Well, you can’t end the year without a little reflection. My wildlife photography took a back seat to two things: the two wild critters in our home—Birk Anders, now 28 months, and new little Bjorn Nikolas born May 6th—and to HD Video.

To make the Top Ten 2010 the image had to have at least three of these characteristics of a great photo: Stunning light, great Bocah (background), interesting behavior, sharpness, perfect or unique composition, rare animal.

These may not be your choices…Nor would they necessarily be chosen by a magazine editor. But they are my favorites. Like parents, photographers can be quite biased to their own images…After all, we know the back story of each photo. Some photos become quite large in our minds because of the circumstances…Maybe we’d sat in a sweltering blind for four hours, or possibly it’s an image we’d been trying to capture for years.

In the coming weeks I will also post my Top Ten Birds, Top Ten Mammals, etc.

Here they are in no particular order.

A hard September frost is fairly unusual, so I escaped daddy duty for a couple hours to shoot whatever I found in our nearby WMA (Wildlife Management Area). I knew I had to work fast because the rising sun would soon melt the ice crystals. This dogwood leaf was perfectly rimmed with frost and I positioned the tripod so it would have a nice dark background with a stop or two of underexposure. I like it for its graphic simplicity.

Shooting wildlife with a 10-20mm lens? Crazy! But it works here. Yes, I was very close to this wild Black Bear, but it was at a bear feeding station called the Vince Shute Wild Bear Sanctuary. Bears wander in from miles around to feed on nuts, fruit, berries and seeds provided by the staff. It’s like a giant birdfeeding station for bears. They are more focused on each other and the food to worry about humans. The wide angle accentuates the shape of the limb and highlights the tenuous perch of the cub. It was a surprise favorite from a morning of shooting.

This made the Top Ten because it was simply an amazing experience. While stopping to photograph a flower, I discovered a family of Northern Hawk Owls, the three newly fledged youngsters begging food mercilessly from their parents. Mostly they were high up with gray-sky backgrounds, but this little guy—clutching tightly a dead vole his mommy or daddy brought—conveniently perched at eye level with lovely spring green Tamaracks for background.

A controversial pick to be sure. But I like the painterly quality of the final image created by super saturating in Photoshop. It was taken on a blaaaah gray day with blaaaah subjects. I slowed the shutter speed down to show the chaos of the fighting gulls. Lemons from lemonade shot.

On our trip to Teddy Roosevelt in October, Ryan and I spent quite a bit of time with the resident Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. My goal was to capture an image of their explosive warning call—they throw their head back and yip—and it only lasts a split second. Yes, I should have lit the dark side of the face with some fill flash but it is still one of my faves. These guys have real personality.

I picked this juvenile Parasitic Jaeger photo because it represents a week of fun and fellowship on Wisconsin Point this fall. Jaegers are birds of the Arctic and are rather rare on Lake Superior; and when they are seen, they are usually far out on the water chasing gulls. This October several jaegers were putting on quite a show and birders came from all over MN and WI to witness the spectacle. This bird was thought by all of us to be a Pomarine Jaeger, an extremely rare species. But this image proved that it was indeed a juvenile Parasitic and not a Pomarine. I sent it to experts in America and Europe. Nevertheless it was great fun watching these acrobatic scavengers harass the gulls until they vomited up their last meal.

My wife’s parents live in northwest Illinois and we get down there a couple times each year. On this summer trip I wanted to visit some restored tallgrass prairies. This image was taken during the peak wildflower bloom from near ground level in order to accentuate the dramatic sky and the height of the forbs (some over six feet!). A 2-stop graduated ND filter held the sky in check but I also ran the image through Photomatix to create an HDR image. I like the slightly surreal look of this image.

I don’t know…I just like the symmetry of this Mule Deer portrait, the head-on view, and the huge rack. Plus it is memories of a great trip to Teddy Roosevelt National Park and stalking this guy over a few hills in the early morning of a beautiful fall day.

I’m glad I left a little space around this hunting Ermine (the winter form of the Short-tailed Weasel and Long-tailed Weasel)…I like the composition. Not that I thought about it as I quickly jumped out of the car when I saw this little guy, squeaking to catch his attention, laying belly-down on the snow-covered dirt road and frantically firing of frames. To me, it is always exciting to just run across a wild animal who is just busy being an animal…in this case hunting small rodents. I’d never photographed an Ermine before (nor the summer form) so it was a doubly exciting event.

A sentimental choice. I took hundreds (thousands?) of ‘kid pix’ this year, but this one means alot to me. It sums up the personality of Birk Anders…a little boy full of energy, character, curiosity, and wanderlust (not always a good thing in a two-year old!) but his enthusiasm about all things natural and his absorption of information keeps his old man young too. Birk and I have gone on many short trips to “look for animals.” This was at Hawk Ridge in Duluth.

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