Photographer Paulette Donnellon won the California Wildlife Photo of the Year 2023 contest with "Juvenile Burrowing Owls" taken at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Robbins named as finalist in California Wildlife Photo of the Year 2023 Contest

Correction: Susanville photographer Randy Robbins had two photos among the 17 finalists — “A Barking Grey Fox” and “Bald Eagle Catching Rainbow Trout.” Lassen News regrets the error.

A barking gray fox appears to be singing or howling as it signals to its nearby kits that a photographer is near. 
Photo by Randy Robbins

Close but no cigar — Susanville photographer Randy Robbins has won the California Wildlife Photo of the Year contest before, but this year his “A Barking Grey Fox” photo made the cut as one of the top 17 contenders but failed to place in the annual contest.

According to a statement from the contest, photographer Paulette Donnellon won annual contest with “Juvenile Burrowing Owls” taken at the  Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. Burrowing Owl nests are not made public to protect this endangered species.

While discovering burrowing owls can be a challenge, Donnellon’s experience and time in the desert have taught her where to look. Her entrée into photography started as a pandemic hobby in 2020, and she has never looked back.

“They are so amazing to photograph,” said Donnellon, who loves burrowing owls so much she can often be found wearing an owl necklace, “Their eyes, they are just full of personality, and I really enjoy photographing them.”

The winning image was selected by California Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham.

“The opportunity to choose the wildlife photo of the year is one of the perks of my job, even though it’s never easy,” said Bonham. “The eyes of the burrowing owl family in Paulette Donnellon’s photo are captivating, it was difficult to peel my own eyes away. The concrete in the shot is also a reminder that nature is all around us and we need to learn to live with wildlife to preserve California’s unmatched biodiversity.”

2023 Sierra Nevada Conservancy Winner — “Black Bear with Salmon,” by Steve Harms, Taylor Creek Visitor Center.

On Feb. 12, Paulette joined Senator Brian Jones and Central Subregion Representative Chris Dallas, Sierra Nevada Conservancy in a presentation where she received a proclamation honoring her photograph. She also received a pair of Zeiss Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars donated by Out of this World Optics, a two-night stay at Abbey House Inn, and a gift certificate from Chirp Nature Center. Leading up to the announcement, the top winning images from the 2023 contest were part of a week-long social media presentation.

The judges for the 2023 photo contest were Shravan Sundaram, 2022 Photo of the Year, Chris Dallas, Central Subregion Representative, Sierra Nevada Conservancy and Troy Swauger, Editor, Outdoor California.

2023 California Watchable Wildlife Winner — “Great Blue Heron and Iris Effie Yeaw Nature Center,” by Michele Dodge.

This year’s contest
The California Wildlife Photo of the Year 2024is officially underway. The contest celebrates California’s native wildlife in their natural habitat. The contest is co-hosted by California Watchable Wildlife and California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and is sponsored by the Sierra Nevada ConservancyOut of This World Optics, Chirp Nature Center, and Abbey House Inn. Photos are submitted bi-monthly five times a year.

Learn more about California Wildlife
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California Watchable Wildlife is a statewide network of wildlife viewing sites, an iconic “brown binocular” road signing program and website designed to enhance the visitor experience and encourage responsible and sustainable wildlife viewing behavior.