Top 10 of 2021

Published: 12/31/2021

Another year! It was our first full year in Wyoming and I think I took pretty good advantage. I revisited a number of spots in the Snowy Range that I had enjoyed in 2020 with some good success, made it up to Grand Teton NP for a week, explored more local areas, and got out a *ton* with the dog. The latter isn't great for photography but did put a number of spots on my radar for 2022. I also had the honor of getting another image featured in the Audubon Top 100.

I spent much more time this year working on astro and landscape photography and generally just camping and hiking. These weren't always fruitful outings, and I made a lot of 'noobie' mistakes, but it was nice to start to learn a new skill, especially in such a landscape-rich part of the country. Still, I did have some amazing wildlife encounters. So, without further ado....number 10....

10. Vesper sparrow

It was a buggy summer! I made a habit of taking the puppy swimming down by a local lake and bringing my camera juuusttt in case. We get a fair number of migrants around these lakes, but they can be tough to photograph with the bugs swarming your face! This Vesper sparrow seemed unbothered by this mob, and made for one of my more unique photos this year.

9. Greater sage-grouse 

One of Wyoming's most charismatic birds -- the Greater sage-grouse. These birds are beautiful, unique, and unfortunately in a lot of conservation trouble. It was awesome to see a group of them lek, making some of the weirdest sounds you could imagine. It's a great experience. The light was pretty difficult that morning, but I really liked the side-lighting in this frame. I hope to photograph this species more in 2022 for a couple of designated days during the lek (weather and covid permitting!).

8. Sharp-shinned hawk

Being located in WY, I have a pretty good abundance of public land to explore. Whether you'll see anything out there (especially in winter) is a different story, but it's still great to have so many amazing options. However, this image really takes it a step further, having been taken in my backyard, and in my pajamas no less. This bird is a reasonably regular visitor in the backyard, and when I saw it perched with its head obstructed I didn't anticipate much luck. When I saw some close-up images of its tail though, I thought they were pretty cool! Indeed, it's such a defining feature of this species (versus a Cooper's hawk).

7. Pronghorn in Spring

It felt like we went from winter to spring overnight. Suddenly, there were these beautiful wildflowers popping up everywhere and the race was on to find some wildlife. Pronghorn are usually reasonably obliging, and this one stopped in the perfect spot.

6. Rough-legged hawk

These raptors are one of my favorite winter visitors. In fact, they're one of the only birds I regularly see in our area in winter. But if you could only have one....this is a pretty cool bird to see frequently. For me, this image is really about the background. I love the soft tones from the prairie to the mountains to the sky. I'm hoping to pick up some more images of this species in 2022, they're such cool birds.

5. Sunset on ice

My last image of 2021 -- by Thanksgiving all of the lakes had frozen over into pretty much solid sheets of ice. One lake, in particular, had this really cool jagged ice which I thought would look great for a wide-angle sunset shot. I always have it in my head that these shots will be pretty straightforward -- get there, slap the camera on the tripod, take 5-6 shots to get focus throughout the whole frame, done. It never really pans out quite like that. This day was particularly windy and with the recent snow, I kept getting ice sticking to my lens and freezing my tripod. You can see some of the blowing snow giving a kind of 'misty' appearance in the background of this image. 

4. American Badger

Finally! I had been wanting to photograph a badger since we moved to WY but I always had some challenge pop up -- heat shimmer, a dog barking and flushing them away, and generally just not finding them. One day driving around a local wildlife refuge put it all together. It was such a pleasure to find and photograph this badger in such a nice spring setting after a light rain.

3. Milky Way over Twin Mountain

We spent a lot of time hiking and camping in this area and I'm generally pretty obsessed with the mountain pictured on the left -- Twin Mountain. I think I've imaged the Milky Way over it about ten times from different locations and settings. This ended up being my favorite of the year. I have some cool ideas for next season as well, just hope there isn't a fire ban; I spent quite a few cold and dark nights out this summer!

2. Dusky grouse portrait

Dusky grouse are probably my favorite birds in Wyoming. Grouse in general are just so weird but the fearlessness duskies have when they encounter people separate them from the rest. I've run into groups of them quite a bit now in the mountains and have a good sense of generally where they'll be, so when I saw a mountain drive in Grand Teton NP I figured I would have a good chance of finding them. Just about at the top, I found a group of four on the road. This bird was in the shade but against a sunlit fall background. I love how this light looks in images and loved how the orange brow matched the background here. 

1. Black wolf portrait

A pretty easy number one here -- after all it's pretty hard to top a black wolf sighting much less close enough for a portrait. My first morning in Grand Teton NP, I was driving around looking for really anything and mostly just trying to get a lay of the park when I saw...something on the side of the road. I knew what it was, but it was like a glitch, surely it's a big coyote or a weird dog or something? I pulled over and grabbed a couple of shots before the wolf howled and trotted away. I texted my wife a shot from the back of my camera: "this is a wolf right??". This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime encounter and one I won't forget anytime soon. Just awesome.                                     

And that's a wrap! Another year in the books and a pretty good one at that. I'm hoping in 2022 to get out a bit more, especially in the Spring and Summer but all in all I'm pretty happy with the opportunities I had this year. It's hard to believe most of these images were taken within 20 minutes of my house, talk about lucky. In 2022 I'm hoping to get deeper into the National Forest and explore some more, and hopefully find some of the more elusive wildlife in the mountains. Still holding out for that bobcat or mountain lion (although I did hear a mountain lion kitten calling this summer!). 

Hope you have a great and healthy 2022!

  • No Comments