Natural History Photography – Best Photos of 2021

By December 28, 2021January 16th, 2022Best Photographs of the Year

2021 continues the strangeness that started in 2020, however, my family is well and work is good so I consider myself fortunate.  I have not been able to resume international travel (everything keeps getting cancelled) but I did make a number of trips east of the Mississippi, including one by car.  Photographically, my most rewarding outings were road tripping the badlands of central Utah, many hikes in Yosemite including the summit of Half Dome, and boat dives to Catalina, San Clemente Island and the Coronados. It was great to dive with friends, spend time in California’s spectacular kelp forests, and be mobbed by young sea lions.  (We also watched Campbell volleyball play the NCAA tournament at the University of Nebraska but I was too busy cheering to take many photos.)  My favorite images of the past year are below, roughly in chronological order. This is the 15th year I have done an annual photography retrospective. My creative goal for any one year is, as it always has been, to shoot 3-4 world-class images and 10-15 portfolio-quality images. If you like these feel free to check out previous years’ favorites as well: 2020, 2019, 20182017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007.  Cheers and Thanks for looking!

La Jolla Shores Coastline and Scripps Pier, Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines Golf Course and State Reserve, aerial photo, sunset. The Gold Coast of La Jolla basks in the warm waning light of a winter afternoon

La Jolla Shores Coastline and Scripps Pier, Blacks Beach and Torrey Pines Golf Course and State Reserve, aerial photo, sunset. The Gold Coast of La Jolla basks in the warm waning light of a winter afternoon.
Image ID: 36669
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier and Blacks Beach, Sunset, Panorama. The Gold Coast of La Jolla basks in warm serene light as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean

Scripps Pier and Blacks Beach, Sunset, Panorama. The Gold Coast of La Jolla is bathed in warm serene light as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Image ID: 36674
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs. Note the classic winter breeding plumage, with bright red throat, yellow and white head and neck, and brown hind neck, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs. Note the classic winter breeding plumage, with bright red throat, yellow and white head and neck, and brown hind neck.
Image ID: 36679
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sunrise over The Mount Soledad Cross, a landmark in La Jolla, California. The Mount Soledad Cross is a 29-foot-tall cross erected in 1954

Sunrise over The Mount Soledad Cross, a landmark in La Jolla, California. The Mount Soledad Cross is a 29-foot-tall cross erected in 1954.
Image ID: 36689
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

San Diego City Skyline at Sunset, viewed from Point Loma, Shelter Island Yacht Club in the foreground, San Diego Bay, Mount San Miguel (right) and Lyons Peak (left) in distance

San Diego City Skyline at Sunset, viewed from Point Loma, Shelter Island Yacht Club in the foreground, San Diego Bay, Mount San Miguel (right) and Lyons Peak (left) in distance.
Image ID: 36749
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Spectacular Sunset, Terramar Beach, Carlsbad. Pink and Purple pastel hues are mirrored on the wet side as the tide retreats

Spectacular Sunset, Terramar Beach, Carlsbad. Pink and Purple pastel hues are mirrored on the wet sand as the tide retreats.
Image ID: 36754
Location: Carlsbad, California, USA

Heermanns gull portrait, La Jolla, California, Larus heermanni

Heermanns gull portrait, La Jolla, California.
Image ID: 36757
Species: Heermann's gull, Larus heermanni
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Western Grebes Rushing on Lake Hodges. Synchronized rushing, where (usually) a male and female run across the water, lasts for only a few seconds.  It is one of the most spectacular behaviors ever seen among birds, Aechmophorus occidentalis, San Diego, California

Western Grebes Rushing on Lake Hodges. Synchronized rushing, where (usually) a male and female run across the water, lasts for only a few seconds. It is one of the most spectacular behaviors seen among birds.
Image ID: 36786
Species: Western grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis
Location: Lake Hodges, San Diego, California, USA

Brandt's Cormorant Skypointing, Courtship Display, La Jolla, Phalacrocorax penicillatus

Brandt's Cormorant Skypointing, Courtship Display, La Jolla.
Image ID: 36801
Species: Brandt's cormorant, Phalacrocorax penicillatus

Double-crested cormorant nuptial crests, tufts of feathers on each side of the head, plumage associated with courtship and mating, Phalacrocorax auritus, La Jolla, California

Double-crested cormorant nuptial crests, tufts of feathers on each side of the head, plumage associated with courtship and mating.
Image ID: 36845
Species: Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Sea Lions, Mother nursing her pup, Zalophus californianus, La Jolla

California Sea Lions. Mother nursing her pup as they rest on rock near the sea.
Image ID: 36861
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sea World Fireworks San Diego Mission Bay. Sea World shows evening fireworks over Mission Bay

Sea World Fireworks San Diego Mission Bay. Sea World shows evening fireworks over Mission Bay.
Image ID: 36900
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Yosemite Falls in Spring, viewed from Yosemite Falls trail, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls in Spring, viewed from Yosemite Falls trail.
Image ID: 36904
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Hickman Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park. A natural bridge formed by water eroding it from below, Hickman Bridge is one of the most spectacular and easily accessible natural bridges in the United States

Hickman Bridge, Capitol Reef National Park. A natural bridge formed by water eroding it from below, Hickman Bridge is one of the most spectacular and easily-accessible natural bridges in the United States.
Image ID: 37016
Location: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA

The Milky Way arches over Half Dome and the Yosemite High Country. Each year there are a couple nights where the Milky Way arches perfect over Half Dome and the faint light of the milky way is perfectly balanced with a partial moon. I try to shoot this image each year, partly to improve upon past version but also simply to sit alone at night atop Glacier Point and savor the view, Yosemite National Park, California

The Milky Way arches over Half Dome and the Yosemite High Country. Each year there are a couple nights where the Milky Way arches perfectly over Half Dome and the faint light of the milky way is perfectly balanced with a partial moon. I try to shoot this image each year, partly to improve upon past renditions but also simply to sit alone at night atop Glacier Point and savor the view.
Image ID: 37132
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Garibaldi maintains a patch of algae (just in front of the fish) to entice a female to lay a clutch of eggs

Garibaldi maintains a patch of algae (just in front of the fish) to entice a female to lay a clutch of eggs.
Image ID: 37144

Garibaldi and Brown Gorgonian Muricea fruticosa, Catalina Island, with giant kelp stands reaching from the reef to the surface of the ocean in the distance.  The clown prince of the kelp forest, the Garibaldi, alternately poses for me and chirps at me to move away from his gorgonian

Garibaldi and Brown Gorgonian Muricea fruticosa, Catalina Island, with giant kelp stands reaching from the reef to the surface of the ocean in the distance. The clown prince of the kelp forest, the Garibaldi, alternately poses for me and chirps at me to move away from his gorgonian.
Image ID: 37157
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis) on Farnsworth Banks reef. Farnsworth Banks holds some of the most lush and colorful reefs to be found in California, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis, Catalina Island

Red gorgonian (Lophogorgia chilensis) on Farnsworth Banks reef. Farnsworth Banks holds some of the most lush and colorful reefs to be found in California.
Image ID: 37181
Species: Red gorgonian, Leptogorgia chilensis, Lophogorgia chilensis
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Kelp fronds and pneumatocysts, giant kelp forest, Catalina Island

Kelp fronds and pneumatocysts, giant kelp forest, Catalina Island.
Image ID: 37199
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

The corallimorph Corynactis californica, similar to both stony corals and anemones, is typified by a wide oral disk and short tentacles that radiate from the mouth.  The tentacles grasp food passing by in ocean currents, Corynactis californica, San Diego, California

The corallimorph Corynactis californica, similar to both stony corals and anemones, is typified by a wide oral disk and short tentacles that radiate from the mouth. The tentacles grasp food passing by in ocean currents.
Image ID: 37201
Species: Strawberry anemone, Corynactis californica
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Pacific torpedo ray Tetronarce californica, amidst huge schools of fish and baitfish, Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island. This electric ray will shock to hell out of you if you are not careful, Tetronarce californica, Torpedo californica

Pacific torpedo ray Tetronarce californica, amidst huge schools of fish and baitfish, Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island. This electric ray will shock to hell out of you if you are not careful.
Image ID: 37229
Species: Pacific torpedo ray, Tetronarce californica, Torpedo californica
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Huge mixed schools of fish on Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, California. A veritable fish storm of epic proportions centered on Farnsworth Banks was experienced by divers for a few weeks in 2021, Medialuna californiensis

Huge mixed schools of fish on Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, California. A veritable fish storm of epic proportions centered on Farnsworth Banks was experienced by divers for a few weeks in 2021.
Image ID: 37244
Species: Halfmoon perch, Medialuna californiensis
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Giant Kelp Forest, West End Catalina Island, rendered in the round by a circular fisheye lens, Macrocystis pyrifera

Giant Kelp Forest, West End Catalina Island, rendered in the round by a circular fisheye lens.
Image ID: 37279
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: Catalina Island, California, USA

Eye-to-eye with a brilliantly-colored Spanish shawl nudibranch, Flabellinopsis iodinea, San Diego, Flabellinopsis iodinea

Eye-to-eye with a brilliantly-colored Spanish shawl nudibranch, Flabellinopsis iodinea, San Diego.
Image ID: 37290
Species: Spanish shawl nudibranch, Flabellinopsis iodinea
Location: San Diego, California, USA

A beautiful golden-brown female California Sea Lion at the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico.  The huge male bull that formed the harem of which she was a part allowed her to hang out with me for a while, even while he continued patrolling just over my head, Zalophus californianus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

A beautiful golden-brown female California Sea Lion at the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico. The huge male bull that formed the harem of which she was a part allowed her to hang out with me for a while, even while he continued patrolling just over my head.
Image ID: 37318
Species: California sea lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Oak Alley at Boone Hall Plantation, a shaded tunnel of huge old southern live oak trees, Charleston, South Carolina. Plantation owners planted long palisades of Southern Live Oaks to provide a shaded, cool allee (from the French) on which they could stroll, entertain and find diversion from the intense heat of the South

Oak Alley at Boone Hall Plantation, a shaded tunnel of huge old southern live oak trees, Charleston, South Carolina. Plantation owners planted long palisades of Southern Live Oaks to provide a shaded, cool allee (from the French) on which they could stroll, entertain and find diversion from the intense heat of the South.
Image ID: 37394
Location: Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina, USA

California brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs

California brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs.
Image ID: 37408

Sea Caves, the famous La Jolla sea caves lie below tall cliffs at Goldfish Point.  Sunny Jim Cave. Sunrise. Sea gulls floating in the water blur in this time exposure. Cormorants rest on jagged edges of the cliffs

Sea Caves, the famous La Jolla sea caves lie below tall cliffs at Goldfish Point. Sunny Jim Cave. Sunrise. Sea gulls floating in the water blur in this time exposure. Cormorants rest on jagged edges of the cliffs.
Image ID: 37470
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

The Children's Pool, also known as Casa Cove, in pre-dawn light, La Jolla. Seal Rock in the foreground

The Children's Pool, also known as Casa Cove, in pre-dawn light, La Jolla. Seal Rock in the foreground.
Image ID: 37475
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Carlsbad Coast Highway Sunset, from Terramar and North Ponto to Oceanside and Camp Pendleton. The smoke stack that marked the old Encina Power Plant was removed in 2021. Oceanside Pier is seen beautifully lit in the distance

Carlsbad Coast Highway Sunset, from Terramar and North Ponto to Oceanside and Camp Pendleton. The smoke stack that marked the old Encina Power Plant was removed in 2021. Oceanside Pier is seen beautifully lit in the distance.
Image ID: 37479
Location: Carlsbad, California, USA

San Diego City Skyline at Sunset, viewed from Point Loma, panoramic photograph. The mountains east of San Diego can be clearly seen when the air is cold, dry and clear as it is in this photo. Lyons Peak is in center and the flanks of Mount San Miguel to the right

San Diego City Skyline at Sunset, viewed from Point Loma, panoramic photograph. The mountains east of San Diego can be clearly seen when the air is cold, dry and clear as it is in this photo. Lyons Peak is in center and the flanks of Mount San Miguel to the right.
Image ID: 37502
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Full Moon Setting Over SIO Pier in the moments just before sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Full Moon Setting Over SIO Pier in the moments just before sunrise, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Image ID: 37508
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Sea lions resting and socializing in the morning sun. Sea lions are tactile creatures and spend much of their time in close physical contact, often nuzzling whiskers with each other, La Jolla, California

Sea lions resting and socializing in the morning sun. Sea lions are tactile creatures and spend much of their time in close physical contact, often nuzzling whiskers with each other.
Image ID: 37514
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Beautiful golden-brown adult female California Sea Lion, resting on rocks in the morning sun, La Jolla, catching a little splash from a wave breaking on the reef just behind her

Beautiful golden-brown adult female California Sea Lion, resting on rocks in the morning sun, La Jolla, catching a little splash from a wave breaking on the reef just behind her.
Image ID: 37528
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California sea lion body surfing on large waves, shorebreak, La Jolla. Sea lions are the original body surfers and still the best

California sea lion body surfing on large waves, shorebreak, La Jolla. Sea lions are the original body surfers and still the best.
Image ID: 37533
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

Scripps Pier, predawn abstract study of pier pilings and moving water.
Image ID: 37554
Location: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA

Full Moon Rises over San Diego City Skyline and Mount Laguna, viewed from Point Loma, panoramic photograph. The mountains east of San Diego can be clearly seen when the air is cold, dry and clear as it is in this photo

Full Moon Rises over San Diego City Skyline and Mount Laguna, viewed from Point Loma, panoramic photograph. The mountains east of San Diego can be clearly seen when the air is clear.
Image ID: 37500
Location: San Diego, California, USA

Young sea lions at the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico, Zalophus californianus, Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado)

Young sea lions at the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico.
Image ID: 37319
Species: California Sea Lion, Zalophus californianus
Location: Coronado Islands (Islas Coronado), Baja California, Mexico

Selfie at sunrise, road trip to TN with detour through central Utah to do some badlands exploration.