In addition to the three winning photos from the 2019 BirdWatching Photography Awards, we’re thrilled to present this gallery of 22 finalists:
Photographer: Jim Burns
Location and date: Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona, October 22, 2018.
Description: There are typically three or four pairs of coots in residence at this small fishing lake, one for each of the three or four reed beds in the coves and corners of the lake, which changes in configuration whenever parks & rec determines to clear out overgrowing vegetation.
Research has shown that American Coots are a quarrelsome and aggressive species, particularly as nesting season approaches and they begin feeling territorial. I had tried for some time to capture one of these territorial disputes in which one of a resident pair charges an interloper and chases it off. About 10% of these “negotiations” end with actual physical contact in which claws are flashed, the intent being for one bird to force the other backwards, legs on its chest, down into the water in submission. Very occasionally these territorial fights end with the death of one of the combatants, though in most cases the submissive bird breaks off the engagement by diving and swimming off underwater.
On this day I got lucky twice. The combatants were fairly close to shore as I walked by with the camera, and a fight did break out. I’m happy to report the losing bird, the one on the left in the photo as you’d suspect, resurfaced forty yards down the lake shortly after being vanquished, looking none the worse for how lethal those claws of the victor appear in the photo.
Gear and settings: Canon 5DM4 body and 100-400 zoom lens, handheld, at 1/8000, f/5.6, ISO 1000, with -1/3 exposure compensation.
Thanks to our judges: Matt Mendenhall, editor of BirdWatching; Wes Pitts, editor of Outdoor Photographer; Marie Read, an award-winning nature photographer based near Ithaca, New York; and Brian E. Small, a professional nature photographer based in Los Angeles whose photos illustrate our “ID Tips” column.