Bird Photography Highlights of 2020

In 2020 I never was more than 20 miles from my house, and only travelled more than 15 miles away once. Within this space and time, I observed at least 155 species (based on ebird checklists), and was able to get photographs of 145 species, plus an additional 3 hybrids.

These included three species (and one hybrid combination) I had never observed previously, and one species I previously observed but never photographed. (My photo list is now a Leach’s Storm-petrel shy of my full list).

My Top 10 (+1) Favorite Bird Photos of 2020

I was tempted to include new-to-me species photos in my top 10 (+1) list, but decided to make this list based on the photos that are most compelling to me as photographs. (I have devoted a section of honorable mentions to species added to my photo list in 2020.) The thumbnails below are in calendar order. Click on a thumbnail to see the full photo (you can use left-right arrows to move between photos in each section).

Honorable Mention – New for the Year

Snow Bunting

Over the years I’ve been paying attention to birds, Snow Buntings have been reported from the Sitka area several times. Mostly at the airport, but also occasionally at other locations. They seem to prefer habitats we do not have much of in Sitka, but they do occur regularly in the winter. Despite this, I had never seen one, and Snow Bunting was left as the only regularly occurring (non-pelagic) species I had yet to observe in Sitka.

Early 2020 turned out to be an exceptional year for Snow Buntings in Sitka. During he first three months of the year, several people reported sightings. Despite frequent attempts, I had no luck finding any.

As winter turned to spring I began to give up hope of getting to see the last remaining regularly occurring (non-pelagic) species for Sitka which I had never observed. In the first part of April I saw a couple of reports of a Snow Bunting along old airport road and my hopes were rekindled. On a wet, gray day, I finally got my first look and some photos of this previously elusive species.

Brewer’s Blackbird

I noticed the Brewer’s Blackbird at Swan Lake in early May. It did not stay where I found it for long, but turned up again in a couple of different places around town in the following days.

Western Kingbird

On a sunny day in early October, I received a message about a kingbird. I headed out to look for it and try for photos. Familiar with Tropical Kingbird from prior observations, at first glance this one seemed similar, but not quite the same. After getting a chance to look at my initial photos and check the bird books (and ask other more experienced folks), I realized it was a new-to-me Western Kingbird. I was able to get better pictures later in the afternoon. It ultimately was seen in the area for around 10 days and several additional folks subsequently saw it. I looked a few more times (though not as hard as I had the first day), but did not see it again.

Warbling Vireo

I heard a Warbling Vireo on at least two prior occasions (getting a recording one of those), and caught an unidentifiable (to me) glimpse of one Connor had found. A singing bird spent the day near the Mormon Church in early May, and I captured a few photos in those moments when it perched where I could see it. A much more cooperative bird showed up at Castle Hill in late October, continuing the pattern of rare species favoring the maples there.

Honorable Mention – Unusual Sightings

Although these are reasonably nice photos of unusual birds for Sitka (and generally represent improvements on previous pictures), they did not quite make the cut for my favorites of the year.

Honorable Mention – Portraits

During the year, several birds cooperatively perched near me at least briefly, allowing me to get a portrait. These are my favorite examples.

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