Animals

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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

 

 


Raven flight

Raven flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 70-200mm lens at 200mm: 1/6400th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I went out for a long walk in Kananaskis this morning.  Along an old road I hadn’t traveled on before, I was kept company by the heavy snow falling and a lone raven that croaked as I was returning to the trailhead.  I stopped for a few minutes and heard another raven further down the valley that was talking with “my” raven.  This one flew off in that direction and I carried on.


2013 Favourite Wildlife Photographs

The tail-end of lunch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“The Tail-End of Lunch” from the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Provincial Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens:  1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1250

Last year was a good year for wildlife.  I had some really great encounters with animals in Brackendale, Cabo San Lucas and the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast.  Closer to home, I enjoyed a lot of time on the Prairies and in the mountains photographing .  These hikes and drives were rewarded with nice images of birds, bears and a moose that made it into this collection.

If you are interested in the list of 32 selected photographs, please CLICK THIS LINK to open the gallery’s webpage.  Continue reading below if you want to know a bit more about my goals in 2013 and how they are evolving for the new year.

"Wapiti Water Shake" in the Banff National Park
“Wapiti Water Shake” in the Banff National Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Black Water Launch” from the Khutzeymateen Inlet on northern British Columbia’s west coast
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

When reviewing my wildlife images from 2012 last January, I said my goals for 2013 would be the same.  At that time, I said my goals were to improve my approaches to wildlife (to minimize disruption and increase the chance to observe natural behaviour), improve my technique (better sharpness and quicker response to animal movement) and create images that tell a more complete story about the animals (more engaging and interesting).  I did work on those throughout the year and I can see improvements in my imagery as a result.

A Bald Eagle's winter flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Winter Flight” along the Squamish River in Brackendale in British Columbia
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

Increasingly I am also trying to bring more artistry into my wildlife compositions.  Overall, I have been happy with the results of that effort.  I’m excited about this new year.  Drawing more creativity and beauty into the photographs I make is the path I will stay on for now.  With our children growing up and more willing to occasionally head out early and stay late, I am really looking forward to enjoying more and more of these encounters with my wife and our son and daughter.  That is the most important goal for me in 2014.

Shadow Pelican - 2013 © Christopher Martin“Shadow Pelican” before dawn in Los Cabos, Mexico
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/8000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 3200


Robins in the bath

One eye open - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) which have lived in the trees behind our house for through the warm months have a habit of bathing in our little pond regularly.

Prepping for bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the summer, they seem to prefer washing up in the morning whereas in the cooler days of spring and now in autumn, they visit in closer to noon.  The other day the pond seemed more like an airport as there were eight Robins along with several Black-capped chickadees and a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) flying around.

A Northern Flicker resting in the backyard - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).

Waiting in turn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.

Bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Their enthusiasm when splashing water around with their wings is a great photography subject and high shutter speeds can freeze the action at interesting moments.

Flying drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I expect they will be leaving soon and will return next year as the harbingers of spring in late May a couple of weeks before spring has subdued winter.


A Heron’s Flyby

A Heron's flyby - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the last evening in the Khutzeymateen, we pulled up the anchor and cruised halfway westward down the inlet.  It felt like I was going in the wrong direction as we sailed away from this home of the bears.  We sheltered in a cove about halfway down the ten-mile inlet for the night and enjoyed a quick zodiac ride around this new area.  There were a few seals who popped their heads out of the water to watch us as we puttered along the shoreline.

A curious friend - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Ahead of dinner, I pulled up chair on the bow and enjoyed watching the day slide away.  I had noticed some birds on the shore but they were a long distance from our location so I did not keep too sharp an eye on them.  Until, one of the larger birds took to the air and made a direct line for the sailboat.  Swiftly closing the distance between us, I realized this cove resident to be Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

Coming for a visit? - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Herons are a favourite bird of mine.  I love how they fly, huge wings tracing out powerful beats while their necks hold their heads back in a seemingly laid back manner.  I see them frequently whether I’m on a lake in the mountains, near a marsh on the prairies or, luckily, on a boat in one of the most wonderful places I have ever been.

Downstroke - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Drawing near, it was clear he was curious who was staying over that night and he had decided to complete a flyby to check us out.  He flew within a couple of metres of my head, banked over the stern and flew back to the beach.  Apparently we had not raised any ire as all of the birds continued with their activities along the water before nightfall.

Passing by - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Although I have spent a lot of time watching Great Blue Herons, I have never had one circle directly around me.  I liked being their almost at his approval.  Romantically, I thought of it as an acceptance of us being in this wild place for a few days.  It was a gift to be able to end the last night with this highlight.


#83 – a cow in a field

#83 - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

The evening light was soft and warm last night.  I loved the colour in the coats of this small herd in Springbank.  #83 was particularly interested and turned out to be particularly photogenic.


Run Fox Run

Flying fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the weekend I was out early combing the prairies west of Cochrane, Alberta for wildlife.  The clouds were heavy from rain overnight and had only started to thin out at dawn.  I was driving northward along a hillside gravel road when I saw a couple of ravens explode out of a tree on the edge of the ditch just ahead of me.  Watching them fly in haphazard circles it seemed something had stirred them up.  In a break between a few of the trees, I caught a flash of something racing through the field away from the birds.  I was going 40 km/h when I looked at the speedometer and this creature was pulling away from me.  I sped up and realized I was alongside a Red Fox.  It was about a 100 metres from the fence dividing the field and was absolutely flying.

Full tilt - 2013 © Christopher Martin

For the few hundred metres that we traveled in parallel, we were going at 50 km/h.  Its stride was incredible – fast, powerful and efficient.  The back and tail were straight as an arrow and the legs were a blur as it hurtled along.  I have never witnessed an animal move so fast on the ground (I can’t imagine watching a Cheetah!)  My camera was in the passenger seat and my window was already down so I had to try to photograph this sublime athlete in motion.  There were three openings between the trees over the distance we covered together.  The last one had a small rise that the fox disappeared behind and the first one yielded six out of focus shots.  But, the middle gap was a little bigger and I was able to focus and capture three good frames.

Speeding across the prairie - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Before a fourth break in the trees, the fox veered downhill directly west across the green field.  This last image with it close came as I was slowing down and it was turning away.

Fox trot - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I stopped to watch it bound away.  That’s when I noticed that the ravens had been chasing the fox since they flushed out of their tree.  Probably it had come too close to their nest and the birds wanted to make sure it did not come back.  They banked with the fox when it turned and followed along across the field.  About a kilometre down they stopped the chase, circled higher for a minute and then glided back towards their tree.  When the chase ended the fox checked up beside a creek, grabbed a quick drink and then stared in my direction for a minute.

Ravens and a fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin

For its part, I don’t know if the fox grabbed an egg or a chick before being chased off but it seemed to have a contented look on its face to me.  With the remnants of a winter coat still wet from the rain and the rich colour on the face and flanks, I think this fox was a magnificent animal.  It was an amazing encounter that I could not have dared to imagine.

A rest for the fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin


The return of owls (and wisdom)

Danger launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It has been just about ten months since my last encounter with a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) in one special area I frequently visit in Bragg Creek.  Last year, there was a two month stretch where I would regularly see one or more of four owls in the forest and fields there.  The long absence could be for any number of reasons but most likely it was me not seeing them or them not wanting to be seen.  I know from talking with people in Bragg Creek that owls remain year round but I think some rotate around different spots throughout the year and some migrate away for at least a few months.

On a field mouse - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Last night I went for a drive with my daughter to see what animals were out and about.  When I first spied this owl it was perched on a sapling standing in the middle of one of the meadows.  It was a couple of hundred metres away so we watched for a minute and then carried on.  About a half an hour later we returned and found the owl in a tree along the fenceline.  It was watching over the grassland and soon dove successfully on a field mouse.  It carried that back to a fencepost, had its snack and then went for another one.  Given the place it was, the way it hunted and its markings I think it was one of the four from last year.  She looked hungry so I imagine there are owlets back at her nest.  Over a fifteen minute period of watching her, three rodents fell victim to her aerial strikes.

Big owl, little tree - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was special to be there with my daughter for this encounter.  However she fell asleep as it was close to her bedtime so I will show her the pictures and we will have to return – maybe tonight.  Last year I had almost daily encounters with the Great Grays in this area.  I can only hope for a repeat this spring.


American Avocets on Frank Lake

Avocet flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The past weekend I was able to devote much of my time photographing along the grassy marshes that line the edges of Frank Lake near High River.  This lake is a major stopover in Alberta for migrating birds and I was there to check which birds might be there in early spring.  One of the open ponds was popular with a few different ducks which drew my attention.  I worked my way over near the water edge but then soon forgot about the ducks.

2013 © Christopher Martin

There were a few American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) fishing in the shallow water.  These shorebirds stole the show for me and I spent that evening and came back again on Sunday to enjoy watching and photographing them.

Marsh hunting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Curious, beautiful and agile the Avocet is a great bird to photograph.  I had not been around them before so it was a lot of fun learning some of their habits.  I’m excited to get back down there as they start their courtships.

Avocet in the evening - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Mark Garbutt, a fellow photographer who I met on the weekend, said their dance is elaborate and wonderful to watch.  I hope to be able to see some of these performances in the next couple of weeks.

Water walker - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Flight of the Mallard

Mallard ducks are agile fliers.  When they come into land, sometimes grace gets forgotten as kind of seen here.  This male careened a little bit over the same pond where I watched the Hooded Merganser before hitting the water and I liked how this image showed an unusual flight position.

A Mallard's landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin


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