of me....'

I'd been in Ranthambore national park, India, for 4 days, and had as yet failed to see a single pug mark, let alone a tiger. But I'd put this down to bad luck and the ravages wrought by poachers, rather than camera-shy big cats. 

And then, as our jeep of 3 happy travellers, driver and ranger bounced along the dusty road, all that changed as an enormous male tiger came slouching out of the bushes straight towards the vehicle. Head down, perfect light, great background. This was it. 

With visions of the Wildlife photographer of the year award playing through my mind, I composed the shot, waiting as the tiger got nearer. It still hadn't appeared to have noticed us, as it padded along closer and closer. And finally, the shot was just about perfect. All that was needed was for the tiger to look at the camera. Which it obligingly did.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been unfortunate enough to be tasered. I have, and it's not an experience that I'd be keen to repeat. But I'll tell you what, looking directly into the electric blue eyes of a wild tiger just feet away from your unprotected jeep has a similar effect. I'm seldom nervous on safari, even around big cats. But a lazy lion or irritable leopard doesn't even begin to compare with the gaze of a tiger. 

A physical jolt went down my spine as we locked eyes. They are utterly hypnotic, and you can almost read the animal's mind. Which in this case was 'if I could be bothered, I could turn you into finger nibbles. And right now, I'm giving it serious consideration'.

I swallowed, and prepared to press the shutter...

At which point, the photographer behind me swore, and I heard the unmistakable (and to a photographer, nightmarish) sound of photographic film ripping on its guide sprockets. His film had jammed. Almost at the same time, the guy with the point and shoot compact in the front seat dropped it. Not only dropped it, but bent the little telescopic lens.

2 cameras were down. It was up to me to get the shot. And I was up to the task. I quickly reassessed the shot. If anything, it was better. And for the second time, I squeezed the trigger and....

.....nothing. All systems down. I squeezed again, with the same result. I continued, harder, as if I could somehow bully the camera into co-operating. And then I saw the flashing light on the top of the Nikon F5.

Dead battery.

Now, that battery had been charged the previous night. I'd sat there and watched it.

10 minutes before the tiger arrived, it had been reading fully charged.

But Nikons seem to have an erratic flaw that causes this effect, particularly if you use them with a teleconverter. My D3 and D2X have done it since. Turning it quickly off and then on seems to solve the problem. It's irritating, but not a disaster. But this was the first time it had ever happened to me, and by the time I'd discovered how to fix it, the tiger and with it, the shot of a lifetime had sauntered past and was disappearing into deep cover, probably flicking me the stripey finger as it did so...

I was eventually to get other tiger shots on that trip, but none as amazing as that particular shot would have been.

The guide looked round with a cheery smile at 3 devastated and mechanically unsound photographers, all in a state of shock at this unheard-of simultaneous triple breakdown.

"Ahhh, naughty tiger" he said, beaming happily. "He doesn't want to be filmed today".

And you know what?

I believe him.