Arizona Birds Part Two

Part two of my continuing series on the different Arizona birds that I encountered last month takes us to one of the two blinds that I took advantage of in southeast Arizona. The images in this post all come from the Madera Canyon blind that you read about in the paragraphs below. Click the images to view larger.

Arizona birds

White-breasted Nuthatch

As I was planning my trip, I had accumulated far more places I wanted to visit than I had time for. I would only be in Arizona for 5 days, and I needed to set aside 2 and 1/2 days for family. That leaves just 2 full days and a morning for photography. It was tough deciding where I wanted to go and what I hoped to accomplish. I already knew I would be visiting the Gilbert Water Ranch at least once during the trip, so I needed to pick 1 or 2 other places to focus on.

Arizona birds

Dark-eyed Junco

As I mapped out these destinations, it became apparent that I would spend more time driving and hiking for birds than I would actually photographing them. That wasn’t going to work, so I reached out to a Flickr contact that had photographed Arizona birds last April for some suggestions. He came back with a list of 10 places he recommended that had been good for him. The first two places, The Pond at Elephant Head – Bill Forbes and Madera Canyon – Bill Forbes were his favorite. I knew where Madera Canyon was, but I had never heard of The Pond at Elephant Head or Bill Forbes. So it was off to the almighty Google to learn more. What I learned is that Bill has a pair of blinds for photographers. One of them is at his home in the Elephant Head area (named after a mountain nearby) and another in Madera Canyon. I also learned that Bill invented the Phototrap which is a device used to trigger a camera when something breaks an infrared beam. Bill uses it to photograph bats diving into a pond in his backyard for a drink of water at night. Click the link to learn more about the Phototrap, and click this link to learn more about his photography blinds.

Arizona birds

Lesser Goldfinch (Lifer)

I contacted Bill and arranged for an afternoon at Madera Canyon and a morning at Elephant Head for photography. I definitely recommend the photography blinds. Bill has portable perches that you can move around in order to photograph the birds that come to both blinds. The blinds are at different elevations, so you get a completely different variety of birds at each blind. Both blinds have water, food, fruit, suet and other attractants to bring the birds in. You basically sit in the blinds and wait for the birds to show up. This was far more productive than driving and hiking all over the state looking for different birds. Naturally I wasn’t able to see everything Arizona has to offer, but given my limited time, this was an excellent opportunity to make the best use of the time I had available.

Arizona birds

Bridled Titmouse (Lifer)

Once Bill oriented me to everything at the Madera Canyon blind, he left me alone to arrange the perches as I wanted. He employs many free-standing stands with large perches in them as well as some clamps that he uses to attach to a table that holds the water source and other ground perches. I wish I had been sharp enough to take a photo of the setup with my iPhone for the blog. I’m really bad at letting the simple photos slip away that would really enhance the storytelling in my blog. I promise to do better in the future.

Arizona birds

Broad-billed Hummingbird (Lifer)

Once everything was positioned and I got settled into the blind, it was time to wait. I got everything setup the way I wanted around 1:30 or so. After about 5 minutes of quiet, the Mexican Jays announced their presence and the caravan of birds began (including those already posted above).

Arizona birds

Mexican Jay (Lifer)

After the jays made their appearance (and gorge on most of the food), I heard the strangest noise coming from the tree above me. I couldn’t look up into the tree as I was hidden in the blind, so I had to hope that whatever it was would make an appearance. Much to my surprise, an Acorn Woodpecker showed up to check out the goods. I wasn’t expecting an Acorn Woodpecker, but they are common in the canyon.

Arizona birds

Acorn Woodpecker (Lifer)

Shortly after the Acorn Woodpecker stopped by, his best buddy, the Arizona Woodpecker made an appearance.

Arizona birds

Arizona Woodpecker (Lifer)

It didn’t take long for another surprise bird to show up. I was thrilled to see a Hepatic Tanager drop by.

Arizona birds

Hepatic Tanager (Lifer)

I got a brief glimpse and just a few frames of a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. He was feeding on the ground, so the angle and environment was all wrong, but at least I got a shot of him.

Arizona birds

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Lifer)

I also got a glimpse of a somewhat uncooperative Lincoln’s Sparrow. He spent some time picking at the variety of seeds offered, but he wouldn’t land on the perches that were closer to me and that I wanted him on. I guess I’ll just have to go back and try again!

Arizona birds

Lincoln’s Sparrow (Lifer)

But clearly, the most magnificent find of the day had to be the Magnificent Hummingbird. Compared to the other hummers around, this guy is twice the size and he sounds like a helicopter when he flies overhead. He spent most of his time chasing off other hummingbirds that were coming to the feeder, but for a short time, he entertained me with a little preening while I waited patiently for him to show off. Score!!

Arizona birds

Magnificent Hummingbird (Lifer)

So to sum up, I’d have to say that the 4 hours I spent in the blind at Madera Canyon were quite productive. Add to that the amount of fun I had that afternoon, it was certainly a smart choice to hook up with Bill and his blind. I started shooting that day at 6:30am at the Gilbert Water Ranch, took a 4 hour break to eat some lunch and travel to Madera Canyon, then continued shooting until 6:00pm. I shot 1600+ images that day and I can unequivocally say that I was one tired photographer at the end of that day. But I slept like a baby with a huge smile on my face.

The next post will detail the morning I had at the Elephant Head blind down in the desert valley.

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Birds of Arizona – Part One

While I was in Arizona last month, I wanted to photograph as many Arizona birds that I could. I hadn’t set a specific number, but I wanted to see and photograph as many as possible in the small amount of time that I was there. Arizona does share some common species with Florida birds, but given the different climate, elevations and terrain, Arizona birds are almost completely unique to someone from Florida. I’ll show some of the images I was able to capture during my visit over the next couple of blog posts.

I came across some new birds on my first morning in Arizona, but this Verdin was my favorite of the morning.

Arizona birds

Verdin

Although I see Canadian Geese quite frequently when I am at my office in Atlanta, they are rare visitors to Florida. Not a new bird for me, but probably the first time I have had an opportunity to photograph one.

Arizona birds

Canadian Goose

The Abert’s Towhee was a royal pain to get a photo of. These ground-feeding birds don’t sit still very long, and they don’t accommodate photographers by sitting on a pretty perch either.

Arizona birds

Abert’s Towhee

I watched this Anna’s Hummingbird preen for several minutes waiting for him to give me a beautiful display of his gorget.

Arizona birds

Anna’s Hummingbird

The Curved-billed Thrasher was one of my target species for the trip. They have a beautiful song just like the Brown Thrashers that we get here in Florida.

Arizona birds

Curved-billed Thrasher

In my next post, I’ll show some of the birds I was able to photograph when shooting in a blind in Madera Canyon. What a fun afternoon that was!

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Greater Roadrunner

One of my target birds for my trip to Arizona was to photograph the Greater Roadrunner. I fondly remember watching Wile E. Coyote and the roadrunner battle it out on Saturday mornings as I was growing up. Those were my favorite cartons and I looked forward to Saturday morning.

So after arriving in Arizona, I stopped by the Acme warehouse to pick up a few necessary supplies for my quest:

– Spring-loaded boxing glove – Check!
– Bow and arrow with dynamite payload – Check!
– Anvil (a must have in the desert) – Check!
– Rocket skates (far more expensive than I would have thought, but well worth the investment) – Check!

I believe I fared much better than the coyote as I was easily able to find and photograph his nemesis. Click the images to view larger.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

They do have some pretty colors in their feathers.

Greater Roadrunner

Beep! Beep!

A little later in the morning, the roadrunner returned and put on this display when he/she heard another roadrunner in the distance. Looks like he may be ready to offer a tasty tidbit to a prospective mate.

Greater Roadrunner

A tasty treat!

These guys are quick!

Greater Roadrunner

Accelerati incredibilus

I loved the shots I took of him on an old Saguaro cactus skeleton.

Greater Roadrunner

Has anyone seen the coyote?

How many people will remember these lyrics?

If you’re on the highway and Road Runner goes beep beep.
Just step aside or might end up in a heap.
Road Runner, Road Runner runs on the road all day.
Even the coyote can’t make him change his ways.

Road Runner, the coyote’s after you.
Road Runner, if he catches you your’re through.
Road Runner, the coyote’s after you.
Road Runner, if he catches you you’re through.

That coyote is really a crazy clown.
When will he learn he can never mow him down?
Poor little Road Runner never bothers anyone.
Just runnin’ down the road’s his idea of having fun.

More to come from Arizona!

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American Avocets

American Avocets are one of the more beautiful shorebirds in North America. We see avocets in Florida in the winter, but they are just getting into the breeding colors when it is time for them to fly back north to their nesting grounds. During my recent trip to Arizona, I stopped by the Gilbert Water Ranch (also known as the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch) in the metropolitan Phoenix area and found about a half dozen American Avocets in breeding plumage. One of the locals told me that they were actively courting and mating, so I setup my tripod and 500mm lens with teleconverter to see if I could capture some of their courtship rituals.

The water ranch is a water reclamation facility, but unlike most of the water reclamation facilities in Florida, this one is ideal for photographers. The water ranch has several cells with varying amounts of water in them. Unlike the ones in Florida, this facility has multiple habitats representing the different areas of Arizona throughout the facility. So there is a better chance of finding different bird species that tend to prefer specific plants and trees. The other nice thing about the water ranch is that the cells are accessible at many points for photographers to setup on a tripod and photograph the action. There are no steep sides to the cells that make getting to eye level with the birds difficult. Plus you don’t have to worry about any gators coming up out of the water and taking your leg off for a snack.

There were some Northern Shovelers and Mallards visible in the cells, but most ducks had already headed north by the time I arrived. I imagine that January and February are great months for duck photography at the water ranch. I did get to see my first Cinnamon Teal at the water ranch, but I couldn’t get a decent photo of him.

American Avocets are generally shy birds that don’t venture too close to areas where people are moving about. This held true at the Gilbert Water Ranch as well, so I situated myself at the water’s edge and waited patiently and quietly for the birds to become comfortable and continue with their activities. With other people milling around the area, they never came very close to where I was, but I was fortunate to witness a pair participating in their courtship rituals at a distance I could work with.

In this first image, the female is exhibiting behavior that she is ready for the male. However, the male seems to be uninterested in her at this time. Actually, the male is quite interested in the female, but he has his own ritual to go through first. Click the images to view larger.

American Avocets

American Avocets

As the female waits patiently for the male, the male continues preening and walks behind the female to preen on her other side. He repeats this procedure several times while the female continues to show she is ready. This dance ritual by the male continued for several minutes, and at one time the female gave up and went about feeding for a while.

American Avocets

The male takes his time while the female waits…

Soon she was back in her ready position and the male became more serious about the courtship. Instead of moving from one side of the female to the other and preening, he began splashing his bill in the water next to her. This continued for about a minute while the female continued to wait.

American Avocets

The courtship continues

Soon the male was ready and he hopped up on the back of the female to consummate the relationship.

American Avocets

Hey! No feather pulling!!

American Avocets

Move along, children. Nothing to see here.

After about 15 seconds, the male dismounted and grabbed the female’s bill in his bill.

American Avocets

Kiss Kiss

Their bills remained interlocked for a few seconds until they finally separated and went about feeding again.

American Avocets

A kiss and a hug.

If successful, there will be a clutch of avocets at the water ranch in a few weeks. How exciting that would be to be able to photograph the little chicks when they first venture out into the world. Some shorebirds chicks are able to walk or swim shortly after hatching. I’ve never had the opportunity to observe an American Avocet nest, so I don’t know how long the chicks stay in the nest or how big they are when they first venture out to follow mom and dad in the water. Maybe I need to go back out to Arizona to find out.

Capturing this sequence was one of the many highlights of my trip to Arizona. I’ll have more to show in the days to come, so check back often.

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A Visit to Arizona

The Arizona desert is a beautiful place and my next few blog posts will feature my recent trip there to visit family and the local wildlife. My mom and dad are currently outside of Wickenburg, Arizona for the winter. My uncle lives in Payson, so I put together a trip that combined visiting the family and doing some photography. I hadn’t been out to Arizona in about 5 years or so, so I was due for a visit. When I was last there, I wasn’t into photography like I am now. I didn’t have the equipment that I now have, and I had no interest in wildlife photography. So this was an excellent chance to take a few days to recharge the brain and body, visit family that I rarely see, and add a few birds to my life list. And possibly take a few photos along the way.

First, here’s a few statistics about the trip:

5 days on the ground
970 miles driven (far more than I had anticipated)
68 bird species seen (not bad considering I only had 1 full day and 2 half days for photography)
27 new life birds (and some cool ones at that)
2 reptiles seen (1 Clark’s spiny lizard and one rattlesnake I almost stepped on)
3348 images taken (ok…that’s more than a few. Surprised?)

I’ll have plenty of wildlife pictures to post in the days to come, along with the rattlesnake story but first, let me introduce you to the folks. Click the images to view larger.

Arizona

Meet the folks. Bill and Barbara Libbe

Mom and dad live in a 5th wheel, which is really a recreational vehicle that has to be towed by a big pickup truck. This sucker is 36 feet long, and when parked, has slide outs that makes for a comfortable living space for 2 people (and 2 Siamese cats). They travel back and forth between Arizona, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida and manage RV parks run by the Escapees RV Club. They love the lifestyle, and I have to admit, I have a bit of wanderlust about the lifestyle. Imagine the places I could go with my camera and just spend as much time enjoying the area and shooting photos as I want. When I’ve had enough, pack up the “rig” and move on to the next destination. Sounds great … except for the part about working and managing the RV parks.

After meeting up with mom and dad, we drove up to Payson to visit my uncle and his friend Carla. That’s a 150 mile, 3 hour drive, so you can see where the mileage came from. We spent a night at my uncle’s and had a great visit. I hadn’t seen them in 4 years since our Alaska cruise, so it was really nice to get to spend some time with them.

Arizona

The Family. Can you tell how bright the sun is there?

My uncle has a great house with a spectacular view of the Mogollon rim. The backyard faces east, so the sunrises there can be spectacular. The morning I was there I did a time-lapse of the sunrise with my GoPro, and I took some stills as well. There weren’t a lot of clouds in the sky, so the sunrise wasn’t anything spectacular. But it was great standing out there in the 42 degree temperature with my mom standing next to me and a hummingbird feeding on a feeder just 10 feet away. I could get used to that!!

Payson, Arizona

Payson Sunrise

I shot the sunrise with my 5DIII which has an HDR setting and creates the HDR jpeg for me automatically. So this one is straight out of the camera. I like it when I don’t have to spend a great deal of time processing the image. The time-lapse came out OK, but I placed the GoPro in a really poor spot. There is some ground clutter in the images that I didn’t see while setting up the camera in the dark. Oh, well. I’ll just have to try to do better next time.

On the way back to Wickenburg from Payson, we drove through Jerome, Arizona. Jerome is an old copper mining town built on the side of a mountain. It looks like a really cool place to spend an afternoon walking through the shops, or drinking a cold beverage and watching the shadows move across the desert below. We stopped at a viewpoint and took the traditional photo with the gorgeous background.

Arizona

My mom with her favorite son.

Back in Wickenburg later that afternoon, we had to have some of the local Mexican cuisine. Our family loves Mexican food, so we will almost always pick a Mexican restaurant when available. Anita’s Cocina in Wickenburg serves fantastic Mexican dishes. Mom and I enjoyed the fish tacos (one of my favorite Mexican dishes) while dad had a couple of enchiladas. After driving 150 miles back from Payson, the margarita was especially tasty!!

Arizona

Bellies full of good Mexican food bring big smiles!

In my next posts, I’ll talk about the places I went for wildlife photography and some of the images that I took. Overall, I had a tremendous time and I’m really glad I could put the trip together. I had been working on the trip for 6-8 weeks and just couldn’t find the right combination of dates, flights and time off to make it all work. It finally all fell together in mid-February and I’m so glad it did. Although Faith wasn’t able to go with me, and I missed her while I was out there, the time in the desert was quite cathartic.

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Burrowing Owls

Here is a fun post about a morning I had in May with a family of burrowing owls. Burrowing owls, as the name implies, build their nests in the earth. They dig a burrow in the ground, lay their eggs in the burrow, then incubate them inside the burrow until they hatch. The hatchlings then use the burrow for shelter and protection from predators.

Burrowing owls are one of the most animated and entertaining birds to photograph. In order to better judge the distance between themselves and a far off object or sound, they will lift their heads or turn their heads sideways in order to change the depth perception to the object. This gives them a better sense of what they are looking at in the distance to determine if the object is prey or predator. These same actions, along with their huge yellow eyes, give them a clownish appearance and make for some entertaining photos.

I arrived at the burrow knowing that there were young owls present. I first spotted one of the adults who checked me out. Click the images to view larger.

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owl Adult

After passing inspection, the adult flew off and left the nest unattended. After a short while, the bravest of the young owls came out to see what was going on.

Burrowing Owls

Brave Burrowing Owl

A short time later, one of his siblings joined him to see what all the clicking noise was about.

Burrowing Owls

And then there was two.

Before long, they became bored with the action.

Burrowing Owls

Yawn

Watching from the burrow, another owl decided to see what was going on.

Burrowing Owls

Curious sibling makes three!

Soon, all three became bored with me. After all, what kind of excitement is there watching a photographer hiding behind a giant lens 30 feet away?

Burrowing Owls

Bored with the photographer

To my surprise, the youngsters continued to pour out of the burrow.

Burrowing Owls

One more makes four.

And as they had done before, they quickly became concerned with anything else but me.

Burrowing Owls

Where’s the party?

And then there was 5. This is the largest brood of burrowing owls that I’ve had the opportunity to photograph. It is nearly impossible to get 5 owls to all look at you at the same time. You can’t really move or make any sounds as you may frighten them back into the burrow. It’s very frustrating!

Burrowing Owls

The gang’s all here!

Not surprising, the party died off rather quickly. Burrowing owls just aren’t the party animals you might think they would be. Then again, maybe these guys have had one too many!

Burrowing Owls

Worst party ever!

It was a great morning with the owl family, and I was impressed that they were being cared for and well fed by a single adult. On a previous visit, I had found one of the adults tangled in barbed wire and had perished without being able to extract his/her wings from the barbs. Burrowing owls nest in pastures, and many pastures are protected by barbed wire in order to keep the livestock contained. The owls don’t necessarily see the wires, or if they are chasing prey, or being chased by a predator, they can crash into the wire. If their wings get snagged on the barbs, they will not be able to free themselves. Although I was sad to know that one of the adults met a grisly end, I was happy that these 5 youngsters continued to do well and all looked rather healthy.

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Red Foxes

This past spring, I got a call from a friend that had a pair of red foxes and a den on some property that they had access to. They asked if I wanted to come by and spend a morning photographing the foxes. Of course the answer was a resounding YES!!

Red foxes are included in the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species. This is due to their ability to quickly adapt to their environment. Red foxes are found the world over and are not uncommon in suburban settings. Although the name implies the color of their fur, they can be found with other colorings as well. Their widespread population has made them one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for their fur.

On this particular day, I was not interested in harvesting any red foxes. I was just there to observe and photograph. I was told that the adults had an active den with 2-3 kits seen at different times. If an exact count of the family had been made, I wasn’t aware of it before I showed up.

When I arrived, one of the adults was foraging in the homeowner’s garden in the backyard. This was both exciting and scary as I didn’t expect to be able to walk up on one. Having never photographed foxes before, I wasn’t sure how aggressive they would be. Once the adult looked up and saw me just 6 feet away, he scampered down the hill and disappeared. Click the images to view larger.

Red Foxes

Red Fox Adult

The den was located in a small wash or gully behind the home. There was evidence of more than 1 den, and I had no idea which den might be active that morning. As I setup my gear, a little head poked out of one of the dens and I knew then where to focus my attention. I had brought my blind and a stool, so I got setup and covered up and proceeded to spend the next 4 hours under the blind. It was a cloudy, drizzly day, which kept the temperature inside the blind nice and cool. It also provided nice even light for photography. Without the direct sun, I wasn’t in danger of over exposing the white fur on the foxes or having ugly shadows cast.

Red Foxes

Red Fox Kit

Initially, all I saw was one adult and one kit. Before long, a second kit showed up and became curious about the clicking noise it could hear under the blind and the giant eye sticking out.

Red Foxes

Curious Red Fox Kit

The two kits alternated paying attention to me until one of the adults brought in a rabbit for breakfast. After breakfast, they continued posing for me and were unconcerned about my presence. After all, they couldn’t see me and all they could hear was the click of the shutter in the camera as I took different photos.

Red Foxes

Where is that noise coming from?

Although the two kits would play and run around the den area, they never ventured too far from the den. All the while, one of the adults sat on a small hillside watching over their activities.

Red Foxes

Watchful Adult

I’m certain that the adults knew I was nearby as they have a keen sense of smell. At one point one walked within 10 feet of me with a squirrel for an early lunch. He was so close that I couldn’t focus the camera. He casually walked right past me while the two kits kept trying to snatch the squirrel from his mouth. When he dropped the squirrel, one of them picked it up and the chase was on! After becoming bored with the squirrel, the two kits resumed their positions outside the den and tried again to figure out where that clicking noise was coming from.

Red Foxes

Who’s There?

After about 3 and 1/2 hours of sitting under the blind on a three-legged stool, I was getting stiff and tired. I decided it was time to pack up and head home. Just as I was about to remove the blind and make my way out to the car, here came the other adult towards the adult and 2 kits that I had been watching over the last couple of hours. Tagging along behind this second adult was 4 more kits! I had no idea that there were a total of 8 red foxes in the area. The other 4 kits must have been tucked away in another den somewhere.

When the 4 siblings joined the other two, the festivities went in to full gear. All the kits were now quite playful and started chasing each other and playing. It was quite a treat to see. The only downside was that the rain had started up again and the light was pretty poor. I just couldn’t muster enough shutter speed out of my 7D to capture some great images of the kits at play. I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, but even with a wide open aperture, I couldn’t keep the shutter speed up and the ISO down to get some quality images.

Red Foxes

Playtime

Although I didn’t get all the quality images I wanted, the experience was well worth sitting under the blind and cramping my back and legs. It was an amazing encounter that I will remember for many years to come. The best part was when I finally removed the blind and started to pack up. Once the blind was off, the foxes could see me. They all stopped playing for a few minutes, sat, and stared at me. As I slowly packed up and began to move away, they went right back to playing with each other and couldn’t have cared less about me. Even the adults who were sitting nearby simply looked at me and never made any indication that they were concerned.

And that’s the way wildlife photography should be. If you can sit and photograph the wildlife without disturbing them or causing them to change their behaviors, then you will have an excellent encounter. This one certainly ranks up as one of my best 2 or 3 encounters.

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Audubon Magazine

Each year, Audubon Magazine holds their annual photography awards contest. The contest is divided into 3 categories; youth, amateur and professional. Professional photographers are those who earn more than $5,000/yr with their photography. This year’s contest had over 900 entrants and over 6000 photographs entered. A first-place winner is chosen for each category and a grand prize winner is chosen from all images.

As I do every year, I submit a few images into the contest believing that I have little chance to be one of the four award winners. Actually, I can only be one of two as I am considered an amateur per the rules, and and I am well beyond being eligible for the youth category. With so many wonderful images being submitted, my hope is to place in the top 100 honored images. Those images are not published in the Audubon Magazine, but they are shown in a slide show on their website and they are published in the spring edition of Nature’s Best magazine. Although I won first-place with an image I submitted in Digital Photo magazine’s Your Best Shot contest last year, I don’t consider my work good enough to compete, let alone win, in the high-end contests like BBC, Winland Rice and Audubon. But as a friend of mine once told me, you can’t win if you don’t enter. So I always enter these contest as you just never know.

I must admit that this was sage advice (thank you Nancy) and I’m glad that I took it. In early November, I got an email from the Managing Editor at Audubon Magazine informing me that my image, Reaching for the Heavens, was a finalist in the contest. I was quite thrilled and happy with that as if nothing else, I was certainly going to achieve my goal of making the top 100 images in the contest. You might remember that I mentioned this image in my last post. Click the images to view larger.

Audubon Magazine

Reaching For The Heavens. Great Blue Heron

When I told Faith that I was a finalist, she was so happy for me and told me what an honor it was to be a finalist. I agreed with her, but I told her “I want to WIN!”. Being a finalist is a great honor, but winning is that much sweeter.

As part of the contest rules, I had to submit the original RAW file from the camera and a high resolution image suitable for printing. The RAW image is required so that the judges can determine if I altered the image in any way and thereby violated any of the rules of the contest. I submitted my images within a day and began the process of waiting. The method that the magazine uses to submit the RAW and high resolution images allows any of the finalists to review the competition for a short period of time while the images are being submitted. As other finalist (there were 10) submitted their photos, I took a peek at them and became convinced that mine wasn’t going to win. There were several excellent images selected as finalists and I just didn’t think mine measured up.

Thanksgiving came and went and I had not heard anything more about the contest. 3+ weeks had passed by and I was sure that the judges had finished the judging and selection process. And I was right. A decision had been made and I received a call from the Managing Editor the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I saw on the caller ID that it was Audubon Magazine calling and I had two thoughts. First, they were calling for a year-end donation. But they could also be calling with the results of the contest. As the phone continued to ring, I then realized that they would not be calling me to tell me that I had lost, so it would probably be a good idea to pick up the phone.

After brief introductions, the editor said that he wanted to call me and personally tell me that I had won the grand prize in the contest. After he said that, there was a long moment of silence. When my brain started working again, I politely told him that I had misunderstood him. I said “I’m sorry, I thought you said I was the grand prize winner, but you meant to say that I won first-place in the amateur division, right?”. He replied that I had heard correctly and that I was indeed the grand prize winner and that my image would be on the cover of the January – February 2014 edition of Audubon Magazine. My image scored higher than any of the other 6000+ images that were submitted.

More silence.

After the paramedics restarted my heart, I began to babble something of a thank you and that I was honored to have been selected.

Audubon Magazine

Audubon Magazine cover January – February 2014

The editor went on to tell me that as soon as the image was submitted, their art department printed out the image and hung it on the wall in their department. They wanted the image for the cover and were hoping that it would win. The art department employees do not participate in the judging, so they were keeping their fingers crossed that the image would win as it makes an excellent image for a magazine cover. Vertical images always do better for magazine covers than horizontal ones as they don’t have to be cropped to fit the magazine vertical format. This image also works well because it has so much “white space” which allows for the masthead and other text blocks to fit nicely without competing with the image itself.

The editor then told me what the grand prize would be a cruise for two along the Norwegian coast. I remembered reading about the prizes months ago and thinking that I would rather have cash than the actual prizes. Norway (or the other destination for first-place amateur) wasn’t on my short list of places I wanted to visit. New camera gear is always on my list, and cash certainly helps to pay the photography bills. The cruise is sponsored through Hurtigruten and is not on a traditional mammoth cruise ship that you might think of. Instead, it is on a working ship that makes 34 stops along the Norwegian coast over a 7 day period. Many of the stops are at night or for very short durations. The primary purpose of the ship is to act as a mode of transportation to small cities along the coast. Norwegians use the ships to go from one city to the next, and the ships carry commerce and supplies from larger cities to smaller cities. They also carry tourists who are interested in seeing the beautiful coastline and small towns along the coast. The trip starts in southern Norway in Bergen and ends up above the Arctic Circle in Kirkenes. The more I read about the cruise, the more excited I have become and I’m certainly glad I didn’t dismiss the prize out of hand. Faith and I are looking forward to an October cruise where we hope to see some fall colors and perhaps the northern lights once we cross the Arctic Circle.

After I got off the phone and took a few minutes to compose myself, I looked around for someone to share this with. The editor asked me not to say anything until the magazine hit the mailboxes, which is why I haven’t written this post before now. I was allowed to tell Faith, but Faith wasn’t home. She was in Pennsylvania visiting her mother. Only our dog Hannah was home with me. I told Hannah that I had won and she got all excited about that. But then I realized she just wanted to go outside. So I had to settle for calling Faith and telling her over the phone. I can still hear the scream of delight that she shouted when I told her.

Being selected as the grand prize winner is a huge honor for me and even though I’ve known now for about 6 weeks, I still can’t believe that I won. Having my images recognized like this has been a goal of mine since I started doing wildlife and nature photography seriously 5 years ago. I still have a long way to go and I have many more goals I want to achieve, but this is a huge confidence booster. The magazine is just now arriving in mailboxes, and the Audubon Magazine website just posted the online magazine earlier this week, so I haven’t had enough time to evaluate the exposure to my work yet. I’m hopeful the additional exposure translates in to new and exciting opportunities for me and my photography. But even if the additional exposure doesn’t translate into new opportunities, I’m having the time of my life. I keep thinking this is a dream and that I simply haven’t woken up yet.

Somebody pinch me!

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude and thanks for those of you who have encouraged and supported me over the years. I appreciate each and every one of you and I am most grateful for your friendship.

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Looking Back (October – December) 2013

Continuing my series on looking back at 2013…
Click Here to read the January – March recap.
Click Here to read the April – June recap.
Click Here to read the July – September recap.

October
October has become the month that Faith and I take our annual vacation to Indian Rocks Beach. We like October because the weather is typically a wee bit cooler, the crowds are gone and we generally have the places we rent all to ourselves. It is a relaxing week that we always look forward to. This year we brought Hannah along as she has some medical issues that prevent us from boarding her any longer.

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Our little family

Of course, what trip to the Gulf coast would be complete without a visit to Fort deSoto?

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Red Knot

The Click ponds at the Viera Wetlands are drained every fall and that always creates some wonderful photography opportunities. October was also when Santa delivered an early Christmas present. This is one of the first images I took with my new 5DIII body. I love that camera!!

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Roseate Spoonbill

November
In November, Jess convinced me to make another trip to Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. You may remember that the last time I went there with her, she dragged my sorry self and all my gear all over that place back in March. I was still tired from that trip. But we had a fun morning and we both scored our first Broad-winged Hawk as we were just about ready to leave.

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Broad-winged Hawk

November also brought an opportunity to create a piece specifically for a customer. They wanted a large print of the sun setting behind their house on Spruce Creek in Port Orange. This 5 panel, 3 shot panorama was printed on aluminum at 60×30 and is hanging in their home above a love seat.

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Spruce Creek panorama

December
December brought me a pair of dreams come true. First, early in the month, I got a phone call regarding the following image that put a huge smile on my face. I was hoping that I could have shared the details by now, but it looks like things are a bit behind. I think that you will be seeing more of this image very shortly.

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Reaching For The Heavens. Great Blue Heron

And to top off the year, another dream come true happened when a certain Snowy Owl paid an unexpected visit to Florida. Here is an image of the owl from my first trip to see him. You can read more about this experience on this blog post. I’m hopeful that I will get another chance to photograph him before he heads back to the Arctic.

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Snowy Owl

In summary, 2013 was a very good year for me, one that I will always remember and cherish. Thank you for your support along the way. I greatly appreciate it. I hope that 2014 is a great year for all of us!

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Looking Back (July – September) 2013

Continuing the series looking back on my opportunities in 2013…
Click Here to read the January – March recap.
Click Here to read the April – June recap.

July
Faith and I looked forward to July for months as that was the month we traveled back to Oregon for vacation. This year we traveled with Faith’s mother Mary and her husband Skip and had a wonderful time. Oregon is a state filled with photographic opportunities. I could easily spend months there and photograph something spectacular every day. I hope when I retire that I get the chance to do just that. We have been twice and have only visited the Oregon coast each time. We love it along the coast, but every mile we drive makes me want to go back for more.

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Black Oystercatcher adult

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Black Oystercatcher chick

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Tufted Puffins

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Haceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon Coast

August
August brought me another fantastic opportunity to photograph one of my favorite species. Captain Lance invited me to spend a morning on his pontoon boat to photograph the Swallow-tailed Kites on Lake Woodruff. The kites congregate on the lake in late July and early August as they prepare for their migratory trip down to South America in mid-August. We had a fun morning and I have had trouble picking just one favorite for this month.

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Swallow-tailed Kite

September
By the time mid-August rolls around, and well into September, photography opportunities tend to become harder to find. Most of that is because it’s just too darn hot and not a lot of fun to be outdoors looking for great images. I only got out to shoot twice in September, and both of those occasions were in Atlanta. I spent much of Atlanta working while we installed new warehousing equipment. I did spend a day at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and had some good opportunities there. I had been wanting to shoot sunflowers and thought I had missed the season, but there were some blooming in the gardens while I was there.

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Sunflower

Next, looking back at October – December 2013.

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