I've seen a few exhibitions recently that I've been meaning to write about, but I'll start with the biggie. It was a good year for birds at the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The winning photo, of course, was Daniel Beltrá's heartbreaking image of oiled pelicans at a rescue centre in Louisiana -- part of a set of photographs documenting the BP oil spill that also won Beltrá the Photojournalist of the Year prize.
But most of the other bird pictures were more cheerful. Oystercatchers were the slightly unexpected but welcome star of two category winners. Fourteen-year-old Mateusz Piesiak scooped the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year title with his photo of a young American Oystercatcher stealing a tidbit from an adult, while Peter Chadwick won the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife with a shot of African Black Oystercatchers caught off-guard by a wave.
Ilkka Räsänen, from Finland, won the 10 Years and Under category back in 2009 with his portrait of a greenfinch; this year, he was Highly Commended in the 11-14 Years category for his stunning picture of a tern splashing in a lake. I loved the way the bird's wings and the water droplets caught the golden sunlight. Also using water to great effect was Petr Simon with his Racket-Tail in the Rain. This hummingbird picture was so detailed that you could see a single raindrop on the bird's bill. Bowerbirds have been surprisingly neglected in past competitions, but Tim Laman made up for that with his cheeky photo of a male showing off his greatest treasure: a pink paperclip.
In several cases, perfect composition turned photos of not-particularly-spectacular species into something astonishing. Coots are so commonplace that I don't know if anyone's even bothered to enter a photo of them before, but Andrew George's black-and-white shot of a group walking on ice was a thing of beauty. There was also Henrik Lund's picture of a Horned Lark framed by dead stems in the Finnish snow. And Thomas Hanahoe's Knot Lift-Off seemed almost surreal. I also couldn't go without mentioning Stefano Unterthiner's geometric arrangements of cranes and swans.
Birds were also a big part of Bence Máté's beautiful portfolio, which -- almost inevitably -- won the Eric Hosking Award. I believe this is the last year that Máté is eligible for the award; he first won it in 2002 at age 17, and it's only for photographers under age 27. Perhaps young Mateusz or Ilkka will step up to take his place.
It wasn't all birds, of course. Two invertebrate pictures particularly caught my eye: sixteen-year-old Jack Salzke's painterly close-up of a honeybee visiting a magnolia flower, and Valter Binotto's Apollo at Rest, in which a white butterfly seems almost transparent among its surroundings. Joel Sartore captured a mountain goat in a jitter-inducing pose, while Louis-Marie Préau contributed the first portrait I've seen of a beaver underwater. And of course, no WPY exhibition would be complete without an adorable monkey photo, this time taken by Cyril Ruoso.