This is one of my favorite tasks each year, cull through the tens of thousands of images that made it into my stock library from all the photo safaris – and pick my favorites. If you are a Facebook friend or subscribe to my blog then you have seen most, if not all, of these images so there won’t be too many surprises. You might pick a different 25 images, everyone see’s the world around us differently, but these are mine.
While I still have bobcat safaris scheduled before the end of the year, I am going to go ahead and pick my own favorite top images from Dec 2014 thru Dec 2015. And while the choices might seem obvious here, it is also important to know how critical I am of my own images. Yesterday I got back from my safari to Bosque del Apache NWR with 7500 images – and of all those images I will whittle them down to a few hundred that I consider keepers that improve the visual value of my stock library.
These images will come with a brief story about the subject. I hope you enjoy them, this has been an amazing year, better than I ever could have hoped for. Photography in the American West is unparalleled, and California never has been better for wildlife photography
#1 Male Vermilion Flycatcher Feeding His Fledgling On-The-Fly
This is my favorite image of the past 12 months. It was taken on my Morongo Valley Bird Safari at the end of April. High winds kept dad in the air (my guess anyway) as he fed this fledgling (of three) by doing a fly-by feeding, never stopping to land – he just stuffed the insect into the fledglings mouth and continued on. I have never witnessed this type of behavior before, and I was just amazed by the moment. Over the next hour or so I shot at least a thousand images – as fast as I could. These male vermilion flycatchers are just spectacular little birds, the females being a gold color – and both were active in feeding the three fledglings.
#2 Cinnamon Black Bear Cub Resting In A Pine
We had worked our way around the spring meadow following this sow and her three cubs until they finally rested at the base of this pine, in Sequoia National Park. Another male bear wasn’t far away and after a few minutes she sent two of the cubs up the tree, while she guarded the base, the other cub snoozing by her. This 2 year old cub changed position a few times until it got comfortable, eventually taking this position, head on its paws, occasionally looking at us. The cub would look at us at times, but was clearly use to park visitors and far more interested in the threat of other adult bears.
#3 Mother Lynx in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains
If I voted my heart, this would be the image of the year for me. The last time I saw a Lynx it crossed the road in front of me in Glacier National Park in 1980. Thirty-five years later this mother lynx and her two kittens of the year also crossed the road in front of my safari group, about 8 miles south of Telluride, Colorado. For 5-6 minutes she cajoled the kittens, trying to get them to cross the road, one did and one didn’t. Her guttural cries were eerie to hear, and the kittens answered right back. While this is just a typical portrait type image without any action, I am drawn to the rare and unique encounter with one of the three animals I thought I would never photograph in the American West … the other two? A Wolverine and Pacific Fisher – oh, and there are fishers in Sequoia National Park. I’m still waiting for that encounter.
#4 We Called Him The “Bull” Pika
After photographing Pika in the rocks the day earlier in less than ideal light, my safari group was amazed when this guy came down into the grass near our feet and began to eat grass and wildflowers. Overcast skies added this beautiful soft light to our images. This dandelion went down quickly, but the images we shot, taken on the May-June Yellowstone Wildlife Safari, will last forever.
#5 Bobcat Descending A Fallen Oak Limb
Photographed in December 2014, this bobcat image was taken after I published my Favorite Images of 2014 – so it is included here. I had driven by this amazingly gnarled fallen oak a hundred times, always thinking that one day there would be a bobcat climbing on it eventually … and my patience was paid off. The bobcat began in the grass and climbed up the branch, going behind the stump and out-of-sight. Minutes later it reappeared and retraced it’s steps back down the branch … wow. I was speechless.
#6 Black Bear Cub Having A Dream At Nap Time
This cub, its sibling and mother, took a noon time siesta on this pine log along the edge of a meadow in Sequoia National Park. Moving off the trail and into a better shooting position, my bear safari group got amazing images for an extended period of time. The cub was very animated as he was asleep dreaming, moving his paws around, acting like a little person having a nightmare – making me feel how similar this type of moment was for both people and bears.
#7 Cherry Blossoms And Anna’s Hummingbird
This image, and the others that followed, came as a complete surprise to me. This was taken on one of my Southern California (SoCal) bird safaris. After we had got through at Bolsa Chica and had traveled the short distance to the Library/Park Complex in Huntington Beach, where we were initially after the Orange Bishop (songbird), the cherry trees were in full blossom … and they were being worked by many hummingbirds. Getting sharp focus on these active little birds, within the blossoms, was no easy thing but the reward where images of great texture, color, and energy.
#8 Mule Deer Buck Framed By A Sequoia Window
Hiking with my safari group back into a couple of popular bear meadows in Sequoia National Park, we startled up a couple of mule deer bucks which ran away, but stopped here – framed by this burned out window in a giant Sequoia tree. The buck’s antlers stand out from the burned bark and another buck is nearly invisible at the bottom left of the image. I was only able to get five images before the bucks moved away, but the colors, texture, and layering of the image really appeal to me.
#9 Black Bear Cub Wet From The Morning Dew
After moving towards us the black bear sow and her cubs stopped only 40 feet away, next to a small pine, amid a carpet of soft ferns. The cubs, like all cubs, wouldn’t stay put and moved around in the ferns giving my safari group moments for clear images. Of all the images I took of this moment, the expression on the cubs face in this image was what got my attention, and propelled it into my favorite’s group.
This was a stellar year for photographing black bears in Sequoia National Park with a number of black and cinnamon sows with cubs – many of them represented in the images here. About 60 different photographers joined me on seventeen bear safaris – and except for one slow day, came away with amazing images.
#10 A Grizzly Coy (cub-of-the-year) Creates A Moment
Yellowstone National Park never ceases to amaze me. In my Favorites of 2015 the park is represented by the Pika image already show, as well as this grizzly cub, a harlequin duck, mule deer doe – and about two dozen others that nearly made the cut. This image was taken on the Fall Wildlife Safari. This cub was fattening up along with it’s mother on a hillside near the road along Yellowstone Lake. The plants were deep and tall, not giving us many good angles until the cub climbed and perched on this log to have a look at the large group of photographers maneuvering for a shot. That was the moment
#11 Great Gray Owl Fly-By
Photographed a few miles outside of Yellowstone in Island Park, Idaho – this set of images of this great gray owl came after my spring Yellowstone safaris had ended and I was headed to a cabin for a family reunion. This great hunter was two hundred yards from the cabin on a solitary perch in the middle of a vibrant green meadow, just begging to be photographed. After fifteen minutes it finally took off and gave me a great series of flight shots – this being my favorite.
#12 Northern Shoveler Crash Landing
We, or at least I, always think of wild animals and birds as being in complete control of their movements, graceful and powerful, yet delicate and determined. Not so here. This drake northern shoveler (commonly known as a spoonie) came in to this pond with about a dozen others, some landing close by, others circling for a second pass before landing. When this guy came in he crashed into the back of a hen (the splash), and as shown here with full flaps extended (tail feathers), tried to regain his balance before hitting with a belly flop worthy of the largest kid at the city pool. This image shows him just a split second before hitting the water, his left wing just beginning to dip in.
#13 Cinnamon Cub Just Hanging Out
This cub is one of the siblings of the cub in image #2. While that cub went and stretched out on those branches, this cub found a comfortable seat amid the branches and just watched the nearby meadow and the other bears. For a time I thought this was the better image, but image #2 won a photo contest with California’s Watchable Wildlife (May-June 2015 Contest) and I’ve had more positive remarks about it – but that doesn’t lessen (much) the impact of this image. I love the eye contact, the unobstructed view of the cub, as well as the claws being out front, and the seeming comfort and ease the cub was showing at being thirty feet up this pine, other bears in view, and mom below.
#14 Mule Deer Doe Fighting For Her Life
I was touched by this severe moment in the balance of life and death in Yellowstone National Park. On my winter wildlife safari this past February we came upon this mule deer doe in distress. Two nearby coyotes had clearly attacked her, driving her into the Lamar River (near the confluence with Soda Butte Creek) on a frigid, sub-zero winter afternoon. She was covered in ice, clearly freezing to death – but momentarily safe from the coyotes who were nearby rolling in the snow trying to dry their own fur. It is a struggle that is played out every day, in every part of Yellowstone … and while a difficult moment to photograph, it is nonetheless a privilege to see how strong and vital these prey animals are as they fight to survive against odds we would feel are insurmountable. Her courage displayed here got this doe into my favorite images of 2015.
#15 Barn Owl Exiting The Old Grain Silo
I have to thank my safari folks for helping me capture this shot. Taken at Antelope Island State Park in Utah, I got set up on the silo, prefocused on the silo wall, and then a well placed rap with a rock on the silo wall (done by a park ranger the first time) got me this shot. There were a couple of owls in the silo and they would scatter when alerted, rising up from below to exit this storage bin opening. When I saw them start to fly up inside I would hit the motordrive and rip off a dozen or more frames as they exited. The owls would do a few fly-bys around the silo before going back in as quietly as they had left.
#16 A Le Hardy Rapids Harlequin Drake
Everyone (well, almost everyone) who comes to Yellowstone in the spring has opportunities to photograph the harlequin ducks that come to these rapids on the Yellowstone River. I have shot them many times, normally in lousy dim light. The light was the same in this image, but I knew if I shot enough long exposure images the duck would have to be sharp in at least a couple. This image was shot at f16 to give me a shutter speed of 1/20 second at ISO 100. The slow shutter speed emphasized the motion of the water, while the f-stop provided the depth-of-field for a sharp rock and duck. Some of my favorite all-time images combine blur with sharp subjects.
#17 Cinnamon Black Bear Up Close And Personal
Yes, another Sequoia cinnamon black bear. This was truly the year of the black bear. This male bear and I agreed to disagree about how close I should be as he browsed his way across one of the many meadows located a few hundred yards off the park roads. This was one of the few times I have had a bear click his teeth at me – kind of a vocal warning not to get any closer, and I didn’t. Though his mouth is partially blocked by the plant, I think the teeth make his point clearly.
#18 Belly Down Bobcat
I photographed this bobcat just two weeks ago on a bobcat safari, at the beginning of December. Like most bobcats do when a close encounter is imminent, she went belly down in very little grass, hoping I would drive by without even seeing her. Not only did I see her, but I maneuvered around the slight hill she was on to get a clear shot with no grass or weeds across her face. Thirty seconds later she casually walked away, leaving me with some great bobcat face shots and a great moment to remember.
#19 Male Allen’s Hummingbird Sipping Nectar
The hummingbird safaris that I do in March and April never fail to produce great images, and this particular image of the male Allen’s Hummingbird is one of my favorites. I have to thank my fellow photographer Steve for allowing me to bring safari groups to his avocado ranch in Santa Paula to photograph the dozens and dozens of hummers that come to feed on his property.
#20 Drake/Hen Northern Shovelers Mirror Each Other In Flight
The light was difficult (dull) at the San Joaquin Wildlife Refuge in Irvine when my safari group showed up. Ducks and other birds filled the sky and the ponds, but it was difficult shooting these fast moving birds. Panning with flying birds is an art that I have to spend hours practicing (lots of blurry images) in order to get just a few quality images. I like the dynamic nature of these two ducks in this mirror image – and besides the harlequin in the Yellowstone River (image #16) – this was my favorite duck image of 2015.
#21 Snow Goose As Art Form
It was only two days ago (December 11) that I shot this image of a snow goose coming into land at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico. This image came at probably the most intense hour of photography I have ever done. The wind changed directions and was coming from behind me, which means the snow geese were landing directly into me and the camera lens. Not a few geese, but thousands were coming down to land over an hour in which I’m sure I shot 3000 images. My fingers were cramped, my shoulders and back ached, my feet were sore … but my cards were full of these graceful geese putting on an aerodynamics show.
#22 Black Bear Cub Portrait
Another shot of the black bear cub (see Image 9) encounter in the ferns near the trail in Sequoia National Park. The morning dew gives evidence that this sow and her two cubs had spent the morning working the nearby meadow for breakfast. This image is not cropped, it is just an intimate view into the world of these little bears. Only about half the cubs survive their first year, even under the best conditions, and giving me even these few seconds just seemed special. The little bits of grass, the little drops of dew, and the intent look made this image a favorite of mine.
#23 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Fluttering
I selected this image because its a moment of action that appears quiet and still. These little Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are beautiful birds that are exceedingly difficult to photograph. They flit among the bushes and trees and only rarely come to any kind of stop. If they are more than 25 feet away you don’t even see them, they have to be close to be seen at all. I shot this image on my southern Utah (May) safari at the base of Pine Valley Mountain, along Leeds Creek.
#24 Cinnamon Sow And Her Cubs On A Sequoia Log
I was lucky to catch this moment. While the two little cubs strolled back and forth along the fallen sequoia log after climbing up, I was surprised to see the sow suddenly hoist herself up as well. The sheer strength of the sow was remarkable. The sequoia log was about ten feet to the top and she climbed up the side easily, joining her cubs, before climbing down the far side and vanishing into the forest in Sequoia National Park. This image has color, texture, action, and interactions – all valuable ingredients in a great image. This is my last bear image … I promise.
#25 Mule Deer Buck in Velvet In The Sequoia Forest
This is just a very clean portrait of this mule deer buck in Sequoia National Park. Subtle morning light was filtering down through the canopy of the forest, and with no distracting bushes around, this portrait head shot just demanded to be taken. This could be the same mule deer buck in Image #8 as the racks are very similar, though the images were taken several weeks apart, and in different areas. In my former life when I spent a great deal of time shooting wildlife portraits with the thought of magazine covers on my mind, I shot images like this far more often. Today, I look for combinations of different elements in my shots. This image has great fur texture, eye shine, a nice rack of antlers, and a colorful background of sequoia trees … and as a vertical image has a chance (a better chance if it was bigger) at a cover.
Check out my Favorite 25 from 2014 (LINK) to compare the years.
I hope you have enjoyed this visual summary of what I feel are 25 of my best images taken from Dec 2014 to today, Dec 2015. Every year the subjects differ, the moments of action contrast to the straight portrait shots, but I think the wildness comes through. Clearly, I shot a lot of black bears up in Sequoia this year, as well as the usual bobcat images – but overall it was a great mix of moments, and many moments I won’t forget. BRP