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2016 in Review: Not Quite the Best of the Year

What a year!  As I look back on 2016, it’s hard to remember everything that occurred due to the sheer volume and exhausting nature of all of the trips I took.  I’ve done my best to compile my “Best of 2016” photos and moments, which will be published next week.  Because I normally try to pare my year-end list down to 10-15 images, I inevitably end up with a few photos and moments from my adventures that don’t quite make the cut.

That’s what you’ll find here: the runners-up, so to speak.  Enjoy the selections (and stories behind the images) below.  And be sure to check back later this week for more from 2016, including the best images from my peers and my own favorite photos from the past twelve months.


February 17: Crevice Fox

Red Fox

My winter trip to Yellowstone was really—and I mean really—good for red fox action.  We’d had a bit more snow on the ground than the last few winters, so the foxes had to put in a little extra effort to find food.  This fox had been going out hunting during the day, and returning off and on to this spot for midday naps over the course of a few weeks.  I’d seen photos of it in this area from other photographers, but wasn’t sure if I’d have a chance to see it.  The first several times I passed this spot, it was empty.  Finally, one day the fox was back.  It was a unique setting, and the pattern created by the rock wall and that vertical crevice made for a wonderful backdrop.  It was just a matter of waiting for the subject to perk up a little, which it eventually did.

Expect more fox photos in the Best Of list posted next week.  You can see all of my winter fox photos from this trip here.


February 22: Bison at Midway

Bison at Midway Geyser Basin

During my winter photo tour, my group had just wrapped up a visit to Midway Geyser Basin and we were back in the snow coach on our way to Old Faithful.  That’s when I spied a herd of bison slowly progressing through the basin.  Seeing these prehistoric creatures moving amidst the backlighting and steam from the thermals, I knew we had to stop and try to get a few photos.  I went with a monochrome conversion for this one, which worked pretty well.

See more from this shoot and the winter Yellowstone trip here.


March 17: Ocelot

Smiling Ocelot

In between the two Costa Rica tours I was leading, I had a few days of rest on the Osa Peninsula.  I spent most of this time chilling out at a lodge, where I barely touched my camera (except for the occasional monkey that would appear near my deck).  I did, however, have one day scheduled at a small lodge located on a highland ranch on the edge of Corcovado National Park.  I’ve wanted to visit this location for some time because it has a reputation for a being a herp hotbed: home to loads of venomous snakes and frogs.  After scheduling a day-long excursion there, I found out from my Corcovado guide and friend Felipe that there was also a wild ocelot on the property.  I’m never one to turn down a bonus jungle cat sighting!

I had seen ocelots twice before, but never came away with decent pictures, so this was an enticing prospect.  As it turned out, we didn’t need to work very hard to find the cat, since it was habituated.  The ocelot had actually been rescued when it was very young, after its mother was hit by a car.  It had been looked after for a couple months at the ranch before the owners released it back into the jungle.  So it lived in the forest, on the fringes of the property, but had no fear of humans.  Which made for an entertaining photo shoot.  Felipe and I were able to follow the young ocelot as it explored the jungle, often moving off into the brush to mark its territory or stalk birds or lizards.  Even though I don’t find encounters with habituated animals nearly as fulfilling as those that involving wild (and wary) creatures—a big reason this didn’t make my Best Of list—I really enjoyed watching this beautiful cat learning the ropes on its own terms.

See more photos of this adorable wild cat here.


April 22: Whale Shark

Whale shark

When Jenn and I sat down and planned our impromptu trip to Australia (spurred by a surprise airline mileage deal), I had a small number of wildlife-specific goals in mind.  At the top of my wish list was to swim with the world’s largest fish species, the whale shark.

I actually first started thinking about swimming with whale sharks back in 2003, when I met an Australian photographer in China who told me Western Australia was one of the best places in the world to see these gentle giants.  At the time I had no idea when I’d ever make it Down Under, and even as I started traveling more for photography and finally became a full time professional shooter, I never thought Australia was a realistic goal given our time constraints.  So, when the opportunity arose, I made sure to include whale sharks on the itinerary… even if it meant flying all the way across a massive country and back during a somewhat short two week trip.

We ventured all the way up to the Ningaloo Reef in Australia’s northwest corner, where we scheduled two whale shark excursions.  It was expensive, but I wanted to maximize my opportunities in what may be the only chance I’ll ever have to swim with them.  Ultimately, it turned out to be a lot of fun.  It’s also hard work.  Though they are “lazy” swimmers, it doesn’t take much effort for a whale shark to plow through the water at high speeds.  So I spent more time swimming hard to keep up with them than I did trying to take pictures.  Also, due to our timing (the coral spawn was taking place) the visibility in the water wasn’t great, so photos weren’t as good as I’d hoped.  Nonetheless, it was a real treat being in the water with these giants!

See more photos from our Australia adventures.


May 3: King Penguin

King Penguin

Another animal I wasn’t sure I’d ever see was the King penguin.  What I consider to be the most beautiful of the penguins is typically found on islands in the extreme southern parts of the globe, notably South Georgia and the Falklands.  These destinations have become extremely popular among wildlife photographers in recent years, but due to their remote location they’re pretty expensive to reach.  Spending as much as five figures to photograph colonies of birds isn’t high on my personal wish list, so I didn’t think I’d be seeing King penguins any time soon.

As it turns out, there’s one tiny colony of these handsome birds much closer to the South American mainland… right near the area I was visiting in May for my puma excursion.  Historically, Kings were found along the southern tip of Chile, but were hunted out a couple thousand years ago.  Just in the last decade, they started returning to one small windswept inlet on an island not far from Punta Arenas.  So I scheduled a day trip out to see them.  The location wasn’t great.  The nesting grounds are fenced off (understandably), and it’s in the midst of some largely unattractive ranch land, but the penguins were there!  With a bit of sunshine and occasional sight lines that worked out well enough, I was able to photograph some of the adult penguins in something of a unique environment.  I didn’t think I’d be seeing this species in the midst of rolling grassland, but it sure made for a different type of penguin photo.

See more photos of King penguins and other Chilean wildlife.


May 28: Great Gray Owl

Great gray owl

I sort of figured my spring Yellowstone trip would be a slight letdown after the four amazing trips in the three months or so preceding it.  Still, there were some nice moments.  One of the most rewarding occurred away from the road, somewhere I don’t venture nearly enough when I’m in the park.  In this case, there had been a fair amount of Great gray owl activity reported prior to my arrival in Yellowstone, and I already had some luck finding owls during this trip.  Hunting for owls back in the woods is one of my favorite activities, though it’s not without risk.  During another owling excursion two days before this, I ran into a grizzly bear while I was walking around on my own.

This time, I was with some friends, who had gone in and found one of the Great grays before I arrived.  We were all lined up, waiting patiently for the napping bird to perk up, and perhaps start hunting.  After a long wait it finally did move, and thankfully, chose to fly to a closer, clearer perch.  This allowed most of the photographers present to nail a few landing shots.  It was my best “GGO” shoot in several years, but not the last or best of the year, as it turns out…


May 28: Common Raven

Common raven

Yes, this was the same day, and in fact I took this photo only a couple hours after the owl encounter.  I was returning northward, driving through Hayden Valley, when I spied a pair of ravens perched on a berm above the road.  I enjoy photographing ravens.  They’re intelligent, quirky and their plumage is quite beautiful in the right light.  Because this pair was perched nearly at eye level, I thought I might be able to get some unique images shooting at such a low angle.  A sprinkle of late spring wildflowers added a nice touch!

Read a piece I wrote last year about ravens and see more photos.


July 13: Stilt and Heron

Black-Winged Stilt

My first stop in South Africa was Zimanga Game Reserve.  I was visiting Zimanga to scout for future tours, and I wanted to check out the innovative photographic hides they’ve built.  The hide I visited on my very first afternoon of exploration was the Lagoon Hide, a two sided tunnel-like bunker flanked by water on both sides.  It didn’t take long for things to get interesting in the hide, as several different birds made an appearance.  Shooting through one way glass meant there were some limitations in place, but several shots came out well enough while photographing from this low perspective.

Among the highlights was the appearance of a Goliath heron, the world’s tallest heron species.  As it and other waders patrolled the lagoon, there were a few moments in which I was able to get multiple species in the frame.  In this case, a beautiful Black-winged stilt provides a nice foreground subject and a sense of scale.  You can see just how huge that heron is!

This wasn’t the only interesting moment provided by the Goliath heron, by the way.  You’ll have to wait for my Best Of list to see more.

See more photos of birds from my Africa trip.


July 14: 21st Century Rhino

Hornless rhino

Zimanga has several hides.  One of these is an overnight hide.  Yes, I actually spent the night inside this bunker, hidden behind one way glass at a watering hole.  There were floodlights I could switch on and off to provide different levels of lighting, and motion sensors that would beep to wake me up if any wildlife approached in the middle of the night.  It was a pretty cool experience, even though this particular evening was rather quiet.  I did have some visitors, including warthogs, birds and cape buffalo.  And rhinos.

Unfortunately, as you can see, the rhinos at Zimanga are missing a key feature: their horns.  This is becoming the common look for rhinos found in many private reserves.  The horns are being removed by property owners as a preemptive strike against poachers.  Providing horn maintenance is the only way to keep these animals alive!  It’s a sad commentary on the current wildlife management climate in Africa at the moment, as poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking for traditional Eastern medicine continues to wreak havoc for numerous species across the continent (including rhino, elephant and even the small and highly elusive pangolin… I hope to see one before they’re hunted to extinction).


July 30: Giraffe Sunrise

Giraffe Sunrise

A classic, and perhaps clichéd scene from Africa, but it was one I hoped to capture for many years.  I could never manage to get a giraffe in the right spot, or find a decent sunrise or sunset to pair with one.  It finally happened during my 2016 South Africa tour, as we were leaving our last camp on our way out of Kruger National Park.

See more wildlife photos from my 2016 Africa trip.


September 14: Spirit Bear

Spirit bear

The second of my Great Bear Rainforest photo tours was supposed to be bear-centric.  Many of my clients specifically came on the trip to see and photographic the rare and beautiful spirit bear, which is only found in this small part of British Columbia.  The week prior, my first group (participating in a “non-bear” trip) had been fortunate enough to see a spirit bear twice, so I was feeling pretty good heading into Week Two.  But then the weather hit.  No, not bad weather… nice weather.

I’ve been in the Great Bear Rainforest when it’s been too wet, but I’ve also had stretches during which it’s been sunny for long stretches, which usually means it’s too hot for the bears.  They go into hiding, sticking to the deep shade of the rainforest, not emerging until darkness settles in.  This is not the best thing for a bear photo trip, but it’s what happened just as we arrived at our spirit bear spot.  But I have to tell you, my clients handled this development wonderfully.  They displayed such patience and stamina, waiting in a small Zodiac for hours in the hot sun, hoping the spirit bear would finally appear.  At the end of the first day, it didn’t emerge until we had departed in darkness, so we only glimpsed it from a distance while on the big boat.  On our next and final day, we once again camped out for hours.  Just as daylight was running out and I was beginning to worry we’d get no spirit bear photos, it finally appeared and proceeded to clamber up and down over logs and boulders, searching for salmon carcasses.  It ended up being one of the best spirit bear encounters I’ve ever had, and it was really gratifying to see my clients rewarded for their patience.

See more bear photos from the Great Bear Rainforest.


September 30: Keishawn and Azeem

Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor

Due to my prolonged adventures in Canada, I missed out on the first three games of the Husky football season.  So I was eager to get back onto the sidelines at Husky Stadium, and returned home in time to photograph the big game against Stanford University.  Both Stanford and UW were ranked in the top ten, so this was a huge matchup, and would finally show everyone whether the Huskies could live up to the massive hype attached to them this season.

The weather was quite nice, and the sun began to set over the rim of the stadium just prior to kickoff.  I captured this quiet pregame moment between best friends and linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor in some pretty light.

Oh, and the Huskies blew out the Cardinal 44-6 to jump start what would end up being a very special season.

See more photos from this game.


More from 2016 in Review

Here are more articles and photos from my look back at 2016:

The Best 2016 Images from My Peers

The Best in Literature and Entertainment from 2016

Purchase my 2016 Photo Yearbook

Check back January 10th for my Best of 2016 selections!

PHOTO/16: My Year in Photos

If you want to see more from my wild year in travel and photography, I’ve published a magazine featuring photos from all of my trips, as well as my Best of 2016 images.  The magazine is 64 pages, and contains loads of photos, some of my favorite articles from the year and more.  It’s available for sale in both print and digital versions.

PHOTO/16 cover


Purchase PHOTO/16, my year in photography, here.


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