It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or not. It’s more like a time where Simon and I actually have strong words for each other because we totally disagree.
What do we disagree on? Our favourite images of the year.
Thanks to our continued time in the field gathering content for NatureLabs.ca, we were able to spend some quality time in Mount Robson and other key areas to bring the story of Canada’s biodiversity to life for high school students. In fact, this year was probably our luckiest year yet. We were able to capture some amazing stories with our cameras, gathering both still images and video to populate the five courses we are building for students.
Our countdown starts at #25. Yes. We are doing 25. Don’t ask questions (surely that has a certain ring to it?).
* hint – there may be a few lynx
#25 – Prairie Storm
We had our first dabble in storm photography this year. You may have heard that the spring and summer was quite a violent one in and around the city of Calgary. Aside from some great video and time lapses of storms rolling across the Canadian prairies, which will be used in Nature Labs, we were able to capture a few hits of lighting.
Many storm photographers use lightning triggers to help them grab lightning strikes quicker, but we decided to run up the shutter count in our cameras instead.
#24 – Snowy Bear
This six year old female grizzly bear is one of the main characters we’re focusing on for the Nature Labs story. She quickly became one of our favourite bears. She provided us with invaluable video and photo content – she’s a bear with a very unique story. We’ve been telling our Patreon supporters about the remarkable story of her and her brother over the past several months.
#23 – Canadian Lynx
Before December, 2019, Simon and I have never photographed a lynx before.
Actually, that’s not true. We had one photo of one on the road, about 5 km away, looking the other way. So really, it doesn’t count.
For whatever reason after seeing and photographing our first lynx last December, the year 2020 decided that lynx were going to be our thing.
We’re very excited to show high school students the photo and video we were able to gather this year of the very elusive feline and demonstrate how food chains operate, why you need to know about politics in order to protect this species, and why cats are just so awesome.
#22 – Grizzly Bear
Ahh grizzly bears. This young male is another main character for Nature Labs.
#21 – Lynx
As we mentioned above, lynx were a thing this year. There will be more in this list, so we really hope you like cats!
#20 – Grizzly with Dinner
A few of our images contain a bit of graphic content, but such is nature. We had a remarkable encounter with this grizzly and her brother this past fall. The range of behaviours and scenes made for great content gathering for Nature Labs.
Sadly this was a poached moose and some of the carcass was left behind. BC Parks decided to allow some good to come from the situation by leaving the remains where it was found, as we all knew these bear siblings were in the area.
We were tasked to monitor the situation, and within a few days, the bears were able to fill up on the moose. BC Parks was able to gather as much evidence of the poaching as they could, but the culprits, last we heard, have not been found. Which shows you, even with evidence, how hard it is to catch a poachers, which further underlines the enormous challenges on an already overtaxed system.
#19 – Mountain Caribou
After many years of searching for more opportunities to photograph the critically endangered mountain caribou in the Rocky Mountains, we finally had some great luck with multiple herds.
The video content will be key for Nature Labs in telling the complex story about these caribou and if it’s even possible to save them.
#18 – Swift Fox Kit
We were incredibly lucky this year in so many ways. One big success story was our search for the endangered swift fox.
The successful reintroduction of these small foxes is an uplifting story to show high school students through Nature Labs.
#17 – Stacked Fox Kits
We love our foxes. Hence #FoxyFriday’s.
This spring, we were able to successfully document a fox den and watch as these tiny fluff balls grew and develop survival skills through play in and around their den.
#16 – Canadian Lynx
Yes. Another lynx. We’re wondering when we will be able to see them again. They are such stunning and elegant creatures.
#15 – Badger Cubs
It had been a few years since we saw our last badger. This summer broke that streak of non-badger sightings to yield us about 25 different individuals across 2 months. Another creature with a great story for Nature Labs, and we have a few key interviews on the platform that discuss the badger – it’s biology, behaviour and challenges.
#14 – Lynx Family
What’s better than a lynx? A lynx family. We went from seeing zero lynx to seeing lynx, lynx kittens, lynx mating, lynx in snow storms, lynx hunting, lynx napping. Lynx lynx lynx!
We are ever so grateful for the content we were able to gather for high school students. Bringing nature literacy to life in the classroom became so much more vibrant once we gathered this content. What’s learning about Canadian biodiversity without the iconic Canadian lynx?
#13 – Lounging Lynx
Did we mention we were finally able to find and photograph lynx yet?
#12 – Swift Fox Kits
Swift fox kits – beautiful little aliens.
#11 – Grizzly Bear vs Raven
This is the brother bear of the two grizzly bear siblings we will be featuring in Nature Labs. He had a heck of a time trying to keep the ravens from bothering him, as he filled his belly with the energy he needed to sustain himself for the coming winter.
#10 – Lynx Mating Display
All we were looking for this year for Nature Labs was about 15 seconds of video of a lynx in the wild to demonstrate Canadian biodiversity. Instead, we were able to gather much much more. Including a lynx mating dance.
Jill actually pinched herself over and over to ensure that this scene was actually happening – did you notice the second lynx in the background?
#9 – Lynx Paw
Now we can talk about lynx paws being the best built, all natural, snowshoes for high school students through Nature Labs.
#8 – Young Wolf
Along with badgers, it felt like a long while since we had a quality encounter with a wolf. This year, being quite the lucky year for us, solved that problem.
This young wolf had discovered an old carcass near where we were gathering time lapses of Mount Robson scenes.
#7 – Lynx Family
Pristine snow with a lynx mother and kitten? One of our favourites!
#6 – Swift Fox Kiss
A peck between swift fox siblings.
#5 – Lynx Kitten
Something about this photo, the lynx kitten padding silently through the forest and stopping to glance over to the right and left right between a gap in the trees. It was a special moment that we will never forget, a peek through the window into their home.
#4 – Long Tailed Weasel
Where we saw badgers, we saw long tailed weasels right next door. It was not only a great summer for spotting badgers, but the smaller long tailed mustelid made quite the appearance over the summer for us.
#3 – Mountain Caribou Rut
With fewer than 2000 mountain caribou remaining in the wild, not only is this subspecies critically endangered, it’s also one of the rarest sights in the Rocky Mountains. And to find two large bulls fighting it out for rut supremacy? We felt as if we’d won the lottery.
We were filming a large male and his harem, when Jill spotted a second large male quickly making his way down the side of a rock slope. Within seconds, the two large males were in battle – the fiercest we’ve seen during any ungulate rut. While Simon worked to keep the battle in the video frame, Jill dropped onto her belly to grab the stills. It was over in mere seconds, with a clear winner and loser, and we felt immensely grateful to have been in the right spot, at the right moment, to capture this story across multiple mediums.
Why does the story matter? With Nature Labs, we’re using nature as a real-world example of high school class lessons – and this image doesn’t just explain grade ten biodiversity and reproduction, it also illustrates the mountain caribou’s very fight for existence. After all, it will be the next generation who will have to answer the question: Can we actually afford to save every vanishing species, like the caribou?
#2 – Swift Fox Den
We really couldn’t choose which of the next two images should be placed in the top spot. Spoiler alert – the #1 image is also swift fox.
It’s really hard to beat photographing such a rare species in the part of Alberta with arguably the best light – the prairie grasslands.
#1 – Swift Fox Kit
By rights, we should never have been able to find a swift fox in the wild, in Canada. You see, by the 1930s, the species was extinct in our country, but through one of the world’s great environmental success stories, diverse stakeholders worked together to lead a sustained reintroduction effort that is giving the species a second chance.
Today, 650 individuals are found across the highly endangered Canadian prairie ecosystem, but there is hope for their future on the landscape. Which is why we set out to find these primarily nocturnal canids in the wild: It’s an optimistic story that can show students the art of the possible when we all work together for a common purpose.
Of course, wishing to find a swift fox and finding a swift fox are two very different things. But we had a bit of luck and found an active den site that, thanks to the kindness of a proud rancher, we were able to observe for a week this past July. Watching these foxes hunt, interact and play was one of the greatest joys we’ve ever experienced in wildlife photography. So too was having the kits investigate their observer, in this case Simon, just as the sun set on another perfect prairie day.
This was the hardest year we’ve ever had sorting through images and trying to select our top. Even the next 25 images shortlisted were ones we really enjoyed. This year was the luckiest year to date (yes, even taking into the account we saw a wolverine…oh and the year we saw a cougar).
It wasn’t just the moments we had, it was the uniqueness of the encounters, the rarity of the animals and the stories they told.
If you’re wondering what the criteria was for our top images, we ranked them based on a host of factors:
- Is it a good image?
- Is it completely sharp?
- Is it uncropped?
- What’s the eye level?
- What’s the backdrop?
- Is there a story being told?
- Is it unique behaviour?
- Is it part of a memorable story or encounter which will have greater meaning to our work? To the world?
- What are the circumstances – for example, the weasel is neither rare, nor tells an important story, but it’s rare to have a cooperative weasel, at eye level, by yourself, at sunrise, with gear Nikon loaned us. While we’ll see weasels again, we probably won’t see a weasel like that again.
- The tie breaker – will we see it again? Up until this year, lynx would have been higher, but the reality is, even though we had bad luck with lynx in the past, that didn’t mean they were rare – just elusive. Mountain caribou (especially rutting) and swift fox kits – both tell bigger stories. While we had the best red fox den encounter we’ve ever had, on tie breakers, unfortunately it just never came close. We shot probably the best grizzly bear content we’ve ever shot, and it does tell a very important story – but compared to swift fox, caribou and lynx, they didn’t quite make it.
We are a storytelling, education platform. Yes, we’re passionate photographers, and yes, Simon is maybe the worst pixel peeper in the world, and it does factor into our decisions. But in the end, it’s always what image will tell a better story.
Thank you for following along as we counted down our top images of 2020, we truly hope you enjoyed. Now here’s to new stories in 2021. Cheers to all of you, thank you for your support this year!
A special thank you goes out to all of our amazing Patreon supporters. This project is NOT possible without you.
Happy New Year!
- Simon and Jill
See an image you’d like for your wall? Browse all of our top images of 2020 and support the development of Nature Labs – all profits support the platform.
What images just missed making the cut? Have a look:
Caribou Fight | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Lynx Kitten | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Young Wolf | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Lynx Mates | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Lynx Family | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Stacked | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Mountain Caribou | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Lynx | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00
Grizzly Bear in Snow | Fine Art Print$75.00 – $500.00