Art of Birding Challenges: Best of January

Welcome to the 2021 Art of Birding challenges and our favourites from the first month!

By way of introduction, the first challenge was introducing ourselves by describing our local “happy place.” Despite having participants located all over the world, we’re keeping challenges local this year for obvious reasons.

By Judy Stokes

Judy Stokes (New Zealand) posted this beautiful photo from Muriwai. “My happy place is behind a camera - especially next to the ocean and especially using Intentional Camera Movement to create my images. I intend this year to focus on pulling together a series of images I took when I visited the gannets every day for the whole season. I hope to put these either into a book or blog. The image above is an Intentional Camera Movement image of some terns taken at Muriwai. It is called “The Essence of Flight”.

By Marama Hopkins

Marama Hopkins (Australia) says “My happy place for the past year, and right now, is my backyard forest. I love going out each day to see what new treasures have arrived. There is always something new to discover, and the mood is constantly changing. This year I will be rekindling my love of photography after 20 years of neglect. I have just bought my first DSLR and have some beautiful lenses on order. I'm looking forward to learning and sharing.”

By Eeva Katri-Kumpula

Eeva Katri-Kumpula (New Zealand) says her happy place is out in the Otago Harbour, underwater, but she loves diving all around New Zealand. She photographed this dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) diving in Kaikōura. “Diving has opened a new world for me. The ocean gives life to all of us, and we need to protect it. I try to make little daily choices like avoid single-use plastic as much as I can.”

By Noelle Bennet

Noelle Bennet (New Zealand) says “This is my very first post to The Art of Birding group and when I looked at the topic I thought it would be such an easy choice. You see, we live on a yacht in the Marlborough Sounds so that seemed like the obvious choice for my happy place. But then I started thinking about it and realised that actually my happy place is anywhere that has peace and quiet and natural history. I love anything nature, be it aquatic life such as dolphins or seals or even the humble chiton or marine flatworm. Equally, I love land-based animals, birds, flowers, fungi, insects... the list goes on and on. So for my image, I’ve chosen a composite that for me represents the peace and tranquility of nature.”

Our second challenge moved into the creative realm with the theme of silhouettes.

By Kendra Berry Whittenberg

Kendra Berry Whittenberg (USA) captured this amazing murmuration of European Starlings. “An exciting first for me! The first night I saw them I noticed it was almost a full moon. I went back a few nights later and had hoped to capture the birds dancing in the moon. Of course, Mother Nature didn’t do quite as I wanted with the whole display of the birds in the moon but a few obliged and I was able to get this shot.”

By Sally Eyre

Sally Eyre (New Zealand) says “I’ve always wanted to see a murmuration in person. This is the closest I’ve seen so far - midges or sandflies at the end of the day above the wetlands. I couldn’t see the results on the camera screen so this was complete guess work.“

By Judy Stokes

Judy Stokes also created this gorgeous ICM photo for week 2. “One of the aims with my photography is to attract people to spend more time in nature! I love the way nature makes you feel - and in this image I have used Intentional camera Movement to capture the joy and feeling of freedom I feel when I am in nature. The image is called 'Footloose and Fancy Free'”

Storytelling became our focus in week three, with a theme of “Climbers”. Participants were encouraged to tell a story about the nature of their climber and to consider a dramatic angle when taking the shot.

By Richard Crossland

Richard Crossland (England) took this lovely photo of a delicate cucumber tendril.

By Michael Crago

Michael Crago (England) took this statuesque photo of “Old Man’s Beard” (Clematis vitalba, also known as 'traveller’s joy'). In the UK it is a native plant and is common throughout Southern England. Here in New Zealand it’s a noxious pest plant so it’s lovely to see it in its natural environment where it’s meant to be! I also love the unusual angle that makes the vine look more like an alien tree!

By Paula Vigus

And Paula Vigus tripled-down on her climbers with a creeper climbing a supplejack vine, climbing a rata (which although a tree, starts its life as a vine!)

We rounded out January with my favourite challenge “My Favourite Critter”, which we have each year, and is another way for us to get to know one another. Mine, of course, is the kākā!

This year, we asked participants to focus on a favourite local critter and also to tell us a bit about the challenges it faces.

By Mike Vincent

Mike Vincent (New Zealand) loves the New Zealand Grebe (also known as the Dabchick or Weweia). He says “These little water birds are under threat like so many other endemic birds, loss of habitat and finding quiet places to nest are possibly the main cause. They are essentially a North Island bird with a few birds breeding in recent years in the South Island. The central North island is there stronghold and we consistently have a population of 70 odd at Lake Okareka. We used to struggle to get 30 birds but since 2013 a trapping programme around the shoreline has been in place. Wake from speeding boats will inundate their nests or they will try and nest in busy areas such as jetties or by a picnic area as with a couple of these birds below. They will never become the “bird of the year” they are not cute, fluffy or widely known. Most people I talk to think they are a small duck. Their Latin name is Poliocephalus rufopectus, you can see by their russet chests where they got their name.”

By Louise Thomas

Writer Louise Thomas (New Zealand) claims to not have a favourite critter, but if she had to choose, goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) would be up there. “I can’t quite give a rational reason, but there is something appealing about the way they fly in urgent parabolic arcs and stuff their faces with thistledown. The colouring too seems exotic, like I can feel warm spice-laden winds and hear the clink of tea glasses at the bazaar. Christians believed their red faces were from the blood of Christ as the ‘saviour’ bird pulled the thorns from his head. It’s a beautiful and tragic legend about a bird that has obviously endeared itself into human history.”

By Tara Swan

Tara Swan (New Zealand) also found it hard to choose. “I have so many favourites and I am so lucky to work with the majority of them, however at this point in time it has to be the tui. More specifically this tui right here! While tui are thriving, there are still many challenges that face this bird, the big one being habitat loss. Yes, there are plenty of trees around our area, but not all provide food for tui. This juvenile took up residence in our garden (much to the disgust of the original resident). Tui have quite large territories, and this one is doing well holding his ground in our garden. But thanks to him, we have now planted a wider range of flowering natives to keep him and hopefully his future family happy!”

Join us in 2021!

Want to join in on the fun? Today is the best day to join! You can jump on in with the current week or catch-up – your choice. Head over to to sign up or to to find out more!

Judi Lapsley Miller

Art of Birding photo challenge creator

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