2021: A Year in Review

As we head into 2022, I wanted to share with you all a recap of the incredible year of birding and photography I’ve had throughout 2021. This year was unlike any I’ve experienced prior, but I was sure to make the most of it with my friend and guide Nathan Goldberg of Red Hill Birding. Due to the Coronavirus, I decided to not travel internationally in 2021, and do really miss the tropics and all the wonderful birds they have to offer. That being said, we decided to make the most of what we were given and Nathan put together some absolutely outstanding trips to the far reaches of the United States, and we were able to photograph some truly wonderful birds this year.

White Ibises flying above Cape May, New Jersey.

In 2021, I was fortunate to travel to a wide variety of new sites, including Sax Zim Bog in early June for breeding warblers and Great Gray Owls. Afterward, I headed up to Alaska for an incredible tour of Anchorage, Nome, and Dutch Harbor where I photographed many northern specialties and breeders including Bluethroats, Arctic Terns, Whiskered Auklets, and more.

Left: Bald Eagle in Dutch Harbor, Alaska | Right: American Dipper in Nome, Alaska

Following my Alaska trip, I came home to Chicago for the summer, then headed east to Cape May, New Jersey for fall migration – where I was able to enjoy the coast and the multitude of migrant birds passing through on their way to the tropics. Returning home for a month, Nathan and I headed back out but this time to the west coast, where we spent over a week shooting in California – more specifically Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay, Pinnacles National Park, and Big Sur. The subjects were plentiful, and I came home with hundreds of great images to share with you. In between many of these trips, Nathan and I also birded locally in the Chicagoland area – shooting at LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve in the spring, and Rainbow Beach on the south side in the fall. Both sites see fewer visitors than my favorite Chicago locale, the Magic Hedge at Montrose Point, but they absolutely are worth spending time at during migration as the birds are of equally high quality.

Left: Blue-winged Teal in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: House Wren in Cape May, New Jersey

Having been able to traverse the United States numerous times this year, it was a joy to be able to see many birds throughout different stages of their annual migrations. Nathan and I were able to see Black-and-White Warblers at LaBagh Woods in Chicago in the spring as they headed north and then caught up with them on their breeding grounds in Duluth, Minnesota a few weeks later. Similarly, we spotted breeding Cape May Warblers in Duluth as well that we then were able to see in September at Rainbow Beach in Chicago, as they made their way to the Neotropics for the winter.

Left: Baltimore Oriole in LaBagh Woods, Chicago | Right: Black-throated Green Warbler in Rainbow Beach, Chicago

Birds connect the landscape in ways we can hardly imagine, but the ability to see the variety of habitats they call home throughout the year is a treat that I would never have experienced had I not focused on travel strictly within the US this year. Beautiful landscapes, sunrises, and sunsets were plentiful this year at the many sites we covered – making for quite the experience day after day.

Left: Cape May, New Jersey (Photo by Nathan Goldberg) | Right: Duluth, Minnesota (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)
Left: Dutch Harbor, Alaska (Photo by Sulli Gibson) | Right: Half Moon Bay, California (Photo by Nathan Goldberg)

Please join me as I share with you a wide variety of my favorite images taken this year throughout the country. I’ve grouped the images not by location and trip, but by a common uniting factor between subjects – birds with food, raptors, warblers, birds in flight, etc. When given the chance, I always like to shoot birds with food as they make for truly wonderful, multi-dimensional subjects.

Left: Acorn Woodpecker in Pinnacles National Park, California | Right: American Robin
in LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve, Chicago
Left: Arctic Tern in Anchorage, Alaska | Right: Blue-headed Vireo in Cape May, New

Owls are also a favorite of mine, and this year I was able to track down these two majestic individuals.

Left: Great-horned Owl from LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve, Chicago | Right: Great Gray Owl from Sax Zim Bog in northern Minnesota.

The Great Gray Owl is the main specialty many people go seek in Sax Zim Bog (north of Duluth). While many go in the winter to see them, Nathan and I went in the summer and it was absolutely incredible

I absolutely love shooting hummingbirds, and make a point of it whenever the opportunity presents itself. This year I was able to spot some cooperative Anna’s Hummingbirds in both Big Sur and Monterey Bay, California.

Anna’s Hummingbirds shot in Big Sur and Monterey Bay, California

I also can’t forget Nathan’s absolutely stunning find in May this year of a Broad-billed Hummingbird at Chicago’s LaBagh Woods, a bird normally found in Mexico and the southwest US.

Broad-billed Hummingbird in Labagh Woods, Chicago

When shooting, I always make sure to let my guides know that many of my favorite shots are of a bird with its mouth open. Whether they’re singing, calling to one another, or just yawning – the action always makes for a dramatic image.

Left: Bluethroat singing in Nome, Alaska, one of the only places in North America they are
found | Right: A male Bobolink from Sax Zim Bog, northern Minnesota.
Left: These two Red-necked Grebes were calling to one another in Nome, Alaska this summer | Right: An incredibly vocal Clay-colored Sparrow singing near Duluth, Minnesota.

Bluebirds always make for wonderful subjects, as they often “pop” from the landscape with their bright colors.

Left: This male Indigo Bunting was photographed in spring at LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve in Chicago | Right: a Steller’s Jay from Half Moon Bay, California this fall.

Little birds with spunky attitudes especially make great subjects, and these two individuals were exactly that.

Left: Red-eyed Vireo I shot in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: Wrentit from Big Sur, California.

While they may be not as brightly colored as other birds, wrens make up some of my favorite birds in the world as their songs are truly a pleasure to hear when you’re out in the woods. On the left is a Carolina Wren, singing its heart out in Cape May, New Jersey, while on the right is a House Wren I shot in the Indiana Dunes in Indiana.

Left: Carolina Wren in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: House Wren in Indiana Dunes, Indiana

Besides birds with their mouths open, I am also always trying to capture birds in flight. I shot both of these birds in Dutch Harbor, Alaska this summer, with a Common Eider on the left and a Northern Fulmar on the right.

Common Eider and Northern Fulmar in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

These two birds are in high breeding plumage, and made for wonderful subjects.

Left: Tufted Puffin in Dutch Harbor | Right: Brown Pelican from Monterey Bay, California.

While big birds can make for wonderful subjects, warblers are really some of my favorite birds given their elaborate plumages and fast-moving behavior. I had the pleasure to shoot a variety of warbler species this year across the many states I traveled to, below are some of my favorites. 

Left: A male Townsend’s Warbler from Monterey Bay, California | Right: A male
Chestnut-sided Warbler from Sax Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota.
Left: A male Common Yellowthroat in Cape May | Right: Black-and-white Warbler in Sax Zim Bog

Berries and other fruit always helps add dimension to photos, so I was thrilled to capture this male Common Yellowthroat on the left in Cape May, New Jersey this fall. On the right, we have a Black-and-white Warbler from Sax Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota this summer.

Left: Tennessee Warbler | Right: Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Both in Duluth, Minnesota

Both breeding warblers in the North Woods, this Tennessee Warbler on the left and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler on the right were in gorgeous plumages this summer. These two were shot in the bogs north of Duluth, Minnesota.

Left: Blackpoll Warbler in its winter plumage photographed at Rainbow Beach, on Chicago’s
south side | Right: Ovenbird inquisitively checking Nathan and me out in the Sax Zim Bog
in Northern Minnesota.

Different from the eastern *Myrtle* Yellow-rumped Warbler, this is an *Audubon’s*
Yellow-rumped Warbler from the west, photographed in Monterey Bay, California. A
gorgeous adult male Golden-winged Warbler from Sax Zim Bog in Northern Minnesota is also spotted.

Left: Yellow-rumped Warbler in Monterey Bay, California | Right: Golden-winged Warbler in Sax Zim Bog

Transitioning from warblers, I also quite enjoy shooting birds of prey – and fortunately throughout my travels this year, Nathan and I ran into plenty of wonderful subjects.

Left: An immature Peregrine Falcon migrating past Cape May, New Jersey | Right: Northern Harrier in Monterey Bay, California.
Left: A gorgeous adult Red-shouldered Hawk | Right: An immature Red-tailed Hawk, both
in Monterey Bay, California.

Many birders consider shorebirds to be a challenging family to identify, but with the help of a good field guide and patience, they can reveal their intricate patterns and prove to be absolutely wonderful photography subjects.

Left: A calling Whimbrel coming into land | Right: Willet with something to eat, both taken
in Half Moon Bay, California.
Left: Sanderling stopping on its way north to its breeding grounds | Right: A female
Wilson’s Phalarope taking a bath, both shot in and near Duluth, Minnesota this spring.
Left: The localized Bristle-thighed Curlew in Nome, Alaska | Right: Snowy Plover in
Monterey Bay, California.

Though I did not travel to a state well-known for its wading birds this year (often Florida or Texas are the hotspots for them), I did get some wonderful opportunities to photograph herons and egrets this year.

Left: Great Egret in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: Great Blue Heron in Monterey Bay, California.
Left: An adult Tricolored Heron in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: Snowy Egret in Monterey Bay, California.

Finally, while the prior images all fell nicely in various categories, I did capture some images this year that I wanted to share, even though I could not easily categorize them. They represent often hard to find birds, challenging subjects, or in some cases, an image that spoke to me that I wanted to share with you all.

Left: Canyon Wren in Pinnacles National Park | Right: American Dipper in Big Sur, California.
Left: The immensely skulky Clapper Rail in Cape May, New Jersey | Right: A stunning adult male Lapland Longspur on its breeding territory in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Last but not least – I wanted to leave you all with this Heerman’s Gull I shot in Monterey Bay, California this fall. I couldn’t have asked for a better pose, as it’s both in flight and with its mouth open – two of my favorite behaviors to capture.

Heerman’s Gull in Monterey Bay, California

While 2021 was full of ups and downs for many, birds and nature always bring me comfort. Viewing these images over and over brings me joy, which I hope you feel as well, and I look forward to capturing more images in 2022 to share with you all. Thank you for joining me on this year in review!