Danny's Favorites - 2017

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 2017 I was living in Colorado and was able to visit Kansas, Texas, Utah, and California. 

For wildlife shots, I try to provide a few basic tips for observing and photographing the species. For select shots I provide alternatives 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 these!

- Danny

Least Chipmunk - Huerfano County, Colorado

I shot this Least Chipmunk in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado while attending my friend Dale and Laura's wedding ceremony (just before the ceremony). The chipmunk was eating dandelions and largely ignored me during my slow approach. I wanted to ensure freezing the feeding action, so used a high shutter speed as I lay prone on the ground to get the low angle seen here.

Least Chipmunks can be found in many higher-elevation sites in Colorado. They can habituate to human presence fairly quickly, and thus photographing them near residences often means they allow closer approach. However, using a long-ish lens can help avoid causing them to flee.

1/2000 sec. @ f/4, ISO 160, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

Least Chipmunk
Huerfano County, Colorado

Common Gartersnake - Harvey County, Kansas

Common Gartersnakes are thought to be declining in the western extent of their geographic range, but I find them frequently still in the county where I grew up.

I found this juvenile up in a vascular plant about 15 cm off the ground, which was the first time I had observed a gartersnake of any species up off the ground! I was careful to approach the snake so that I wouldn't disturb it while documenting this behavior. The snake was in a riparian forest so the lighting was not great - hence the high ISO and low f-stop. 

1/400 sec. @ f/5, ISO 8000, 300mm (Canon 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

Common Gartersnake
Harvey County, Kansas

Mexican (Brazilian) Free-tailed Bats - Travis County, Texas

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)

Mexican Free-tailed Bats in flight
Travis County, Texas

Desert Horned Lizard - San Diego County, California

I spent several days during previous trips to southern California in search of a Desert Horned Lizard, with no luck. On my 3rd trip with extra days in the area, I decided rather than look for this species specifically I would just appreciate whatever I happened to see. Not trying apparently was the key, because I found 4 in one day! My good friend Kyla Garten was on the hunt for critters with me this day.

I've studied the Short-horned Lizard in Colorado for nearly two decades, and have never seen one use a rock for basking. However, I'd heard from friends who have studied Desert Horned Lizards that this species commonly is found basking on rocks. I spotted this one while driving - it was perched up on top of a rock taking in the last minutes of sun for the day. I was super pleased being able to approach closely enough for several shots first with my 300mm and then a 60mm macro. My favorite shot was this one with a larger f-stop that better shows the habitat. This is still probably one of my favorite photos of all time.

1/80 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100, 60mm (Canon EF 60mm f/2.8 USM on Canon 7D II)

Desert Horned Lizard (basking)
San Diego County, California

Long-eared Owl - Weld County Colorado

This Long-eared Owl was apparently a fledgling just out of a nest and learning to fly. I found it on the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado, several hundred yards from potential nest trees. I had watched a family of Long-eared Owls hunting together in northwestern Colorado years before this, but that observation was at dusk in very low light. This was my first sighting up close in daylight. I quickly took as many shots as I could get, with priority on getting portraits of the owl's face. I love the feather detail in this series. 

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

Common Raven - Grand County, Utah

I love how smart and entertaining corvids are, and ravens are no exception. This raven was calling to its mate nearby, and while the lighting was not ideal, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get a decent enough exposure to see some feather detail. Eastern Utah is a beautiful place with varied landscapes and wildlife adapted to the harsh desert. This was the last trip I took with a dear friend, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

I shot this at a fairly slow shutter speed, and bumped my f-stop a bit to gain more detail from the dark bird. Even while calling the raven wasn't moving too fast for a relatively slow shutter speed. 

1/350 sec. @ f/5.6 +0.3, ISO 100, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM on Canon 7D II)

Common Raven
Grand County, Utah

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Larimer County, Colorado

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are by far the most abundant hummingbirds in northern Colorado. I shot this series up the Poudre River basin at a friend's cabin, in the Rocky Mountains. This was really my first serious attempt to shoot hummingbirds in flight, and I shot a lot of photos that day while experimenting with settings. None of the compositions were particularly thrilling to me, but I was pleased with getting some shots in focus - largely thanks to the superb autofocus tracking system of the 7D II. I'll also always remember this late summer trip finding new love with an old friend. 

1/3200 sec. @ f/4, ISO 100, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L USM on Canon 7D II)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Larimer County, Colorado

American Red Squirrel (Chickaree) - Larimer County, Colorado

American Red Squirrels, also known as Chickarees, are a species of pine squirrel that can be found just about anywhere in North America where there are pine forests. They are voracious predators of pine nuts and woodpecker nestlings. They are known to lop off the top of the skull of baby woodpeckers and eat their brains. Seriously. Yes, they are cute, but I'm really glad I'm not a nestling woodpecker in this lifetime! 

I shot this guy in the Rocky Mountains near the Poudre River Canyon in northern Colorado. He was too busy feasting on fresh pine nuts to pay any attention to me.

1/800 sec. @ f/4.5, ISO 250, 300mm (Canon EF 300mm f/4L USM on Canon 7D II)

Red Squirrel (Chickaree)
Larimer County, Colorado

Yucca - San Diego County, California

I'm honestly not sure if this is a yucca or an agave - blame the "C" I got in Vascular Plant Taxonomy if you like. That's what I do. Looks like a yucca to me. Anyway, I shot this in southern California while hiking around the desert of San Diego County. I used my favorite landscape lens, a 10-20mm, here at 10mm and with a circular polarizing filter to really offset the contrast with the sky and skyline. If you know what species this is send me an e-mail! 

1/100 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 100, 10mm w/ circular polarizing filter (Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM on Canon 7D II)

Yucca in bloom, Colorado Desert, California.

Great Purple Hairstreak - San Diego County, Califorina

While driving my rental car from San Diego to El Centro, California, I randomly stopped along a pullout about half way between the mountains and the desert valley below. There I saw a HUGE hairstreak (hairstreaks are quite small butterflies) flitting about on some dry flowers next to the road cut. While I didn't know what species it was at the time, I was so excited and spent 20 minutes or so attempting to get decent shots of this beautiful butterfly. This is one of my favorite butterflies now, although I have seen one neither before nor since. I took shots with both a 300mm and my 60mm macro, but my favorite series came from the 60mm.

1/250 sec. @ f/5, +0.3 stop, ISO 100, 60mm (Canon EF 60mm f/2.8 USM on Canon 7D II)

Great Purple Hairstreak
San Diego County, California

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