The Biggest & Baddest

This is by no means a serious piece of writing, but instead a bit of fun looking through the list of all the species I’ve photographed so far…

The biggest – Up until 2017, the largest species I’d photographed were probably the Minke Whale or the Basking Shark. The largest land mammal I’d photographed at that time was probably the Red Deer. In 2017 a number of land-based mammals overtook that, such as the huge (for a deer!) Sambar Deer, then the Water Buffalo, culminating with the Sri Lankan Elephant. Finally, on an incredible day in waters off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, I photographed the biggest species I’ve ever photographed or ever will photograph – the Blue Whale. Nothing beats the Blue Whale of course, but I can now add the largest land mammal to the list – the African Elephant, having photographed plenty of them in South Africa, where I was also able to tick off the largest bird I’m ever going to see, with a number of Ostrich being seen and photographed.

Blue Whale, Pacific Ocean

The smallest – The smallest species I’ve listed that are visible to the naked eye are arachnids such as the Clover Mite or Hypsosinga heri. The latter is a tiny spider that was assumed to be extinct in Britain until re-discovered shortly before I saw it. By far the smallest thing I’ve photographed is a Tardigrade sp. making use of an iPhone aligned with the eye-piece of Nick Baker’s microscope whilst working as a TV researcher.

Hypsosinga Heri, Dorset

The rarest – In terms of British population, hanging around Millford Proving Grounds to see the last known remaining individual wild Lady Amherst’s Pheasant before it single-handedly marked the extinction of its kind as a breeding species in the UK comes to mind. I think the Lady Amherst’s has been downgraded to ‘formerly naturalised’ or somesuch status anyway. In terms of international rarity, the Scottish Wildcat is probably the rarest species I’ve ever seen and photographed, with an estimated 35 wild individuals left. After countless searches I finally managed to achieve two short glimpses in two locations, finally returning to the second a year later to capture it on a trail-cam.

Scottish Wildcat, West Scotland

The deadliest – Apart from the obvious Mosquito, this title probably has to go to Central American species such as the Fer-de-lance or the Poison Dart Frogs. The frogs are tiny, and really don’t feel dangerous at the time of watching them, however, they hold enough toxins to kill many people. The Fer-de-lance, on the other hand, felt dangerous. When I got close and was composing a close-up headshot with the macro lens it turned towards me and started flicking its tongue. Immediately the images I’d seen of bite victims came to my mind, along with the realisation that I was many hours from any kind of help in the jungle on the Osa Peninsula. Responsible for 50 human deaths each year in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Elephant deserves a mention too.
The recent African trip was partly in a malaria hotspot so the mosquito gets another mention. Sadly I didn’t see any of the really deadly snakes, the most dangerous being the African Rock Python. Mammals were a different story though, with a whole host of characters jostling for the title of ‘most deadly’. Hippos take the top spot, but lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, etc all deserve a mention.

Fer-de-lance, Costa Rica

The fastest – Predictably the Peregrine Falcon, which I’ve always felt doesn’t fully deserve its title of fastest creature on the planet, given that it essentially relies on ‘aerodynamic falling’ to achieve its record-breaking speeds, as awesome as that admittedly is. In level flight, the Peregrine doesn’t feature amongst the fastest birds. Red-breasted Merganser, Hobby, Golden Eagle and Brown Hare all deserve a mention. The fastest land mammal is of course the Cheetah, which I was lucky enough to photograph in 2018.

Peregrine Falcon

The slowest – I’ve no real idea which creature takes this title once the relative size of the species and distance travelled are taken into account. The Leopard Tortoise and the Star Tortoise was unsurprisingly slow moving, but probably not slow enough to take the title. In fact, when I got distracted from photographing it by a Black-naped Hare (on the other end of the speed scale!), I looked back for the Star Tortoise and it had gone. Predation or a spurt of speed, I’ll never know. All of the gastropod species I’ve photographed must rank highly, but which is the slowest of all, I’ve no idea – nor do I care to find out. Whether it really is the slowest or not, this title is going to the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth – a creature I quickly came to love, and was lucky enough to be able to observe at close quarters.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, Costa Rica

The smelliest – This is quite easy. The Northern Tamandua (Lesser Anteater) stinks. Once I’d seen and smelt my first one, the second one announced its arrival with its odour long before it came into my view. They’re truly amazing creatures, and I one day hope to see their Giant Anteater cousins, but they really do smell bad. The Striped Hog-nosed Skunk may well deserve this award, but as I only managed to capture it on a trail-cam it doesn’t take it from the tamanduas.

Northern Tamandua, Costa Rica

The coldest – Mountain Hare and Ptarmigan in the Cairngorms. If you’re going to do it in winter, don’t do it in a whiteout, and don’t walk over snow if you don’t know what’s underneath it, such as a 20 foot drop to a stream below. I made both of those mistakes on separate occasions!

Ptarmigan, Scotland

The hottest – Looking for Resplendent Quetzal in the 100% humidity of the cloud forests of Costa Rica, searching for Ocelot and Jaguar trails in the burning sun of the Osa Peninsula, or trying to find as much wildlife as possible before sunstroke took hold in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. I don’t tend to look at weather reports much – it will be what it will be – so I don’t know how the hottest days in Africa compared with the above, but it was also seriously hot!

Land Monitor, Sri Lanka

The unfriendliest – A lot of wildlife doesn’t want to be seen, but some individuals make a point of letting you know it. A rogue Capercaillie who found me in the Cairngorms and decided to pursue me out of his territory that I’d inadvertently entered is going to take this title.

Western Capercaillie, Scotland

The loudest – The hoarse cry of Howler Monkeys in the Costa Rican jungle is a sound I’ll never forget. It travels long distances and helps the animals keep tabs on each others location.

Mantled Howler Monkey, Costa Rica

The creepiest – I didn’t think I held any prejudices when it came to the natural history of the world, but having stayed in and around the Sinharaja rainforest of Sri Lanka, I realised that there is a species that I came to quickly hate – leeches. Tiny, virtually impossible to see on the ground, yet they were everywhere, and as soon as you move, they sense vibrations and start moving towards, and up you. With suckers on both ends, they can also bite from either end, sucking up to 5 times their own weight in blood, administering both an anti-inflammatory and an anti-coagulent, so that you neither feel them nor stop bleeding until long after they’ve dropped off. Essentially a stomach and with a mouth at each end, they’re quite easy to dislike.

Leech sp., Sri Lanka

The ugliest – the Lesser Adjutant. My partner would probably argue it to be the Flapshell Turtle. At one point we even saw both species at the same pond as if in some kind of uglyness face-off.

Lesser Adjutant, Sri Lanka

The prettiest – Impossible to say. Things that spring to mind are the huge metallic Blue Morpho butterflies of Central America, the Sun Bittern which was so stunning when it opened its wings wide that I just stared in awe as I failed to actually take a photograph, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher trailing impossibly long white streamers as it flies, the jewel-like hummingbirds of Monteverde cloud forest, the Leopards of Sri Lanka… then in 2018 in Africa I set eyes on the bird I’d long dreamed of – the Pennant-winged Nightjar – a bird which deserves not only this title, but also that of most surreal.

Pennant-winged Nightjar, South Africa
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