A MERLIN glances towards Saltwick Bay photographer Steve Mills in this image, which features in one of the world’s most famous publications this month.
‘The Assassin’ captures the bird of prey moments after it struck a snipe, with the victim appealing to its killer as it struggles to escape.
The image was captured in December 2010 and last year won Steve the Veolia Environnement international wildlife photographer of the year award in the ‘Bird Behaviour’ category.
Now the image has been featured in National Geographic, which has a global circulation of over 8 million monthly readers.
The self-taught photographer said he was stunned when he discovered his image had been chosen from among the thousands the selection panel sees each month.
“I got an email in the late summer from them saying my photo was under consideration for inclusion,” he said. “Apparently they do a long list, a shortlist, and it made it all the way through. I was kind of knocked out.”
Born from a passion for wildlife, Steve began his journey at university, when he bought a Canon A1, a film camera which he says still works to this day.
Then in 2005 came a major breakthrough when he purchased a digital camera and long lens for the first time. “The combination of those two opened the door to wildlife photos,” he said. “With the money from the National Geographic I’m almost breaking even on cameras.”
This photograph came from a short winter expedition by Steve, who had to drive just around the corner from his home near Saltwick Bay to capture it. He explained: “We’d had heavy snow cover and birds like snipe were pretty desperate.”
Parking on the lane near Saltwick Holiday Cottage, he found a small patch of exposed grass and waited.
The snipe soon appeared and began eating as much as it could. Steve added: “I was happy photographing the snipe. But it was so busy trying to eat, it didn’t see this merlin coming and it hit the snipe hard.
“I was so close it was almost impossible to keep both birds in the shot.”
The image, which Steve said is his favourite in terms of the drama it conveys was captured using a Canon 50D camera and 500 lens.
Steve divides his time between Whitby and running a conservation operation in Greece for habitat protection.