Saturday, 31 December 2016

Top ten from 2016

In 2015 I saved 764 photographs, that is to say I thought that they were decent enough to keep and do something with. I dread to think what pitiful percentage of the overall number taken that is, but this is entirely normal and 2014 saw a similar number of keepers. Looking back on 2016 I already knew that this was far from a vintage year, but I was surprised to only have 369 in my "best of" folder. In old money that's barely ten rolls of film. I am at a loss to explain what has happened, after all it is not as if I have been out birding much is it? But there you have it, a low total, but on the plus side one that should be easy to surpass in 2017. It has also made it a lot easier to sift out a small selection of favourites, which are shown below, each with a teensy little bit of a story as I do so like typing.

Finsch's Wheatear in the rain, taken in Cyprus in January - a very short visit targeting this species during the few short months that it spends wintering in the mountains here. I think we only saw one bird during the entire trip, admittedly at one of the regular sites, but it was far more difficult than I had anticipated and when Andrew M and I found the bird it then proceeded to give us the run around. This is a reasonable crop, using the 800mm lens, a 1.4x converter, a monopod and somehow getting something tolerable at 1/200th of a second. Like I said, hard work.

I can scarcely believe that this is a real bird, but it truly was as bright in real life as it is here - I have done nothing to it. It is a Vermilion Flycatcher taken in Arizona in February. I was actually twitching a rare Mexican thrush, and then this super little thing popped up right in front of me. It was the first I had ever seen and to get views like this was extremely fortunate.

This is the church at St Julian's on Malta. I spent a long weekend here in April on a non-birding trip - pretty sure I didn't even pack binoculars. I had researched this location and got up before sunrise to be there. In retrospect I think I needed to be there at Sunset, but I had other plans for the evening and so did not make it back. This was quite a long exposure on a tripod, and using a couple of warming filters.

Shaun and I 'walked 'this  Ptarmigan in May in Iceland. That is to say we took a few steps forward, took a few shots, took a few more steps, took some more, and gradually got closer and closer whilst our photos (presumably) got better and better. This is one of the last ones I took before the bird flew off, and I really like the pose. And look at those legs! Handheld using the 500mm and converter, my absolute favourite birding lens.

Slavonian Grebe in Iceland from the same trip as the Ptarmigan. We received some much-needed gen from a passing birder about a lake close to the main road where you could get good views of this species. Having had a tough day in the field we were delighted to find a narrow strip of water with a pair of birds on it that really didn't seem to mind us too much. We approached as close as we felt we could during their frequent lengthy dives, lying prone on the bank, and eventually they swam right past us and out into a wider bit of water. By then we had what we wanted so we left them to it, chuffed with this great end to the day.

Black Skimmer chick in NY in July. I spent a weekend on Nickerson Beach on Long Island hoping to catch this species at a large colony. Overall the weather was against me - windy, overcast and stormy, but generally with patience something will come up and you'll be able to grab a few.  It wouldn't hurt to go back though. This photo is notable for being taken with a broken hand supporting the lens - I snapped my metacarpal three days before leaving. I'm not sure this was quite what the doctor ordered but I survived.

 When people think of Shetland (especially in October), blue skies and still water are probably not top of the list of conditions, and it is certainly true that other types of weather do exist, but this was a simply beautiful morning on North Mavine as we headed up towards Eshaness. 16mm lens on a 1.3 crop sensor, so about 21mm. You get a lot in with something this wide.

This is a Black-chinned Hummingbird taken in the Rio Grande Valley in October. I wish I had stopped down a bit more to get the tail in focus, but apart from that I am pretty pleased with how this came out, especially when you consider how tiny these birds are. Having had a quick drink at one of the many nectar feeders around the visitor centre at Bensten State Park, the bird then basked on a thin twig in the early morning sunshine for a while - time enough for me to lock on and take half a dozen shots.

Green Bee-eater in the UAE. At the north end of Fujairah Beach there is an industrial complex, and running alongside this is a rancid stream. With only stray dogs, mosquitos and litter for company, you would struggle to see the attraction, but it is just excellent for birds, and I made a bee-line for this lovely place as soon as I arrived on the coast. It did not disappoint. This is amother image notable for being taken whilst incapacitated. The day before I had sprained my ankle, and although I did not know it at the time, various ligaments were in shreds which is why I had to balance on one leg to take this...

Played for and got, a Hume's Wheatear on a rock in the UAE. Underneath the rock is the bird's favoured perch, a wooden post, but it didn't seem to mind too much, and I removed the rock when I was done. I'd had this image in mind for over a year, so it was really pleasing to actually take it. Regrettably the Hooded Wheater wasn't around, so I will have to go back which is of course a real shame. 


  1. Malta and Slav Grebe are my two favourites amongst the photographic excellence.

  2. Best blog you've done all year ...

  3. Finch's ear & skimmer chick for me - but all are corking, as usual. Can we get some proper blurred & on the huh shots in 2017 please?