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Diary

© Miranda van der Linde

Regular updates from Oliver's recent expeditions.

Images on the slideshow galleries are available to purchase online except for those that are sold exclusively by RSPB Images. For these images please visit Oliver's RSPB Images profile to purchase.

All other images can be purchased as acrylic, aluminium, aluminescent, canvas or mounted prints. Prices include postage. Orders can be placed by telephone or email too if you prefer not to pay by Paypal. For more details about the product styles visit Oliver's Prints page.

7 - 26 May 2017 - India

My first big experience in Asia, having only visited for a 10-day trip to Nepal last year. India was to be special however, as this was a trip to see one of the largest land carnivores on the planet.

I spent 21 days in national parks and some 20 tiger game drives and a further 10 rickshaw trips in Keoladeo. I was actually surprised at how difficult it was to locate tigers, however once found they would normally hang around for a decent period of time!

The locations and habitats were very interesting and diverse. Visiting during the dry season allowed better visibility, however it is generally a lot hotter. I spent roughly three days at each of the following: Tadoba, Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh.

23 April 2017 - Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover, Hampshire, UK

Certainly the highlight for the group this spring was a pair of Long-eared Owl Asio otus chicks that we were allowed to photograph under close supervision.

I used an old crow nest and built it up to make it look as natural as possible. Two handlers were on standby just in case one wanted to take an early fledging!

The other great opportunity this spring was the use of a hovering Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus being trained by one of the falconers. Although the images show the ankle equipment it was the perfect chance for the group to practice their tracking and panning skills.

11 February 2017 - Wiltshire

I shall never cease to be impressed by the wildlife of the British Isles. I get to travel to some remarkable foreign destinations, however I equally enjoy visiting local sites and spending hours watching and photographing wild species in the UK.

During the winter I enjoy visiting a friend's farm in Wiltshire to experience the sights of wintering Short-eared Owls Asio flammeus and the numbers of Common Buzzards Buteo buteo and Red Kites Milvus milvus that visit a feeding station. Lots of set-aside land and overwintering provisioning also attract a large number of passerines which I shall attempt to spend more time on in the future.

18 - 27 November 2016 - Nepal

Nepal is one of those places which you long to visit, plan for years and then spend a month there (at least!). In my case I had a keen interest to go, booked it within two weeks of being offered a trip with a friend and headed into the Himalayas for less than ten days! Crazy, yes, but what an unbelievable place and experience.

We headed along the trekking trail from Lukla towards Pangboche on a linear return route which will take you eventually to Everest Base Camp. There was no chance of us completing the full journey on this expedition as we simply did not have enough time, but in five tough days of trekking we at least had magnificent views of the tallest structure on Earth.

Back to Kathmandu for a night and then we headed to Chitwan National Park in the south of the country. This was an epic road journey in itself but worth it to see some of the rare and wonderful creatures that live in the warmer part of the country. The images represent just a snapshot of what can be seen in Nepal and with a limited kit bag too for this trip I was hardly able to shoot a bird photograph the whole time!

April & November 2016 - Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover, Hampshire, UK

During 2016 I ran my two regular workshops at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Amport near Andover.

Once again the spring (for wildflowers) and autumn (for colour) workshops proved popular, both being fully booked. Clients were exposed to a variety of weather conditions along with a range of beautiful British and European species (with the odd bird from a little further afield!). This offered a wonderful mix of conditions and opportunities to explore and experiment with...the best way!

Using natural settings and a variety of props it is always great to see the results from the group. Here are a few of the shots I took whilst getting everyone into the 'best' position. This is fundamental to a successful day to ensure the jesses and rings and hidden and making the most of the available light.

For 2017 workshops please visit my events page, however please note that these days are booked up very quickly so book early to avoid disappointment.

16 - 27 September 2016 - Kenya

It is not surprising that anyone interested in wildlife probably has an African safari high on their to do list. Well, I certainly did and I have put it off until now (2016) purely as I wanted the 'right trip' to come along.

In 2015 exhibiting at the British Birdfair I came across a company which offered dedicated photographic opportunities from a vehicle designed for the photographer. With a good travelling friend we went to explore what the Maasai had to offer and in particular to photograph the Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus migration. This involves tens of thousands of animals crossing the Mara River literally in search of greener pastures. The problem is there are lots of predators and dangerous waters to negotiate!

The drama was incredible and often when little appeared to be happening. The tension and sometimes the sense of death in the air was breathtaking. I will add another post soon with more images of this amazing wildlife spectacle.

I also visited the Nairobi National Park for three nights too. This is an incredible location for wildlife and if all big World cities had similar opportunities for native wildlife then we would be in a much better place for sure.

2 - 8 July 2016 - Tiszaalpár, Hungary Photo Tour

My third successive photo tour to the Kiskunsag National Park and yet again it did not disappoint. With established accommodation and excellent local knowledge we were able to maximise the sites and wildlife.

New pools were discovered this time around, which led to some great images photographing birds into the rising or setting sun (even with atmospheric mist!). We also found a site for watching dozens of Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia heading to roost at sunset!

I'm taking a break in 2017 so I can undertake some independent travel as well as allowing the ranger to continue locating and building new opportunities for a tour I will lead in the spring of 2018. The next trip will focus on the breeding birds rather than return passage, so watch this space for more news or sign-up to my quarterly newsletter to be kept informed.

If you would like more information on my 2018 tour then please visit my Photo Tours page or email me here.

27 May - 8 June 2016 - France

France offers such a wide variety of habitats, weather conditions and amazing wildlife and a relaxed two week trip to the Aude region in southern France was a great opportunity to explore this area in late spring and into early summer.

Many of the sites were ideal for birdwatching although limited for photography, without the time to set up hides or stalk the wildlife. There are a great number of species here and although the migration was over we still recorded in excess of 105 bird species and 16 species of butterfly without much effort.

For a great place to stay and explore this stunning region which includes many famous castles and wonderful food and wine visit Birding Languedoc.

5 - 20 March 2016 - Ghana

My fourth trip to Africa and another interesting, if not the most productive experience of the continent yet. I joined a birdwatching and nature tour, however opportunities for photography were very limited so if you are keen to take images of the birds and wildlife here, ensure you book on a tour which allows plenty of time to watch the wildlife, rather than tick it off and move on to the next species.

That being said, it was a friendly country, with generally good food (no illnesses), no mosquitoes in the dry season (amazingly) and in two weeks you can cover most of the country and all the top sites. Mole National Park being a particular highlight as big game is still present here, albeit not always easy to observe and you cannot wander off without a ranger.

The driving between areas can be long and rather dull as the roads are pretty poor in places and every village and town appears to be obsessed with speed bumps. The landscape has been heavily deforested and is a monotony of plantations and crops or otherwise lifeless looking scrub during the dry time of year. Otherwise the travelling was not too much of a problem and you can pick up a few species on the way too.

It is an interesting and accessible destination for those wanting to record good numbers of west Africa's bird species and in my two week expedition I recorded some 374 bird species.

For more information on the tours of Ghana please visit Ashanti African Tours.

This is just a very small sample of my images here and there will be a much greater selection on Alamy soon.

12 - 17 February 2016 - Highlands, Scotland

Scotland has always been a favourite destination to visit and over the years I have been many times. My grandfather took me into the Highlands on several occasions and I still feel this is the place I like to go when I return.

This trip with a friend during the winter was specifically focussed on searching for Mountain Hares Lepus timidus in their winter coats. This means you have to be wrapped up as there is likely to be a lot of snow about. We took my VW T5 Transporter campervan and stayed for several nights in the snowy mountains, thankfully only getting stuck once!

The hares performed very well, however we put in a lot of time with them, not rushing but allowing the animals to get used to us and our cameras. This certainly paid off with the resulting images.

14 - 25 November 2015 - The Gambia

My third trip to Africa and another wonderful experience of the continent. I've relaxed into the way of life in the tropics now and I enjoy every minute, whereas perhaps in the past I would have felt a little anxious, especially with all my camera gear!

This adventure was organised by my good friend Ashley Grove who runs birdwatching and photography tours to this gem of a birding country on the west African coast. Surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia River bisects the north and south banks and with a land area smaller than Wales it certainly boasts an impressive and relatively easy to see bird list. In 11 days we scored some 250+ species.

Photographically it is a top location too as many species are relatively confiding and boat rides can also get you into the mangroves and along the river which make birding and shooting all the more fun.

For more information on birding and photography tours please visit Ashley Grove Wild Images and mention you've come via here!

This is just a very small sample of my images here and there will be a much greater selection on Alamy soon.

4-10 July 2015 - Tiszaalpár, Hungary Photo Tour

The latest from my photo tour to Hungary in July 2015. Another superb trip with many new species photographed or others done even better than before. The variety of subject matter, different locations and props is great and with 117 seen and 76 photographed by the group it is a remarkable place to visit.

The weather this season during the trip was very hot, peaking at 39 degrees. This was followed by a very heavy storm, with incredibly strong winds, perhaps even hurricane force and a good deal of rain.

The new lodge is now complete so is even better placed for local photography and a number of kingfishers visiting the garden!

Places on my 2016 tour are now full but if you would like more information then please visit my Photo Tours.

If you are interested in photographing some wonderful birds in Hungary during 2017 then please email me here.

5 - 8 June 2015 - Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire, UK

I've visited Bempton Cliffs just once before in poor light so it was about time for a revisit. This excursion was to incorporate a trip out to sea for diving gannets and due to rough seas I managed to finally get on board on the Monday.

The cliffs are dramatic, breathtaking and home to tens of thousands of seabirds. The sight, smell and sound is second to none and my favourite habitat of all.

Seabirds have had a rough time in recent years with a depleting food stock, forcing the adult birds to hunt further offshore for food. This is very concerning as the demands of their chick(s) are too much if food stocks are low, the adults abandoning or in many cases not even laying. The cliffs seem quieter somehow, and I hope that their fortunes will improve in the very near future.

The aim of this trip was to try and illustrate both the beauty of the birds and their surroundings and here are a few images from the weekend's shoot.

7 - 17 April 2015 - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Spring 2015 was another very special time for travel. I've not had many inklings to visit the Galápagos Islands as they are visited by so many tourists, however, having planned three weeks in Colombia I thought it crazy not to make the most of my time in South America.

The other timely factor was my photographer friend Hugh Rose was leading a tour with local expert guide Juan Saucedo onboard the Samba. Knowing the right people for a trip of this calibre makes for more enjoyment, not to mention having people keen to get you on land for the best light.

This was also the first trip using an underwater housing for a 5D Mk III camera. The Nauticam housing was purchased from Underwater Visions. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with underwater photography, however I cannot yet claim to be an expert I was thrilled with what I achieved by snorkelling and free-diving to get beneath the marine wildlife.

More images will be available on Alamy & RSPB Images soon.

5-6 & 19-20 April 2015 - Guayaquil, Ecuador

In-between Colombia and the Galápagos Islands I spent a couple of days in Guayaquil (the largest Ecuadorian city) and a couple of days at the end. There was not too much time for birding or photographic but a couple of day trips added to the ever growing list and also a few interesting images, including a flock of several thousand Wilson's Phalaropes! Another amazing migration undertaking by these birds.

17 March - 5 April 2015 - Colombia

This year I travelled to South America for the second of two trips to the continent, the first to Argentina and Chile in 2013/4 and this spring to take on the delights of Colombia, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.

The wealth of wildlife in Colombia was extraordinary, especially with the 1900 or so species that have been recorded here, 1/5th of the World's bird species! So many highlights, it is impossible to record here but let's say an encounter with a twelve inch tarantula was one that I will never forget!

We covered the Llanos plains, jungle, river, mountain, forest, montane and urban habitats, each containing a wealth of species. I think it was one of the hardest places to birdwatch as every bird seen was new for the list, quite incredible.

Photography was also quite tough but as with every trip there are always a huge number of opportunities and potential. And as ever I would love to go back!

Here is a small selection of shots from the trip. More will be available on Alamy soon.

15-30 October 2014 - California

My first trip to the west coast of mainland USA and I thoroughly enjoyed the road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles with my wife Helen.

It was a great combination of wildlife watching, meeting friends and family and enjoying the food and drink of this famous region.

There are many really exciting wildlife spectacles to be had and I certainly found the trips around Moss Landing to be some of the best for whale watching and of course the Sea Otters.

This is just a very small sample of my images here and there will be a much greater selection on Alamy soon.

18 September 2014 - ZSL Animal Photography Prize 2014 Awards

Oliver's images chosen as category winners for the prestigious Zoological Society of London Animal Photography Prize 2014 competition. Titled If Only They Knew the cuddling Polar Bears (Alaska) was awarded winner of category 'Last Chance to See'. The King Penguin image (South Georgia) was awarded winner of category 'Size Matters' and titled Lost in a Crowd.

The award ceremony was a fantastic evening with an exhibition showing the winning and highly commended photographs. A live band played from the balcony, which set the exciting tone for the evening. The celebration of all 35 images brought together likeminded photographers, fellows of ZSL and a number of special guests including Bill Oddie. Presented by the Director General of ZSL Ralph Armond, Oliver picked up his two awards with great pride and a big smile on his face!

To purchase the two winning images as prints please order from this slideshow or from the Home page. For digital sales and editorial use contact Oliver Smart directly.

9-15 June 2014 - Tiszaalpár, Hungary Photo Tour

Here is a very small selection of images taken on my recent Hungary photo tour I led in Tiszaalpár.

It was a very hot week but we were blessed with good weather throughout and some amazing photo opportunities. Our hide sessions included woodland, steppe drinking pools, tower hide, canoe rides, marsh hides, floating hide and single species opportunities.

We photographed more than 50 species during our 6 night stay and saw and heard many others too. A week never feels long enough, but after 12 hide sessions with early starts and late finishes it was a manic yet thrilling experience.

This year our guide took us by canoe onto the Tisza River too where we were able to witness and photograph the amazing emergence of May-flies, a stunning spectacle.

Dates are now available my 2016 tour (from 2nd-8th July) so if you would like more information then please visit my Photo Tours page with details on how to book.

If you are interested in photographing some wonderful birds in Hungary during July 2016 then please email me here.

5-7 June 2014 - Skomer, Wales, UK

I always love visiting new island destinations and Skomer has been on my hit list for some time. I managed to get two night's overnight accommodation at the farm and although I wanted to stay longer this was a great opportunity to visit this very important seabird haven.

From the small harbour at Martin's Haven, the short boat ride across is enough to whet your appetite and the excitement builds quickly until you notice the 87 steep steps you have to climb with all your luggage to get to the main footpath!

With a mixture of conditions over the two days including gale force winds, thunder, lightening, heavy downpours and glorious sunshine we really did experience all types of weather.

The island is host to some 630,000 Manx Shearwaters and is one of the most important sites in the world for this species. A night walk after 11pm on an overcast evening was a brilliant way to see and more evocatively hear the shearwaters as they emerge and return to their burrows. The rain showers also brought out hundreds of frogs and toads.

More images will be available on Alamy & RSPB Images soon.

31 May 2014 - Reptile Workshop, Arne, Dorset, UK

The second in a series of wildlife workshops in 2014 took me to Arne in Dorset where I assisted in running a fantastic reptile photography shoot. We had eight clients and a fantastic licensed handler to deal with the four wonderful species we had to work with.

We dipped on Sand Lizard and Grass Snake this time around but Common Adder (male), Common Lizard (female), Slow Worm (female) and Smooth Snake (male) all performed really well. We also were rewarded with great views and opportunities for shooting Golden-ringed Dragonfly (male) and Black-tailed Skimmer (female) too.

One of the tips from this shoot was to use a polariser to cut out unwanted glare from the skins of the reptiles. It also helps to saturate some of the natural heathland plant colours too.

If you are interested in a attending future reptile workshop then please contact Oliver Smart to be added to the waiting list.

The species in the slideshow sequence are Common Adder, Slow Worm, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Smooth Snake, Common Lizard, Black-tailed Skimmer, Common Adder, Common Lizard, Slow Worm and Smooth Snake.

More images will be available on Alamy soon.

27 April 2014 - Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover, Hampshire, UK

Another wet and overcast day at the Hawk Conservancy Trust for my April workshop. The participants looking forlorn and disheartened at the start of the day but within a few minutes of showing my slides and inspiring them about the positive impact rain and diffused light can have they soon began to liven up.

I was also testing my new Canon 200-400 lens this weekend too and all the images here were taken with it. Other than a slight green cast it creates, which can be easily adjusted in Lightroom, I have to say that I am mightily impressed with it. I will try and write a full review of the aspects of it soon, perhaps in my next newsletter.

If you are interested in attending my next workshop in Andover then please visit the Hawk Conservancy Trust website or perhaps join me on another falconry workshop in north Wales.

The species in the slideshow sequence are Tawny Owl, Tawny Owl, Merlin, Tawny Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Merlin, Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl.

More images will be available on Alamy soon.

26 April 2014 - Solihull, Birmingham, UK

The first of the 2014 series of wildlife workshops took place in late April and we were thrilled with the success of the two gorgeous species: harvest mouse and hedgehog. The harvest mice are captive bred and the two used were both males. It was interesting to see their different personalities; one being as bold as brass and the other only occasionally exploring his surroundings.

The lovely Cellie is a rescue hedgehog and can no longer be released into the wild, so he has become akin to a celebrity and performs very well for photographers.

The garden setting is ideal for staging the two mammal species and with lunch and drinks to break up the day it is a great fun experience for anyone interested in nature photography.

Please click the slideshow on the right to see some of the shots that I took to illustrate the results you can expect to get. Please click here for more information on booking the next event in October and to check all the alternative workshops.

The species in the slideshow sequence are European Hedgehog and Harvest Mouse.

31 March - 5 April 2014 - Spanish Pyrenees, Spain