Tim Nicol, of Republic, is the grand-prize winner in The Seattle Times Reader Photo of the Year judging for 2016.

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Tim Nicol lives in a pretty near-perfect place to indulge his hobby of wildlife photography: a cabin at 4,000 feet elevation, 13 miles north of the small Eastern Washington town of Republic in rural Ferry County.

“I look right down into Curlew Lake, so it’s a beautiful view. From where I live, I can’t see another house — it’s like living in the outdoors.”

So he needn’t go much farther than his own yard or garden to get many of his best wildlife photos, including the image that Seattle Times judges have chosen as grand-prize winner in the Times’ Reader Photos of the Year judging for 2016.

Nicol had noticed a lot of chipmunks around his place in October, so he put some sunflower seeds in a pot of late-blooming blanket flowers in hope of attracting the fleet-footed rodents.

“It didn’t take more than a minute before they were on to it,” he said, so he set up a tripod with his Nikon D7100 camera, fitted with a Tamron 150-600mm lens, and waited until one returned. The result: a playful photo of a chipmunk peering into a flower pot that’s as tall as he is.

It’s a charming image of rich fall colors that captures the changing season as animals search out food sources for the winter and flowers begin to wilt and fade.

“The lighting was just incredible,” Nicol recalls. “It was late afternoon and I hit that golden hour with the autumn light.”

Raised on Orcas Island and later a longtime Seattle-area resident, Nicol, 54, moved to Republic about eight years ago to help his mother and stepfather build a home. A self-employed graphic artist, he can work anywhere he has access to a computer. He took up photography about five years ago after an aunt and uncle gave him a camera.

“Now I subscribe to all the photography magazines and I’m pretty much a full-fledged amateur wildlife photographer,” says Nicol, who’s thinking about getting some filters and memory cards with his prize money.

He has developed a special interest in photographing loons that nest around lakes in Northeastern Washington. He goes out in a small pontoon rowboat so frequently that some local loons have become accustomed to his presence. At the request of the Loon Lake Loon Association, a Stevens County-based conservation group, he has helped in a feeding study of the birds.

A troubling development for Nicol was his diagnosis three years ago with a rare eye disease, birdshot retinochoroidopathy, which is gradually robbing him of his vision. He goes to Spokane for regular treatments.

Meanwhile, he enjoys nature where he lives. A recent visit to Seattle served as a reminder of what he values in his peaceful enclave.

“I’d forgotten how loud living in the city could be. Out here, you just hear yourself breathing.”

See more of Tim Nicol’s photography at tjnicol.wixsite.com/photo.


For a look at all the 2016 Reader’s Lens winners, peruse the gallery below.