Every year at this time I enjoy reading many photography bloggers’ personal “best of” or “favorites” of the past year. 2016 saw me start a blog of my own, so now I get to create one of those lists for you to hopefully enjoy too! Compiling these 10 images was not easy. Also, “best” and “favorite” are two different things. Add to that the fact the rankings, or even very images that made it onto my list, would likely often vary day-to-day, save for the top 2 or 3, added to the struggle of choosing. Twenty-16 was another great year, with lots of neat images added to my files. Although I did not travel out of town (save for a day trip to Algonquin Park, about 3.5 hours way from home), many solid opportunities presented themselves locally. So, without further ado, here is my personal “Top 10” of 2016!:
But before counting down the Top 10, here are three honourable mentions that I had a tough time cutting from the list:
HM I. Autumnal Red-backed Salamander:
When the temperature starts dipping during the fall months, I like to flip over logs in the forest in the hopes of finding salamanders. At my favorite spot I usually easily come across a dozen of them, plus the odd tree frog. The most abundant in this area is the “Lead backed” morph of the Red-backed Salamander. Most are rather fidgety and try to run away if manipulated, but once in a while one is calm as can be and will let itself be placed in more attractive settings such as on mossy logs or leafy ground. This is what happened here when I placed this salamander on fallen red maple leaves. Bonus tip for photographing salamanders: to get the head raised simply use a small twig (toothpick sized), gently place under the chin, and slowly raise until the two front feet are just off the ground…hold for a second or two, then very slowly lower until those front legs touch the ground again.
HM II. Chestnut-sided Warbler:
Springtime in the birding world means the return of many songbirds, and especially of interest to many are the warblers. Viewing a male of any species of warbler in breeding plumage, and listening to its song echoing in the forest or clearing, is downright therapeutic! Especially when multiplied by lots of individuals. Photographing one on fresh spring vegetation is always a thrill. When a planned opportunity with a carefully chosen perch, set in front of a preferred background, with a beautiful cooperative male in breeding plumage choosing the setup goes as hoped for, euphoria ensues! It was very difficult to get rid of my smile after this male Chestnut-sided Warbler posed on such a setup.
For tips on getting nice subject-to-background separation click the link below:
HM III. Pectoral Sandpiper in Golden Light:
With the shorebird family my very favorite to photograph, I would be hard pressed not to include at least one in any of my favorites lists. The Pectoral Sandpiper is a species that attracts a bit more interest in the birding community than the very common “peeps”, mainly due to the fact it is rather uncommon. One had been reported, and photographed, at one of my favorite shorebird spots. I went there hoping to see it, but at the very least I would spend a couple of hours with Leasts, Semipalmateds, and a few plovers if lucky. It was there alright, and I went straight to work in my typical “army-style” belly-crawling antics, moving around real low on the mudflats. At one point it was foraging in the sweetest of sweet lights with a golden background, so I made my way over, belly-crawling in three inches of water. The result was very successful, and although drenched all over, it was worth every second of the wet effort!
Belly-crawling in the mud does not come without danger though: to see what happened, and how to prevent it, see the blogpost linked below:
Now that the “Honourable mentions” have been taken care of, let’s now proceed to the actual “Top 10” of 2016….drumroll please…..
10. Bufflehead Running for Take-off:
Every April I look forward to the thawing of the waters and the arrival (or rather, passing through) of our smallest diving duck, the Bufflehead. When out in the river they are usually too skittish and too far out for redeeming photography, but some of our local ponds host them for a week or two before they head on out further north. It is in these ponds that if one is patient enough, and willing to lie flat at the edge in the cold and wet ground, that they may, if lucky, come close. Here is one that came in swiftly to try to court a female that was to my left. This one was well to my right, and I had to swing abruptly and try find it in my viewfinder, attain focus, and hopefully not clip a wing or cut off the head or tail (these guys are fast!). I got a couple of good ones during the sequence, with this one my favorite due to the overall pose and also for the large water action.
9. Snowy Owl, Wings Up:
I’m not a big winter person, but if there is one thing that helps pass these months faster it is the “winter” birds that spend this time here, be it finches, sparrows, or raptors. One of the most impressive is no doubt the Snowy Owl. We are blessed to almost always have some locally from roughly December to March/April. This one was at the climax of raising its wings before lifting off from the fence post, giving us a great view of the length of its impressive wings. The sun shining at my back, with slate gray storm clouds behind the owl, gave the image some dramatic lighting to go with the action.
9. Great Egret Enjoying the Rain:
Ten years ago seeing a Great Egret up here was a big deal. Now they are rather common, in habitat, during the summer months and are seemingly simply a side note on most birders’ checklists. Rather skittish, they are most times difficult to approach and get good quality images of. This year a few of them frequented a local conservation area, and were very tolerant of people – allowing close, sometimes VERY close, approach. This made them a big deal again, especially within the bird photographer community. On a particularly rainy autumn day, one of those egrets was posing nicely on an old beaver lodge. With the rain gaining in intensity I thought I would remove the teleconverter, and stand well back for more of a “habitat” rainy day image with the egret small-ish in the frame. The plan worked to perfection as this image convey s quite well the mood that was felt at that time.
For more on photographing in inclement weather you can click link below:
7. Petrie Island Winter Scene:
Snow in a busy city can be rather ugly, but in the country it sure is pretty. When this season’s first significant snowfall was a heavy and wet one, the type that clings to everything, I knew there was potential for beautiful wintery scenery. Add to that the fact this winter started very early, before the waters froze, and the imagery would be even better with added reflections. I decided on a whim to drive to a nearby natural area five minutes away from home, while leaving the long lens back, to see what I could find as far as winter landscapes went. I took quite a few images that afternoon, with this one near open water being my favorite. Photographed with a cheap “kit” lens that can likely be had used for less than $100!
6. White Admiral Butterfly:
From my folks’ cottage at Lac Bataille, about 30 minutes north of Ottawa. This beautiful and fresh-looking White Admiral was just beginning to sun itself early in the morning. Normally easily spooked, it was now still cold and at mercy. I picked it up, using a stick, and carefully hung it at the tip of this nearby Fir branch. I had a blast photographing it as it hung delicately. Mostly macro ultra close ups of its wing patterns using a 100mm macro lens + extension tubes, but in the end this image, created at 700mm focal length, turned out to be my favorite. About thirty minutes later its wings began to flicker, and it was soon after on its way to collect nectar from the forest flowers.
5. Great Blue Heron Rim Lighting Silhouette:
I was photographing a Great Blue Heron perched on a perfect stump sticking out of the water as it preened, yawned, stretched, scratched and slept. The light, coming form directly behind me, was excellent. After a while, I decided to back up to go for reflection images as the water was calm. I turned around to watch my step, and low and behold another Great Blue Heron was right there behind me the whole time. It was close, and against the light. I immediately saw the potential, lined up to get a dark background, and lowered the exposure to get only the rim lighting visible. This is pretty much the image I had in mind. Funny enough, although it had been right there for well over half an hour, I only managed to take this one and only image before it flew away, croaking loudly only as Great Blue Herons can!
For more on creating silhouettes, click link below:
4. Green Heron vs Leopard Frog:
This was about as amazing an opportunity one could ask for. A Green Heron plucking a large Leopard Frog right out of the water, with an ensuing battle for survival. I had been taking head-and-shoulder portraits of the heron from point-blank range with the long lens and teleconverter on, so that meant cutting off most of the heron. That was OK as that meant that I could zone in on the area of action as the frog twisted and fought away. Lots of cool frames were taken, but this one caught my interest the most: the frog pushing away firmly with both legs to try to prevent the heron from eating it. The action is tense, and the fear of the frog clearly felt. Technically and aesthetically not my best, but the action more than makes up for it and made it one of my favorites of this past year.
3. Eastern Kingbird Nest:
I was surprised to see an active nest in August, but a pair of Eastern Kingbirds were determined to raise what was presumably a second brood. Right next to a popular trail, but with most people oblivious to it as it was hidden behind some thick branches. There was only one spot that was fully clear, and had it not been for a dry summer making the water line of the lake lower than usual, it would not have been accessible from this angle as I was standing where there is normally two feet deep of water. The action was decent, with an adult coming in every 15 minutes or so to feed the nestlings. For this one I had just flipped the camera to vertical orientation to get images including the full strand of grapes when an adult came in and paused just right before proceeding with the exchange of food. The neat “angel” pose, combined with the begging nestling’s gaping mouth, and the nest’s surroundings made this one an instant favorite!
2. Pine Siskin Territorial Display:
As many that live in northeastern North America knows, we had a massive Pine Siskin invasion this past spring. Most people having bird feeders in their yards were kept busy refilling them with seeds, sometimes more than once per day. I had up to 75 birds feeding at any time for a couple of weeks, but paling compared to others that had a few hundred! I had a blast creating feeder setups and easily got my best ever images of this species. With that number of birds competing for the best perches that often meant short but impressive territorial displays. One individual in particular was rather aggressive, and keeping my lens pointed towards it yielded a few very cool poses. Although normally drab brown with just a small touch of yellow visible, these territorial displays flashed an impressive plumage that these Pine Siskins keep hidden under folded wings and tail feathers.
Here is my favorite image of this memorable finch invasion, but for more do click on the link below:
1. Bohemian Waxwing “Japanese Painting”:
During last year’s Boxing Day week I took advantage of a great deal on the Canon 7DII + grip + memory card bundle to replace my 7D classic. It was not until early in the new year that I could finally test it out. For my first outing with it I headed to a local arboretum that has many, many fruit-bearing trees that often attracts fruit eating winter birds. I knew there were wintering American Robins there, as well as a few Cedar Waxwings, and I was more than OK test-driving the new camera on them. I did find them, but while there a flock of about 200 Bohemian Waxwings showed up from nowhere and descended on the trees to devour the ripe (but frozen) fruits. I was focussed on this individual that had come down to eye-level when a second one came down too, just behind it. They held the poses long enough for me to be able to line them up in a more pleasing way, and take a few images. I was quite happy when one of them took a berry and held it in its bill to add an element of feeding behaviour to the frame. The “Japanese Painting” feel to the image caught my eye while I was working on it. The “Yin Yang” poses also added to the asian feel, or so I thought. Although this was taken during the first outing in early January, no other image during the rest of the year was able to take its claim as my favorite of 2016!
There you have it, my very favorite images of the year 2016.
Do you agree with the ranking? Which one do you prefer?
I hope your year was also productive. To all my readers: Here is to a healthy, successful, and especially blessed upcoming 2017!!