Already a year since last year’s “inaugural” list…time sure flies (bad bird-related pun unfortunately intended)! Another good year of images, with some pretty fun encounters and perhaps one “chance of a lifetime” one as well. A bit of repeat of 2016, in that no travel was done save for a couple of day trips to Algonquin Park. Luckily there is always lots going on locally. So let’s jump right into my personal “Top 10 of 2017” list of favorites:
10. Petrie Island Sunrise.
Hands down my favorite sunrise spot, and as a bonus, a short 5 minute drive from my front door. The fall season is the best time, as some of the very crisp mornings create misty conditions along the Ottawa River’s warmer water. Add layers of trees and tree lines and you got a recipe for amazing silhouette photo opportunities with lots of depth. Here is my favorite from this spot this year, created in October.
9. Tree Swallows at Nest.
Finding Tree Swallow nests is usually rather easy, but they are usually found in man-built nest boxes. Stumbling upon one in a natural tree cavity, at about eye-level no-less, is a huge bonus. I did not have my camera when I found this nest, so I returned that same evening to photograph the activity. The nestlings were already quite grown, and seemingly eager to venture out. After a successful session I planned on returning first thing the next morning to take advantage of the light that would hit the nest perfectly…when I got there the nestlings had already fledged.
8. Sanderling Wing Flap.
Shorebirds are my favorite family of birds to photograph, but this year the conditions at my favorite spots for these guys were abysmal due to very high water levels covering most of the habitat they prefer along the river’s shoreline. One spot I always check seemed promising as there is a lot of habitat even when the water is high. I had struck out on a few mornings, but one final check yielded a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs and a dozen Sanderlings. All it takes is one cooperative subject, so for me this was a bonanza, especially considering the shorebird “drought”. As luck would have it, the flock of Sanderlings began to bathe right in front of me…which only meant one thing for those of you that know bird bathing behaviour: after-bath wing flaps. I had a perfect sight-line to photograph this one from a very low angle, with no other birds in the way.
7. Black-throated Gray Warbler in Snowy Setting.
For a few weeks this late autumn / early winter a stray Black-throated Gray Warbler dazzled and entertained many birders and photographers in Ottawa. This bird was a few thousand kilometers off course! As the first snows fell, I had in mind to photograph this warbler foraging int he snow – not something you see every day, and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. Most people were hoping it would move on, or at least survive the winter, but most also knew it likely would not if it stayed around too much longer. Well, two days after this photograph, after even colder temperatures blew in and heavier snow fell, it finally succumbed to the harsher habitat that it is not normally adapted to live in. This was a bittersweet image to process (and present as a favorite of 2017) as I now had the images of a warbler in the snow I had envisioned, but also realizing that this is the very situation that brought its’ demise.
6. Green Heron Plucking Fish Out of the Water.
I love photographing portrait close ups of my subjects, and when you add action or behaviour, then all the better. This very tame young individual allowed close approach and very intimate photo opportunities of its hunting prowess. Timing its’ strikes from so close presented framing challenges while trying to gauge exactly where the impact would occur, but once in a while I got a good image, and here an excellent one. I love the fish still halfway submerged in the water as it is being pulled out, and facing us for added impact.
5. Crab Spider Wanting a Hug.
During the late summer my brother and I had a bit of fun looking for various fungi and creepy crawlers at our folks’ cottage. I knew that goldenrod is often good for finding hiding, or camouflaged, insects, so we scouted a patch of those and were not disappointed with Crab Spiders. The setting was rather busy, and a good angle hard to get to, therefore I carefully placed the goldenrod in a better spot. To our surprise, the spider clambered down the flower and placed itself atop a protruding mossy stalk near the ground, and offered its typical “hug” pose, waiting to ambush incoming prey. It remained this way for a long time, enough to fiddle with settings and try new angles. After all was said and done the spider was placed back where it was found for it to resume its previous activities in peace…
4. Looming Snake Eyes.
I had just finished photographing my first ever Eastern Towhee, and while walking back along the trail to head back to my car I crossed paths with an Eastern Gartersnake. I had tons of fun and cool photo opportunities with this individual, and when I slapped on the macro lens things got real interesting! For this image I was lying flat on my belly, with the lens pointing up from below the snake’s eyes staring down at me. It was rather disconcerting looking at this scene through the viewfinder, but knowing that this is a harmless species of snake I was not too worried. It was tough to get the autofocus to accurately settle on the eyes, so I manually focused to within “ballpark” and then slowly physically rocked the camera forward and backward a few millimeters until it was bang on and fired a few frames – then repeated as necessary.
3. Andrew Haydon Park Glowing Sky.
Driving one of the children to volleyball practice across town, and knowing it was not worth driving back home only to return once back, I brought my camera gear to photograph whatever during the hour I had to kill. As soon as I hopped into my car to head out to a nearby local park, I saw what was brewing in the sky and just hoped this would remain until I reached my destination a few minutes down the road. Not only did it hold, but the sky became even more amazing as the setting sun glowed powerfully from within the thinner distant cloud layer. I do not often include the “hand of man” in my images, but the windmill found at this park was just begging to be included, and actually enhanced the mood, as well as the composition of the image. It was the most beautiful sky and cloud scene I saw in 2017. Less than two minutes later all was back to grey. This image is now also my home desktop “wallpaper” so I can relive the moment every day 🙂
2. Northern Cardinal On Delicate Perch.
These guys were not present locally when I was a young lad, and only started showing up 25-30 years ago when their range was pushing northwards. Today, they are one of the most common “feeder” birds and brighten up any day, especially in the winter. I usually photograph this species at setups, using food as enticement to get closer and onto pre-selected perches, but as I was walking along scouting an area I saw this beautiful female Northern Cardinal feeding “naturally” on this delicately dried up plant. It stayed put for a few minutes (an eternity in songbird photography) and allowed me to play with settings and angles. A short “kissing” noise had her turn her head towards me for a better connection between subject and viewer of the image. An impromptu photo session that resulted in my personal favorite cardinal image…and one that just may become a future Christmas card…
1. Sleeping, But Watchful, Red Fox.
Every time I go to Algonquin Park I end up with an image or two that instantly become personal favorites. 2017 was no exception. In January I went there specifically to photograph a large flock of Evening Grosbeaks that were present, but during a break in the action I went to another area in hopes to see Red Foxes that are usually a hit with visitors during warmer days. It was very cold, and somewhat snowy on this day, and the spot devoid of foxes, or people! After a few minutes, here came a vixen, likely the mate of the older male fox that is well known in the area. She came loping over curiously then settled down under an evergreen to take a nap. I went with the long lens plus a teleconverter and then went down to the ground and belly crawled in the fresh snow over to her until all I got in the frame was what you see below. She slept comfortably, and only opened an eye when branches rubbed together in the wind, or if a snow crunched under my weight as I moved for better comfort or balance.
I hope you enjoyed viewing and reading about this year’s “Top 10”! What impressed me the most is that despite being a bird photographer first, half of this list is of subjects other than an avian ones, including 4 out of the top 5.
Which one is your favorite? Is there one that surprises you with its inclusion?
Let’s see what 2018 will bring……..and with that, have a Happy New Year!