The 2019 Audubon Photography Awards winners were announced for 2019, their 10th year, with two new awards added to the lineup this year. The Plants for Birds category is inspired by Audubon’s Plants for Birds program and the Fisher Prize recognizes a creative approach to photographing birds that blends originality with technical expertise.
This year had a total of 2,253 entrants, hailing from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories.
Judging criteria: technical quality, originality, artistic merit
Grand Prize Winner
Species: Red-winged Blackbird
Location: Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, Virginia
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 2500
Story Behind the Shot: I visit this park near my home to photograph blackbirds on cold mornings, often aiming to capture the “smoke rings” that form from their breath as they sing out. On this occasion, I arrived early on a frigid day and heard the cry of the blackbirds all around the boardwalk. This particular bird was very vociferous, singing long and hard. I looked to set it against the dark background of the forest, shooting to the east as the sun rose over the trees, backlighting the vapor.
Bird Lore: Red-winged Blackbirds are some of the most abundant and conspicuous birds in North America. Beginning in early spring, males perch above marshes, pond edges, damp fields, and roadside ditches, flaring their red shoulder patches and belting out arresting songs to announce their claims to breeding territories.
Plants for Birds Winner
Species: Hooded Oriole
Location: San Diego, California
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: Soon after moving to San Diego last year, I noticed a pair of orioles that frequented the California fan palm in my backyard. When I saw the female gathering palm fibers for a nest, I grabbed my camera. I love this shot; it shows the relationship between two native species and illustrates the natural beauty to be appreciated even in a city. And the radiating palm fronds behind the female give a sense of radiance to her diligent efforts.
Bird Lore: Orioles build hanging nests, weaving plant fibers for a lightweight but durable structure. Living in subtropical climates, the Hooded Oriole finds the perfect building material in the long, strong fibers of palms. It often fastens its nest under a leaf of California fan palm; “Palm-leaf Oriole” was an old alternative name for this bird.
Professional Honorable Mention
Species: Bald Eagle
Location: San Juan Island National Historical Park, Friday Harbor, Washington
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS lens; 1/320 second at f/11; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: I had spent the day photographing foxes and was panning with this kit running with its prey when an unmistakable cry made me look up. I just knew the eagle racing our way was after the fox’s rabbit. I expected to have only a split second to capture the theft in one explosive frame; instead the eagle snagged the fox and rabbit, carrying both 20 feet off the ground. After eight seconds it dropped the fox, seemingly unharmed, and flew away with its stolen dinner.
Bird Lore: Bald Eagles eat pretty much anything they want to. Their penchant for dining on carrion may seem less than regal, but they are also powerful predators and pirates. They capture a wide variety of fish, mammals, and birds, and don’t hesitate to steal others’ prey.
- See all the winners at https://www.audubon.org/magazine/summer-2019/the-2019-audubon-photography-awards-winners