Top 10 of 2018 - Alexander Becker

Top 10 of 2018

Published: 12/31/2018

Another year has come and gone (quickly I might add!), and I've been once again really thankful to have had a number of great photo opportunities. Between a number of productive trips -- New Zealand, Puffins in the UK, Yellowstone, and Acadia National Park -- and local PA and NJ birds like Hummingbirds and Harriers, I've been fortunate to get my fair share of encounters. I tried to stay busy too, even writing a short post processing tutorial for avian photography.

Last year I put together a Top 10 list, and actually had a lot of fun doing it, so I'm happy to do one for 2018. Wasting no #10...

10. Acadia Milky Way

I had been to Acadia a couple times and have always found it to be such a beautiful place, but I was really eager to do some star gazing and photography there as well. Spending the last weekend of summer up there camping was great, and surprisingly not as packed as you would imagine. I was lucky to get two nights of clear skies to explore the park. This one ended up being my favorite from the trip as I really liked the dark beach foreground. Mars (on the left) was really visible, as was some airglow, during this time  which added a lot. 

9. Backlit Piping Plover

I normally hate backlighting and lens flair, but when this piping plover walked up close to me with the 'wrong' light angle just as the sun was coming up I reconsidered. I love how the breaking wave in the background came together to give a pink and blue setting, and how golden everything suddenly got. I got some more 'traditional' plover shots that morning, but this one was quickly my favorite from the day.

8. Ruby Throated Hummingbird

After moving into a new place with a small backyard, I planted a number of flowers and set up a sugar water feeder in the hope of attracting some hummingbirds. After a couple weeks, we began to get a resident female who would visit multiple times a day. In this pic, I used one of the flowers she would frequent as well as two speed lights to freeze her motion. I loved the pose and the arc that the flower created around her.

7. Downy Woodpecker

I've wanted a nice vertical portrait of a woodpecker on a cool, mossy lichen perch for a while now. That alone doesn't sound too hard, but it requires 1) a woodpecker to be on a mossy perch with a good background, and significantly harder 2) me to remember to turn my camera vertically in time. I was happy when this one paused enough for both of those things to happen, and I was thrilled to have the angle just right so that I could see the tail feathers.

6. Fox Kit

As part of a further foray into trying to photograph some of the more elusive animals in the area, I've taken up DIY camera trapping using PIR sensors and lighting. In early 2018 I found an area that had a few active foxes and even a (very clearly) pregnant fox. By early spring the female fox seemed significantly smaller, and about 6 weeks later this young fox kit showed up on a common game trail. I love how big this kit's ears are and the lifted paw. The setting too is very typical of this summer with lots of green growth after the never ending rains.

5. Chickadee

In some ways I feel that chickadees are the hummingbird equivalent of songbirds, in that they are super cute, but also have such personalities. This one fell into the 'very bold' category, and flittered all over the place before picking the perfect spot on these burrs.

4. Black Skimmer

I love watching these summer regulars calling, splashing, and most importantly, skimming. It's amazing how big of a trail these birds can make when fishing and I was thrilled how well this photo captured that. The trailing feet didn't hurt either.     

3. Grey Ghost in the rain

One of my more unexpected encounters, I found this bird flying in a local field during a rainy low light Sunday. An often elusive bird for me as is, I've only ever seen a couple of males at a distance. I was surprised when this one didn't seem bothered by me and allowed a close enough approach for multiple shots, this one being my favorite. Maybe he just thought if I was dumb enough to go out in that rain I wasn't much of a threat! In contrast to the claws in the above Black Skimmer photo, you can definitely tell this is a bird of prey.

2. Calling Yellow Eyed Penguin

At about only 4,000 of these penguins left in the world, and classified as "Endangered" by the IUCN, this is probably the rarest animal I've seen or photographed. In some ways it would be better if there was a really dramatic story behind getting this image, but I pretty much just waited on a beach getting sunburnt for a day hoping to see one when this bird surprised me by waddling up close. I got a number of poses of this individual, but this one calling was by far my favorite. 

1. Puffin look back

After a conference in Glasgow and a week in the UK for work, I took a break and headed up Bempton Cliffs with my brother to see the gannets, and then off to Seahouses for puffins. I had previously been to the latter in July 2017, but it was such a cool place I wanted to go again. Plus, I had some shots in mind that I really wanted to get. The top shot on the list (and for 2018) was a puffin in flight looking back at the camera, with sand eels of course. This is a difficult shot to get as 1) these are just generally fast and erratic flyers, 2) you need the bird to fly slightly past you to get the full back details, and then 3) you need it to look back, aka you need to get completely lucky. I finally caught my break with this bird. I didn't know it at the time, but I was extra lucky as the rainy and windy conditions I had this day turned out to be a big storm, thereby cutting my trip short a day. It was well worth it to get this shot though.

All in all it was a great year. A number of these shots took a great deal of patience, planning, and frustration. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on who you are, a lot of those emotions were often shared by my parents, my brother, and Justine, so huge shout out to them. 

My main goal for 2019 is to get some grizzly bear shots in BC, as well as local warblers and hopefully some wintering owls up north. I would love a bobcat or grey fox shot, but perhaps a long shot.