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Karen Griggs Winchester of North Port, Florida won first place in BirdWatching’s 2021 Bird Portrait Contest with this stunning photo of Sandhill Crane foals resting on their mother’s back while being sheltered by her wings.
She photographed the moment in mid-March 2020 in Sarasota, Florida.
“As I watched and photographed the couple, I noticed the young colt backing up while climbing onto mum’s back, vanishing under all the feathers,” writes Griggs Winchester. “It wasn’t long before the eldest brother noticed his absence and started looking for him. His search ended as he too climbed onto his mother’s back, disappearing under the feathers. I watched and waited…and as an answer to prayer, the mother gently and slowly spread her wings, revealing the two foals staring into each other’s eyes.
“As the foals started to play again, mum accommodated them even more by opening her wings even more. It was then more like a small bedroom complete with a feather bed and the walls of mum’s beautiful, strong wings keeping them safe.
“I couldn’t have asked for or imagined a more beautiful scene to photograph. I treasure the experience and the photos as the incredible gifts they are.
One of our judges, Laura Erickson, author, radio/podcast host and Bird watching Editor-in-Chief, shared her thoughts on the image.
“Capturing a perfect moment in a bird shot takes so much luck that it’s hard to realize how patiently and skillfully the photographer created that chance. The large, thick feathers of an adult Sandhill Crane are designed to shield its foals from the weather and predators, effectively hiding them from view from nearly every angle almost all of the time,” Erickson explains. , just as the two gaze into each other’s large eyes, that little burst of sunshine in each bringing the photo to life. The photographer wasn’t just in the right place at the right time – it took careful positioning and mastery of the camera to be in exactly the right place at the right time, with the camera settings perfectly matched, to capture this exciting result.
Griggs Winchester used a Canon 1 DX Mark ll with a Canon 400mm 2.8 ll lens and 2Xlll extender on a tripod. The settings were ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec.
Many thanks to our panel of guest judges: author, radio host and editor Laura Erickson; our former editor Chuck Hagner, the director of Bird City Wisconsin; our former photo editor Ernie Mastroianni; professional bird photographer Brian E. Small; Outdoor photographer Editor Wes Pitts; and William Brawley, Imagery Resources Editor.
See the runner-up winner: Southern Ground Hornbill
See Third Place Winner: Piping Plovers
See the finalists
View Honorable Mentions
Enter your photos in our BirdWatching Photography Awards competition