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Combine wildlife with flowers

Male golden pheasant with bluebells

East meets West: male golden pheasant amongst bluebells in the Conservation Area, Kew Gardens

As a wildlife photographer, for many years my goal was to capture animal portraits as well as their behaviour.  More recently, I especially enjoy seeking ways to combine wildlife with flowers. Sometimes, this is merely using a different focal length lens or camera angle to include flowers in the shot.  Wildlife on the ground can be enhanced by including flowers in focus around them. Alternatively, massed flowers can provide colourful out of focus elements in front or one or more animals or as a colourful backdrop, shown by the laysan albatross below.

Laysan albatross Midway Atoll with flowers

Alien golden crownbeard flowers provide a colourful backdrop to a Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll

But there is a twist to this photographer’s dream juxtaposition, because the introduced golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides) plants became an invasive alien on Eastern Island in Midway National Wildlife Refuge. This composite covered vast swathes of valuable nesting ground to a home of 1.5 million laysan albatross (65% of the world population). An eradication programme for the plants began in the 1990s and was intensified in 2003 using hand-pulling, mowing, and herbicide application as a means of control. The hard work has begun to pay off, with near-record numbers of both Laysan and black-footed albatrosses nesting on Midway Atoll NWR in 2012-2013.

It is thought that golden crownbeard was introduced to Midway in the 1930s as seeds in more than 9000 tons of soil imported from south west USA when the refuge was used as a military base. Now all visitors have to pass shoe-cleaning stations at the boat pier on Eastern Island.

Atlantic puffins with thrift Treshnish Isles

Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) mingle amongst thrift on Lunga, the Treshnish Isles, Scotland

Seabirds that nest on cliffs where thrift thrives, can often be framed with the pink bobbles close to their nests or burrows adding a welcome splash of colour. Such an opportunity often arises beside kittiwake nests or burrows of Atlantic puffins.

Another approach is to seek out animal pollinators that visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen. Because I have already shown insect pollinators in a previous blog I am not including them here.  Animals are creatures of habit, so that once birds and mammals have discovered a productive floriferous tree, they will return the following year.

Rainbow lorikeet feeds on drunken parrot tree

Rainbow lorikeet feeds on copious nectar produced by drunken parrot tree (Schotia brachypetala) Australia

The drunken parrot tree – so-named because it produces copious nectar that ferments resulting in some birds falling off the tree.  To date, 54 species of birds are known to feast on the nectar of this South African tree.

Some animals home into flowers to feed on the petals when they may be lucky and  gain a nectar reward. Whether they be caterpillars or beetles taking small nibbles or birds and mammals plucking complete flowers to munch them, they can all be lumped together as anti-pollinators, because they damage or destroy the attractiveness of the flower to potential pollinators.

Aztec parakeet eats mother of cocoa flowers

An Aztec parakeet (Eupsittula aztec) plucks a mother of cocoa (Gliricidia sepium) flower, Chiapas, Mexico

In addition to many bats that visit flowers to feast on nectar, other mammals feed on flowers themselves, often plucking them from a plant or a tree. In Madagascar, black-and-white ruffed lemurs visit the robust travellers tree flower to feed on the nectar which they expose by carefully parting the petals with their hands. Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) consume the petals of both wild and cultivated flowers and may also glean some nectar. Below a lemur has plucked a large cactus flower from a plant near one of the bungalows at Berenty in Madagascar.

Ring tailed lemur eats cactus flower

A ring-tailed lemur eats a petal of a large cactus flower it picked at Berenty, Madagascar

Whilst waiting to start a game drive in search of tigers at Ranthambore, an unexpected opportunity to take a monkey with flowers arose. After spotting a Hanuman langur snatch a garland from a tourist, I followed it running off to a large strangler fig tree, where it consumed the flowers.

Langur eats garland flowers India

Having grabbed a garland from a tourist, a Hanuman langur eats the flowers, Ranthambore, India

Flowering water lilies and other aquatic plants that grow in ponds and lakes, provide added interest and colour contrast to wading wildfowl and birds paddling along the surface. Dragonflies will sometimes rest on water lily or sacred lotus flowers in-between taking to the wing to capture their prey in mid-flight.

Dragonfly rests on water lily

A southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) rests on a water lily flower in a Surrey garden pond

Hopefully, this small collection of images taken around the world will inspire you to grasp every opportunity that arises to combine wildlife with flowers to add colour to your images.  Like two for the price of one, it is a win, win situation! However, regardless of where the flowers appear in the frame, they do need to be in prime condition and preferably not shrivelled or wilting.

Happy hunting!

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