All rodeo cowboys are tough. I particularly admire the steer wrestlers as that is an event that I have a hard time even dreaming of trying out. Leaping off a perfectly good horse onto the back of a small cow with large horns seems a bit too close to the insane end of the scale for me.
I absolutely love watching and photographing this event despite having no interest in doing it myself. The short go of the steer wrestling event at the Tsuu T’ina All Indian Rodeo on July 26th put the top 10 qualifiers in the finals and a shot at the money. Keenan Crane (the image directly above) had a great run and took home the cheque and the hardware – well deserved!
This series of Leon Montour pulling in a steer illustrates a bit of the power, balance and danger of this event.
This weekend was the 41st annual Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Rodeo which draws First Nation people born to the saddle from all over North America. The rodeo is held at the Redwood Meadows Arena which just across Highway 22 from my home. This is one of my favourite rodeos and it was great to be able to be on the rails for the last day.
It was an afternoon that started with sun which gave way to heavy, heavy rain and ended with high clouds towards the end of the night. Dynamic photographic opportunities came with the changing weather which was great for me. Weather doesn’t make too much difference for the people or for the animals – they are all ready to go no matter what is going on above. I have a stack of photographs to look at, and will share more soon, but wanted to get out this first image of one of the high-flying bull riders from a great afternoon in the Bragg Creek area.
This morning I found a coyote skittering along the ditch on Highway 8 in between Bragg Creek and Springbank. At first, I thought it was an older pup but then I realized it was an adult in its sleek summer coat. I often photograph coyotes in the cooler months when they have their heavier jackets on so I’ll forgive myself the initial error. I believe this one was a female and she was absolutely beautiful. I was worried when I spotted her as she seemed to be trying to cross the road amid pretty steady traffic. Watching her, it became apparent that she and a couple of ravens were attracted to some bits of roadkill on the highway.
It was a relief when she slipped under the fence towards a field with an open stand of broken and weathered trees. She turned her attention towards hunting for field mice and that’s where the fun really began.
Turns out she is an accomplished hunter and I was delighted to watch her successfully catch two mice on three jumps. Of those leaps, I was in good position for two of them and am happy with the action caught.
The image above is the start of the first leap. The image at the top of this post was the next image as she was fully airborne.
The whole sequence from target acquisition to landing is efficient and I admired the focus, power and dexterity she showed. The three leaps all occurred within a short 2-3 minute stretch. On either side, she favoured me with a few inquisitive looks.
After a total of fifteen minutes she crossed a gravel back road and disappeared into the heavy scrub brush on the other side.
The perch on the hill I photographed the Aurora Borealis and lightning storm from a couple of weeks ago is now officially one of my favourite prairie viewpoints. On the weekend, I left my home in the dark and headed northeast towards the growing dawn. With a short drive I returned back to the same spot and found the view to be beautiful.
A heavy cloud stretched overhead towards the horizon with a break which allowed the first rays of pink sunlight to skip along the underside. The fast rising sun quickly changed the light from pink to gold as it pushed through less of the atmosphere.
July 12th was the final day of the 2015 Calgary Stampede and I had an invitation from good friends to join them for the Chuckwagon Finals and the Grandstand Show Finale that evening. I jumped at the chance and enjoyed a great night down on the grounds.
The Chucks were exciting as usual with the best races coming in the last couple of heats. This year’s champion was Kurt Bensmiller who successfully defended his title from last year in a great race, particularly down the stretch. Bensmiller was riding on the Tsuu T’ina wagon, whose land we live on, so I was happy for them as well! Above is my shot of him closing in on the finish line.
Another great race was heat 5 where Mark Sutherland pulled away from a tight grouping with all four teams and won by just under a second.
Earlier in the evening, we walked down the midway, checking out the rides, the people and the crazy games. I like riding these big swings with my kids and with the sun behind it made for a cool picture.
After the races, the Grandstand Show was up and this year’s edition was called the Canadian Classic. I thought it was great fun. I was sitting above a group visiting from Ohio and, judging by their enthusiasm during and after the performance, it was well received by friends from afar as well.
The fireworks are a signature piece that ends each show. The set on the last day were far and away the largest of the Stampede I was told by a friend who had seen several of them this year. They were huge, loud and beautiful. From our seats on the second deck, we weren’t too far below the average explosion height so they felt all-encompassing which is great when it comes to fireworks in my mind.
One of my drives home earlier this week was made more exciting by a massive thundercloud just south of Highway 8. I stopped near the Rockyview Fire Department in Elbow Valley and photographed as it rumbled past. There were a few lightning strikes that I managed to capture but I was paying more attention to the angry beast.
It was dark, dark grey in the center, the edges were rolling fast and the temperature plunged by 10°C or more just before the rain began to fall. I scurried back into my car once the volume raised up to a downpour. Back on the road, I wondered how the storm would develop as it moved eastward. The next morning, I learned that it contributed to the flooding and heavy hail that beat up Chestermere. That was one of the mean summer storms we get in the Calgary area and I am sorry to hear about the damage it caused.
I came home late last night after watching the chuckwagon finals and the final grandstand show of the 2015 Calgary Stampede. That was a great night (thank you Larissa and Sean) and as I cleared the city driving home, it became that much better. From the Trans-Canada Highway, I looked northward and could easily see the glow of the Aurora Borealis stretched between Cochrane and Calgary.
Altering my course, I drove towards the Springbank airport and found a good hill to watch the sky from. While setting up my camera gear, lightning flashed from deep within the thunder clouds that hung low in the sky. The party was in full swing and I was excited to join in, albeit from a distance, and start photographing.
The auroras were rippling above these clouds and it made for an incredible experience.
I stayed out for two hours watching as the storms slowly wound down while the entire northern sky was painted on with ethereal beauty. Early on, the lightning streaked to the ground several times in different parts of the sky and ripped across the clouds regularly. In the second hour, the Aurora Borealis grew larger and brighter while the storm separated as the clouds spread out across the prairies.
Frank Lake, just east of High River, is a great refuge for birds during migrations. It also serves as a summer home and breeding ground for many shorebirds and waterfowl. The sandy flats, rocky outcrops, tall reedy marshes and open water appeal to a wide range of birds and provides nice habitat to raise their chicks in.
The American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) is a beautiful shorebird that summers in Frank Lake. This is the northern end of their summer range – I’m glad they choose to come this far. I have photographed them at the lake a few times before where they have been feeding in the muddy shallows and beaches. On a trip there a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some in flight images. When I had walked down to the shore, all the birds were active. I don’t think it was because of me or any raptors that had rustled everyone up. It seemed like it was a sunny afternoon, lot’s of chicks were hungry and all of the birds were flying, swimming and running around. It was a great scene with pelicans, stilts, geese, gulls and ducks all milling about.
And avocets! I found two small groups of them along the shoreline. One was a group of adults that generally left one another alone to forage for the tiny insects they favour. The other was a pair with their brood of four chicks.
From the adult group, I was able to track a few fliers. The family was a great bonus as I had not seen avocet babies before and I enjoyed watching them following their parents around.
At one point when I photographed a family of foxes in May, there was a ragged piece of cloth which served for a long-running tug-of-war at one point in the evening.
These three kits were the main players and they alternated between 1 on 1 and 1 on 2 battles.
For a while, a fourth looked interested in joining but they didn’t join in for very long.