While this is always a fun blog post to create, scoring my own shots is difficult to do – not because I’m easy on myself, but because I’m extremely critical of my own shots. After judging so many contests my own images seem to pale a bit. I had originally edited out of the mass of shots about 68 images to pick my favorite 25 from – and while many of those not selected are very good images – they lack the kind of impact that I would expect in contest submissions – so I graded them out, just like I would others. Remember, these are my favorite images – you might have others.
As would be expected, my Yellowstone (spring, fall, winter) safaris added the most images to the top 25 – at 7, while my other frequent safaris (bobcats, Sequoia bears, and Bosque del Apache NWR) added 3 each. There is no doubt in my mind that if I could get to Texas more often it would place more images into the top 25 than the 2 that are represented here. The degree of difficulty in photographing birds resulted in 11 images in my favorite 25. Here are the images, in descending order, with a brief description of each:
#25 Cinnamon Black Bear Sow in Grand Teton NP.
We encountered this sow and her two cubs along the Pacific Creek backroad in Grand Teton National Park – and after about 25 minutes shooting the cubs she decided to come and check out her cubs and the photographers to make sure we were all playing nicely. The next day we encountered a boar grizzly in the same area, justifying her concern for her cubs safety.
#24 Cinnamon Black Bear Cubs scooting down a tree in Sequoia NP.
We literally stumbled upon these cubs high up this pine after we saw the sow guarding the bottom (ok, she was sleeping initially) of this pine tree near Huckleberry Meadows. There were three cubs, but the third was a quick climber and beat the other cubs to the bottom.
#23 Red Fox eyeing the mouse he had just captured in Yellowstone NPThis image, and the image selected #13, are part of the same encounter, shot just seconds apart near Pebble Creek, in Yellowstone’s Soda Butte Valley. The degree of difficulty in which these foxes hunt in winter just makes you want to applaud them for their successes.
#22 Sandhill Crane landing in a pond at Bosque del Apache NWR, NM.
Taken this past January (I just got back from another safari to Bosque a week ago) I like the strong graphics in this image. Sunset light reflecting on the pond surface and the wide wing stretch make this a fun, dramatic image.
#21 Great Horned Owl take-off at Butterbredt Springs, CA
My late March, early April safari to photograph these owls is difficult at best. Shooting inside the trees is an iso challenge that requires exact panning in order to limit not just camera vibration but subject movement as well. The owl looks serious as it leaps off a branch with blood from its recent snack still staining the feathers around it’s beak.
#20 Vermilion Flycatcher on the Morongo Bird Safari, CA.
High winds and swaying plant stalks created a lot of blurry images while I was attempting to shoot this male Vermilion Flycatcher – but I’m persistent, and I shoot an incredible number of images in each attempt – hoping for a successful shot like this.
#19 Full Moon and Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache NWR, NM
Sometimes you have to stretch your camera’s abilities a bit. We arrived at a sunrise pond in the darkness, lit only by moonlight, and found these geese flying through. It took only a few seconds to determine iso 25,600 and +.5 eV would at least give me a chance. Some lucky manual focusing (to dark for AF) resulted in an image impossible to capture at night in any other way. Remember, to my eyes we were in complete darkness except for the light from the moon.
#18 It’s Never to Cold for a Coyote to be out Hunting in Yellowstone NP.
What attracted me to this particular image was just how healthy this coyote appears at the most brutal time of the year for Yellowstone wildlife – the dead of winter. The late afternoon sun gave me just a little color to pop his face and neck as he smelled for voles and hunted for his next meal near the Phantom Lakes area of the park.
#17 High Key Tundra Swans in Lower Klamath NWR, CA.
A classic white-on-white image taken of these Tundra Swans as they set their wings inbound for a frozen pond filled with their friends. This image was taken at +1 eV (exposure compensation) to keep the whites white. I really like how the exposure turned out, with just enough color to detail the swan’s chests.
#16 Beautiful Morning light on this attentive Sow Black Bear in Sequoia NP.
This is the sow from selection #24 of the cubs descending the pine. There is no hiding or sneaking up on these animals – be who you are and the animals will except you or not, but pretend to be a predator and they will flee for sure. The meadow behind her was full of purple shooting star flowers (which overexposed somewhat) and the rising sun lit just a bit of her face adding definition to the image.
#15 One Coyote’s Dominant Behavior on the Utah Raptors Safari, UT.
The other coyotes in the pack are out of frame, but this guy wanted to demonstrate his best, most aggressive game face should any of the others decide to compete with him for food. Antelope Island State Park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake is one of many great wildlife locations in northern Utah in the winter.
#14 Grizzly Mom and her Cubs watching us in Yellowstone NP.
I like this grizzly family image because it portrays them how they are – sometimes they aren’t on the hunt or search for food – sometimes they just want to relax and watch the world around them. Shot above Mammoth Hot Springs on the terraces.
#13 Skydiving Red Fox in Yellowstone NP.
These creatures are amazing. This red fox triangulated the distance under the snow to the deer mouse he could hear eating or scratching on the unseen sagebrush. He calculated the height he would have to leap to in order to penetrate (with his nose and face) the snow that deep to have a successful capture – which he did, as seen in selection #23. Amazing.
#12 Crested Caracara coming around in Laredo, TX
I shot this image just a few days at my friend Butch’s Rocking R6 ranch about 25 miles north of Laredo. We had up to 6 Caracara’s flying around at one time, interacting, fighting, and doing aerobatics – so I like this moment a lot. Most raptors don’t give you the time of day, and your encounters are measured in mili-seconds – but this encounter was much better and longer.
#11 Western Bluebird take-off on a Bobcat Safari, CA
These colorful, quick little birds – common throughout the west – make for great subjects that can test your quickness and accuracy with a camera. The only way to capture images like this is to shoot in bursts and cross your fingers.
#10 Black-crested Titmouse in Laredo, TX
These two images (selections #10 and #11) are partially included because of the degree of difficulty in capturing songbird images that are more than just snapshots. This titmouse is not only displaying his magnificent crest, but the moment he moved up the branch into the light amid the armored thorns of this mesquite tree made the image that much more impactful.
#9 A winter Weasel (Ermine) in Yellowstone NP.
There is no way to just find these little guys – you just have to get amazingly lucky. We stopped to ask some guys relaxing along the frozen road in the Soda Butte Valley if they had seen anything interesting when this weasel suddenly appeared surprising all of us. I parked and began shooting as fast as I could, handheld, knowing that the encounter would only last seconds. I’ve never seen a faster animal move through snow. We got about 2 minutes before he disappeared in a blur.
#8 Lunchtime for a Bobcat on a bobcat safari in California.
This Botta’s pocket gopher proved to be no match for this bobcat. After a quick attack and kill, the gopher proved to be a mouthful for this bobcat to gag down right in front of us. Photographing action like this is rare, so getting a good, clean image of it boosted this image high into my list of favorite 25 images.
#7 Sandhill Cranes facing off at Bosque del Apache NWR, NM.
This is a shot that is difficult to get, even with 20,000 cranes flying around Bosque every day. Moments of behavior in perfect light seem to last a second or two, but these two put on an amazing display of mating behavior and exhibited their dancing talents, fanned feathers, and jumping ability over-and-over again. The intricate feather colors and detail make this one of my favorite shots.
#6 Snow Plover Chick and Camouflage – Ventura, CA.
Among those participating in this safari, the beach hike of about 1.5 miles came to be known as the Ventura Death March. It was about 82 degrees, 100% humidity – and just exhausting at the time. However, this was the reward – a brief minute or two with a newly hatched Snowy Plover chick that had followed its parents down into this particular stretch of beach. The extremely small size, camo patterned back and head – and the degree of difficulty in carrying a big lens/camera/tripod – make this one of my best. Only a mother feeding it a minnow could have been better (which I’m sure someone reading this probably has – but don’t send it to me…….lol).
#5 Drake Ruddy Duck mating behavior at Kern NWR, CA.
Slapping his blue beak on the water, tail feathers erect, and “bubbling” means this drake Ruddy Duck is trying to show off for the ladies nearby. Again, perfect light and interesting behavior go well with excellent color.
#4 Sow Black Bear defending the tree her cub are up, in Sequoia NP.
A male bear (a boar) had made a nearby appearance and that prompted this sow to climb the same tree her cubs were up, both for her own protection and to protect them. The size of the tree and the bear put a certain perspective on this forest scene. At the time I shot this we had not seen the cubs yet, who were much, much higher and invisible to us.
#3 Stalking Bobcat on a bobcat safari, CA.
I had seen a bobcat about 125 yards away in a thicket of willows near San Benito Creek. Instead of driving away, I stopped in the shade of a handy oak tree and began using my little mouse squeaker to try and entice the bobcat out of the heavy brush. Surprisingly, it worked and the bobcat came towards my truck full of loud shooting cameras – and it kept coming. The squeaker (now held inside the truck and squeaked less often the closer it got) made the bobcat overlook the people and their loud cameras ripping off hundreds of images for an almost certain squirrel meal. As the bobcat approached to about 25 feet another car passed us on the road and scared the bobcat back to the willows – but we had an amazing encounter.
#2 A Happy Summer Red Fox in Yellowstone NP.
The only reason this isn’t my #1 favorite image is that I started out in wildlife photography shooting big-game animals for hunting/nature magazines. This red fox, probably the most photographed red fox in Yellowstone (near the Yellowstone Picnic Site), decided to permit us a few minutes at point-blank distance. After shooting this image I changed over to video and shot a great 45 second video of him rolling over and pawing at his head, cleaning his face, etc.
Here is a link to that 45 second video on Youtube: LINK
#1 Bugling Bull Elk in a Yellowstone Snow Storm.
There are few encounters more dramatic than a rutting bull elk, bugling, amid a snowstorm in Yellowstone. With his harem of cows nearby, this bull trotted to-and-fro driving off satellite bulls that tried to separate cows from his group. The grittiness of the rut is shown in the snow and mud on his antlers, spiked there during moments of rutting frenzy tearing up trees and bushes, but also in the falling snow and blanketed background. This image was taken below Mammoth Hot Springs in the meadows adjacent to the campground there. The piercing, guttural bugle makes the hair stand up and the power and stamina of these animals is evident as they move easily through their environment. Getting shots like this reminds me of why I became a wildlife photographer, and of many of my first published images back in the ’80’s.
Fun stuff. BRP