Animals

A Snowy day on the Prairies

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5860
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls.  The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list.  This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies.  I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend.  A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-4705

After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie.  She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me!  I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field.  She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable.  After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open.  The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way.  Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep.  I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5836

I was wrong.  I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake.  About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road.  These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground.  Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long.  She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew.  Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5865

I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road.  She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5919

The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo.  There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole.  Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there.  When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view.  I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6013

After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again.  I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise.  Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6025

Again, I was wrong.  She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another.  Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6048

The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind.  I think both the owl and I enjoyed that.  I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6079

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6161

The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie.  A pretty fantastic experience for me.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6292

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


A Great gray owl morning in Bragg Creek

 

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3652

The fields and forests west of Bragg Creek have been owl havens for me in the spring and summer for several years.  The autumn and winter encounters have been much less numerous but I added one more on the weekend.  A couple of warm days had melted most of the snow in this meadow but on the morning I was out it was cold.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3647

I had spotted this Great gray owl perched on a weathered fence post as I drove along the road.  I pulled over, hopped out and crossed the fence to get the rising sun behind me and onto his front.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3789

The day warmed up several degrees in the sunlight while I hung out with this beautiful raptor.  I stayed there for a little over an hour and he made a couple of flights to alternate posts along the fence line.  His focus on hunting seemed to take second place to warming up in the sunshine.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3952

When I left he was staring intently at a spot in the long grass – I waited for another 20 minutes hoping an attack dive would come.  His patience beat mine and I left with a few good flight photos, a smile and a thank you to this beautiful owl.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3957

 


An in-flight snack

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5597

I found this Merlin feasting from a fence top perch near High River last weekend.  I watched him for a couple of minutes before a hauling truck passed by.  At that point, the noise and proximity disturbed this fellow and he took flight.  He shot upwards with a couple of fast wing beats and then surprised me with a hovering break to grab another bite.  It was likely a readjustment of the load but it was neat to watch.

A Merlin's dinner - © Christopher Martin-5572

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5595

With the prey in the right place, he then banked away over the prairie and settled in the grass a couple hundred metres away to finish his meal.

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5610-3


A bold young moose

Moose calf in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-4834

This calf and his mother were in the Bragg Creek Provincial Park, grazing on the edge of the forest near the road.  With momma close by, the calf was bolder than I expected.  He stared at me from a few paces in the trees before crossing the road and walking very close to my car.

Moose calf in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-4751

Moose calf in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-4825

Moose calf in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-4846

Once he had checked me out, then he skipped back again and joined in snacking on the greenery.

Moose calf in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-4786


A new wildlife portfolio: Coyotes!

Coyotes are a resourceful predators that roam all across Alberta – and much of North America for that matter.  I often find them hunting for rodents on the prairies or padding along the forest’s edge when I’m up in the mountains.  They are beautiful animals and I wanted to share a gallery pulled together from many encounters over the past couple of years.  Please click on Coyote Portfolio or the image above to visit the gallery.

Spray Valley Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada


Fox faces

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1390

The fox pups, properly called kits, were playful and energetic when I spent an evening watching them.  In the moments between, and even during, the hectic activity, they flashed some beautiful looks.  I was really happy to be able to freeze a few of these.

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0875

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0775

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0950

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0883

The sun fell under the clouds late in the evening and provided a warm, buttery light to end the day.  That was special for a guy with a camera!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1334

 

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1394

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1736


Up the tree for a better view

Tree climb cat - © Christopher Martin-9831

I went to see an owl but found this cat quite high up in this tree instead.  She looked pretty comfortable there before turning her body downwards and then, half scraping, half sliding, made her way to the ground.


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

 

 


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.


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