We've just returned from a brilliant trip to Wengen and the Jungfrau area in the Swiss Alps, to enjoy the early winter snow dump they've had this year. We spent most of our time careening down epic sledging runs, digging out snow caves, drinking hot chocolate, trying out slidy planks, and planning a new direct route up the Eiger nordwand. Paradise!
WiLDiMAGES - Andy Young Photography
I am an evolutionary biologist seeking to capture something of the world.
My research frequently takes me to Africa's wild places, but much of my photography involves hunting for peculiar mammals on other continents. I have a particular interest in camera trapping and noctural photography. My two primary subjects are Humans and The Wild.
Follow me @animalsocieties
We spent a brilliant week in Zermatt, taking in the stunning peaks of the Valais Alps - Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, Weisshorn, Monte Rosa - and introducing the girls to sledging. Next time skis!
Things took a dark turn at Phoebe & Layla's second birthday, when the hyenas found Peppa & George.
Its been a wild year, watching the girls grow up - learning to walk, getting their first shoes and starting to grapple with animal sounds, language and each other. We've had some brilliant moments and seen some great things. Here are a few family moments from the past six months.
We spent a great week in the beautiful Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in early September. It was still warm in the valleys and on the plains, with just a touch of autumn colour in the trees, but the high passes in the beartooth mountains had the feeling of coming winter. It was great to finally experience these stunning places, having enjoyed them from a distance time and time again in wilderness and mountain films.
We were hoping to catch up with quite a few of the region's mammals, while keeping the family sane and alive. With Phoebe & Layla now just starting to walk and trying out their first words, we tried to get out of the car and on to the trails as much as possible, and hoped that they'd settle in for good naps at peak mammal-driving times! After quite a bit time on the trails with our bear spray, Phoebe's tiny repertoire had extended to chanting "Hello bear! Hiya bear!".
In the end we caught up with grizzly bear, black bear, wolves, coyote, red fox, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, mule deer, bison, pronghorn and plenty of chipmunks and red squirrels. For some reason, despite repeatedly scouring apparently good areas, we missed most of the larger rodents, including the ground squirrels, marmots and pikas. Otter and beaver also elluded us, but we were never able to stay for long at the most promising spots at the right times of day, so that was no great surprise. We would also have loved to cross paths with American badger or one of the weasels, but it wasn't to be this time.
Logistics: we flew in to Jackson airport and hired a car for the week, spending our first and last nights in the Grand Teton area, heading up through Yellowstone to stay for the four nights in between near Cooke City, just outside the north-east entrance. While in Yellowstone we spent each early morning and evening in the Lamar valley area, where the chances of wolf are arguably highest, and headed deeper in to the park and on to the trails (bear spray at the ready!) in the time in between. As always, we had gathered together what information we could from the trip reports on mammalwatching.com, and found Max Waugh's Yellowstone wildlife guide and map quite handy, along with info from Yellowstone.net.
The Carpathians had long been on our radar, with the promise of a step back in time, beautiful wild country, and some great natural history in and around Europe's largest tracts of old-growth forest. That they also hold Europe's largest populations of brown bear, wolf and lynx only added to the appeal. So in early June we packed up the twins, field guides and optics and headed to Romania with good friends to spend a week exploring the Piatra Craiului and Bucegi massifs.
Our first day in the field started well, with bear tracks at 05:30 and a distant brown bear through the scope soon afterwards, moving off the right-hand peak in the image above. The day ended with European beaver and yellow-bellied toad by a lowland river. While the mammals were fairly thin on the ground throughout, early mornings spent scanning from a peaceful vantage were a wonderful way to start the day.
European beaver have been reintroduced to a few sites in the area and are leaving some pretty obvious signs of their return to the forest! We had good views one evening of an adult and kit.
On our last day in the forest we took a long walk up the Dambovicioara valley that cuts in to the Piatra Craiului from the south, in the hope of finding a new vantage point for scanning the peaks to the west. The going was quite tough with the girls on our backs and the valley was deeper than we had expected, with thick beech forest and then pine rising steeply from the track edges and obscuring the high clearings that we were hoping to scan. But luck turned our way towards the top of the path when I stopped for a breather and my eyes drifted in to the forest landing square on the face of a Ural owl sitting quietly about 10m away. A striking and elusive bird, the picture does it no justice - as we were carrying the girls I had only my phone and the scope with just a shoulder to rest it on!
All in all we saw 11 mammal species between us: brown bear, stone marten, red fox, red deer, roe deer, alpine chamois, wild boar, forest dormouse, European beaver, hare, and one of the mouse-eared bats. A great place.
We had a lovely day - some rummaging in the toy box in the morning, then out for lunch at the Sunset Surf Cafe at Gwithian, some fossicking in the dunes for adders and then home for cake. Awesome.