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Commended picture in the Veolia competition 2012

Very happy to announce that my picture of the red-breasted geese was selected as a Commended Picture in the prestigious Veolia BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition! The image was taken with a Nikon D3x and a 600mm F 4 VR lens at the Black Sea Coast in February of 2012. Here’s the story behind the picture.

Bulgaria bound

I was preparing a photography trip with my travel company Tierra Photo Tours. We set out to capture species like golden eagles in Bulgaria and Dalmatian pelicans in Greece. Winter had not really arrived yet in Belgium, there was no snow at all. But when I landed in Sofia, temperatures had dropped to -25°C and the snow had completely blocked the roads in the eastern part of the country. Luckily, we were bound for the west, far away from the trouble.

Halfway our trip, my Bulgarian guide told me about big flocks of red-breasted geese arriving unexpectedly at the Black Sea coast. I had never seen these animals and knew that this was a rare opportunity. Many of my colleagues had tried to photograph these animals in Bulgaria, returning home without a single sighting.

Drive to Dobrich

My visit was nearing its end, so I had to decide fast. I cancelled my return flight, and we started our long drive to the coast. The roads were just starting to clear, so we must have been one of the first people to reach the Durankulak area after the winter roadblocks. We found the geese foraging close to the road in flocks of hundreds, making a huge noise! They seemed to celebrate having avoided the hunting season this year.

During the next few days, we followed the geese and witnessed behaviour hardly seen before. The conditions quickly changed and as the days got warmer, the snow melted and the geese returned to the middle of the fields, far away from the roads. We felt so spoiled with this encounter, we became rather speechless. We started to whisper out of respect, even though they knew we were there, of course. I felt that this might never happen again in my life.

A perfect day … but not for the geese

You’d almost start to curse the white-tailed eagles who were wintering in the area. They chased the geese daily, making them fly up by the thousands. I felt really sorry for them. It made them lose a lot of energy in freezing cold weather, after their long migration from the north. The flocks would fly up at such a high speed, that photographing them was almost impossible. But on this particular morning, everything was in line. The geese were at a perfect distance, and there were several big flocks in the background. When the eagles turned up, the wind was just right so the geese wouldn’t fly away or towards us, but remained in one field, with a second ‘curtain’ of geese in the back, creating an image of huge flocks close to each other. The snow on the fields created a beautiful reflection, illuminating the birds.

So what you see is not just a nice picture. It’s also the fear of the geese, losing essential energy when they fly up in stress. Can you imagine how they feel during hunting season when many in the flock are being shot for pleasure?

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