Photo of the Year 2010


This page contains 28 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Sun 13/02/11 18:11).

Every year we are astonished by the number and variety of photos that are uploaded to our site, and 2010 was certainly no exception. The volume of photos approved is growing year on year, to the extent we were all shocked when we plotted the numbers on a graph.

Number of photos approved per year.

The photos we have accumulated over the years now total 167,678, covering an amazing 3614 species and forms, and the associated 637,308 files take up a whopping 43GB on our servers.

Some species make more popular subjects than others. 2010's favourite species were (with number of uploads):

  1. Waxwing (1130)
  2. Common Kingfisher (662)
  3. Grey Heron (547)
  4. Robin (537)
  5. Northern Wheatear (519)
  6. Common Kestrel (506)
  7. Bittern (487)
  8. Barn Owl (479)
  9. Snow Bunting (461)
  10. Common Buzzard (453)

And if Waxwing was no surprise as top species, the top county won't astonish anyone either:

  1. Norfolk (3719)
  2. Suffolk (3033)
  3. Lincolnshire (1859)
  4. Lancashire (1761)
  5. Northumberland (1731)
  6. Shropshire (1134)
  7. Essex (1130)
  8. East Yorkshire (1101)
  9. Cheshire (1078)
  10. Worcestershire (972)

The Judges

Julian Hughes

Julian is warden at the RSPB's popular Conwy nature reserve in North Wales, returning to his homeland this year after 18 years in East Anglia. Julian has been a keen birder since the age of 16. Although a decent rarity will still occasionally deprive him of sleep through excessive caffeine consumption, most of his birding is now done in North Wales, both at Conwy and along the coastal headlands such as the Little Orme and Great Orme. He's enjoying getting into unbirded bits of the countryside through BTO Atlas surveys, and is a Council member of the Welsh Ornithological Society.

Mike Toms

Mike Toms has worked for the BTO since 1994. A keen amateur when it comes to photography, he mostly works with macro subjects, thus avoiding the problematic decision of which to take out birding: telescope or SLR and 400mm lens? Married to an artist, he has a strong interest in design and composition, and appreciates photographers who take time to plan and compose such stunning images as those appearing in BirdGuides' growing gallery.

Mike Atkinson

Mike's twin passions for birds and photography have been with him since his teen years. The advent of digital photography has finally enabled him to combine these passions to create a rich collection of images covering over 200 British species, over 1000 of which are featured on his website. His images have appeared in a wide range of publications, both in print and in electronic media. Since suggesting the initiation of the Photo of the Year contest in 2006, Mike has acted as Photo Editor for BirdGuides, encouraging the development of bird photography through the Reviews of the Week and other activities. Having learnt the art and craft of bird photography the hard way, Mike now enjoys passing on his knowledge to others through tutorial articles, workshops and one-to-one training.

Winner of BirdGuides Photo of the Year 2010

Short-eared Owl with vole taken by Mark Hancox on 5th December

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl, Worlaby Carrs, Lincolnshire (Photo: Mark Hancox)

The judges' comments included:

MA: "With over 50,000 bird photos uploaded by our contributors in 2010, an image has to have something special to stand out from the crowd. From a bird photographer's viewpoint, a good starting point for creating such an outstanding image is the choice of subject. Owls in general make for high-impact images: their unique appearance as specialised predators and their air of mystery generate interest, whilst their relatively human-like faces create a sense of engagement, especially when making full eye contact. The bright yellow eyes of the Short-eared Owl are particularly striking, as Mark Hancox illustrates with his head-and-shoulders shot taken in a snowy Lincolnshire setting during the coldest December for decades. As if a well-lit close-up of a Short-eared Owl outlined against the snow were not enough, though, Mark managed to catch the owl with a perfectly positioned vole hanging from its bill. The result is an image with a rare combination of immediate impact and lasting depth, as the viewer is transported from initial 'wow' to connection with the subjects and on to the story of life and death in a constantly changing environment."

JH: "Scroll through the PoTW page and this Short-eared Owl's stare makes you halt. You might think that the owl has done all the hard work here, but perhaps that's the secret of a great photo: a simple but fantastic portrait that makes you appreciate how the owl lives rather than immediately thinking about how hard the photographer worked. And then you realise...."

MT: "There is nothing more striking than the piercing stare of a Short-eared Owl and, as with Mark's other work, this is a beautifully presented portrait which really engages the viewer. Having worked on owls over many years, and having seen no end of owl photographs, I am still surprised by how much of an emotional reaction a good owl photograph can stir — and this is a great owl photograph.."

Mark said:

"The photo was taken on a four-day trip to photograph the SEOs at Worlaby Carrs in Lincolnshire. It had snowed really heavily and the only access was with the use of snow-chains to get us as far as possible. We then walked the further mile or so to reach the owls. I think this helped as there were only three or four people at the site and the owl was comfortable being approached. On this day the owl had hunted very well and had eaten three voles but kept hunting and started storing the voles at the base of a fencepost, which was when I took the shots."


  • Canon EOS–1D Mark IV camera
  • Canon 500 f/4 lens


  • ISO 800
  • Shutter Speed 1/1600th second
  • Aperture f/8

Mark wins an iPod Touch loaded with a range of BirdGuides apps.


Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher, Germany (Photo: Siegbert Werner)

MA: "One of the most impressive aspects of modern wildlife photography has been its ability to reveal things that could never be seen by the human eye. Sometimes this is about place — taking us where we couldn't go ourselves — and sometimes it's about time — freezing action too fast for our senses to perceive. With his amazing underwater shot of a diving Kingfisher, Siegbert Werner combines both of these capabilities. Many people have watched a Kingfisher doing what it's known for, but actually to go with it below the water surface and see its swept-back wings amidst the air bubbles and (who'd have guessed?) splayed feet to control its dive, is a real privilege."

Cuckoo, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: David Cookson)

JH: "Not an easy subject to photograph in flight, even less so when the bird is in a 'barrel roll', so to get a sharp photo and to capture a sense of its movement without a blur is an impressive feat. And as the poster-bird of the decline in African migrants, there's a bigger story to tell here."

Green Heron
Green Heron, Heligan, Cornwall (Photo: Stephen Burch)

MT "This is a real birders' bird, beautifully captured and presented by Stephen Burch. The photograph has a wonderful balance, the bird in the habitat with enough going on around it, both in terms of detail and colour palette, to really set off the subject itself. I love the way that the heron is positioned within the image, the greens off to the left and the warm brown tones in the leaves to the right — all of which draw out the subtle colours of the bird's plumage. The low angle of the shot completes what for me is a perfect image of this stunning visitor. It's enough to make me wish I'd had the chance to go and see the bird."

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, India (Photo: Mital Patel)

MA: "With their brilliant colours and sleek features, bee-eaters are regarded by many as being among the most beautiful and exotic birds in the world. Indian bird photographer Mital Patel certainly reinforced that view when he photographed the stunning Blue-cheeked variety in his home country. Mital angled himself perfectly relative to the morning sun to bring out the colours and details of the bird. A simple perch and diffuse background make for a classic composition that shows off the bird at its best. Mital's real achievement, though, was to combine aesthetics with action by freezing the bird as it tossed a water scorpion into the air before swallowing it. My favourite recipe for a bird image is one that conveys the beauty of birds and shows you something about how they live."

Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting, Land's End, Cornwall (Photo: Lewis Thomson)

JH: "I always love to see these little winter birds, but so often the view is a fleeting one as they're either deep in grass or easily flushed and on the move. There's nothing 'clever' about this shot, it's a simple portrait that shows the beauty of its plumage in glorious detail."

Shelduck, Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk (Photo: Richard Bedford)

MT: "What strikes me about this image is that it is disorienting and challenges the viewer to make sense of what is going on. It is only the orientation of the heads that reveals the correct axis, what is up and what is down, and even then you are still thinking 'is this right; are they really falling in this seemingly unnatural pose?' This is an exceptional photograph, in part because it challenges the viewer, but also because it captures and freezes such fast-moving action. There are not enough portraits of bird behaviour and this is a stunning example of what is possible with luck, skill and patience."

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern, Farne Islands, Northumberland (Photo: David Whistlecraft)

MA: "In general, bird photography is not known for its creativity: most photographers concentrate on capturing as much detail as possible in their subjects, using long lenses to get the kinds of close views we could enjoy if only we had better eyesight. To step back from this and do something completely different is surprisingly difficult, especially at a honeypot site like the Farne Islands, where ultra close-ups of seabirds are there for the taking. David Whistlecraft therefore deserves special recognition not just for breaking so many norms — using a wide-angle lens, using flash, converting to monochrome, manipulating contrast — but for showing just how effective this can be."

Pheasant, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway (Photo: Alan McFadyen)

JH: "There's something slightly comical about this peek-a-boo image. The rich colours of the head, taken in perfect light that brings the blue-green sheen to life, contrast perfectly with the more sombre tones of the moss and bark of the Silver Birch."

Empidonax sp.
Alder/Willow Flycatcher, Blakeney Point, Norfolk (Photo: Richard Stonier)

MT: "While some might suggest that this is something of a 'tart's shot', the photography of tricky rares can prove instructive and, as in this case, also inspiring. A neat, well-framed shot taken under less-than-ideal weather conditions. While I spent over an hour watching this bird, being able to study a good photograph at leisure after the event has been particularly useful."

All of the runners-up are treated to a year's free Iris Pro membership.

Finally a big thank you to everyone who submitted pictures to BirdGuides during 2010, and congratulations to all of those who made Picture of the Week and the "notable" section of the weekly reviews. We love looking at all the photos that arrive; do keep them coming.

Several of the winning photographers have their own websites:

Mark Hancox: http://www.markhancoxbirdphotography.co.uk
David Cookson: http://www.dc-images.co.uk
Stephen Burch: http://www.stephenburch.com
Mital Patel: http://www.kevincreation.com
Lewis Thomson: http://www.ltimages.co.uk
Richard Bedford: http://www.richardbedford.co.uk
David Whistlecraft: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25542546@N06/
Richard Stonier: http://www.birdsonline.co.uk

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (28)

What a great set of photos. Mark's winning photo is great, but the composition is awkward. Can't help thinking it would be improved with a tighter crop on the bird. There's a little too much white on the left side of the picture and it looks unbalanced.
   Hugh Pugh, 03/02/11 17:16Report inappropriate post Report 
Congratulations Mark a well deserved win for this brilliant shot:)
   Judy Kennett, 03/02/11 18:08Report inappropriate post Report 
They're all superb, but for me the shelduck shot, by Richard Bedford, and the cuckoo, by David Cookson, are truly outstanding.
   Steve Babbs, 03/02/11 20:26Report inappropriate post Report 
Superb Mark, would have been my choice, Top Photo
   Dean Eades, 03/02/11 21:15Report inappropriate post Report 
Very artistic Dave, great shot
   Dean Eades, 03/02/11 21:18Report inappropriate post Report 
Well done Mark, superb shot deserves the recognition and the hard work achieving it.
   Glenn Wilkinson, 03/02/11 21:34Report inappropriate post Report 
A worthy winner against strong competition, well done.
   James Thomas, 03/02/11 22:04Report inappropriate post Report 
Sorry but got to agree with Hugh on this one. The crop ruins the image and some of the others are over sharpened. The green heron is the best of the bunch here imo.
   Andy, 03/02/11 23:21Report inappropriate post Report 
All the picture are excellent and well done to the winners. I can't believe the high standard bird photography has got to! I've just looked at Mark Hancox's website and stuffed with brilliant images. I would like to say thank you to all the photographers who share their images with us mortals. It gives such great pleasure.
   Craig Howat, 03/02/11 23:38Report inappropriate post Report 
Winner out of 50,000 entries eh? Well done - preen and enjoy - and continue taking cracking shots!
   Pauline Greenhalgh, 03/02/11 23:51Report inappropriate post Report 
well done to all , i guessed marks picture would get poty as soon as i saw it , absolute cracker :)
   adam hough, 04/02/11 06:45Report inappropriate post Report 
Well done to all, fantastic pictures and all worthy winners
   Neill Carden, 04/02/11 07:38Report inappropriate post Report 
Brilliant 'photos without exception. However, I would disqualify any 'photo which was one of a bird showing expression of acknowledging the photographer's presence.
   Keith Davies, 04/02/11 14:56Report inappropriate post Report 
I dont envy the judges of POTY their job of picking a winner, and in 2010 the standards have been very high, making their job even harder. I think Marks shot is a stunner and worthy winner. Ignore the criticisms voiced here Mark and continue to do what you have done all year, that is amaze us with some fabulous shots. Congratulations to mark and the Runners up.
   Brian Davis, 04/02/11 15:36Report inappropriate post Report 
Whoa! Hang on Brian! Just because a photo has been judged POTY doesn't mean it is perfect. Why would Mark not want to listen to constructive suggestions and at least consider them if not try reworking the picture? To say "ignore the criticisms" is to suggest that one shouldn't try to improve their work. How can this be good advice?
   Hugh Pugh, 04/02/11 16:31Report inappropriate post Report 
Choosing a winner in any competition is always going to be difficult, there has to be a winner and on this occassion its Marks stunning head and shoulder shot of a SEO, it grabs your attention as soon as you open it and the difficulty in getting to the bird in difficult conditions has to be applauded! Everyone has their own opinion but Mark has won and should be congratulated for his shot, the other shots are all just as good and all just as different which is the point! Well done to the judges!
   Craig Churchill, 04/02/11 16:35Report inappropriate post Report 
Top shot mark well done.
   Paul Hargreaves, 04/02/11 17:33Report inappropriate post Report 
Craig's right, it's all down to opinion. Personally, I would have gone for one of three shots not even short-listed! They are Mark's Blue Tits and Coal Tit from March, Mark's Kingfisher from June or Nigel's Kestrel in March. But you can't criticise the shortlist as they're all so good. Wonder if BirdGuides have considered a regular junior award? Not for me (I'm well into my 40s!) but there seems to be an increasing number of keen, and talented, youngsters out there.
   Andy Mould, 04/02/11 19:09Report inappropriate post Report 
Really really well done to all concerned espcially David Cookson whom I've had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions. On a personal level some of the images posted on Birdguides and are trully inspirational it really does help spur me on when I've not been so lucky with weather, bird, equipment etc. Roll on springtime..
   Gordon Speirs, 07/02/11 13:11Report inappropriate post Report 
Ooops - I suddenly realise there is an omission from me .... I thought it and thought I'd said it .......... and its REALLY WELL DONE to all the runners up!!
   Pauline Greenhalgh, 07/02/11 13:46Report inappropriate post Report 
Yes Indeed, WELL DONE to all the runners up...
   Dean Eades, 07/02/11 14:49Report inappropriate post Report 
Well done Mark. Certainly my ''photo of the year'' I wonder though at the people who post negative comments. It is absolutely fine to have an opinion, but to voice it here seems like sour grapes to me. If you don't like a shot, or feel that it isn't worthy of an accolade, surely it is better to keep that opinion to yourself? In my opinion(which is just that, my personal judgement, for what it is worth!) this image stayed with me more than any other posted this year, and is truly deserving of such a sought after accolade. Congratulations also to the runners up:)
   Jimmy MacDonald, 07/02/11 23:29Report inappropriate post Report 
Jimmy - you criticise people voicing an opinion on this thread, but that is what everyone on the thread has done, including yourself. Saying "truly deserving of such a sought after accolade" is a fine opinion, but why can't people post constructive comments as well? Being constructive doesn't need to be negative, or driven by sour grapes!
   Hugh, 08/02/11 10:09Report inappropriate post Report 
I am alluding to posting negative comments. The only reason to post such remarks is IMO sour grapes, not ''constructive'' I'm a great believer in: If you have nothing good to say, say nothing.
   Jimmy MacDonald, 08/02/11 13:27Report inappropriate post Report 
Congratulations to all the winners but especially Mark. Personally the portfolio he submitted this year was awesome and I think his work could have won on many fronts. I would also like to add artistically I love Davids Farne shot, exceptional work. Well done all,looking forward to your contributions next year...............well that would be this year.
   John Betts, 09/02/11 10:02Report inappropriate post Report 
Hugh Pugh, my only comment on your negativity and supposed constructive comments are that you choose to voice them only when Marks pic has been voted POTY. You made no comment on it when it was submitted or when it was voted POTW. Why now? The composition of a photograph is surely personal choice, I, along with many others, think the comp is fine. I reiterate my original comment, I'm glad I dont have to choose POTY because there is no pleasing some people.
   Brian Davis, 12/02/11 16:09Report inappropriate post Report 
Hi Brian. Apologies to contradict. In my first posting the first thing I did was compliment ALL of the photos, including Mark's. They are all fantastic. But that doesn't mean they are perfect and can't necessarily be improved. Please don't confuse 'constructive' with 'negative'. I made no comment on it when it was submitted because I didn't see it; I don't religiously look at all the photos posted. The first time I saw it was in this article. Sure composition is personal choice, but there...more more
   Hugh Pugh, 12/02/11 21:02Report inappropriate post Report 
Hugh. I love to debate with people and could continue this for some time yet. You seem to miss the point, people who submit photos on here aren't always looking to be told how to improve them, and with the greatest respect to your friend wildlife photographers dont have the benefit of being able to tell the subject where to stand what to do and the repeated opportunity to do it again if its not right. Let me tell you what I see in the picture to give you one wildlife photographers...more more
   Brian Davis, 13/02/11 18:11Report inappropriate post Report 

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