Every year I compile a list of my favorite photos and memorable moments from the previous twelve months. Typically, the collection is limited to 12-15 images, which means that a lot of photos I liked don’t quite make the “Best of 2015” cut. Now that I have a blog at my disposal, I thought you might like to see some of the images and moments I liked, but which didn’t make the final list (which I’ll publish next week).
January 30 – Northern Pygmy Owl
You all know I love owls. Winter is a great time to see and photograph them in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years I’ve seen short-eared, long-eared, snowy and even the tiny northern saw-whet owl during local winter excursions. But I’d never seen a pygmy owl here until a pair popped up in a park that was only a short drive from my home. I had only seen one northern pygmy owl before (just outside Yellowstone), so I was eager to get more photos of this diminutive species. On two trips I was fortunate to find one of the birds.
February 27 – Bengal Tiger
I spent nearly the entire month of February in India in order to scout potential locations for future tours. It was my first time in the country, and I was eager to explore the possibilities of bringing guests to find snow leopards and tigers. Suffice to say, the trip didn’t quite go as planned. Flight cancellations, health problems and, most importantly, uncooperative wildlife wreaked havoc on what was looking like a trip with a lot of potential. After striking out on wildlife in the Himalayas, I was looking forward to spending time with Bengal tigers in some of central India’s national parks. I thought the sightings would be more reliable… and I was wrong. Outside of the hot season (April – June), tiger sightings can be hard to come by. In fact, I only saw three tigers, and none of the encounters were ideal photo ops. This one was the best of the bunch, in the pre-dawn darkness in Ranthambhore National Park. This male was wandering down the road not far from the main park entrance, scent marking and scratching trees before he disappeared into the forest.
May 16 – Wet Raven
I’ve written about ravens here in the blog, discussing their status as one of the less-appreciated, underrated subjects in Yellowstone. The biggest, fattest ravens are usually found in and around the picnic areas, typically feeding on scraps discarded by tourists. So I wasn’t surprised to see this raven perched near the picnic tables on a spring afternoon. However, this was just after a rainstorm, and the bird’s bedraggled appearance made it look positively dragon-like. I converted the image to black and white to enhance the tonal contrast and emphasize the patterns in the wet plumage.
May 27 – Yellowstone Wolves
I hosted a client for three days in spring. His chief goal: photographing Yellowstone wolves. Richard had visited the park a few times before and had never seen, much less come away with photos of a wolf. To say this was a challenge is an understatement. Wolves are becoming harder and harder to photograph in the park due to a reduced population and more aggressive restrictions applied by park authorities. I admit I wasn’t entirely confident that we’d achieve our goal. So it was a nice surprise and extremely satisfying when we had a couple of good encounters, including my best wolf photo shoot in three years on our final day. The Lamar Canyon Pack was traveling together and a few of the wolves crossed the road. They paused in the middle of the valley floor to dig around, and then howled to the rest of their distant packmates.
August 10 – Sea Otters
My summer tour to the Great Bear Rainforest was primarily designed to look for coastal wolves, but the region is rich in other wildlife as well. One of the animals I was looking forward to seeing most was the sea otter. I had never seen this locally endangered species in the wild before, and getting photos proved to be a major challenge. The otters in the area are often found out in open water, in the rolling waves on the edges of the Pacific Ocean (rather than the calm inlets and waterways I’ve explored during previous GBR trips). Trying to get steady shots of this shy species with a big lens while being jostled in a small boat is anything but easy, but I managed to come away with a few photos I liked.
October 1 – Elk Crossing
During my autumn photo tour in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we were searching for wildlife back behind Oxbow Bend. It can be a good spot for otters, beavers, bears and eagles. Unfortunately, we failed to find any photo subjects during this particular foray… until we started driving back out to get to the main road. A small herd of elk popped out of the woods in front of us and made for the Snake River. Luckily, there was a pullout nearby, so I was able to park the vehicle in time for my clients to hop out and snap some very quick photos. The water was low enough by then that the elk were able to splash their way toward shore rather than swim across. It made for a much more dramatic scene.
October 7 – Great Gray Owl
I’ve photographed a lot of great gray owls over the years, but I was suffering through a recent drought. It had been two years since my last great gray sighting, and I had been trying desperately to find another, both for myself and for the many clients I’ve brought through Yellowstone. Fortunately, when I finally found one again, I did have clients with me! During a one day private excursion, I was leading Juan and Nina on a broader tour of the park, to give them a sense of where to explore on their own in the following days. October can be a slower time for wildlife in Yellowstone, and despite some good bear and elk sightings I was still searching for a standout wildlife moment. I stopped in an area that is known for owl sightings (though I had not seen them there myself), and within a couple minutes, found this great gray. It was a juvenile–the pointed tail feathers indicate a younger owl–but what was interesting is the very light plumage. Though not leucistic, this was definitely the lighted great gray owl I’d ever seen. By the way, the next day I went back to the area and found another owl, probably this one’s parent. I guess my streak of bad luck with great grays is officially over.
October 17 – Elijah Qualls
It’s easy to forget that I still shoot sports on occasion, mainly during Husky Football season. The last couple decades have been tough on Husky fans. Numerous coaching changes, dismal-to-mediocre records, and a loooong losing streak to the hated Oregon Ducks have all contributed to reduced enthusiasm about the state of Washington’s football program. Husky Stadium rarely sells out any more and the atmosphere isn’t what it used to be. Which is why it was a lot of fun to be on hand when the Huskies and Ducks faced off in Seattle. Oregon was looking more vulnerable than they had in years, and Dawg fans knew it. Here, UW defensive tackle Elijah Qualls soaks in the raucous pre-game atmosphere. Though the Huskies eventually lost a close game, the stadium felt more alive than it had in years.
December 15 – Sprinting Bobcat
I returned to central California and Pinnacles National Park in December to give the bobcats there another try. This may be the best place in the world to see them, but back in March I didn’t have much luck. It was worth another try and the second visit paid off with seventeen bobcat sightings in two days. This wasn’t necessarily the best encounter, as the photos aren’t perfect, but I was more than happy to capture this elusive predator in the most action-packed, dynamic moment of the weekend as it sprinted toward the road.
Check back next week for my “Best of 2015” list!