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2021 Birds in Flight contest first place: Sandhill Crane

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

Stan Bysshe of Marshall, Virginia, won first place in our 2021 Birds in Flight contest with this amazing photo of a Sandhill Crane in which the bird’s head and upper body are in focus and the wings and background are intentionally blurred.

Bysshe made the photo in December 2015 at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, a wintering site for the Sandhill Crane and a popular destination for bird photographers.

“The high desert area is known for is colorful sunrises and sunsets,” Bysshe says. “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.”

Ernie Mastroianni, a former Birder’s World photo editor and one of our judges, gave the photo high marks for showing flight dynamics. “This shot says flight,” he says. “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.

Bysshe used a Nikon D4S camera body with a Nikon 500mm f/4 lens on a tripod. Settings: 1/30 sec., f/5.0, ISO 800.

You can see more of Bysshe’s photos on his website.

Many thanks to our panel of guest judges: author, radio host, and Contributing Editor Laura Erickson; our former photo editor Ernie Mastroianni; Outdoor Photographer Editor Wes Pitts; and Imaging Resource Managing Editor William Brawley. 

View the second-place winner: Eastern Kingbird and Great Egret

View the third-place winner: Osprey

View the finalists

View the honorable mentions

Originally Published

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