Kirk Geisler, of Rigby, took this photo of a short-eared owl at the Camas National Wildlife Refuge during winter.

It was a cold, frosty, foggy day in December when Kirk Geisler of Rigby went out to Camas National Wildlife Refuge hoping to shoot photos of whitetail deer. But other critters caught his attention instead.

It was a good thing because one photo he returned with was a zinger, winning first place honors in The National Wildlife Federation’s annual contest.

“It was zero or below probably; it was cold,” Geisler said. “These short-eared owls were just all over the place, so they captured my attention. They were flying around, and they would land in the sagebrush and give me a quick look before they would take off again. I was the only one there. That was kind of cool.”

Each year the National Wildlife Federation calls for contest entries. This year they received 23,000 entries from around the world for several different categories. Geisler’s photo of a short-eared owl sitting on frosty rabbitbrush took first place in the birds category. This year’s winners hail from six different nations — Canada, China, England, France, Kuwait and the United States.

“Whether lifelong professionals or avid amateurs, all display a love of nature and an appreciation of how photography can inspire people to care about wildlife and wild lands, and to work for their protection,” the federation said in announcing the awards.

Besides a grand prize, first- and second-place awards are given in each of eight categories: Mammals, birds, insects & other invertebrates, underwater wonders, people in nature, amphibians & reptiles, landscapes & plants, and youth — for photographers age 13 to 17. To see the images online, go to nwf.org and scroll to the bottom of the page. The grand prize photo is a stunner of a female gorilla surrounded by butterflies with a look of bliss on her face.

For the first time this year, the federation is holding a reception in Washington, D.C., featuring 50 images from the contest, including Geisler’s owl. He and his wife plan on going to the reception set for Nov. 20. The shindig will be held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science building in Washington, D.C.

“We’ll stay there about a week,” Geisler said. “I haven’t been there, my wife has been there once when she was younger. So it will be really fun.”

Geisler said he is donating his owl photo to the federation for the organization’s conservation efforts. He also offered the group a photo of aspen and fir trees in a wintry scene in Grand Teton National Park. The federation used the photo on its Christmas cards this year.

Geisler works for The Occasions Group, a printing company in Rexburg. His photo hobby pays for his camera equipment.

“I do have some fairly good cameras,” he said. “I have some Nikon cameras that I shoot with and a Tamron lens that helps me reach out there a little bit.”

Geisler said he has a hit list of critters he hopes to photograph in the future.

“I’d love to get a pine marten again,” he said. “And a great gray owl. One year there were some in our neighborhood here, some at Salem and some up towards Ririe. ... My wife and I love to go to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I’ve been there the last three years during the rut. It’s an amazing experience. Hundreds of elk. That’s my hit list.”