Author Archive

Swainson’s Hawk in Springbank

Swainson's launch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Driving with the kids along Lower Springbank Road, I was hoping there would be some hawks hunting along the freshly tilled fields out that way.  On the second or third field my son spied a light morph Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) standing on a fence post.

Field hunting - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We watched it make a few short flights over the soil before heading continuing on.  Spring is a great time for driving, and photographing, on the prairies.

Swainson's Hawk extended - 2014 © Christopher Martin


The Prairies in Chief Mountain Country

Morning on Chief Mountain - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/6400 second at f/4 on ISO 400

We stayed near Cardston in southern Alberta a couple of weeks ago visiting family who have a cabin there.  I went out for a morning on the prairie to see what would catch my eye.  I was looking for wildlife initially but the prairie landscape became the focus.

A farm on the foothills - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 32mm: 1/2500 second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Forgotten on the prairie - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2500 second at f/4 on ISO 800

Tractor on the prairies - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/8 on ISO 400

I photographed some farm scenes, abandoned buildings and foothill landscapes.  Chief Mountain stands out from the line of peaks that are the Rocky Mountains where they cross Canada into the United States.  The mountain is close to Cardston on the edge of Waterton National Park and holds dominion over the rolling hills east of the mountains.  I have not photographed this mountain before and I liked working with the contrast of the surrounding farmland.

Barn and Chief - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/160 second at f/16 on ISO 400

 


Spring with a Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl Launch - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I had not seen a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) since last fall and I was deeply missing them.  Usually by the end of April, there are two owls in West Bragg Creek that I start seeing regularly.  They are always there, just not for me with any consistency until spring.  So, it was with great happiness that one was waiting for me on the weekend when I was out early in the morning.

Owl portrait - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

This owl hunted along the forest edge, gliding past me several times, for over an hour.  I had great opportunities to photograph her in flight and while perched.  These owls mesmerize me and I feel enormous gratitude that she chose to not fly away to one of the other productive hunting fields nearby.

 

Post launch - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

At one point she flew deeper into the woods where I think her nest is.  I headed off but came back a half an hour later and she was out on the field.  She flew directly towards me and perched in a tree not far away before hunting along the grass a couple more times.  Then she flew silently back into the forest.   I will head back soon and am excited to spend some more time with this owl.

 


Full extension

A Red-tailed Hawk launches off a post on the prairie west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

When this Red-tailed hawk launched off the post I had been watching him on for a few minutes, I was really impressed by the power and balance displayed.   He flew closer and then went to the ground after circling back towards the fenceline.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t an attacking dive only an uninspired landing in the tall grass.

ed-tailed flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

 

 


Stormin’ Coyote

Coyote in the storm - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/800 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1000

An early spring blizzard spilled across the prairies a couple of weeks ago.  Cold wind and heavy snow were this Coyote’s main companions as it crossed the fields looking for rodents to eat.  Sometimes the Coyotes that I cross paths with are curious and trot close to check me out.  This is more frequent in the hills and up in the mountains.  On the prairies, where they are often considered to be pests, they are usually more wary and run away when anyone shows any interest in them.  This one was kind of in the middle, running across the road away from me and then slowing to a jog and watching me for a few minutes.


Relaxing in the sunshine

Canada Goose on Wild Rose Lake - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) surveys the lake from a one-legged position on the water of Wild Rose in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.  Before taking up this spot, I watched it walk out on the patch of dirt towards the water – it looked like it was checking out its own reflection when it got to the lake’s slightly abstract mirror.

Canada Goose reflected - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 


Water skimming Tree Swallow

Water skimming Tree Swallow - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I was on the edge of the lake at Wild Rose a week ago watching the three loons who were diving in and swimming on the water.  A few different times a small flight of swallows deftly skimmed the water nearby while searching for low flying and water-walking insects to pick off.  These Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are swift, acrobatic fliers so trying to catch a sharp image is a fun challenge.  This little one had just hit the water but missed the little creature and was just pulling up when I caught up to him.


Wild Rose Beaver

Beaver on the lake at Wild Rose - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/160 second at f/8 on ISO 1600

The beavers that live beside the lake at Wild Rose are back to their busy ways now that the water is ice-free.  The other night I watched one swimming along the shoreline and around its lodge.  It was a beautiful evening with warm sunshine and clear skies.

 


Minnewanka sheep in the snow

Bighorn kid at Minnewanka - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Just off Lake Minnewanka there was a small herd of Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) grazing along the side of the road.  They were a mix of mothers, kids and young rams.  All told there were less than fifteen animals stretched over a hundred or so meters.  With the worsening weather, they looked to be a somber group and showed little interest beyond a few glances at much beyond the grass underfoot.

Calm in the storm - 2014 © Christopher MartinThe rain had just turned to snow which bothered me more than these animals it seemed.  I was hoping the storm might not be too heavy but this front edge had made me think that unlikely.  For this encounter, I was happy to have the snow in the air to provide a bit of interest to the area around the sheep in some of the shots.

Ram's stare - 2014 © Christopher MartinWe watched one another for a few minutes before I headed off.  The snow continued to pick up and almost a foot of snow (30cm) fell that night.  This herd was smart to dine on the soon to be covered up grass along the road before the weather hit.

A pair of sheep - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Doubling back - 2014 © Christopher Martin


One more return to winter in Banff

Snowstorm on Banff Avenue 2014 © Christopher Martin

The snow returned for a weekend long storm.  I was in Banff for a night and this was the town on Saturday morning.  Heavy snow then and more since then.

Waiting at the bus stop - 2014 © Christopher Martin

The night before I was out for a walk and a friend at the bus stop suggested a photo of the storm.  The flash lit up the flakes of snow between me and them and illustrate this spring storm’s intensity.

Elk on the edge of Vermilion Lake - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A herd of elk fanned out on the edge of the first Vermilion Lake and, with a slight break in the low cloud, one flank of Mount Rundle came into view to make for a nice scene.


Canada Geese in Flight

Canada goose in flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are busy looking for good nesting spots in the Elk Valley and I enjoyed watching them flying along the river when I was in Fernie during Easter.  In urban areas, they border on being a nuisance in many people’s mind, I don’t see them that way.

In the mist - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/5.6 on ISO 3200

Particularly when they are in flight in a wilderness setting, I find them to be a wonderful animal to watch.  The variation in the weather on the morning I spent photographing along the Elk River didn’t hurt the imagery at all.

Up high - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

Air traffic - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

There was fog and light rain in the morning which burned off early leaving sharp light and blue skies.  The forest along the river provided a beautiful backdrop as well.  I had fun with all of it.

Forest flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1600 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250


Red-tailed Hawks in flight

Above and below - 2014 © Christopher Martin

With Red-tailed Hawks back in our area, I’m still enjoying the novelty of their return.  I went out on the weekend and found a few more who I had the opportunity to photograph in flight.  The snow stole a couple of shots by throwing the auto focus off but it added character that more than made up for those.

Fence launch - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Field flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Extension - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Snow flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 


Red-tailed Hawks have returned to the prairies

Red-tailed flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) have the good sense to avoid winter on the prairies and they head south in late fall each year.  It’s always exciting when they start to return and I have been seeing them more and more over the last couple of weeks.  A little while ago, I found this one perched in a great, wild-looking tree along Highway 8, west of Calgary.

Perched but ready to fly - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I could see the hawk was getting ready to fly so I watched from the ditch for a minute until it launched.  There was a second hawk, presumably its mate, in a tight stand of trees so I figured that would be the direction it flew.

Flying through the trees - 2014 © Christopher Martin

It landed beside its partner and when I drove past them I could see a nest buried in the far side of the trees.  Photographs of the nest would not be in their best interest but I hope to see chicks fledge later in the spring.

Perched together - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Prairie storm

So far, spring has come in fits and starts.  Over the weekend we had a day long snowstorm on Saturday and then it was warm enough to wear shorts outside on Sunday!  Crazy stuff but not too far from normal in April on the prairies.

Prairie - 2014 © Christopher Martin

My son and I were out for the day and I photographed these horses when we were in Springbank, west of Calgary.  I appreciated their ignorance of sleet falling and the cold winds.


Snowy Owls on the prairie

Ground flight effect - 2014 © Christopher Martin
I went out several times to photograph Snowy Owls this year but found them to be fewer in number and more elusive.  The ones I did find were less interested in me than the ones I found last year (here, here and here) so there were no long or close encounters.  I love watching them and it was a thrill just to see the ones I did find.  I photographed this one on February 22nd and was the last one I saw this winter.

A wing over the prairie - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We’ll have to see if next year is a good one for Snowies on the prairies east of Calgary.


Mother and calf: Moose in Kananaskis

Mom and calf - 2014 © Christopher Martin
In early April I went into Kananaskis along Highway 66 from Bragg Creek.  I was late getting out of bed and did not leave myself enough time to set up for a sunrise shoot.  I went for a short hike around Elbow Falls but returned to my car pretty quickly.  Heading back, I was scouring the hillsides and trees for wildlife.  I was lucky to catch this female just as she was stepping out of the forest.  The sun hadn’t cleared the mountains across the Elbow River so the moose was not yet in the sunlight.  I decided to set my camera up on my tripod and wait for a few minutes.

Funny face - 2014 © Christopher Martin
When the sun rose over the hill, the light was soft and warm so I was quite happy to sit quietly and watch as she moved around.

A little hidden - 2014 © Christopher Martin
Patience often pays off and it was true on this occasion.  After at least fifteen minutes of watching the moose casually grazing along the slope, I heard a couple of sticks break near where she had come out from the trees before.  A couple of minutes after that, a calf came out onto the hillside.

Forest watcher - 2014 © Christopher Martin
The young moose watched me with a bit of apprehension for a minute, but after a few checks with mom, started grazing and wandering around the scrub brush.

Got stick? - 2014 © Christopher Martin
The pair dined for a while occasionally eating together with mom always watchful as cars passed by or a strange sound came to her ears.  They were calm and it was special to be able to watch them.  I hope the buds, leaves and shoots start to grow soon so their rather austere winter diet is replaced.

Breakfast together - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Spring with Robins in Fernie

Perched amid the tangled branches - 2014 © Christopher Martin(click on the image to open a page with a higher resolution version)

Although Fernie is in the heart of the Rockies, it is deeper into spring than Calgary so the visit there over the Easter weekend was great.  Robins have always been a sure sign of spring for me and I found a few hunting in a field during the rain.  This one was particularly beautiful as it chirped away from its perch in a tree by the Elk River.

Over the shoulder - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Elk River Heron

Elk River Heron flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

The Elk River runs through a southeastern region of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.  Where the river spills out of the mountains into the Elk Valley, it widens and attracts an abundance of fish which in turn draws eagles, osprey and herons.  On our recent trip to Fernie I enjoyed several walks along the river and was able to watch all of these birds on separate encounters.  On the first evening my nephew Austin and I were out for a walk and watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying low along the river and land at a shallow stretch.

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

There was enough light that it worked out well to photograph him flying by and landing.

 Along the banks - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

He landed nearby but spooked when we walked a bit closer so we headed home.  It was the right call not only for the bird but the rain increased from the drizzle to a downpour which we were happy to miss.

Heron landing - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2500 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

Thanks Austin – it was fun to be out birding with you!

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2000 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800


Flying off a red roof

Off the red roof - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We’re in Fernie with family for the Easter weekend.  We escaped Calgary’s heavy snowfall but the Elk Valley was socked in today with heavy leaden clouds.  Rain, snow and sleet took turns falling through the day which provided a great background with some of the birds I came across.  This raven was a favorite with the red roof providing great color to a potentially weary scene.

 


Stand off with a squirrel

Deck squirrel stand off - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5D III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/200 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

This squirrel has been a resident in the trees behind our house for five years.  He’s feisty and acts like the backyard, our deck and everywhere else he travels is under his dominion.  In this encounter I had my feet up on the railing and he squared off staring at me.  It became pretty clear that he was impatiently waiting for me to put my feet down so he could pass.  I obliged, but snapped off a couple of frames before removing the barricade.  He chirped as he ran by and kept up the chatter as he climbed up a tree.  I thought a simple thank you would have sufficed!


Dark snow

Night snow - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A blizzard swept out of the mountains on the weekend.  The ground had been almost bare but winter felt everyone’s enthusiasm for spring was premature.  The snow fell through the night and in the morning there was almost a foot blanketing the grass, the trees and almost anything else that doesn’t move.  In the middle of the storm, I went outside to watch the snow and enjoy the sound of the huge flakes touching down and watching them tumble through the darkness.


Nesting owls near High River

Great Horned Owl - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring.  I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed.  I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket.  It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.

2014 © Christopher Martin

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Owl and owlets - 2014 © Christopher Martin

On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years.  I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.

Owl on guard - 2014 © Christopher Martin
A couple more photographs from the visit.

Fluffing up - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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A little peckish are we? - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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Aware of what's around - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Flight of a Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

There are large gatherings of swans on the prairie around Frank Lake  right now.  This area is on the migration path and I really enjoy getting to see these birds when they pass through.  This Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) was sharing a small flat of ice apart from a small group.  I watched them, and they watched me for a few minutes.

A curious pair - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Then they took their running launch to get into the sky.  Heading into a steady headwind, they seemed to gain altitude very quickly once they were airborne.

Running to take flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Into the air - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Tundra Swan flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin


A pigeon on the prairie

High River Pigeon - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/3200 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

I spent an afternoon on the prairie east of High River, birds are stocking up in the fields as they head north.  Swans, Pintails, Geese and a number of Bald Eagles were active in the sky.  At one grain bin where I saw a Kestrel streaking by, this pigeon proved less elusive.  Curiosity drew it out for a couple of quick looks.  In the direct sunlight I liked the iridescent purple on the throat.

Peeking Pigeon - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800


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