BirdWatching announces the winners of its ‘Birds in Flight’ photo contest


posted Tuesday, November 2, 2021 at 2:30 PM EST


Fellow Madavor publication BirdWatching has announced the winners of its 2021 Birds in Flight photo contest.

The grand prize went to Stan Bysshe of Virginia. He won first place with an image of a sandhill crane captured at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. It's a wintering site for the sandhill crane is a popular destination for avid bird watchers and photographers.

Bysshe said of his winning image, 'The high desert area is known for its colorful sunrises and sunsets. The early morning when this image was taken was no exception. The pond where the cranes were taking off from was frozen, and the ice reflected the purple color of the sky. The brown background was the winter grass behind the pond. Given the low light of sunrise, I chose to photograph the cranes' takeoff using a slow shutter speed while panning with the birds. The trick was to get the head of the bird as sharp as possible. Only a few of the shots worked! But, the soft colors of the background, and the blurred crane wings made the effort worth it.'

Sandhill Crane © Stan Bysshe/2021 BirdWatching Birds in Flight Photo Contest

Ernie Mastroianni, former photo editor of Birder's World and contest judge, said, 'This shot says flight. High marks for original artistry, too. I kept coming back to the combination of color, motion, and how this longer exposure accentuates the wingtips, the speed, and the motion of the crane. It defines flight in a beautiful, simple, and dynamic way.' Additional judges included BirdWatching contributing editor Laura Erickson, Outdoor Photographer editor Wes Pitts, and IR's own William Brawley.

Bysshe used a Nikon D4S DSLR with a Nikon 500mm f/4 lens. The image was shot at 1/30s, f/5 and ISO 800. You can see more of Bysshe's photography at his website.

The second-place winner is Ed Hughes for his photo of an eastern kingbird mobbing a great egret.

'When I taught junior high,' Laura Erickson said, 'my students loved learning that the Eastern Kingbird's scientific name is Tyrannus tyrannus — tyrant of all tyrants. This photo provides dramatic proof that the name is deserved, especially when you consider that egrets easily stab and capture live prey many times heavier than a 1 1/2-ounce kingbird. I've taken dozens of photos of kingbirds attacking larger birds, including Bald Eagles, but none of them capture a perfect moment as this photo does. Both birds' bodies and faces are in focus and eyes open. The egret appears to be in a state of panic, the kingbird's extended leg and grasping toes hanging tight to the egret's neck. And the pièce de résistance? The kingbird's beautifully exposed crown, something never easy to see, much less capture so vividly in a photo. Brilliant!'

Eastern Kingbird and Great Egret © Ed Hughes/2021 BirdWatching Birds in Flight Photo Contest

Hughes captured the image using a Nikon D810 DSLR with a 400mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/2500s at f/4 with an ISO of 1000. You can see more of Hughes's photos by visiting his website.

Mike Dowsett won third place for his excellent shot of an osprey carrying a fish. Dowsett, who is English, now lives in Michigan. He captured the winning image in the Scottish Highlands while on a photo trip. 'Photographing the Ospreys actively fishing is the most exciting wildlife photography I have experienced, feeling a real rush of adrenalin capturing the birds making the incredibly fast dive into the fish-rich waters, then exploding out into frantic flight with a huge trout,' Dowsett says. 'Over many years of technique improvements, I have learned each year and see better images over time. The key areas of technique involve camera focus placement, exposure, and camouflage.'

'This photo captures not only flight, but the reason for the flight,' said Ernie Mastroianni. 'The timing is perfect. The fish is well placed and is intact. Look at how well this shows the power of the Osprey's wings. The picture tells a perfect story of the bird, how it flies, and the dynamics and reason of the flight. The splash is a bonus. I've seen many Osprey/fish photos, but this one defines that genre better than any others I've seen.'

Osprey © Mike Dowsett/2021 BirdWatching Birds in Flight Photo Contest

Dowsett used a Canon EOS-1DX with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 lens. He added a 1.4x teleconverter to extend his reach. The image was shot at 1/3200s, f/8, ISO 800. You can see more of Dowsett's photography at his website.

There are many more fantastic birds in flight photos to see. If you head over to BirdWatching, you can view all the finalists. In total, the contest received 825 entries.

If you'd like to enter the next BirdWatching contest, click here to learn more. The theme is 'Backyard and City Birds.'

(Via BirdWatching