Everyone knows the year 2020 was atypical and that translated into a similarly unusual EEB Photographer at Large Contest with the majority of photos taken in our proverbial backyard, Michigan. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel and kept people close to home but it also drove many to the great outdoors, looking for safe adventures and a change of scenery.

The winning photo is emblematic of a rough and stormy year. Congratulations to EEB graduate student, Teresa Pegan, who captured the stunningly beautiful, “Waves from an Alberta clipper at sunset.”

“I knew that the waves at sunset would look pretty, but I wasn’t expecting how magical it would look,” she described. “It happened very suddenly: the sun hit a particular angle and the spindrift coming off the tops of the waves instantly lit up with rosy light that glowed against the dark water. It was hard to decide whether to look and take it all in or to take photos, but fortunately the effect lasted for several minutes, so there was plenty of time for both.”

Second place: “Cliff-hanger: A honey bee barely holding onto a sunflower petal” near Dexter, Mich. by EEB graduate student William Weaver.

Pegan took the photo in March 2020, just before the pandemic, on a birdwatching trip to western Michigan with fellow EEB grad, Eric Gulson. When the forecast predicted waves up to 15 feet from an Alberta clipper storm system they added wave watching to their agenda at Tiscornia Park, St. Joseph, Mich. Pegan said the park has a pretty beach where visitors can see uncommon ducks in the winter. “Between the time of year and the fierce wind driving off the lake, it was very, very cold!”

“The waves were impressive enough during the day, but when Eric realized that the sky was clear to the west, we decided to stay in St. Joseph for dinner instead of going back to Ann Arbor before dark as we had planned so that we could see the waves in the sunset. It was certainly a good decision!”

EEB graduate student William Weaver placed second with a delightful “Cliff-hanger: A honey bee barely holding onto a sunflower petal” near Dexter, Mich. at a raspberry farm on a bright sunny summer morning.  

Weaver remembered, “I was raspberry picking with some friends and got distracted by all the pollinators instead of picking berries! These honey bees were walking all over some sunflowers and I caught this one right as it landed on a petal.”

Weaver is on Instagram @phyloforfun.

Third place: Rumaan Malhotra’s “Alpenglow on Volcan Osorno, as the moon rises,” southern Chile.

EEB graduate student Rumaan Malhotra came in third place with the evocative “Alpenglow on Volcan Osorno, as the moon rises” shot at his field site. 

“Osorno catching some of the last light wasn't so uncommon, but the shade and intensity varied (most often a pale pastel pink), and changed by the minute,” Malhotra recalled. “A vibrant orange alpenglow like this didn't happen often, and was always impossible to ignore, since the giant volcano was the only thing lit up in an otherwise darkening landscape. I am always interested in trying to capture both moonrise and sunset in the same image, so I was pretty excited when I saw the moon coming up at just the right moment.”

Osorno hasn't erupted since the 1800s, he added, and Charles Darwin saw Osorno erupt while on his ship, the Beagle. “The neighboring Calbuco however, erupted quite spectacularly in 2015.” 

“I took this photo from a farm, in a rural part of the Los Lagos region in southern Chile. It was during the austral winter, during which snow may cover two-thirds to the entire volcano. It retains a glacier during the summer as well, but it is a much smaller snow cap. If you looked at a thermometer you would think it not that cold, as it hovers a little bit above freezing most of the time. However, the constant damp/rain really made it feel like the cold burrowed into my bones at the end of a field day. Watching the volcano catch the last rays of the sun most evenings made me feel a bit warmer until the woodstove really got going. 

“Though there are several volcanoes in the area, Osorno is the most dominant landscape feature, and can be seen from almost anywhere in the region."

Malhotra added a note about conservation in the region. “Gorgeous volcanoes like this and beautiful alpine lakes are undoubtedly a major reason behind why much of the protected lands in Chile are concentrated in the Andes. Unfortunately for the regional biodiversity however, much of the endemism is found in the coastal mountains, which served as refugia during recent glacial events, and which generally do not enjoy the same level of protection.” 

Malhotra is on Instagram at @rumaaninnature.

Honorable mention: “A female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) drilling into a tree preparing to lay eggs,” William Weaver.

Honorable mentions

Weaver also had an image with an honorable mention, “A female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) drilling into a tree preparing to lay eggs.”

They found a few of these wasps while hiking at a park north of Detroit. “They were all working very hard to drill into the bark. We watched this wasp for at least half an hour.” 


Honorable mention: “Fer-de-lance,” John David Curlis.

EEB graduate student John David Curlis’ “Fer-de-lance” captured an honorable mention.

“This Fer-de-lance was encountered while conducting fieldwork in the forests of Soberanía National Park, Panama, where my colleagues and I were researching lizards,” Curlis recounted. “Fer-de-lances are generally nocturnal, and this one was curled up under some dense foliage, probably sleeping. When we accidentally stepped too close (none of us initially saw it), the snake hurled itself from its hiding spot and into a nearby creek. It then sat motionless for a few moments and allowed me to snap some photos before all of us went our respective ways.

“Fer-de-lances get a bad reputation because they are responsible for a high proportion of venomous snake bites in Central America, but this is likely because they are relatively common and can tolerate human-altered habitats, putting them in frequent contact with people. As with all venomous snakes, they are not inherently malicious, and I assure you, they would much rather be hunting a frog than defending themselves from a human.”

Find Curlis on Instagram at @johndavidcurlis. His website is Color in Nature.

Honorable mention: “Summer solstice, UMBS,” John Den Uyl.

John Den Uyl, research lab specialist in the lab of Professor Knute Nadelhoffer, UMBS, won two scenic honorable mentions. When he photographed the first, “Summer solstice, UMBS,” it was a beautiful summer morning at UMBS and he was thinking, “It's early ... this apricot scone is delightful ... probably should document these flowers as the summer sun arrives.” UMBS has been Den Uyl’s “summer field site home” for the past seven years. Regarding his photo, he added, “If you look closely you may be able to spot a few monarch butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed!”

Honorable mention: “Cloud mountains, Two Hearted River,” John Den Uyl.

He shot his second image, “Cloud mountains, Two Hearted River,” on a “surprisingly buggy late summer evening in the site of the former Duck Lake Fire, just south of the Two Hearted River” in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Den Uyl was “consuming mass quantities of wild blueberries” and thinking, “Wow, those clouds really look like a mountain range!”

Den Uyl is on Instagram at @john.denuyl.

The 13th annual EEB Photographer at Large Contest was held in fond memory of David Bay, the self-described “photographer at large” for EEB and its predecessor departments for 34 years. It’s been over 10 years since Bay’s too early passing at the age of 60 in February 2009. Special thanks to all (17) photographers who entered the contest and to over 100 voters!

View all entries in a Google Photos album>>