I’ve done a “best of” selection at the end of previous years … but this year I’m opting for a favorites list. I didn’t realize there would be a disparity between the photos I consider my best technically versus those I hold close to my heart. There appears to be only a loose correlation between the merits of an image and my feelings about it. With that in mind, here’s my list of 2013 favorites, some of which do appear in earlier blog posts. I’ve included the stories behind these photos and why they were memorable for me this year.
HAPPY 2014, EVERYONE! WISHING YOU A SPECTACULAR YEAR AHEAD!
Snow Goose Blur
I met up with some California friends on Washington’s Fir Island in February. In the fall and winter Snow Geese predictably congregate here by the thousands, feeding and resting in agricultural fields. They migrate from Wrangel Island, north of Siberia, traveling with their mates for life, digging up potatoes and tubers, and then sporadically erupting into the air in choreographed takeoffs and turns. You might wait all afternoon before witnessing such an eruption. On this day, as the sun went down, we slowed our shutters in anticipation of one last flight, hoping to capture some pretty effects. The geese did not let us down. As they rose above the tree line in one last burst of flight, the ribbons of light, clouds, sunset and birds here formed my favorite texture of the evening.
Blog post: Studies in Ghost Geese
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
Friends of ours started and still run the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, now held in the breathtaking town of Boonville, California. At the end of each night’s performances, the fire dancers arrive. I over-exposed some of the flames here to get more light on the dancer. It’s fun to photograph this act because the conditions of light change with each dance move, depending on where the torches are held and how much they are illuminating. Almost every frame produces a different effect.
Gull Chick Colony
A very kind person, Louise, contacted me this summer to see if I’d be interested in photographing the gull colony growing up on a rooftop near her city loft. I couldn’t possibly turn down that opportunity — but I expected to be shooting at the full reach of my telephoto, to some distant building. I was surprised and delighted to find the gull chicks were traipsing about just below where we were sitting with our coffee. I count this among my best photographic experiences, first for the serendipitous invitation which I don’t take for granted … and second, because I’ve never been so close to a gull colony, observing the interactions between parent and child. This young Glaucous-winged Gull was yawning when I snapped the shot.
Blog post: Gull Chicks and Gateway Birds
Fishing Into a Mirror
This photo is purely sentimental, a celebration of home. On a long-overdue visit to the Bay Area, we stopped at Bodega Bay on a day when a huge number of White Pelicans and egrets were fishing the low tide. I’d forgotten how clear the light can be on the coast. When we lived in California, I spent countless hours with these birds, so when we rounded the bend and saw this welcoming committee, it was truly a happy homecoming.
Queen Anne White Out
I’d been waiting for a morning so foggy I could capture trees and structures, layered in opaqueness like Japanese paper cut art. That morning arrived and I realized I’d scouted a few locations that simply didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped in the viewfinder. Before the fog could lift, I drove to Queen Anne hill in Seattle, not far from where I live, and decided the disappearing row of street lamps would be just fine. Then, it was a matter of waiting for someone to walk into my frame. This is the only person who did. Next time, Hugh said I should bring someone in period costume to complete the mood.
I wrote about these Great Blue Herons in the context of rebuilding and renewal. They’d lost their rookery, up the ravine, to the marauding of a young Bald Eagle. I didn’t know the story when I photographed this heron, but I knew something was amiss for them to be building so late in the season. When I discovered they were beginning all over again in a new location, with new nests and new eggs, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the diligence so often prevalent in wild animals, qualities that can inspire my own choices if I let them.
Blog post: Great Blue Resilience
The Fog Roll
Another fog shot, this one from an area also on Queen Anne hill, during an uncommon blanket roll over Elliott Bay and Seattle. This was the first image I shot as I walked up to the bluff, thinking the spectators gave the photo interesting contrast. I shot a few frames of the fog alone, too, without the human interlopers, but I didn’t like those shots as well. This was the last episode of this rolling fog we had in 2013. It was a short-lived phenomenon, just a few days.
Along with the first time I saw the Snow Geese take flight, watching 10,000 or so crows come in to roost for the night was beyond description. I’m generally a verbal person so you know it’s a big deal if I’m at a loss for words — where “wow” is the term of choice for minutes on end. I don’t know how anyone can fail to be mesmerized by birds flocking in these numbers. I always, without exception, think of what it must have been like to see birds blacken the skies, as early settler accounts describe … literal miles of Passenger Pigeons, as one example. I wish it were still the natural norm.
Blog post: 10,000 Crows and Counting
Low Tide Boots
This photo was used for the cover of the annual report by Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency leading the cleanup of Puget Sound. We had weeks of super-low tides of the minus two variety. I stress a bit when photographing low tides at public beaches because I see people taking too many liberties with sea stars and other exposed marine creatures. It’s another situation where I feel my adrenaline rising and where I just don’t relish the prospect of having to confront the nature abusers. But, this little girl, with her father, treaded so gently on the tidelands, stooping to look in tide pools while leaving the animals alone. I loved the way her boots, with lady bugs, stood out so vividly against the muted natural tones of Puget Sound.
Father and Son
I shot this just days after the young Osprey fledged. I’ve been following several Osprey couples and their offspring since my first spring in Seattle, and this youngster grew up in the nesting platform closest to our apartment, at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. He was born with a sibling, photographed by just one local photographer as far as I know. But after the first week, none of us saw the second bird and are not sure what fate befell the baby.
Midway through the nesting season, the adult male seemed to disappear, at least part time. For a week or two, the female seemed to be fending off attention from other Ospreys who regularly landed in the nest but were clearly not her mate. There were some harmless scuffles, and I wasn’t sure where the chick would fit into those territorial discussions. A few of us observers took regular photos, trying to discern if, in fact, the original male was there or if she’d taken up with a new male. We never did figure it out definitively but I believe this is original male. He spent a lot of time with the fledgling, helping him land on the nearby railroad bridge and bringing him fish.
A post I wrote about their 2012 nesting and fledging season: Osprey – From Platform to Pairing to Fledging
On our way home from Grays Harbor Wildlife Refuge, photographing the spring shorebird migration for our Wildlife Conservation Stamp blog, we stopped at the Olympia waterfront for a walk. As darkness overcame us, we noticed communities of spiders in building frenzies under outdoor shelters with illumination. Many of them were backlit — as they spun their silks. I’ve never seen anything like it, both the quantity of spiders and the spooky lighting. I captured this photo as the spider hooked and pulled the thread with his claw.
When our dear Jackie kitty passed away, we took a short road trip to connect with coastal and oceanic nature. Before we left, a dear, ethereal friend of mine was insisting that butterflies, rainbows and feathers are all comforting signs when our loved ones pass away. They will find you, she said. On one hilly walk, we came upon this Mylitta crescent butterfly. She followed us down a trail and landed next to us. She was the only butterfly we saw in the vicinity and was so tolerant of our lenses, she never budged despite our many movements. She stayed still even as our shadows enveloped her, something that usually spooks butterflies. And she actually turned in the light to give us different poses. I remember saying to Hugh, okay, no matter what the inspiration here, I simply can’t away from this butterfly. So we didn’t. We stayed in her space and she in ours. Finally, we did have to leave so I thanked her and told her we were moving on. She started flapping, then moved to a plant a few feet behind us. Whatever that butterfly’s motivation, it was a touching moment to be in peaceful presence with a fellow being of different dimensions, at a time when we needed that connection most.
This is another shot, as many are, born of unexpected circumstances. We were photographing at Juanita Bay in Kirkland, across Lake Washington from Seattle, and we encountered a small group of Barn Swallow fledglings. I’d tried to photograph some Barn Swallow fledglings in a different location just days earlier, but my older E-3 camera was acting up. I couldn’t get an in-focus, sharp shot to save me. So, this time, I brought my micro four thirds camera and 50-200mm, deciding that manual focus was better than no focus. I saw this young bird perched on a branch over the lake and as I zoomed and focused, an adult landed next to the baby, creating this moment of communication. The adult had no food for the young one, despite the baby’s pleas. Later, however, another adult did arrive with an insect meal for the young one.
Hugh and I hiked down to the south beach of Discovery Park in Seattle, not realizing that the tide would be at zero that day. The confluence of muted light, clouds, the stillness of a huge tide pool, and the illuminated lighthouse and windows made for one of my favorite scenery shots all year.
Blog post: Low Tide Discoveries at Discovery Park
Waves of Seal
On the Oregon Coast, we came upon this harbor seal haul out area at Lincoln City. It was a pinniped party as power waves crashed against this sandbar, eventually swallowing it up to a point where the haul out disappeared until the next low tide. It was a pure joy watching the seals flow with the force of the water, sometimes succumbing to the push and gliding under the surf, and sometimes clustered together, buffeted by the water but holding their sandy ground.
Two spider favorites in 2013. When I posted this image on Flickr, one person said their first thought was that it was a gunshot hole in a window. I hadn’t considered that point of view but I appreciated the alternative interpretation. I saw this web, studded with gems of dew on an early morning walk. It was close to Halloween so the framing against the house behind in monochrome evoked the right mood for me. All of the webs that morning were glinting with diamond strands of dew.
Walking the Right of Way
My friend Elaine clued me into the location for this shot. We were photographing Ospreys and she scrambled up to the railroad bridge for a better view. This is an active rail line but a nearby drawbridge rises frequently during boating season, rendering the tracks inoperable during those times. Pigeons nest below and sometimes forage for scraps around the tracks. I saw this pigeon and immediately thought of the film The Station Agent — and walking the right of way.
Salmon Photo Bomb
I was hoping for this shot, so technically it’s not a photo bomb. I saw quite a few salmon jumping at the Ballard Locks, where boats pass from Puget Sound to the Ship Canal to Lake Washington. It’s also the location where I photograph salmon climbing the fish ladder on their way home to spawn. I pointed my lens in the direction of the kayakers, wondering if a salmon might leap into frame. He did, and here’s the shot.
I wrote about the white Wild Turkeys we saw while visiting Sacramento. They forage for greens in the many gardens of the area. My favorite shot of the flock was this one, where the turkey appears to be studying the home security sign, maybe contemplating the wisdom of eating plants on this particular lawn. What would life be if we couldn’t amuse ourselves with our own interpretations?
Blog post: The Legend of the White Gallapavo