I’ve covered the UK in 2015: from Dorset to the Highlands, from Pembrokeshire to the Farnes. As usual, I’ve been filled with awe, experienced magical moments in nature, and groaned in frustration as the conditions and behaviour I want to film elude me. But that’s why I love being an underwater cameraman – and I’d love to share a few favourite moments…
One of my highlights was filming sea cucumbers in Loch Duich, which also proved to be one of the hardest locations. When sea cucumbers feed it’s mesmerising, like watching a beautiful ballet. They live on a soft muddy bank with little current and even less light. To get the shot, I had to set the camera directly above an animal on an underwater tripod – without disturbing anything. Each feeding sequence took a whole dive to setup and shoot. One wrong move and I would destroy the visibility with a thick cloud of silt, or I’d find that the sea cucumber had scarpered back into the mud.
On one dive, I’d finished the long setup without a hitch and set the camera rolling when a hermit crab came by and yanked on the sea cucumber’s feeding arm, causing the animal to retract out of sight. As it turns out, it’s a great behaviour shot, but I recall being less than pleased at the time.
In Dorset this summer, clear water was short-lived at Studland and my chance to film seahorses was limited. The few days I managed revealed a pair of lovely seahorses and a couple of surprise undulate rays.
The male seahorse was pregnant and I had hoped to film him up until he gave birth, but the wind changed, the waves rolled in, and the first and last bit of good visibility of the summer was gone.
Undulate rays have rarely been seen by divers, let alone filmed. It’s been suspected that Studland was a nursery because their spent egg cases are washed up on the beach in winter. These sightings support that theory and provide another good reason to make Studland an MCZ – as if there weren’t enough reasons already.
It was a great year for jellyfish. A boat trip with Steve and Julie got me in with several 6ft-long Barrel jellyfish near Kimmeridge. A shoal of horse mackerel lived with one of them – at one point they deserted their host thinking I was a better prospect but soon saw the error of their ways. In Pembrokeshire, after filming spider crabs, I had an end-of-dive dance with a beautiful Compass jellyfish in shallow water and extraordinary evening light.
My favourite moments this year were filming grey seals – above and below water. They rewarded my patience with behaviour I’ve never seen before. Interactions with them at the Farnes were incredible – a young female was all over me and my camera. She reminded me of my Cocker Spaniel, with the same sense of fun and mischief.
On land, I filmed seals at Ravenscar, a rugged Yorkshire spot I’ve known all my life and a special place of solitude for me. Not an easy location to get the camera gear as there’s a 600-foot climb between car and beach. Here I was rewarded with some beautiful morning light, mating sequences, and pup feeding, with a glimpse into just how vulnerable the seal pups are.
The biggest challenges of 2015 were probably technical – I upgraded my kit to 4k, which has created enormous learning across all aspects of my workflow. I’ll write a separate blog about that soon.
None of this would be possible without generous help from other people who are also passionate about wildlife. Thanks for all your help and advice, folks: Steve Trewhella, Julie Hatcher, Nick Wilcox-Brown, Matt Bjerregaard, Janet Ullman, Sue Scott, George Brown, Peter Cunningham, Lloyd Jones, Jake Finnigan, Doug Anderson, Neil Brock, Mally Jenkinson, Dave Pennock, Rob Broadhead and many others who have supported me this year in lots of ways.
Here’s a short film of 2015’s highlights. I hope you enjoy it.
Images & words by Andy