Commended picture in the Veolia competition 2012

Very happy to announce that my picture of the red-breasted geese taking off has made it as a Commended picture in the prestigious Veolia BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 Competition!

You can see this picture and the other commended pictures at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/wpy/competition/preview.jsp

The picture is taken with a Nikon D3x and a 600mm F 4 VR lens, in Bulgaria at the Black Sea Coast in February 2012.

Some more words about the picture:

I was preparing a photography trip for my travel company Tierra Photo Tours in Bulgaria last February. Main goals were species like Golden eagles and the Dalmatian pelicans in Greece. Before travelling to Bulgaria, winter had not arrived yet, and in Belgium we didn’t had any snow at all. But when I landed in Sofia I realised this was finally the time to get serious cold, with temperatures going to -25°C! It had been so much snowing in Bulgaria, that in the eastern part roads were completely blocked. Lucky enough we only wanted to spend time in the west, far away from the trouble. Halfway our trip, my Bulgarian guide told me about big flocks of Red-breasted geese arriving suddenly at the coast of the Black sea. I had never seen these animals, but knew this was a chance to get to see this rare opportunity. I had heard many stories before of colleagues trying to photograph these animals in winter in Bulgaria, returning home, without even not seeing one goose…But getting there was out of the question, because of all the blocked roads. My visit in Bulgaria was getting to the end, and I had to decide fast. I canceled my return flight, and we took the risk of driving the long way to the coast. Roads were just started to get cleaned, and we must have been one of the first ones to reach the Durankulak area. We had never expected this, but the geese were foraging close to the road, with flocks of hundreds, making so much noise! It almost seemed they were so happy to have been avoiding the hunting time earlier this winter, and only to encounter us,  keeping it safe for them. In the next days we followed the geese and witnessed behaviour hardly ever seen before, local experts told us who had been here for 20 years.  Situations quickly changed after some days, when days got warmer again and snow melted, and geese returned to the middle of the fields, far far away from the roads.
We had been privileged spoiled with such an encounter, that we became speechless. Just a few days of high intense nature experience, I hardly believed it happened. We even started to whisper out of respect, although they knew we were there of course.
I took  many pictures during those short days, almost feeling I had to, because this could easily never happen again, not in my life, but maybe also not in their live either…
Looking very calm and at ease, the birds could fly up with the thousands, just without any warning or reason. I felt really sorry for them, because this meant a lot of loss of energy, in this freezing cold weather, just after their long migration from the north.
So I almost started to curse the White tailed eagles, wintering in this area, chasing the geese daily. The flocks flew up with such a high speed (Red breasted geese fly very very fast!), that photographing this spectacle was almost impossible. Only on this one particular morning everything was perfect: geese were at a correct distance, and there were more big flocks further away. When an eagle turned up again, wind was good so the geese would not fly away from us or towards us, but just all in one plane field, with a second ‘curtain’ in the back, creating the background I wanted, giving the impression of huge flocks close to each other.
I had a particular image in my head, but never hoped to get this result. The snow on the fields created a very nice reflection, illuminating the underparts of the birds. I had just two good shots, and locked them immediately. I was really happy with this moment, but also felt sorry again for the geese, because being chased away just another time. Although a nice graphic picture because of all of the birds, we also need to see the fear of the geese, easily frightened and loosing essential energy when flying up in stress like this. Of course a natural behaviour, but that’s no longer the case during hunting-period, when they are being shot for pleasure. Shooting one or more individuals here on their winter grounds, means stressing a very big part of the population of the world that is still struggling to survive…