What a year!! I’ve added tens of thousands of images to my stock library this year, but some stand out – at least to me. The top 25 list is very selective and represents my personal favorites. I had 8 more days in the field (125) this year than last year and had some new safari locations as well: San Diego Wildlife Safari, Mt Evans Rocky Mtn Goats, Rocky Mtn National Park, and So Cal Peregrine Falcons. Eight images were shot in my favorite park (Yellowstone) while 13 images are of birds. So here we go:
#1 Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep Head shot YNP Winter Safari (LINK)
Not a lot of drama in this tight crop of a bighorn ram head shot, but I kept coming back to it as I tried to rank the images. The eye connects me to the animal – to the winter weather – to the struggle to survive, while the horn damage shows power and dominance. The circle of background snow shows the circle of life.
#2 Male and Female Vermilion Flycatchers Morongo Bird Safari (LINK)
Could well have been my favorite shot. Over the years of bird safaris to Morongo I’ve shot many vermilion flycatchers and this image displaying behavior and interaction is certainly at the top. The eye contact between the female (perched) and the displaying, calling male pushes this image to the top.
#3 Yellowstone’s Most Famous Grizzly Family YNP Spring Safari (LINK)
This sow grizzly (right) with her nearly adult daughter interacting just weeks before they separated shows the familial connection between parents and young – as easily ascribable to wildlife as well as humans. I don’t name wild animals, but I think everyone knows their humanized names by now.
#4 Red Fox Sleeping in Winter in Yellowstone YNP Winter Safari (LINK)
This image is all about behavior. It was viciously cold and windy on this January day in the park and after giving us many opportunities, the red fox curled up on the edge of a rocky cliff, wrapped his tail around his face, and fell deeply asleep – no doubt knowing that many tough, cold, hungry days lie ahead.
#5 Peregrine Falcon Take-off Peregrine Falcon Safari (LINK)
While I’ve shot many peregrines, this morning of photography in Rancho Palos Verdes was different. Adults and juveniles filled the air, zooming and doing aerobatics in the updrafts of wind rising up the cliff face. Landing, calling, and then leaving were just a bonus to photographing this powerful bird.
#6 Tundra Swans and Storm Clouds Klamath Wildlife Safari (LINK)
Lower Klamath NWR that covers the Oregon/California border has become one of my favorite safaris. While I started shooting as the swans took off, it wasn’t until they happened to pass in front of the distant mountain and storm clouds that the image really came alive. I like the energy (flight and weather) the image shows.
#7 Rushing Western Grebes Oso Flaco Lake Bird Safari (LINK)
Santa Margarita Lake is the afternoon half of the Oso Flaco Lake Bird Safari in March. We happened upon a series of Western and Clark’s Grebes performing their amazing mating season water dance – known as rushing. Behavior and Interaction mixed – couldn’t be better (well, they could be coming right at me…..maybe next time).
#8 Red Fox on a Wintry Day YNP Winter Safari (LINK)
Without the snow falling this is just a very standard red fox image. But the wintry conditions tell a tale of survival. The fox’s heavy winter coat and its blazing eyes shows it will survive and flourish. The bright snow is reflecting light up into the fox’s body and face, giving me a nicely exposed shot (+1 compensation).
#9 Baby Least Terns Huddling Together Snowy Plover Safari (LINK)
The 2017 Snowy Plover Safari became known as the Ventura Death March. But in 2018 we had comfortable conditions with a little breeze and low humidity as we walked the shoreline photographing snowy plovers, least terns, sanderlings, etc. Not only are these chicks hard to find, but they are hard to photograph. They wait for their parents, camouflaged in the sand, to bring another minnow. These two were probably born a few days apart given their different coats of fluff.
#10 Pied-Billed Grebe Family Snowy Plover Safari (LINK)
Another family shot from the same safari. This pied-billed grebe family poses together around mom. Like shooting on snow, this image was taken at +1 compensation and the overcast conditions game me some beautiful reflected light detail. Fighting over who rode on mom’s back, the chicks jockeyed for position and attention.
#11 Bald Eagle Enduring YNP Winter Safari (LINK)
Winter safaris just have so many opportunities for unique images. This bald eagle sits above the Lamar River, not really hunting for fish in the river below him, more just enduring the high wind and blowing snow. Sometimes its about survival at below zero temperatures.
#12 Channel Island Gray Fox Channel Island Gray Fox Safari (LINK)
On the ride out to Santa Cruz Island from Ventura we photographed whales and saw dolphins – and it was just a beautiful day. Within 5 minutes of arriving at Scorpion we were photographing these small, calm foxes. They eat insects, grubs, and small rodents – but with no other predators they are at the top of the food chain, and are very relaxed. This image demonstrates that as this fox snoozes in the late morning sunshine.
#13 Dreamy Aspen Glade Colorado Fall Landscape Safari (LINK)
After shooting along the Delores River we came upon this Forest Service Road that I had never been up before – in the San Juan National Forest. Every curve was dramatic color and amazing landscape views. As we crept higher up the road photographing mule deer bucks and dusky grouse we happened upon this stunning scene. Even a wildlife photographer like me recognized the scene as remarkable. The bed of ferns changing colors just made it that much better.
#14 Grizzly Squeeze YNP Fall Wildlife Safari (LINK)
Four months after shooting image #3, I was lucky enough to encounter this sow grizzly again, just a few hundred yards away from where I had shot her previously. While the image is a bit cluttered with branches and brush, watching this 350 pound grizzly squeeze through this opening between fallen logs was a joy to watch. Later she laid her head down on a log, in full view, and took a nap – great image, but didn’t make the top 25.
#15 Little Bighorn Rams Playing YNP Spring Wildlife Safari (LINK)
Taken in late May high on Mt. Washburn near Dunraven Pass, these little rams enjoy themselves jumping, dashing, and running around the little remaining snow along the road. They practiced some light head-butting, bent over a few small pines for fun, and just generally played all around us. Just a 70-200 lens here.
#16 Delores River Magic Colorado Fall Landscape Safari (LINK)
Every Fall Colorado Safari I stop at this point along the Delores River to photograph these blazing cottonwoods. The aspens on the mountainside behind the river are still green, but the river just glows in cottonwood color.
#17 Aerobatic Male Allen’s Hummer Hummingbird Safari (LINK)
This safari, in Santa Paula, CA – is just hours of non-stop action. This aerobatic Allen’s Hummingbird, among the 35-40 others, gave me dozens of opportunities to shoot unique flight action. Here in full sun, no flash was needed to get reasonably sharp wings.
#18 Baby Bobcat Butt Bobcat Wildlife Safari (LINK)
This little bobcat gave me just seconds to get a few shots before he vanished into the brush. I used my trusty squeaker to get his attention back. 2018 has been a very good year for bobcats. I’m writing this on December 16, so I still have a few bobcat safari days coming up before the end of the year – but activity and encounters are definitely up over 2017, a year when I got skunked a couple of times. The other day we had 12 bobcat encounters in one day, a record since 2014 when I had 16 encounters in one day.
#19 Singing Green-tailed Towhee Black Bear Safari (LINK)
Photographed during a black bear safari high in the Sierras in Sequoia National Park, this green-tailed towhee has been a long sought after subject for me. Finding them isn’t that difficult, photographing them is. They are an energetic, quick moving, ground feeding bird that tends to stay in deep brush … until I shot this image near the Crescent Meadows parking lot.
#20 The White Weasel of Death YNP Winter Safari (LINK)
The definition of “chase” wildlife photography is getting shots of these amazing little predators. Short-tailed weasels in winter coat are called ermine. On both the winter safaris this past January we had numerous encounters with them. They can move incredibly fast, snow or not. They disappear into the snow, popping up 20 yards away just seconds later. We would race back and forth, hand-holding (which everyone knows I hate to do) our lenses, trying to stay up with the perfectly blending-in predator. Without the dark eyes and tail tip most encounters wouldn’t happen at all. This little guy just leaps through the snow as I pan and shoot, completely relying on my equipment to keep up.
#21 Varied Thrush in Storm Northern Pygmy Owl Safari (LINK)
We were busy working on Northern Pygmy Owls when this Varied Thrush showed up as snow flurries drifted down. Though a bit obscured, I love the color pattern on this bird and while it’s common, it is difficult to photograph. I shot this image along the General’s Highway before getting to the Giant Grove.
#22 Ring-necked Pheasant explosion Klamath Wildlife Safari (LINK)
We had been seeing dozens of pheasants along the Lower Klamath NWR road network when we arrived on the east side, near the northern road intersection. A truck ahead of us let out his Labrador to run in the bushes along the canal and field. I guess it was a training run for the dog, as no one was hunting and few folks (none) were around besides us. The dog flushed hundreds of pheasants in just moments, sending a cloud of birds passing over us and across the road. Pan, back-focus, and shoot – and keep shooting.
#23 Nanny and Kid Goat on Mt. Evans Colorado Goat Safari (LINK)
This nanny Rocky Mountain Goat is shadowed by her kid wherever she goes. At an elevation of 14,271 Mt Evan’s is one of Colorado’s fourteeners. Luckily for us, the paved road travels all the way to the top – the highest paved road in North America, and the 5th highest paved road in the world. These goats are feasting on dwarf willow that appears as a low growing mat between granite rocks; other food includes Rocky Mountain columbine and dwarf alpine sunflowers. We also encountered bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes, pika, and a number of small birds (brown-capped rosy finches, pipits, rock wrens, etc).
#24 Drake Ring-necked Duck San Diego Wildlife Safari (LINK)
Getting a shot like this is more difficult than it looks. The number of birds, wind direction, sun direction, and lake orientation all come into play. One of my favorite spots to shoot on the San Diego Wildlife Safari is Santee Lakes east of San Diego. Wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, wigeons, osprey, white-tailed kites – and many others make this a great birding destination. One of 8 spots we shoot on this safari.
#25 Orange-crowned Warbler Sequoia Black Bear Safari (LINK)
Last but not least. The meadows we photograph the black bears in are homes to a myriad of small birds and woodpeckers, and my list of birds is extensive. This little bird was shot rocking on the parsnip stalk in Huckleberry Meadow.
This list came from about 200 images I flagged from images I processed after each safari I did this year. It is completely subjective – with half the photos being birds. I could have included elk, gray wolves, coyotes, great gray owls, etc – except those images I shot this year were distinctly familiar with images from past years – so I just passed on all of them.
From winter safaris to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, to National Wildlife Refuges, to animal specific safaris (peregrine falcons, hummingbirds, black bears, bobcats, etc) we who live and photograph in the American West are truly blessed with a lifetime of amazing locations and critters. BRP