Winners of the 2021 Audubon Photography awards

The winners and runners up have been announced for the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards, now in its twelfth year. 2,416 photographers from all 50 United States, Washington D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories submitted 8,770 photos and 261 videos. The video category is new, this year, as is the Female Bird Prize. The latter was added as the National Audubon Society felt that female birds have been overlooked and under appreciated in the past.

Over $15,000 in cash prizes were awarded to category winners while the Student Prize winner will attend Hog Island Audubon Camp for 6 days in 2022. Winners and finalists will be featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Audubon magazine and added to the virtual Audubon Photography Awards exhibit. Photos and videos from this year’s competition can be viewed on the official contest page.

Grand Prize: Carolina Fraser

Category: Amateur
Species: Greater Roadrunner
Location: Los Novios Ranch, Cotulla, Texas
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0 lens; 1/3200 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

Story Behind the Shot: One of my favorite places to take photographs is among the oil pumps and open space at Los Novios Ranch in South Texas, where wildlife weaves through cacti and birds perch on fence posts. On a blazing hot summer day just before sunset, I found myself lying facedown at an uncomfortable angle, my elbows digging into a gravel path as I photographed this roadrunner. I manually adjusted the white balance until I captured the bird bathed in golden sunlight as it took a dust bath.

Amateur Award Winner: Robin Ulery

Species: Sandhill Crane
Location: Johns Lake, Winter Garden, Florida
Camera: Sony A9 with Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/800 second at f 6.3; ISO 1600

Story Behind the Shot: For three years I’ve watched a pair of Sandhill Cranes that nest near my house, observing and photographing them from my kayak. On a blustery day this spring, I took my camera and paddled out to check on them. Two colts had finally hatched. The wind, though, made for a challenging photo shoot. There was no solid land to anchor to, and I bounced up and down, sometimes missing the birds completely. So I increased my shutter speed and ISO to compensate. Capturing this scene under those conditions felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Fisher Prize: Patrick Coughlin

Category: Amateur
Species: Anna’s Hummingbird
Location: Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, Berkeley, California
Camera: Nikon D500 with AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 1400

Story Behind the Shot: For me, photographing feeding hummingbirds is a near-perfect combination of challenge and reward. In the spring, Anna’s, Allen’s, Rufous, Costa’s, and Calliope Hummingbirds—many of them adult males with glittering gorgets—sip nectar from purple pride of Madeira flowers in this preserve.

When I looked through the photographs that I shot one spring day, this image of a relatively unassuming female, a juvenile Anna’s Hummingbird, immediately grabbed my attention. Though most of the bird is obscured by blooms, I caught that momentary flicker of eye contact through the petals.

Female Bird Prize: Elizabeth Yicheng Shen

Category: Amateur
Species: Northern Harrier
Location: Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont, California
Camera: Sony a9 with Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM FE OSS lens and 2x Teleconverter; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

Story Behind the Shot: I was waiting for Fernando the Chilean Flamingo to wake up from his afternoon nap. People have reported seeing the lone flamingo in the park since 2010, so I went out to photograph him. A commotion from the nearby water, where a Great Blue Heron stalked prey and a few gulls rested, attracted my attention. A Northern Harrier had come out of nowhere to hunt. I quickly adjusted my camera settings so I could get her owl-like face. This kind of unexpected encounter is why I always carry my camera when I venture into nature.

Youth Award Winner: Arav Karighattam

Species: Purple Sandpiper
Location: Rockport, Massachusetts
Camera: Nikon D850 with AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 320

Story Behind the Shot: I was searching for eiders, scoters, and other diving ducks along the Atlantic coast on a cold February day. Suddenly a Purple Sandpiper flock landed right next to me. The birds fed, chatted, chirped, and chased each other, occasionally fluttering up when the waves washed over the shore. As the weather turned gustier, the sandpipers preened and settled down amid the rocks. I lay down flat, close to the water’s edge. I positioned my camera, resting it on a rock, and focused on one of the Arctic visitors, the purple in its feathers highlighted by the morning sun.

Professional Award Winner: Steve Jessmore

Species: Northern Cardinal
Location: Rural Muskegon County, Michigan
Camera: Sony a9 II with Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/5000 second at f/6.3; ISO 250

Story Behind the Shot: On a bitterly cold winter day I went searching for eagles and Snowy Owls in rural Michigan. Cruising side roads, I noticed a Rough-legged Hawk perched atop a pine tree, but all I captured was its tail as it flew away. It was then that I spotted a male Northern Cardinal flying from plant to plant, feeding on the seeds, his red feathers reflected in the bright white snow flecked with ice crystals. I took the first shot when he took flight. By the second frame, the striking songbird was gone.

Plants for Birds Award Winner: Shirley Donald

Species: Red-winged Blackbird
Location: Blue Sea, Quebec, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II with Canon EF 400 f/4 DO lens and Canon Extender EF 2x III; 1/2000 second at f/8; ISO 1600

Story Behind the Shot: On an early July morning, I peeled the camouflage tarp off my canoe hidden in the marsh grasses along the edge of a small lake and stepped in, careful not to tip over. Paddling out amid the water lilies, I saw male Red-winged Blackbirds pluck dragonflies from the air to feed their nestlings.

Females took a different tack: They hopped from lily pad to lily pad, plucking out insects inside the yellow and white flowers. I steadied my camera by setting it on my equipment bag, which was sitting on the floor, and shot away.

Amateur Honorable Mention: Tom Ingram

Species: Peregrine Falcon
Location: La Jolla Cove, California
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon 600mm f/4 IS II with Canon 1.4x III Teleconverter; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 2500

Story Behind the Shot: I had heard that a pair of Peregrine Falcons had built a nest near a cliffside hiking trail in La Jolla, so on a spring day I set off with the hopes of photographing them. As I walked, the raptors made screea calls and circled above. I stopped along the trail and watched a bird that had snatched an Acorn Woodpecker, commonly found in the palm trees nearby. The raptor landed on a ledge littered with feathers from past kills and began plucking the woodpecker, the feathers fluttering over the cliff’s edge as it prepared its meal.

Bird Lore: Masters of the air, Peregrine Falcons are capable of capturing or killing practically any bird, from rapid fliers like swifts to geese larger than themselves. Peregrines are most famous for spectacular dives from great heights, plunging at speeds up to 200 miles per hour to strike prey out of the air, but they have other hunting methods. These falcons are likely to take a bird like a woodpecker in a short, powerful burst of level flight.

Youth Honorable Mention: Josiah Launstein

Species: Canada Goose
Location: Burnaby Lake, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Camera: Nikon D7100 with AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED lens and Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/640 second at f/7.1; ISO 720

Story Behind the Shot: I was photographing Green-winged Teal when one extremely territorial Canada Goose charged another goose that attempted to land in the area. I positioned myself at the edge of the water and watched for signs of its next onslaught, taking a short sequence of pictures as the goose launched itself from the water to fend off the intruder. I was happy that some Green-winged Teal swam into the scene, their quiet feeding a marked contrast to the goose’s dramatic behavior. I guess the goose was determined to keep its corner of the wetlands all to itself.

Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Karen Boyer Guyton

Species: Anna’s Hummingbird
Location: Quilcene, Washington
Camera: Sony a7R IV with a Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens; 1/5000 second at f/4; ISO 800

Story Behind the Shot: Here in western Washington, Anna’s Hummingbirds are year-round residents. In spring females collect nesting material. Because I have some mobility issues, I do a great deal of my photography right outside my door. Getting the right lighting is always a bit tricky, and timing the hummingbirds’ visits to my patio is always a guess, so I’ve become very patient and observant. One of my favorite subjects is the Anna’s as they collect cattail fluff. I find this hummingbird shows a certain elegance as she gently tugs the seed fibers from the cattail.

Professional Honorable Mention: Steve Jessmore

Species: Red-tailed Hawk
Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford Township, Michigan
Camera: Sony a9ii with Sony FE 200- 600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/2000 second at f/7.1; ISO 3200

Story Behind the Shot: I was hiking on a snowy, dark winter afternoon with a new camera and lens combination when a friend spotted a female Red-tailed Hawk. She flew out of sight, but we found her nearby jumping and grabbing leaves, trying to get her missed prey to reappear. When an eastern chipmunk ran from beneath the debris a few minutes later, the hawk quickly caught it and carried it to a tree. It was incredible to see that connection between predator and prey—one that I don’t usually get to share in a wildlife photo.

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