If you’re a keen bird photographer, then contests don’t come more inspirational and prestigious then the Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 competition. This year’s contest saw more than 22,000 submissions from 73 different countries as the competition celebrated its sixth year.
While the overall winners won’t be announced until September, we have been given a sneak peek at some of the select finalists in the competition and the standard is ridiculously high. For example, take this image by Mario Suarez Porras, which shows a Bar-tailed Godwit and was captured with a Canon 5D Mark III paired with a Canon 300mm lens. Mario commented; ‘This image shows a Bar-tailed Godwit, photographed in the late evening on my local beach at Gijón in northern Spain. Because it was really dark I was able to crawl towards the godwit without causing any disturbance. This beach is a good place for migrant shorebirds, particularly in autumn, and they always provide excellent photographic opportunities. The wet sand framing the godwit looks like it is on fire.’
This beautiful image of a Mallard Duck was captured by Zdeněk Jakl taken with a Nikon Z 6 paired with a Sigma 500mm lens. Zdeněk commented; ‘I took the photograph on a pond in a beautiful park in a quiet part of the city of Prague. As a family of Mallard ducklings swam past me, one of them began to chase a flying fly. It highlighted the fact that the instinct to feed is a powerful force even in the young, but of course the behaviour itself was comical from a human perspective. Regardless of how you view what’s going on, it certainly makes for an interesting photograph and a moment in time in a duckling’s life captured for posterity.’
Showing a clever use of flash lighting was this frame by Mark Williams, who captured this stunning frame of a Eurasian nuthatch using a Canon 5D Mark III paired with a 100-400mm and making use of Godox AD200 strobes. Mark commented; ‘This Nuthatch was photographed in my garden using rear-curtain flash synchronisation. I attract birds to my garden using feeders and peanuts are the food that Nuthatches cannot resist. The timing and method of capture were crucial to the success of this image. The initial exposure captured the movement of the bird while the flash, fired at the end of the exposure, freezes the bird in flight.’
Mark Sisson captured this breath-taking frame of a Southern rockhopper penguin using a Canon 1DX Mark II paired with a 100-400mm lens. Mark commented; ‘Southern Rockhopper Penguins are among the most resilient birds I have spent any time with and watching their exploits, as they return from fishing expeditions to take over nesting duties, is alarming and awe-inspiring in equal measure. On this particular evening at one of their colonies in the Falkland islands, I had tentatively made my way down cliffs whose ascent and descent the birds made look so easy, and awaited the returning birds. I knew that preening was always the first priority on reaching the safety of land and given the orientation of the site that a silhouette image might be possible. I stopped-down my aperture to help highlight the subtle lens flare on this bird as it stood on a rock. As the penguin bent over in the course of preening, it seemed as if he was bowing to the sun itself.
Øyvind Pedersen used a Nikon D500 paired with a 500mm f/4 lens to capture this image of an Atlantic puffin. Øyvind commented; ‘This photo was taken on the bird cliffs of Hornøya Island in Norway, back in April 2018. It shows two Puffins which started a brawl that continued down the snowy slope right in front of me. My goal for this trip was to try to get some images of fighting Puffins on snow and in that regard my quest was a success. I was really lucky and my patience and persistence paid off. These two Puffins battled for several minutes, with feathers and snow flying everywhere. It was a fantastic experience – for me, if not for the Puffins.’
Tzahi Finkelstein captured this image of a Great cormorant using a Nikon D500 paired with a Nikon 500mm f/4 lens and commented; ‘I took this photograph of a fishing cormorant on a lake that was a 30 minute drive from home. Due to Covid19 restrictions in 2020, I had a lot of time on my hands and I went to this spot almost every day. Eventually persistence paid off and I was able to get this close-up, detailed image. Although the lake had up to15 cormorants feeding on it, photographing them was a matter of luck because you never knew where they might appear next, or whether they would have a fish in their beaks. After I took this photo, I never saw another one hunting in this spot again.’
This brilliant capture of a Great Grey Owl was shot by Scott Suriano using a Canon 1DX paired with a Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens. Scott commented; ‘While exploring the Northwoods of Minnesota, I found myself caught in a sudden heavy snow squall. Thinking that this weather episode might deter the Great Grey Owls from hunting, I considered packing it up and calling it a day. To my surprise, however, this particular owl took to the skies and began scanning the meadow for its next meal. With a sudden and acrobatic downward turn, it sliced through the heavy white flakes and crashed head first into the snow-blanketed field below. Within moments, I watched as it launched off into the distance with its freshly caught vole. It was a great reminder that to be successful you have to sometimes fully commit and dive in head first into the unknown.’
Diana Schmies captured this image of Mute Swans using a Nikon D500 paired with a Nikon 200-500mm lens and commented; ‘Mute Swans typically don’t breed until they are at least three years old. But it is not uncommon for elements of courtship behaviour to be seen earlier, as happened with this couple. Apparently not concerned by the age difference, this adult male was intent on wooing an immature female, and his interest appeared to be reciprocated. Classic courtship rituals were performed, like raising the necks and turning their heads sideways while keeping their breasts pressed against each other. Even though photographing these displaying swans on a misty morning required planning, a little luck was also needed when it came to the birds aligning parallel to my camera.’
This spectacular image of a White-tailed sea-eagle was captured by Fahad Alenezi using a Canon 1DX Mark II paired with a Canon 600mm lens and commented; ‘In winter, food for most animals is in short supply in northern latitudes and many species, including this Red Fox, take greater risks than they would normally do to survive. In this photo a particularly bold fox has ventured close to an area where eagles were feeding. One White-tailed Sea-eagle took exception to the incursion and gave the fox what looks like a good slap with its wings. That’s an encounter I imagine the fox will never forget.’