Our ‘Holiday Wish List’ for Wildlife Images

The holiday season waits for no one, and as such, it is in full swing at this point in the calendar! Ready, or not. 

Typically this is a time for parties, family functions, presents, wrapping paper, and everything else that goes with all that. And while some of those things for some folks will not be happening during this ‘odd’ 2020 season, the sentiment is still there. The holiday season is a time for giving, and of goodwill and reflection about the year that will soon come to a close. And we can do those things no matter what. 

So, maybe still make sure to slow down a bit, and to spend at least some time thinking about one more important thing during this season of giving. Yourself!

Self-care is all the rage these days, so let’s take this ‘self-care’ initiative in a direction that suites our needs: our photography desires.

This past Thursday, Matt Meisenheimer highlighted Backcountry Journeys’ Holiday Wish List for Landscape Images. Today, we’ll look at the 10 most sought after wildlife images that we hope to capture in the coming year. Think of this list as 10 little presents you can pick from to give to yourself. Or, at least wish for! 

While Matt listed his Landscape images in ‘no particular order,’ for this list we will risk starting disagreements by placing them in an order determined by us! So, here we go, beginning with the number 10 slot, making our way towards the coveted number one position. 

#10 – Bison
Backcountry Journeys encounters Bison on a number of our photo tour itineraries, namely on our photo itineraries at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. While getting a great image of a bison during one of these tours is not uncommon, the beast itself is just such an icon of the American west, it simply must be on this list. Whether it’s a tight portrait close-up of a snow-encrusted face with icy breathe, or a well-composed image telling a larger story of the animal’s surroundings, the bison is simply a perfect subject. 

#9 – Resplendent Quetzal
The Resplendent Quetzal, found in the cloud mountains of Costa Rica, is so revered and sought after that Backcountry Journeys has developed an entire trip extension almost entirely dedicated to photographing it in its natural habitat. The Resplendent Quetzal is on the life list of almost every birder because of its iconic appearance and is considered by many as the most beautiful bird in the world (stay tuned to #8 for an argument). This bird also has enormous cultural significance. The quetzal was considered a divine presence by pre-Colombian peoples, the Quetzalcoatl, Aztec, and Mayans. They called it the “God of the air.” 

#8 – Lilac-breasted Roller 
The national bird of both Kenya and Botswana, the Lilac-breasted Roller, is the second of two birds on our list that are arguably among the most beautiful birds in the world! They are relatively common and widespread throughout much of southern Africa (in locations like Botswana), but also as far north as Ethiopia. The Lilac-breasted Roller’s beauty speaks for itself, and their behavior can provide entertainment and a challenge for wildlife photographers: they are known for their acrobatic, agile flight, aided by the tail streamers they are able to use as rudders while flying across the African skies.

#7 – Jaguar
The word jaguar is rooted in the Tupi-Guarani word ‘yaguar,’ which means “he who kills with one leap.” The Pantanal region of Brazil holds the densest population of jaguars, estimating between 4,000 – 7,000 cats. There are few experiences as thrilling and adrenaline-inducing as finding a Jaguar along the banks of a winding river in the Pantanal. While they are plentiful, finding them is not as cut-and-dry as say, finding Brown bears in Katmai. You still must “hunt” to find these big cats. Vantage points are best achieved from the river, via boat, and that is exactly how Backcountry Journeys visits the Jaguars of Brazil’s Pantanal. While they are the third-largest cat in the world, pound-for-pound they are by far the strongest, with one of the most powerful bites in the animal kingdom. You’ll want to stay on the boat. 

#6 – Famous White Squirrels of Brevard
The locally famous white squirrels of Brevard, North Carolina come in at number six on our list. We’re able to find this little critter only while on our Smoky Mountains photography tours, and while the squirrel is perhaps a bit lesser-known than the other animals on this list, they make up for that with uniqueness. Mythology has it that the squirrels are the descendants of squirrels that escaped when a traveling carnival wagon overturned on its way through back in the 1940s. Whatever the case, the squirrels are exceedingly rare. They are not albinos but a different color phase of the gray squirrel and are only found in two other locales in the nation.

#5 – Puffin
Puffins really are among the most photogenic of all marine birds. They’re also quite the challenge to photograph as they are fast as all get out! While they are difficult to capture, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn how and to practice if you join Backcountry Journeys. We find and photograph puffin on multiple photo tour itineraries. They are most common on our Marine Wildlife: Kenai Fjords trip, but also in Iceland, as well. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s not just the challenge of photographing puffin that put them on this list, they are also aesthetically breathtaking creatures, and the environments in which they are found are second to none! 

#4 – Red-eyed Tree Frog
Costa Rica is home to an enormous array of cold-blooded critters. Amongst them are nearly 130 species of frog. The frogs of Costa Rica present a unique photographic opportunity, especially if you love macro photography, as many of these little hoppers are tiny! The Red-eyed tree frog is a dazzlingly colored frog, with its vertical blue stripes and blood-red eyes it has become an unofficial mascot of Costa Rica. These little guys are as much fun to find as they are to photograph. 

#3 – Brown Bear
At number three is an animal who has been as popular as any with Backcountry Journeys’ guests over the years: The Brown Bear (or Grizzly). While Brown Bears typically are solitary animals, dramatic gatherings take place and can be witnessed at locations like Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks, in Alaska. At Katmai, the bears congregate at Brooks Falls attempting to catch salmon leaping out of the river. Most of the amazing photographs of a grizzly catching a salmon in its mouth that you’ve seen (like this one above) were shot at Brooks Falls. The image of a lifetime can indeed be made right here. But, while Katmai gets most of the notoriety, don’t forget locations like Lake Clark, which are more discrete, while equally as amazing! 

#2 – Mountain Gorilla
There are roughly just one-thousand Mountain Gorillas remaining on Earth, and about half of these live in the forests of the Virunga Mountains, in Rwanda, on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, in central Africa. Spending time and photographing these majestic creatures, who share 98% of their DNA with humans, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one to be cherished. 

And the number one critter on our 2020 Holiday List is…

#1 – Elephant
Coming in at number one on Backcountry Journeys’ 2020 Holiday Wish List for Wildlife Images is… the Elephant!! We hope to find great success photographing elephants while in Botswana for both of our thrilling safaris: Botswana: Land of Giants, and Ultimate Botswana Wildlife Safari. Botswana is located in southern Africa and is home to some of the more unimaginable vastness and wildlife the world has to offer. While many of Africa’s “Big Five” will be on our minds in Botswana, the elephant stands out as a true giant among giants. 

So there you have it! But, lists are subjective, and this one is only ours. At the beginning of this piece, we discussed taking time to think about what you want, and we’d love to hear what you come up with for yourselves.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from everyone here at Backcountry Journeys!

Kenton Krueger










Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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