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A pure white rock ptarmigan taking flight high on a snow-covered Norwegian mountain won the grand prize in this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year competition that judged over 20,000 stunning images of birds of all feathers taken by photographers around the world.
The beautiful photos and the competition are particularly poignant now as the most recent study on the State of the World’s Birds by BirdLife International reports that half the world’s bird species are in decline, with more than one in eight at risk of extinction.
“The pressures causing these declines are well understood, and the vast majority are driven by human actions,” the report, released every four years, warns. The climate crisis is also among the main causes of avian life decline.”The challenges to conservation are escalating, and time is running out. The coming years will be the ‘critical decade’ to act.”
The grand prize
Norwegian photographer Erlend Haarberg won the £5,000 grand prize for his beautiful image taken above Tysfjorden. “High up in the mountains, the wind, snow and cold maintain the iron grip of winter for many months on end,” he explained. “This endless white landscape and harsh environment is what this bird calls home.”
“Once again, our talented photographers have cast a light on the incredible diversity of bird life that we share our planet with,” said Will Nicholls, Director of Bird Photographer of the Year. “It is also a stark reminder of what we stand to lose if we don’t continue to look after the natural world and fight for its protection from the many threats that exist today.”
This year, the competition donated more than £5,000 to partner charity Birds on the Brink, which provides vital funding to grass-roots bird conservation projects around the world.
Photographers competed in eight categories: Best Portrait, Birds in the Environment, Attention to Detail, Bird Behaviour, Birds in Flight, Black and White, Urban Birds and Creative Imagery.
The 2023 Competition is open until December 11 for entries to win a share of the £17,000 prize fund.
Fitze spent a week in fall 2021 on Heligoland, a small island in the North Sea. “The weather was quite bad and I didn’t see a single nice sunrise,” he recalled. “However, the opportunity to observe all kind of shorebirds made up for the conditions.
When I saw a group of dunlin struggling with a small sandstorm, I decided to risk my equipment and attempt to photograph them. I could really see on their faces how annoyed they were by the wind and sand flying everywhere.”
“One of my parents’ friends, who lives nearby, took us on a hike to a location where she had seen Barred Owl chicks earlier in the week” said young Jenigiri. “We were just a few minutes into the hike when we heard them calling. Eventually we got to see four owlets, one of which landed close by and peered at me curiously from behind a tree trunk.”
You know that springtime has arrived on the prairies of the Great Basin of the American West when the Sage Grouse gather at their leks.
On these traditional display grounds, males of this threatened species perform their strutting displays in the hope of winning the right to mate. This behavior is for the benefit of the females, which judge the talent show and select the best genes to pass on to the next generation.
“I arrived at the lek more than an hour before the birds so I could set up my hide without causing disturbance,” said Dang. “On this particular morning this bird wandered close to my hide in full display. The photograph was taken without using baiting, calls, lures or unethical practices of any kind.
“In Fremont (California), there is a water fountain that is a hotspot for hummingbirds,” Pourahmad explained. “The birds like to bathe in the water, or, as in this case, catch and sip the droplets. I had to use a very fast shutter speed to freeze the water droplets and the wings of this Anna’s Hummingbird.”
While most images of King Penguins seem to be of striking adult birds, there is a definite cuteness to the chicks in their brown ‘teddybear’ plumage,” Pollard said. “This chick was asleep at Volunteer Point in the Falkland Islands, and I took the opportunity to capture the details around the beak, eye and ear — the latter seldom seen.”
During spring breeding, male Sage Grouse fly in to traditional lekking sites and don’t hesitate to mix it up in often violent fights.
“They have an elaborate display designed to attract and impress females and show their superiority,” said Ismert. “Inevitably, this leads to rivalry between males. I set up my ground hide a safe distance from the lek a couple of days before the photoshoot. I entered my hide in the middle of the night, trying to sleep as best I could before the early-morning hours. At first light, I awoke to booming sounds made by the male grouse, and the sight of their unusual display and this particular battle.”
Large areas of Australia are flat, dry and given over to wheat farming. Towns can consist of as little as a truck stop and a collection of grain silos. In some locations, these silos have become popular palettes for enormous murals, drawing tourists into otherwise desolate areas.
“I passed through Yelarbon and stopped for two hours to photograph the Galahs that are attracted to spilt grain,” said Slater. “The results were so pleasing and surreal that I made the seven-hour trip on a subsequent weekend to have another go, only to find that a mouse plague had moved in and the silos were being fumigated – no Galahs.”
“Ten metres down, I found myself hovering between two worlds,” said Spiers. “Below, an enormous school of fish covered the bottom as far as I could see. Above, a single Double-crested Cormorant patroled the surface, catching its breath and peering down at a potential underwater feast.
The cormorant, better designed for swimming than flying, would dive down at great speed, aggressively pursuing the fish. The school would move in unison to escape the bird’s sharp beak, making it difficult to isolate a single target.
More often than not, the bird returned to the surface empty-billed, and peace would momentarily be restored. This image captures the hostile black silhouette of the cormorant as it dives down onto its prey, which for a brief moment remain unaware of the danger above.”
Said Williams: “This image was taken using flash, with the camera in rear curtain synch mode. To attract the Common Starling, I placed some sunflower seeds in a feeder, and as the bird came towards the feeder, I timed the shot to capture its descent.
“I wanted to create a lighthearted picture of birds stealing the fisherman’s catch,” Lee recalled of her effort. “The scenery of Dalmatian Pelicans and Greater Flamingos is from the beautiful Lake Kerkini in Greece, and the old boat is one I spotted on the Norfolk coastline. I bought fish from my local market and photographed them at home, along with an old lantern from my garden.
“Little Owls have nested in an abandoned building for more than a decade,” said Potozky. “I arrived at the building following heavy rain and discovered that the Little Owl family had grown: Three chicks had hatched a few weeks previously. I was welcomed by the whole family, and while four of them were drying their feathers on the roof, one of the chicks was under it, posing in an odd way and with what looked like an air of resignation. I could see a resemblance to Gonzo, the famous character from The Muppet Show.”
This photograph was taken in an area I have known for a long time,” said Koncz-Bisztricz. “It is a soda lake called Nagyszéksós-tó, near the town of Mórahalom.
“Kinskunság National Park introduced water buffalos at least ten years ago, and the beneficial outcome has been that the bird life has become very rich and diverse. Until now, I have photographed only adult birds at this location, but I managed to observe and photograph Pied Avocet chicks in early summer.
The parent birds soon overcame any nervousness and got used to my presence; I was an insignificant addition to the nearby water buffalos. The chicks went about their business a few metres away from me, and fed and preened quite happily.”
“There is a bird hide in the Western Ghats of India that has been installed specifically for observing and photographing parakeets,” said Murthy. “On the day I visited, a Plum-headed Parakeet landed on a crowded perch and, expecting it to fly away from the crowd, I tracked its movement and was able to capture this amazing moment.
At the end of the day, this area of salt pans takes on a beautiful, bright orange-red colour,” said Uyyanonvara. “I love watching the scene of waders foraging under such glorious light. This little Kentish Plover perfectly placed itself in the middle of the sun’s reflection on the saltwater surface.
“Purple-crested Turacos are iconic African birds and very sought-after subjects for photos,” said Flack. “Unfortunately, they are shy characters and tend to avoid camera lenses. However, while birding in a small conservancy in the Lower Mpushini area near Pietermaritzburg my luck with them changed.
Seemingly out of nowhere, this exquisite pair flew out from thick cover and landed a few meters in front of me while I was searching for African Emerald Cuckoos in the canopy. The turaco pair seemed much more interested in each other which allowed for some unbelievable photographic moments. All in all, it was a dream encounter and I felt privileged to share such an intimate moment with them.
A flock of more than 100 BohemianWaxwings descended onto these berry bushes, devouring them right in front of me,” as D’Entremont described the scene. “Not only are they beautiful birds, but the action of them picking berries and often flipping them in the air to eat them is impressive and very photogenic.
The challenge is that when they are in the middle of the berry bushes, the photo is just a tangle of branches with the birds hidden inside. The sweet spot is when the birds are on the edges of the bushes, with a cleaner background. In this photo, the birds were also in the shade and the background was in the sun, my favourite effect. I underexposed the shot to create this silhouette effect.
“In more than a decade of wildlife photography I’ve never seen a decent photo of a Schalow’s Turaco in flight, said Baggenstos, challenging viewers to “Google it for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“These stunningly-dressed birds spend most of their time high in the dark jungle canopy and are extremely fast in flight,” he said. “I think of them as ‘bullet’ birds. This combination makes them almost impossible to photograph in flight.
You can imagine my excitement when I found out a few birds flying across the river in front of my safari tent each morning at eye level. My heart pounded as I stood on the bank waiting patiently as they called out from the treetops. An opportunity of a lifetime. On my last morning in camp, the diffused overcast light was just beautiful when out of the corner of my eye I saw this individual emerging from the canopy like a bullet and coming diagonally straight towards me. I acquired focus just before the bird flew out the edge of the frame.
This European Shag is flying over a huge wave about 8 meters high off the west coast of Asturias in northern Spain,” Suarez recalled. “It made me reflect on how lucky the bird was to be free and able to fly with strength and determination in the most difficult conditions.
Last October, I went to San Francisco in California to watch the spectacle of the annual US Navy Blue Angels military air show,” Wei expained. “The performance was wonderful, and I took a lot of photos. Inspired by the aerobatic skills of the Blue Angels, I decided to incorporate a formation of Sandhill Cranes into the scene, and created this image using several pictures that I blended and combined.