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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Peregrine swoops to photo prize
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News science reporter

The peregrine moves in to attack

A swirling image of a peregrine falcon sweeping into a flock of starlings has won Manuel Presti this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

The Italian caught the action scene, titled Sky Chase, high above a city park in Rome.

"Sky chase is a powerful image and, like it or not, it's one that you will never forget," said Mark Carwardine, one of this year's judges.

The competition has become one of the most prestigious in world photography.

It is organised by BBC Wildlife Magazine and London's Natural History Museum. This year brought 17,000 entries from over 55 countries.


Manuel Presti is an engineer by trade, but he has been taking photographs in his spare time for 20 years.

Through his creative images he aims to show the simple beauty in nature and hopes to inspire people to care for its conservation.

You look for something that is surprising, and this has got it on so many levels
Roz Kidman Cox, judge
Right across Europe, starling populations have been in decline.

Nonetheless, thousands of the birds can be found roosting in city parks in Rome, where it is warmer in winter than the surrounding countryside and usually safer - except for the resident peregrines.

"I was photographing with two cameras; one was with a wide-angle zoom to capture all the shapes, and one - which is this picture - with a long lens to capture the up-close action, the chase," Manuel told the BBC News website.

"The sky was cloudy so I overexposed the image intentionally to make it white. A slow shutter speed - 1/50th of a second - gives it this dynamic of the starlings moving under the psychological pressure of the peregrine diving."

Roz Kidman Cox, a judge and former editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine, said: "The judges were unanimous. It's quite startling and it imprints itself on your mind. It's both a reality and an abstract.

"As a judge, you look for something that is surprising, and this has got it on so many levels."

The image won the Animal Behaviour: Birds category as well as the overall title.


A walk under the clouds

Martyn Colbeck's image captures a truly magic moment on the Kenyan plain in Amboseli National Park.

Appropriately, the UK photographer took the view on the morning of his birthday.

The air was so clear that Mount Kilimanjaro with its tropical glaciers is visible some 40km (25 miles) away.

The picture contains the classic three-segment structure found in many successful photos - in this case, the distant mountain, the stormy cloud deck and foreground train of dusty elephants.

Martyn is an accomplished wildlife documentary film-maker and actually won this competition in 1993 with another elephant picture.

This year, his entry takes the first ever Black And White category.

"Elephants are very textural; they are very suited to black and white," said Martyn, "but having worked for so many years in colour, I found it quite a challenge to do this."


A warm spot on a cold day

Martin Eisenhawer is from Germany but took his picture of whooper swans in Hokkaido, Japan.

It is a freezing February morning and the lake is covered in large part by ice. But the lake is also a thermal one and there are always patches of open water where wildfowl can settle.

Martin wanted to frame the peaceful, misty scene with an overhanging branch and its reflection, and spent a long time trying to find the ideal spot.

Having found his viewpoint, he had to bend over the water and wait in this position until the cold wind dropped for a moment, the swans settled down and the water was mirror-smooth enough to create the picture.

"I had visualised this picture; I had the idea in my mind before I went there," Martin told the BBC. "When I saw the branches of the trees, I thought how wonderful it would be to have the reflection underneath."

The picture won the Animals In Their Environment category.


Face to face with the snappers

Alexander Mustard's underwater shot of a bohar snapper is one of those pictures that has a depth which is not obvious at first viewing.

The eye is immediately drawn to the face of this Red Sea reef predator.

Only slowly do you realise that its menacing features are surrounded by a crowd of other fish.

Alexander, who is from the UK, travelled to the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in June, specifically to photograph snappers and other fish during their spawning season.

The snappers are normally solitary, but when spawning time comes, they are found in huge numbers.

"This great aggregation of fish is well known in underwater photography circles," Alexander explained. "Most people shoot it wide-angle but I wanted to change that - I wanted to photograph the spectacle from the perspective of the individual."

The snapper picture won the Animal Portraits category.


An amphibian love scene

Dutchman Ruben Smit's picture captures that staple of animal behaviour photography: sex.

Each spring, common toads migrate in huge numbers to mate in the ponds of Veluwe, a national park just outside the city of Arnhem.

Wading into the cold, crystal-clear water, Ruben held his camera as low as possible to the pond bottom to get a toad's-eye view of the squirming mass and used a wide-angle lens to show as much of the action as possible.

"At that moment, there must have been about 200 toads in the water and they were mating with my fingers - they were so horny. The males are searching for any movement and every time I moved my hands the males would go for them," Ruben recalled.

"Every five minutes I had to shake them off; I had two or three toads clamped to my hands."

The picture won the Animal Behaviour: All Other Animals category.

This year's Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year was won by Jesse Ritonen, 10, of Finland. His picture, called Inquisitive Jay, shows a jay perched on a snowy pine branch in Utti.

An exhibition of the best images from this year's competition opens to visitors of the Natural History Museum on Saturday 22 October, 2005; and runs until 23 April, 2006. It will then tour across the UK and across the globe.

Photos get the flavour of science
28 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Nature's finest caught on camera
21 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature


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