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Best of 2023

12/31/2023


2023 was a bit of a rollercoaster of a year. Never have I got out to bird so little in my home state. Never have I travelled as extensively.


It was an exceedingly good year for rarities in the state; yet I put in zero effort to see most of them. I did manage to bookend my year with new state birds: Mountain Bluebird and Vermilion Flycatcher. As many Limpkin as frequented the state this year, I should have stumbled across one on accident. Maybe next year. Rumor is that a pair are wintering in the state. I just need to make an effort.


I have been much more fortunate with travel, this year. I started with a trip to Kansas, of all places. I had long wanted to photograph prairie chickens, and this trip gave me an opportunity to photograph both species from a blind. Next up was a trip to Alaska. This was not a birding trip. Instead, Carmen and I visited Brooks Falls to shoot brown bear fishing for salmon at the falls. While it was not the trip we had hoped for, it was an amazing experience. I immediately followed this with a failed chase in Florida to see Large-billed Tern and LaSagra's Flycatcher. I missed both, but I at least got to spend some time with my brother. In August, Carmen and I headed back to South America for another trip to Ecuador. Finally, I closed out the year with a new country, for me. Colombia. It was an amazing, all-out, photography trip.


Not surprisingly, my top photos from the year tend to lean a bit heavily on my travel. Below are my top 10 photos. This is followed by a collage of my favorite 48 (yeah, weird number, but it is what fits in the stencil I pulled together). Here are the top 10 in no particular order.


Mountain Bluebird

Newton Co., IN. This was a new state bird for me, and I was ecstatic that it perched up and posed so well. I could not chase this bird for a couple of days and was happy it waited until the weekend.


Brown Bear

Brooks Falls in Katmai NP, Alaska. This was a new national park for Carmen and I. The salmon had not shown up in force yet; so, action was a bit slow. It gave me a bit of time to play around with exposure, and I think this long-exposure shot turned out well.


Little Gull

Eagle Creek Park, Indianapolis, IN. This bird was all of 30 minutes from where I live, and yet I procrastinated chasing it. Happily, it waited for me. This beautiful adult was hanging with some Bonaparte's Gulls, but it was not fishing with them. Instead, it was flying laps along the edge of the shore. After looking at pictures, I was lucky enough to capture a shot that explained the bird's behavior. It was flycatching small insects.


Pronghorn

Western Kansas. Sure, I was there to photograph prairie chickens. Who is going to pass up an opportunity to photograph such beautiful animals as these, though? Not I. This pair walked steadily toward the blinds until the male became wary and bolted. The female followed quickly.


Lesser and Greater Prairie Chickens

Western Kansas. This pair did not like each other. It was personal. While displaying, they were constantly coming together and sparring. Here, the Lesser got the upper foot in battle.


Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan

Guango Lodge, Ecuador. It was a bit of a confusing and muddy hike to get to the location where this bird was supposed to be found. A banana feeder up on a nearby hillside. Shortly after we arrived, this bird showed up and danced in a nearby tree for a while.


LeConte's Sparrow

Beehunter Marsh, Linton, IN. I do not know what future name will be bestowed on this bird. It is one of my favorite species, and I hope it is a fitting name. Luckily, there are a number of them overwintering in the state, and I was able to make it down on a frigid November morning (well past when they would normally have left) for some photos. The backlighting on this bird worked out well; as it allowed the light to diffract through the droplets of water formed from the melting frost.


Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Rio Quijos Lodge, Ecuador. This is the orange subspecies of this bird. This is, by far, the best lighting I have ever had to shoot this bird. They were out feeding in the middle of the day on some berries.


Black-billed Mountain-Toucan

El Color de Mis Reves Glamping, Colombia. I was surprised I even pulled this off. The bird was calling and dancing about in a nearby tree. It was coming in, and I had setup to shoot it as it flew. I knew I would be too slow to catch it on launch and pre-focused on the hole where it was going. I think it worked out well.


Shining Sunbeam

Hacienda El Bosque, Colombia. Unlike most hummingbirds, the iridescent patch on this bird is not on the throat or head. It is on the rump, which poses a problem when trying to photograph the bird. One, shooting with the rump and the bird facing you is not something that happens often. Two, the wings usually cover the rump. The bird tends to throw its wings up when it first lands or when it is threatening another bird. This solved both the above problems, and I was happy to capture the bird well.


Which brings us to the collage. There are photos from every trip of the year, and a number from right here in Indiana. It even includes a shot from my only trip for night photography for the year, when I captured a lone perseid meteor. Photos are mostly chronological, and, as noted, they really lean on travel - especially Colombia. It is just a nice overview of my year.


2024 will hopefully see me out in my own state a bit more. I have joined a photography challenge to help push me on this front, and I will keep you up to date on how that goes. Travel will be more exciting and a bit less extensive. We will be starting with a trip to India for a birding and tigers tour. Carmen and I will then return to Alaska, where we will do a few days in Nome before heading up to Utqiagvik. I will be trying to track down better Eider shots, and Carmen is excited for the chance to see Polar Bears. This will leave a few days open toward the end of the year for a small trip somewhere.


We are very fortunate to travel, and we both enjoy it greatly. I am happy to have the opportunity to share a bit of our experiences here. Hopefully, you will continue to join in next year.


Happy New Year! And, as always...


Thanks for reading,

Mike




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