2022: Year in Review

After a great 2021, it didn’t seem possible that 2022 could get better for my bird photography. With Covid restrictions continuing to be relaxed, travel became easier and I was able to take advantage of this to travel to many locations scattered across the United States throughout the year and as I became more comfortable with travel I even made my first international trip since the pandemic in October.

There were some big changes in my armory this year. I started the year off with my trusted Nikon D850 DSLR camera and continued to obtain superb results. By the time I ventured south to Texas in April I had made the leap to the mirrorless Nikon Z9 – the capabilities of this camera seem endless and with a 900-page manual, that gives you an idea of just how much this camera can do.

As I live in Chicago I have become somewhat used to the harsh winter conditions over the years so in January I went with my good friend and guide Steve Huggins to the Calumet region on the Southside of Chicago. Photography was tough in the frigid conditions but it was a good winter for Common Redpolls in the region and I was delighted to have the chance to shoot a few of these cute visitors from the north along with the more regular Bald Eagles, Downy Woodpeckers and winter Gulls.

Common Redpoll | Downy Woodpecker

In March I made my first trip of the year and what a great trip it was! Three weeks in the Hawaiian Islands, visiting each of the four main islands, Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. I was guided by another friend and guide Nathan Goldberg and he did a fantastic job finding and getting me in position to photograph many of the special endemic birds of the islands such as the Oma’o, Kauai Elepaio, Hawaiian Amakihi, Palila, Akiapola’au, Ae’o (Hawaiian Stilt) and the enigmatic star of the islands the stunning I’iwi. Many of the endemic birds on the Hawaiian Islands are endangered and can only be found in the higher elevation native forests where introduced mosquitos that carry avian malaria are not as prevalent as they are at warmer lower elevations.

Kauai Elepaio | Akiapola’au,
Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt | I’iwi

There are also many introduced species that now call the islands home, these include birds from all around the globe including Red-crested Cardinal, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Common Myna, Java Sparrow, Red-billed Leiothrix, Western Meadowlark and even a thriving population of Wild Junglefowl aka the bird we all know as a Chicken!

Red-crested Cardinal | Rose-ringed Parakeet

In late April I made the trip south to catch the spring migration of neotropic migrants as they arrived at the Texas hotspots of High Island. The birds here have just completed an overnight flight over the Gulf of Mexico and the wooded areas provide great opportunity to rest up before continuing their migration to the northernmost reaches of the continent. Warblers are always a highlight and I was able to photograph many species including Magnolia, Prairie, Swainson’s and Prothonotary Warblers. Many Tanagers. Grosbeaks, Vireo’s and Flycatchers are also present in good numbers too. Of course, the Texas coast is not just about the migrants though and it is a great place to observe and photograph many breeding species in the area such as Roseate Spoonbill, Least Tern, Seaside Sparrow, Clapper Rail, Royal Tern and Reddish Egret to name just a few.

Western Tanager | Summer Tanager

After a few days on the coast, we moved west to the Texas Hill Country near San Antonio. The area is best known for the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-Capped Vireo, both of which posed nicely for photographs. There are many other great species to photograph in the area too including Tropical Parula at the northernmost tip of their range, Painted Bunting, Scissor- tailed Flycatcher, Lark Sparrow, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Cactus Wren.

Black-Capped Vireo | Golden Cheeked Warbler
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher | Tropical Parula

With spring migration complete I then headed to a destination that was new to me – Montana, in June. The vast open plains and snow-topped mountains of America’s least densely populated state had some amazing avian delights and I had a wonderful time photographing them!

Highlights in the mountains included the American Dipper, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Evening Grosbeak, Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat and Steller’s Jay.

Stellar’s Jay

Down on the plains, many specialties were photographed including Thick-billed and Chestnut-
collared Longspurs, Long-billed Curlew, Eared Grebe, American Kestrel and Burrowing Owl.

Burrowing Owl

I was a little apprehensive about my trip to Arizona in July with daily temperatures near Tucson reaching over 100 degrees, however, photographing in the early morning turned out to be quite pleasant and then later in the afternoon we had daily monsoon rains roll through to cool things down a bit. That coupled with most of the birding sites being located at the higher elevations of Mount Lemmon or the Huachuca Mountain Range the weather and conditions turned out surprisingly pleasant and as always in Arizona, there were many species of bird to photograph.

Elf Owl

Some of my favorite birds photographed on this trip include the tiny Elf Owl, Elegant Trogon, Cassin’s Kingbird, Swainson’s Hawk, Yellow-breasted Chat, Five-striped Sparrow, and Greater Roadrunner.

Blue Jay | Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I didn’t take any trips in August and September but bird photography did not stop. I have a small pond set-up with running water between levels in my yard at home in north-western Indiana. I had great fun trying new techniques photographing the birds that came to the pond to bathe and drink. Common garden birds for the area were photographed including House Wren, Blue Jay, Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. There were also many southbound migrant birds that enjoyed the pond including Swainson’s Thrush, Bay-breasted Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Common Kingfisher | European Robin

In October, I traveled to the United Kingdom; a place I hadn’t been to for over 30 years and my first time photographing the birds of the country. My guide Steve Huggins grew up in England and he was the perfect guide to showcase the sites and birds of this beautiful country. In two weeks we traveled to the North Norfolk coast, Rhayder in mid-Wales, the counties of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire in the Midlands, and then to Devon and Dorset on the coast in the south of England. Birds photographed in the UK include Red Kite, European Robin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Bearded Reedling, Eurasian Blue Tit, Spotted Redshank, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

Velvet-purple Coronet | Gorgeted Sunangel

I rounded out the year by bringing in 2023 in Ecuador with my good friend Michael Parr from American Bird Conservancy (ABC). I photographed many fantastic birds including the Velvet-purple Coronet | and Gorgeted Sunangel. Here are a few standouts from the trip.