Annual Report 2013 – What Made This an Incredible YearCassins Kingbird, annual report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Each year I write an annual report on my life.

This has proven to be a powerful process, helping me reflect upon how I’m spending my life and imagine forward into what I want to do next.

This article is a photo report on my progress as a Professional Photographer during 2013.

Here, you’ll find samples of photos that mark special activities, achievements, and learning.

I’ll share an important insight: Even with all that I’ve accomplished, I still consider myself to be at the beginning of what there is to know.

The bird in the photo is doing something special that relates to bird photography. I tell about that below.

Note: I’ve been writing annual reports on my life since 1999. They have become a fascinating collection of personal memories. Most of the events during those years would have been lost if I hadn’t captured them into these reports.


I took 93,256 photos during 2013.

Yes, that’s a lot . . . and I wish I had taken more.


Because the more photos I take, the more photos I keep.

Right now, I keep about 3% of the photos that I take. So each good photo represents about 30 bad photos.

And then, I use only about 5% of these photos in my talks and articles.

So each success costs me at least 600 failures.

It’s important know this for two reasons:

1) If I want more successes, I must seek more failures.

2) The only reason I’m not more successful is that I haven’t had more failures.

That’s odd, right?

Imagine working hard to collect failures.

And yet that’s how life works.

There is no free success. We pay for it with the currency of failure, effort, and persistence.

 January – Home

The bird in the intro photo is a Cassin’s Kingbird.

Cassins Kingbird, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

It was playing with a flake of food late one evening at the Fullerton Arboretum. The bird tossed the flake in the air, caught it, and then tossed it in the air again.

Eventually, it missed and the flake fell to the ground.

I was amazed that a bird could play. And I was impressed by what the bird did when it missed a catch.

It acted as if nothing had happened.

It just continued with bird activities, such as looking about and preening feathers.

Most important, it did not yell, curse, or pout.


Because birds don’t know how to be mad at themselves. That would require a big, heavy brain, which would make it impossible to fly.

So this bird is reminding me to: 1) Enjoy photography as a means of play, 2) Keep everything simple, and 3) Accept whatever happens.

Ho hum, it’s just another winter day at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve in Huntington Beach, CA.

Surf Scoter, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

And then, Wow! Look, there’s a male Surf Scoter in the water near the bridge.

This shows the importance of paying attention. There’s always something wonderful to discover.

The Surf Scoter is a diving duck that feeds mostly on mollusks. These birds breed in Northern Canada and Alaska. Then they escape the cold by migrating thousands of miles to spend winters in southern places, such as this ecological reserve in California.

This illustrates the importance of preserving areas such as Bolsa Chica because these places support the lifecycle of migrating birds.

February – New Mexico

Sometimes you do things on short notice.

Sandhill Crane Flying, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Friends who live in New Mexico called to ask if we’d like to visit. And they mentioned that Sandhill Cranes (photo above) were at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

So we bought tickets on Amtrak, visited with our friends, and spent five days taking photos at Bosque del Apache NWR.

The birds and the scenery were magnificent. In fact, seeing Sandhill Cranes was so awesome that I planned a trip to Lodi, California, to attend the Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival in early November.

I was surprised to learn the the US Department of Fish and Wildlife actively manages the ecology at this refuge. For example, they adjust water levels to accommodate different types of birds during those times when these birds need a place for their migration.

It helps to know how birds live.

Northern Harrier, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

That matters because birds often behave according to habit. For example, Northern Harriers will usually perch on the ground or on short trees.

For three days I tried to take a photo of this bird with only blurry results. Then I saw it land on the ground. So when I saw it flying near that spot, I waited. And (good news) the bird landed on the same spot.

I carefully crept up upon the bird to take this photo. Then I took more photos, each time moving a little closer.

Northern Harriers hunt mostly by sound. When they hear a mouse moving, they pounce, often from heights of 20 to 30 ft (6 to 10 meters).

Pause a moment to reflect upon how much noise a mouse might make while running on soft dirt.

March – Home

 March was a quiet month.

Green-winged Teal, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

So I spent my time taking photos of birds at local parks.

This Male Green Winged Teal was photographed at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Huntington Beach.

I’m impressed by the incredible beauty that can be found in ducks. They have the most intricate, beautiful feather patterns.

I owe someone a huge thanks for this photo.

Allens Hummingbird on a Waterfall, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

A member of the Fullerton Arboretum staff told me that he had seen hummingbirds taking baths in the waterfall just inside the entrance.

So for the next many days, I waited at the waterfall in the late afternoon.

On one of those days, I took this photo of an Allen’s Hummingbird, male, taking a bath.

The Fullerton Arboretum used this photo for the 2013 holiday card that they sent their members. I consider that an important honor.

April – Morro Bay, CA

 The sound is more amazing than the sight.

Sandpipers, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

This is a flock of about 200 sandpipers. They fly as a living, organic cloud, moving, turning, and landing as one. It’s the ultimate example of coordinated teamwork.

Studies claim that these birds can react within 0.01 second to the movements of others in the flock. This is at least ten times faster than the reaction time for the best human athletes.

More impressive is the buzzing sound as they fly.

Imagine what hundreds of small wings might sound like in the silence of Morro Bay. It’s breath taking.

Birds understand the concept of having enough.

American Avocet, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Thus, birds are the ultimate efficiency experts. They know that every bit of energy spent must be replaced by finding food.

For example, this American Avocet is flying only as high as it needs to fly when moving to a new location.

By the way, it is very difficult to take a photo such as this one.

May – Home

 The Black Skimmer uses its sense of touch to catch fish.

Black Skimmer, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

It flies quickly, using its narrow bill to cut the water. When a fish touches its bill, it snaps its bill shut.

As you might expect, this bird depends upon finding small fish that swim close to the surface.

June – Home

 Here’s one of my good friends.

Western Bluebird, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

The Western Bluebird is one of my favorite birds. I especially enjoy watching them look about when they perch. Sometimes they stare at me as if to say, “I can’t believe you’re carrying such a big lens.”

So I always greet them with a friendly, “Hello. How are you?” And I’ll tell them, “You’re a good bird.”

There’s an important point here.

People treat others the way they treat themselves. So I want to practice kindness everywhere, all the time, even with my friends the birds.

When I say good things about others, I’m hearing good things about myself.

July – Home

Few people see this bird.

Least Tern Juvenile, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

It’s a juvenile Least Tern.

Least Terns are an endangered species in Southern California.

Notice that the juvenile has a mottled pattern on its wings, instead of the black that you’d see on an adult. This helps camouflage the bird while it’s being raised in the shallow “nest” that the adult dug in the gravel on a beach.

It’s incredible that any of these birds survive. They’re prey to everything that eats small critters – from coyotes to hawks, from rats to gulls, and so on.

Then these small birds have to survive people, who ride dune buggies, motor bikes, and ATVs over the landscape where they build their nests. Sometimes people even try to run over nests or other wildlife.

I’m baffled by how anyone would want to destroy animals.

By the way, here’s an adult Least Tern.

Least Tern, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

This bird is very difficult to photograph while flying. It moves fast and erratically, often high above.

August – Home

Sometimes you find extraordinary color.

Western Tanager, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Here is a Western Tanager at Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Brea, CA.

And sometimes you see extraordinary behavior.

Snowy Egret, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Snowy Egrets will dance about, rub their feet in the mud, and shade the water with their wings. If you see one at work, it seems that the bird is being goofy.

Actually, all of these actions are techniques used by the bird to move fish out of hiding where they can be caught.

Here is a Snowy Egret jumping out of the lake at Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Brea, CA.

September – Sequoia National Park

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth waiting.

Black-throated Gray Warbler, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

I stood in a patch of Manzanita for almost two hours waiting for a bird to show up.

I chose this spot because the light was perfect and I could see birds moving in nearby trees.

Finally, a Black-throated Gray Warbler arrived. Then it stayed for about five seconds before flying away into a nearby tree.

Thank you.

As a bonus, this photo also contains a good view of a Manzanita leaf. For some people that could be more interesting than the bird.

October – Home

Is this the right time?

Egyptian Goose, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

A pair of Egyptian Geese started a brood of chicks in September. And now here they are in October.

Most birds will start a family in early summer to allow time for the young to grow during warm months.

November – Lodi, CA

I attended the Festival of Cranes in Lodi, CA.

Sandhill Crane Sitting, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

Here’s a Sandhill Crane on the ground (instead of flying, which appears above).

This was a surprise.

Tundra Swan, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

I had gone out to Staten Island (near Lodi, CA) to take photos of Sandhill Cranes, and a group of Tundra Swans flew in.

They were far away, so this is one of the best photos that I was able to take.

These birds seemed to twist and wiggle in the air as they approached a landing spot. It was amazing to see this.

Sometimes the greatest reward from bird photography is seeing how wild birds do things. These sights leave lasting, joyful memories.

December – Zion National Park

Birds are very resourceful.

Downy Woodpecker, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

In December 2013, Zion National Park had a record snowfall and a record cold. Temperatures were about 35 F (about 20 C) below normal.

And yet, birds had to survive.

Here is a male Downy Woodpecker that has cut a hole in a pecan. Then it would peck at the nut inside, breaking it into small pieces that could be licked out.

I did something very different while in Zion National Park.

Red-shafted Northern Flicker Male

I took all my photos using the Manual setting on my camera.

I did this to make sure that I had a proper exposure for the subject (a bird) as it moved across different backgrounds.

For example, here is a male Red-shafted Northern Flicker on snow. This pale gray bird on a white background would fool most camera systems.

This was a gift.

Northern Pygmy-Owl, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

I had just parked at the Visitor’s Center in Zion National Park when I noticed this odd looking bird sitting on the fence in front of the car.

When the bird turned toward me, I exclaimed, “It’s an owl!”

So I pulled the trunk release, slowly opened the door, and slid out of the car. Hiding behind the open trunk, I put my camera on the tripod and took this photo.

A Northern Pygmy-owl is small – about 7-in long (17-cm), which is less than the length of your hand (for most adults).

Seeing one of these birds is especially rare.

What’s Next

This ends the year 2013.

Marbled Godwit Landing, Annual Report 2013, by Steve Kaye

And to commemorate that, here’s a Marbled Godwit landing at the end of a flight.

Of course, we know that every landing represents a temporary rest. Then we must continue.

So here’s what I want to accomplish next year:

1) I want to take more photos. My intention is to take at least 100,000.

2) I want to take better photos of more interesting activities. I already have many classic, standard views. Now I want photos that show birds being active, alive, and amazing.

3) I want to take sharper, better photos. So I’m concentrating on better techniques.

4) I want to take more videos. These add movement to the slides that I show in my talks and seminars.

5) I want to be more like a bird, who can play without worrying about how long the game will last. This becomes increasingly important when you reach your senior years.

Finally, I plan to write an annual report on 2014.