Danny's Favorites - 2016

I wanted to start a series that displays my 10 favorite images from each year, with a bit of background on how I got the shot (including camera settings) and why it is one of my favorites! These are not always technically perfect photos, but often have a meaningful personal experience that makes it a favorite.

In 2016 I was able to visit Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Ireland. 

For wildlife shots, I've provided a few basic tips for observing and photographing the species. I've posted alternative shots (when available) below my favorite so you can see some of the images I had to select from after shooting a given subject; you may enjoy those more than you do my favorite in a series! I hope this helps you if you're interested in observing or photographing these species and landscapes - and I hope you enjoy the shots!

- Danny

White-tailed Ptarmigan - Clear Creek County, Colorado

I shot a series of photos while volunteering for my friend Greg Wann (at the time a fellow Ph.D. student at Colorado State University) during a weekend of his field work on ptarmigan. His important work evaluated the impacts of weather & climate on White-tailed Ptarmigan and other alpine birds. As with many species of grouse, ptarmigan do not appear to mind close proximity to humans - several of these shots were taken as I sat still and birds approached me!

These shots were taken in late spring, and there were still patches of snow among the rocks, which enabled me to get shots showing the excellent camouflage of the spring molt. My favorite, however, was this shot of a female running across one of the few large patches of snow remaining. I love the high-key here that pulls all focus to the ptarmigan's shape.

*This photograph was selected for the Colorado Outdoors 2016 annual photography issue.

1/640 sec. @ f/7.1 (+1 2/3 EV), ISO 100, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

White-tailed Ptarmigan
Clear Creek County, Colorado

Squirrel Treefrog - Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

I hadn't even heard of this frog species before my friend James spotted this one on a cattail in Jefferson Parish, LA. James is a recent transplant to LA from WY. It took me several days to get used to spotting herps in dense swamplands, and James was instrumental in spotting wildlife during my brief visit. It often helps to have local friends when shooting wildlife in novel habitats!

Squirrel Treefrogs are fairly small (~1.5" as adults) and are found throughout much of the southeastern U.S. This individual stuck around long enough for me to swap out my 300mm lens for my 60mm macro, and quickly put on a ring-light flash to help with lighting since it was fairly dark due to heavy cloud cover.

1/100 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 400, 60mm (Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM with Yongnuo YN-14EX-C Macro Ring Lite flash on Canon 7D II)

Squirrel Treefrog
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

American Alligator - Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

I love crocodilians, but rarely get to visit areas where they are native. In my second trip to Louisiana ever, I was able to see several American Alligators. This individual was the only one I was able to get reasonably close to for photos, while maintaining a safe distance (by using a 300mm and staying back from the edge of the water). I like the angle of light in this image, and the depth-of-field that blurs the background - but not too much to lose some habitat detail.

Alligators can be found throughout wetlands in the southeastern U.S., and their populations have bounced back from the days when they were listed under the Endangered Species Act due to historical over-harvest. They were delisted in 1987 due to the success of conservation efforts.

1/125 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

American Alligator
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

Carolina (Green) Anole - Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana

Growing up, I always saw these in field guides and dreamed of getting to see one in person in the wild. It wasn't until 2016 when I was in Louisiana for a professional herpetologist's conference (for my real job) when I got to see them in the wild - it was so exciting to see!

This male Carolina Anole is displaying to me either to get me out of his territory or because he wants to mate with me... I hoped it was the former? I normally don't like getting close enough that I disrupt an animal's behavior, but sometimes with territorial lizards they respond from quite a distance away (this was shot with a 300mm).

1/640 sec. @ f/4, ISO 500, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

Green Anole (male displaying)
Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana

Eastern Collared Lizard - Randall County, Texas

This Eastern Collared Lizard was out basking in late summer in the Panhandle of Texas. 2016 was apparently a good year for collared lizards in the Great Plains, as I and several others have noted observing more individuals relative to previous recent years. I like this shot because the greens and blues of the background habitat are continued into the lizard in the foreground.

Collared lizards are often wary, but occasionally you run across one that appears to have no fear. I back off immediately at the first sign of disturbance, but this individual let me get close enough to shoot with my 10-20mm... the benefit here is showing the animal up close in its' habitat. 

1/320 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 100, 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM on Canon 7D II)

Eastern Collared Lizard
Randall County, Texas

Rook - County Clare, Ireland

Rooks are similar in size to American Crows, but have a much more robust beak. This shot was taken at the Cliffs of Moher, a popular tourist stop on the northwest coast. Corvids are quite smart and some species have been shown to use tools.

I really loved the colors of the Rook's feathers and the nice green background of grass that screams "Ireland". The late afternoon cloud cover helped bring out detail that likely would have been lost in bright, direct sunlight.

1/250 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 160, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

County Clare, Ireland

American Coots - Santa Cruz County, Arizona

American Coot hatchlings have bright head coloration, which is thought to attract the attention of the parents during feeding bouts. 

1/2000 sec. @ f/5.6 (+2/3 EV), ISO 800, 400mm (Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM on Canon 7D II)

American Coot feeding young
Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Double-crested Cormorant - Larimer County, Colorado

Death is an inevitable part of life - and a critical component of ecosystems. Life cannot occur without it, and I tried here to show that death can be beautiful. I could not tell how this cormorant met its' fate, but found this scene to be peaceful.

Here, I used my 10-20mm lens with a circular polarizing filter to cut the glare from the surface of the water, and to increase contrast in the clouds. I further processed this image in Lightroom to increase contrast in the sky, a bit beyond what was possible with just the polarizing filter on camera.

1/2000 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 800, 10mm (Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM on Canon 7D II). Graduated Filter tool in Adobe Lightroom to reduce exposure in sky.

Double-crested Cormorant mortality
Larmier County, Colorado

American Black Bear - Brewster County, Texas

I was on a field trip at the Southwest PARC conference in August, and was yapping about birds someone when the rest of the group caught up and asked us if we had seen the bear nearby. We hadn't of course, but I quickly walked in the direction where the bear was last observed. The juvenile bear saw me about the same time as I saw it, and I noticed it was heading in a direction that would put it in the open so I stayed put and waited. Luckily, as soon as it popped into the open area it plopped down on its' haunches and sniffed the air - enabling me to get a burst of shots off before it ambled back into cover.

1/100 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 640, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

Black Bear (juvenile)
Brewster County, Texas

Gila Monster - Pima County, Arizona

This was my first encounter in the wild with a Gila Monster. I had just been told by a friend in Tucson that the weather wasn't warm enough for Gila Monsters to be out (it was quite cool in April). However, as I drove back towards town from a birding hotspot, I saw the unmistakable form of a Gila Monster crossing the road ahead. We raced to encourage it off the road before another oncoming vehicle came by - they actually sped up to try to hit the lizard but I was able to encourage it off the road just in time! I don't usually like taking photos of animals disturbed by humans, but was not going to pass up this rare chance for a few quick shots before leaving... Just glad it wasn't flattened on the road!

(Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM on Canon 7D II). 

Gila Monster
Pima County, Arizona

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