Saguaro twist © Jack Dykinga

Saguaro twist © Jack Dykinga, taken in the USA

First look: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 53

Discover the stories behind the images in a first look at this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

The instantly recognisable saguaro cacti of Arizona's Sonoran Desert National Monument are the subject of photographer Jack Dykinga's entry into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (above).

The plants stand tall, reaching up to 12 metres. Their shallow roots weave their way just below the surface, as far wide as the plant is tall, with one deep taproot keeping it grounded.

Their branches usually curve toward the sky, saturated with water held in sponge-like tissue beneath a waxy skin and defended by hardened spines.

These slow-growing giants can live for 200 years, but their dense limbs are highly vulnerable to harsh frosts, sometimes causing the swollen arms to freeze and crack. Twisting and buckling under their own weight, they create unique silhouettes against the desert backdrop.

One such unusual sight inspired Jack, who has spent a lifetime searching out these victims of frost near his desert home. Jack sat in a hollow space created by branches contorted downward and pointed his camera toward the distant Sand Tank Mountains. Neighbouring cacti in their arid landscape are gently lit by the dawn.

Sewage surfer

Sewage surfer © Justin Hofman

Sewage surfer © Justin Hofman, taken in Indonesia

 

Hopping from one floating object to another, seahorses often hitch rides on currents and grasp onto ocean debris with their delicate tails.

But the subject of photographer Justin Hofman's lens swam into trouble when it let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a thin piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind picked up at the surface of a reef near Indonesia's Sumbawa Island, the small swimmer's ride became a rough one.

In search of a more stable raft, the seahorse then landed upon a waterlogged cotton bud that washed in on the incoming tide.

Indonesia is known for having the broadest selection of marine biodiversity in the world. But the country is also second only to China in its contribution to marine plastic - fuelling the growing concern that unnatural ocean waste could outweigh fish by 2050.

Justin not only captured the seahorse and its unnatural vehicle, but also murky water filled with debris.

Indonesia has pledged that by 2025 it will reduce the amount of waste being discharged into the ocean by 70%.

Resplendent delivery

Resplendent delivery © Tyohar Kastiel

Resplendent delivery © Tyohar Kastiel, taken in Costa Rica

 

For over a week, Tyohar Kastiel spent every day sitting in the same spot from dawn to dusk in the Costa Rican cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota.

Although resplendent quetzals usually nest in dense rainforest, Tyohar happened upon a pair that made their home in a partially logged area. The natural light showed off the birds' iridescent plumage, though it meant that the birds could see better too.

Wearing the same jacket each day, the birds became used to the photographer's presence and continued to feed their two young chicks every hour.

On the morning of the eighth day, the parents fed their chicks as usual, but did not return for several hours. Tyohar became concerned as the chicks were clearly ravenous.

Eventually the male returned with a wild avocado in its beak. Landing on a nearby branch, the bird surveyed the area before flying back to the chicks. But instead of feeding them, the male flew back out to the same branch, still holding the fruit.

Within seconds one of the chicks hopped out of the nest to join its father, and was rewarded with the food. The female returned to the nest shortly after and did exactly the same with the other chick. Then the whole family flew off together, leaving Tyohar alone in the rainforest.

Gallery: the preview images

Visit the exhibition

Visit the internationally-renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition to see 100 spectacular images of nature.

Visit the exhibition

See the world's best nature photography in the fifty-third Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Opens 20 October.