As 2015 winds down it’s traditional to take a look back and evaluate the year. For me, 2015 was a really strange year photographically, given that for about six months I literally did not take the cameras out of the bag — and yet when I did, I seemed to generate a good number of quality images, so even though I took no pictures between the start of February and July except for work, I still ended up with a number of images added to the collection only about 10% below my yearly normals, and of those, a fairly high percentage of good quality results.
So while I can complain about not being able to get out and shoot, but the end result is a pretty good year of images. I’ve been fighting my landscapes this year, not really feeling comfortable trying to take them and not particularly happy with the results, which seem blah and generic. I’ve been trying to break past that by exploring a bit into long exposure, or by stepping back and working more on documentary shooting around the refuges as a way to reboot my eye for the landscape, but so far, that lack of a comfort zone or any particular vision of what I want to shoot continues. On the other hand, I decided to refocus on the bird photography more and I’ve been very happy with the results overall. For now, I’m mostly just doing what seems interesting and not worrying about the results too much, but I hope to push past this in 2016 and get back to creating more interesting landscapes as well.
Gear wise, I made a few improvements to my gear: Upgraded from my venerable Canon 7D to a 7D Mark II, upgraded my Fuji gear to the 18-135 lens (replacing the 18-55 and 55-200), and finally pushing beyond 400mm by buying the Sigma 150-600, which I’m really learning to like a lot.
My final set of favorite images this year has 18 images, which are shown here in chronological order.
Bald Eagles Fighting for Territory
In January I did a weekend up at Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges and got great results. In this shot at Sacramento NWR, an adult Bald Eagle was hanging out when a juvenile flew in and tried to hunt what the adult clearly saw as its territory. An extended air battle ensued with the Juvenile ultimately ejected from the area and the Adult returning to its roost.
Bald Eagle on a Perch
And this is the Adult, hanging out on its preferred perch near one of the refuge ponds right next to the auto tour route.
White-Faced Ibis feeding
Same trip, but over at Colusa NWR, I found a White-Faced Ibis hunting, and here it succeeds in catching a crawfish for lunch.
Snow Geese Fighting
Also at Colusa NWR, a Snow Goose decided it didn’t like one of its neighbors, so it chased it and forced it to the other side of the pond with much squawking and splashing.
Here, an adult Snow Goose sits for a portrait.
Snow Goose in Flight
Another shot from the January trip, here’s a Snow Goose at Colusa NWR coming in for a landing. By the way, the orange on the face and the under-body is staining from algae in the ponds that the birds eat.
Shift a few months into September, and shift south to San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, where there’s a captive herd of Tule Elk that hangs out and enjoys not having predators nearby….
My mom passed away in June and so much of the summer was spent organizing and dealing with her estate, and in October I realized I was worn out physically and emotionally and needed a break, so I took a week off from work and drove up the Oregon coast to hide for a bit. While photography wasn’t a focus of the trip and the weather wasn’t really cooperative, it gave me a chance to experiment. In this case, I was playing with a new set of ND filters and exploring long exposure photography. This shot was late afternoon and ended up 25 seconds at F/16, and with some strong color enhancement in Lightroom. I’m really happy with the results and I’m finding I really like the look of the water blurring with these long exposures, so I expect you’ll see more of this from me in the future.
Bandon Sea Stack: Face in Rock
While in Bandon I went out for dinner and some photography with local friends and we ended up at the sea stacks at Bandon. As we were headed into blue light, the fog rolled in and things got really cold, grey and damp. This shot was one I took just before everything disappeared into the mists, and I find the combination of the structure of the rock with the encroaching fog gives this a surreal, unearthly look. Again this was long exposure with an ND, 60 seconds at F/11.
Common Loon with a fish
Off to one of my favorite places, Moss Landing Harbor, where a Common Loon got lucky and caught lunch, and I got lucky that it did so close enough for a good image. One of my favorite birds, this is a good location for them in the winter.
I know there are birders out there that can differentiate between short-billed and long-billed Dowitchers. I am no one of those birders, but I don’t care, honestly… This was from one of my first trips out to Merced National Wildlife Refuge for the winter birds.
Wilson’s Snipe Peek a Boo
Wilson’s Snipes are fun birds, because their patterns make them disappear into foliage and it’s easy to miss that they’re even there — I had a trip where I got some nice shots of two Snipes and felt really good at my finding them, only to go home and look at the photos and realize I’d captured four Snipes in the image and never even noticed them while shooting. This one was busy feeding along the shoreline, and seems to be playing peek a boo with me.
Red-Tailed Hawk on a Kill
Also at Merced NWR on the same trip, I came across this Red-Tailed Hawk on a kill, which at one point was a ground squirrel. By the time we got there he’d finished eating and was sitting on the kill digesting the first round, and while he was aware of us, he showed no sign of nervousness at our approach or stopping, giving us some extended time with him until another photographer blew in at high speed and started shooting away. That caught the bird’s attention and we decided to minimize the stress the other idiot was causing by pulling away and giving the bird some space (the etiquette problems here are legion, starting with stressing out a bird unecessarily and approaching a bird that another photographer was already shooting in a way likely to flush the bird away, and the dude had a lens indicating he really should have known better, but evidently just didn’t care either about my photography or the bird. Unfortunately, all too common these days…)
Another Merced winter visitor, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is a common winter bird around here, but it was nice to get a good shot of the bird as it was taking off from its perch along the water.
Ross’s Goose in Flight
The Ross’s Goose is the smaller cousin of the Snow Goose, and Merced National Wildlife Refuge is typically a good location to find them (although in 2015, it seems to have a much higher than typical percentage of Snow Geese, probably because of the drought). Here we have one flying in and getting ready to land in one of the ponds.
Ross’s Geese Landing
Here’s another shot of some Ross’s Geese flying in and preparing to land at Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
Snow Geese in Flight
A nice look at one of the geese flocks hanging out at Merced National Wildlife Refuge with a few thousand birds in the water, and a small phalanx coming in to join them.
I’ve really struggled to get good shots of Northern Harriers over time; their flight patterns aren’t predictable and so I’ve rarely gotten shots I’m happy with. Because of that, coming across one perching and hanging out on a sign made my day, even though it took me a few minutes to recognize which hawk it was giving me this opportunity.
And now, onward into 2016!