The incredible winners of the Nature Photographer of the Year 2021 contest revealed 

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A breathtaking volcanic eruption, a chest-beating gorilla and adorable ground squirrels: The incredible winners of the Nature Photographer of the Year 2021 contest revealed

As the winning and commended photographs in the prestigious Nature Photographer of the Year 2021 contest reveal.  

This year, the contest – which celebrates photographers who capture the ‘joy of nature’s beauty’ – broke its record for submissions, with the judges choosing from over 20,000 photographs from 97 countries. Pictures that impressed the judges included an extraordinary shot of an erupting volcano in Russia‘s Kamchatka natural park, a photograph of a silverback gorilla drumming his chest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a series of heartwarming images of a family of round-tailed ground squirrels in Arizona

However, the overall winner was Terje Kolaas, who won the judges over with his spectacular drone shot of pink-footed geese soaring through the skies over the Trondheimfjord wetland system in his native Norway.

This stunning photo won the Landscape category and shows an eruption of Klyuchevskoy, the highest and most active volcano in the Kamchatka natural park in Russia and part of the Volcanoes of Kamchatka Unesco World Heritage Site. It was taken by Denis Budkov, who hails from the Kamchatka Peninsula. He said: 'The lenticular cloud above the top of the volcano, illuminated by hot lava, creates the impression that a fire-breathing dragon is sitting on the top under the clouds. For 10 years now I have been photographing the eruptions of this volcano and for the first time I have filmed it from this angle. This place is amazing because here you can see three volcanoes standing side by side like the great pyramids of Giza. Klyuchevskoy is on the right (height 4,750m/15,584ft). In the middle is the volcano Kamen (height 4,585m, 15,043ft) and on the left is the volcano Bezymyanny (height 2,882m, 9,455ft)'

Judge Tony Wu says of the winning shot: ‘This photograph immediately grabbed our attention in large part due to the novel perspective it provides – a view of pink-footed geese migration from within the airborne flock.’

He adds: ‘Our excitement about this picture was tempered initially by the question whether a drone may have disturbed the birds. It is clear from the body language of the subjects and the presence of many relaxed geese on the ground that the subjects were not under stress.’ Below you’ll find MailOnline Travel’s pick of the winning and commended images – scroll down to the very bottom to see the overall winner. 

This enchanting shot came first in the Plants and Fungi category. It was snared by Rupert Kogler in a forest close to his hometown of Linz, Austria. He explains that when temperatures are below zero in the forest, ‘mesmerising patterns of hoar frost’ appear on the branches of the trees. Sharing the story behind the picture, he says: ‘This particular day I was lucky enough to experience these conditions. The most fascinating thing to me actually was that the sun melted the hoar frost in the treetops and these particles of ice fell down as a glittering curtain from time to time.’ Summing up  the shot, he says: ‘Nature’s magic delivered a memorable and enriching moment’
This stunning image was captured by Italian photographer Georg Kantioler, and shows the ‘Fermeda-Towers’ - a series of peaks that are part of the Geisler Dolomite mountain range in Italy. Kantioler, who has been taking photographs for the past 25 years, admits that it was a challenge to secure this shot. He says: ‘This picture was preceded by many failed attempts and it took me many years to realise this desired image!’
Aare Udras’ arresting photograph of a young wolf, pictured, was the runner-up in the Mammals category. This picture was captured in a forest in his native Estonia. Udras learned that there was a wolf’s litter in the area, and decided to set up a camera trap in a nearby beaver dam, hoping that the wolves would appear to hunt for the beavers. It took around six to seven months to capture this picture. Describing the photograph, which was taken around 4am one September morning, he says: ‘This young wolf photographed herself. This photo shows well how relaxed the wolf is, even while jogging on the beavers' dam in absolute darkness.' Udras reveals: 'In Estonia, there are around 200-300 wolves. Around 100-130 of them are hunted annually.’ He adds: ‘I love nature photos of different species showing their living style in their natural habitat. It is pretty difficult to make such photos, especially of the species who are not very common and are very careful, like the wolves'
Cast your eye above and you’ll see the runner-up in the Underwater category, captured by Russian photographer Dmitry Kokh. It shows dolphins swimming in Sataya Reef - also known as ‘Dolphin House’ - in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt, which Kokh describes as ‘one of the best places in the world to swim with wild dolphins’. He recalls: ‘I spent all day with them in the water, and that was for sure one of the best days in my life.’ Kokh adds: ‘You always feel that exact moment when you make a very special shot, the one you dreamed of. When everything comes together: the animal’s mood, the light, the colour, the depth and all the rest. And a bit of nature’s magic maybe. So, this is the one!’

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