We recently analyzed The National Audubon Society’s website because we love the design—the way it organizes mountains of information in an intuitive way, and most of all, the clear dedication to the protection of birds and wildlife. The world of birds is so weird and beautiful. (I might’ve spent much more time learning about birds than I should’ve). Here are some of my favorite shots and stories from the top 100 of their annual photography competition:
Photographer: Gail Bisson
Species: Barn Owl
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Story Behind the Shot: The light was perfect, but it was running out. With less than five minutes before the sun sank below the horizon, Bisson needed a bird—any bird. She got a Barn Owl, a species she’d never photographed, let alone in flight. Bisson barely kept her cool as she shot the owl hunting. When she saw this incredible photo on her camera’s LCD screen, however, any pretense of nonchalance went out the window. The whole encounter lasted only about 20 seconds, Bisson says, but it’s one she’ll never forget.
Photographer: Carolina Fraser
Species: Least Tern
Location: Cape Charles, VA
Story Behind the Shot: On a family trip to the Virginia coast, Fraser rose early and carried her camera to the beach in hopes of photographing one of the terns she suspected were in the area. She struck out the first day, so on day two she hiked farther along the beach until she saw diving specks in the distance. Inching closer to the action, she snapped this photo of a laser-focused Least Tern diving for a fish.
Photographer: Cindy Goeddel
Species: Sandhill Crane
Location: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM
Story Behind the Shot: The Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico is a major migration corridor and overwintering site for Sandhill Cranes. One the most popular sites for birders is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, where resource managers plant corn and other grains to sustain thousands of cranes through winter. The graceful birds are a favorite subject for Goeddel, who photographed this trio in the middle of a winter day as they flew to nearby cornfields.
Photographer: Karl Bardon
Species: Common Goldeneye
Location: Canal Park, Duluth, MN
Story Behind the Shot: The shipping canal in Duluth only ices over during the coldest weather, making it a great spot to find overwintering Common Goldeneyes. Bardon, a local, regularly visits to photograph the striking ducks. On this subzero morning, just after sunrise, he found the birds clustered in the last remaining window of open water, with “sea smoke” rising in the air. Bardon caught this photo of a rowdy moment when the flock skittered across the water, sending spray into the frigid air.
Photographer: Khurram Khan
Species: Snowy Owl
Location: Island Beach State Park, Seaside Park, NJ
Story Behind the Shot: When Khan learned about the irruption of Snowy Owls in the Northeast in December 2017, he headed for Island Beach State Park, a barrier island off the New Jersey coast. At one end of the 10-mile-long ribbon of sand he spotted a Snowy hunkered down on the beach. Khan’s goal in composing this ethereal image was to convey the similarities between the beach and the bird’s home on the Arctic tundra; both have wide-open, treeless expanses where these hunters stalk prey.
Photographer: Marc Yankus
Species: Adélie Penguin
Location: Kinnes Cove, Antarctica
Story Behind the Shot: Yankus describes a Zodiac boat excursion along the coast of Kinnes Cove as “pure magic” and the highlight of a three-week tour of Antarctica. Adélie Penguins lined up on seaside rocks, taking turns diving into the ocean, while blue icebergs floated all around on the surface. But this was the scene that most captivated Yankus: thousands of Adélies moving about on a large glacier, like skiers on a mountainside—an image at once dynamic and elemental.
Photographer: Harry Colquhoun
Species: King Penguin
Location: St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island
Story Behind the Shot: Colquhoun could hear—and smell—the King Penguins of St. Andrews Bay before he and his shipmates disembarked on South Georgia Island. The birds blanketed the coast as far as he could see. Amid the masses, a single penguin slowly plodding over hills toward shore caught Colquhoun’s attention. It was surely heading out to sea to hunt for prey; if it evaded marine predators, it would then make the long journey back to feed its lone chick. The image, Colquhoun says, demonstrates this remote island’s harsh environment and the toughness required for penguins to survive.
Photographer: Joe Galkowski
Species: Western Screech-Owl
Location: Solano County, CA
Story Behind the Shot: When a friend told him she’d spotted a Western Screech-Owl a couple of hours’ drive from his California home, Galkowski was intrigued. He had never seen the species, so decided to look for it. He arrived early, found the owl’s tree cavity, and set up a tripod with his longest lens combo. Late in the morning the bird appeared, looked around for a moment, and then promptly went to sleep. Galkowski photographed the bird with its eyes open, but he was more excited by the sleepy behavior and ingenious camouflage highlighted here.
Photographer: Scott Suriano
Species: Roseate Spoonbill and Willets
Location: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL
Story Behind the Shot: A rather drab scene on Florida’s Sanibel Island got a lot more colorful when a Roseate Spoonbill landed among a group of Willets. As the sun set, Suriano was in the right place to photograph the spoonbill preening its cotton-candy feathers, which stand in almost cartoonish contrast to the muted tones of the surrounding shorebirds.