North photographer's delight at capturing birds' tender moment

Wildlife photographer Steve Race had only seconds to capture a special moment between two courting sea birds before it was gone with the wind

Steve Race The gannets with floral offering, pictured by Steve Race
The gannets with floral offering, pictured by Steve Race

Gannets pair for life and, when they return to the same nest site each year, they offer each other gifts to reinforce their bond.

Steve has been studying gannets for years at the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs nature reserve on the Yorkshire coast and noticed a male bird bringing a gift of red campion flowers, trailing in a line in the wind.

As he made the offering to his mate, the wind changed and the flowers entwined around her like a necklace, before the wind shifted direction again.

Steve’s image, which he has called True Love, features in an exhibition which opens at the Centre for Life in Newcastle today.

It displays the 100 best pictures from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 – the world’s most prestigious showcase of wildlife photography.

Newcastle is the first UK location to stage the exhibition after the natural History Museum in London, who runs the competition with BBC Worldwide.

This year, the event attracted 43,000 entries from 96 countries, so for Steve to win a commendation for his True Love image is a career highlight.

“Many times I have seen a male offer the female a gift such as a feath­­er, blade of grass or seaweed. But on this occasion I was amazed to see the male give his partner a necklace of red campion flowers. The soft evening light enhanced the tenderness of the moment.” says Steve, who is based in Scarborough but has family in Whitley Bay and reg­­­­ularly visits Northumberland’s Farne Isands on photographic trips.

“Gannets are amazing birds, which give each other love gifts. On this occasion the flowers were in a long stream in the wind, which then changed and they wrapped around the female’s neck.

“I had four or five seconds to capture what was a magical moment.”

Steve works part time as a education officer for the RSPB at Bempton and is also a director of Yorkshire Coast Nature, which runs tours, talks, and photography workshops.

“I’m thrilled to have been commended in the competition and that my image will now be on display in the exhibition at the Centre for Life and at venues around the world,” he says.

“What is on offer on the Yorkshire coast and in Northumberland and places like the Farne Islands and inland is absolutely amazing.”

Linda Conlon, chief executive of the Centre for Life, said: “We’re thrilled to bring such a prestigious exhibition to Newcastle. It’s an
emotive and uplifting exhibition inspiring wonder at the natural world while at the same time highlighting the need for wildlife
conservation to audiences of all ages.”

The exhibition will be on display at the Centre for Life until March 2. Entry is included in the admission price to the centre.

The overall winner of the competition was South African photographer Greg du Toit for his image Essence of elephants, a portrait of African elephants in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana.

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year is Udayan Rao Pawar, 14, for his image Mother’s little headful, which shows young gharial crocodiles clustered on their mother’s head on the Chambal river in
India.

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