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Capturing the wilder side of life.

Byline: Jill Tunstall

STEALTH, cunning, tenacity and patience: Wales' finest wildlife photographers adopt the characteristics of the creatures they photograph to come up with award-winning images. And just as the stakes are high in the tooth and claw battles of the natural world, so the animal-like instinct and opportunistic stalking of those who capture them on camera have yielded big rewards, More than 18,500 photographers from around the world enter the BG International Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Just 101 are chosen. And when these winners were announced at the Natural History Museum in London last week, three came from Wales.

The youngest was Iwan Fletcher, 17, who was highly commended in the 15-17 age group category for his lovely shot of a Sanderling at Foryd Bay, near his Llandwrog home, just outside Caernarfon.

Last year Iwan won first prize in the same section with his stunning image of a newly arrived Whitethroat. He first entered the competition aged 11, when he won the same category.

``When the tide is out in Foryd Bay, large areas of sandbanks are exposed, where sanderlings regularly feed,'' says Iwan, who uses a Nikon F9OX camera with 170-500mm lens. ``I managed to photograph this pair by crawling along the sand with my camera and lens resting on the ground.

``By moving slowly towards the sanderlings and keeping low, I managed to get within three metres of the birds. As long as I made no sudden movements, they continued preening or sleeping and ignored me completely.''

The sanderlings he photographed are regular visitors to North Wales, migrating from their high-Arctic breeding ground in late summer. But Wales' two other highly commended photographers travelled farther afield to secure their images.

Richard Packwood, 54, of Llandinam, near Newtown, has combined his wanderlust with photography since he drove a Land Rover to Australia, from Powys, and back shortly after graduating as a pharmacist.

A semi-professional photographer, last year he travelled to the arid deserts of Namibia where he captured this magical picture of desiccated acacias, or camel-thorn trees, in the bleached, cracked clay valley of the Dead Vlei in Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park. It was highly commended in the Wild Places section of the prestigious competition.

``There's so little moisture in the valley now that the acacias decay extremely slowly - some are thought to be at least 500 years old,'' he explains.

``We arrived in this surreal landscape before dawn, and I noticed shadows growing longer as the sun crept over the dunes that encircle the Dead Vlei. Within a couple of hours, the soaring temperatures had forced us away again.''

Richard, who uses a Nikon F4 with 80-200mm lens and tripod, has been highly commended before says he had a feeling that this would catch the judge's eye.

``It's a dramatic scene,'' he says. ``But the long shadows in the background are what tipped it over. I sent quite a few, as I always do, but I felt that this was the one.''

In nearby Llanidloes, Sally Sharrock is celebrating her first placing. Her ethereal shot of striped mackerel feeding in the Red Sea was highly commended in the Underwater World category.

Sally took up diving six years ago at 50, to prevent her from becoming a ``knitting granny'' and became interested in photography after spending the weekend helping out a fellow diver who was entering a photographic competition.

``I though `I can do that','' she recalls. ``I'd never really done any photography before, and this is not the easiest way to start, but it was a real challenge.

Last year she went to the Red Sea on holiday, ironically as a land based vacation to give her husband the chance of some sun. But meeting up with a group of Irish divers was too tempting.

`I GOT this shot on the first day. There must have been more than 40 mackerel in this shoal,'' she explains. ``I found them filter-feeding on plankton in the shallows at Marsa Egla when I was swimming to shore after a dive.

``They moved in tight, perfectly synchronised formations. I knew how easy it would be to disperse them, and so I waited until there was a gap in the circle, then quickly slipped into the centre of the whirling carousel. The mackerel cruised around me, seemingly oblivious to my presence.''

Treated to this marvellous display each day, Sally, who uses a Nikon F90x with 60mm lens and underwater housing, tried to better her shot.

``I tried every day to get a better one but in the end this had the spontaneity. I think it stood out because the fish are all doing something, they have their mouths open and are feeding.

``I was over the moon, this really is the blue ribbon competition and to see my picture on display in the Natural History Museum, with my name against it, was a big thrill.''

The exhibition is now on display at the Natural History Museum in London when the winners' ceremony was held.

It will soon begin a nationwide tour, arriving in Wales in November 2003, where it will be displayed at Aberystwyth's Arts Centre.

CAPTION(S):

MAGICAL: Richard Packwood of Llandinam, near Newtown, caught this image of desiccated acacias in the bleached, cracked clay valley of the Dead Vlei in Namibia's Namib -Naukluft National Park. It was highly commended in the Wild Places section of the prestigious BG International Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition; SUBLIME AND STRANGE: In nearby Llanidloes, Sally Sharrock is celebrating her first placing with an ethereal shot of striped mackerel, far left, feeding in the Red Sea. It was highly commended in the Underwater World category. The youngest success came from Iwan Fletcher, 17, who was highly commended in the 15-17 age group category for his shot of a Sanderling, left, at Foryd Bay, near his Llandwrog home, just outside Caernarfon. One of the best entries from outisde Wales came with this close up of a Chameleon, right, from Martin Harvey; Daily Post, Wednesday, October 23, 2002
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Oct 23, 2002
Words:1005
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