This Could be My Best Shot of 2012

I think I’ve made it clear that I can’t decide what was my “best” picture of the year or even my favorite picture of the year because so many factors play a part in making that decision.

However, if I were going to enter a single picture in a photo contest, I think it would be this one of a male Red-Breasted Merganser taking off.

Red-Breasted Merganser taking off

A male Red-Breasted Merganser in full breeding colors is, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular ducks. The shot captures an explosive moment. Even in full sunshine with an extremely fast shutter speed, parts of the picture are blurred — suggesting the actual speed of its takeoff. In reality, the bird wasn’t nearly a clear as this picture is. I suspect that if I were making an 8×10 or larger I would leave more space to the right instead of framing it the way I did, but this seems well framed to me. Finally, I love like the colors in the picture

My Personal Bird of the Year

It may sound weird to someone who doesn’t bird, but at times it almost seems that there is an affinity between me and a particular species. Just before I started birding a local newspaper reported on local birds and stated Belted Kingfishers were often seen in Pt Defiance Park, the place where I went on most of my walks before I took up birding. I couldn’t believe it. I’d spent most of my life in the Puget Sound area, and I’d never seen a Belted Kingfisher. Strangely enough, the next time I walked the five-mile loop at Nisqually I say a Belted Kingfisher. Right after that, I saw another at the Boathouse a few blocks from my house. Later that year I started walking Belfair and it was rare that I didn’t see a Belted Kingfisher.

In 2011 I suddenly started seeing Western Grebes, a bird I only occasionally had seen on the Puget Sound, everywhere I went. The biggest thrill of 2011 was seeing a a Western Grebe carrying babies on her back. It wasn’t the same this year, but I was still excited to see this mother feeding her two chicks this year when I went back to Malheur.

Western Grebe with Chicks

However, the bird-of-the-year in 2012 would have to be the Pigeon Guillemot. I’ve seen quite a few of them over the last few years, but usually at quite a distance. This year I saw them regularly on the Puget Sound and at Westport. I could have sworn this one was actually trying to talk to me when it swam up to the dock where I was shooting.

 Pigeon Guillemot.

I managed to get so many great shots this year that I ended up deleting nearly all the photographs of them from previous years.

I’m not sure either of these is my best shot of the year, but are both quite special and aren’t likely to be forgotten soon.

My Photographs Have Been Improving

Part of the joy of bird photography is the challenge of getting a better shot than one you’ve gotten previously. When I look back on the shots I got when I started birding, I’m amazed at how much better my shots have gotten. Part of that improvement comes from understanding the birds better, but a significant part comes from owning better equipment. No matter how good of birder you are, you’re rarely going to match the shots of those who have top-of-the-line cameras and telephoto lenses with a point-and-shoot camera.

But even with the best of equipment the element of chance always plays a part in determining how good of shots you get. You have to be in the right place at the right time to get good shots. This year I managed to get three shots I’ve been trying to get for several years now.

I first saw a picture of an American Avocet in breeding colors nearly four years ago while visiting a preserve in Eastern Washington. It wasn’t until March of this year that I ever saw an Avocet, and I never managed to get a shot of one in breeding colors. This one was shot in Malheur in late Spring.

American Avocet in breeding colors

I’m sure I’ll manage to get a better shot in time, but this strikes me as an awfully good photograph. I couldn’t have been happier at the time I got it.

I first saw an Eared Grebe at Malheur on my first visit to Malheur several years ago. But it was in the middle of a thunderstorm and the bird was barely recognizable. I got this shot in Northern California right after I got the shot of the Avocet at Malheur.

Eared Grebe

I can’t imagine I’ll ever get one that shows breeding colors better, though I still prefer shots of birds flying, not floating.

This is the best shot I ever got of a White-faced Ibis in breeding colors.

White-faced Ibis

Best of all, it was a slightly better shot than Leslie had gotten of one in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I like to keep up the illusion that I’m a better birder and photographer than Leslie, especially since I spend far more money and time on them.

Some of My Best Shots of the Year

After Mike accused me of being lazy for not posting and suggesting that if I’d run out of ideas that I sit down for 20 minutes and think about what I posted on this blog during the year, I decided to revert to an earlier strategy, looking through pictures I’ve posted this year and reposting the “best” of them. That ought to be easy enough, right?

In retrospect, it wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t even manage to pick the “best” in a single category, much less pick the best shot of the year. I’d forgotten how many images I post in a single year, particularly since I cut back on reading poetry. I suspect I couldn’t even define what I mean by “best.” It’s some amorphous category influenced by how I feel about where I took the picture, whether it’s the first picture I’ve ever gotten of a particular “bird,” whether it’s a bird I’ve spent years trying to track down, and, finally, by some aesthetic photographic principles (though I’m pretty sure I couldn’t articulate those principles, either). In the end, I was only able to narrow it down to 23 images.

Here’s my favorite landscape,

Grand Tetons

though I still think it needs to be seen on a 27” Cinema display to appreciate how special The Grand Tetons really are. I suspect that this is my favorite because this summer was the first time I’ve ever seen The Grand Tetons.

Pictures of flowers may have been the first photographs I ever posted on this blog; they’ve now become secondary but I still liked these two shots. This Photoshopped Calendula is a favorite,


because of its geometric shape. It suggests a mandala to me, and I’m fond of them.

However, the simple wild rose is almost invariably my favorite flower shot,

wild rose

especially in all it’s simplicity. If there’s an archetypal flower, this would get my vote.

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