Animals

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


An afternoon with a Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With visions of the Boundary Bay owls still streaming past my mind’s eye, I went out for a drive on the Prairies this weekend.  I have been working on my Snowy owl imagery pretty steady this winter and have found a few images to be elusive to create.  For this trip east of Calgary, I was hoping to get some interactions showing a little personality as well as head on flight images.  It turned out to be a great afternoon for both.

Along the fenceline - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I went east on highway 22X and roamed a few of the range roads north of Carseland.  I found a hawk followed by an eagle in the first couple of miles.  I left the Bald eagle on its perch in a barren tree and zigzagged back towards the highway.

Eagle tree - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Well short of the main road, I found this Snowy owl perched on a fencepost a few hundred yards into the field.  I waited for 15 minutes and then the bird launched and flew in front of me along the fenceline and crossed the gravel.  I picked it up on a telephone pole nearby and that was its field base for the afternoon.

2013 © Christopher Martin

Over the next couple of hours, the owl dove off the beam several times and earned a few snacks along the grass and snow.  At launch and during its return flights to the perch, it gave me some wonderful opportunities as it would keep an eye on me now and then.

Leap - 2013 © Christopher Martin

During the long breaks between sorties, the owl sat largely motionless except for the full circles carved in the air by its head.  There were a few great moments with interesting yawns,

Snowy yawn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

ear scratching,

Taking a break - 2013 © Christopher Martin

and humorous facial expressions.

Squinting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One of the tours detoured to a long abandoned windmill which made for a great scene.  The blue sky and white bird can make even a worn out relic look great!  Well, that particular structure has a lot of good character on its own but I think you know what I mean.

Gliding off of the windmill - 2013 © Christopher Martin

So we had a good rhythm for quite a while and when I finally packed up it was in the middle of a glide back to the same perch.  I would have loved to stay until the evening light but the hands were cold and the bird had been a very accommodating host so no reason to wear out the welcome.

Snowy flight and gaze - 2013 © Christopher Martin -

Peeking over wing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Sky dive - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Fishing with a heron

Over the weekend I was in Vancouver for some photography work.  With my friend Jack we visited the wonderful birds preparing for spring in the Lower Mainland.  We spent time in the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary with Wood ducks and Sandhill cranes, the owls along Boundary Bay, Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) around the marinas and waterways in Ladner, and a few other great spots.  Although I lived in Vancouver for university, I had not visited any of these locations for wildlife before.  I was amazed by the birds and their numbers at almost every location.  I am looking forward to sharing some of the images soon.

A pause in the hunt -2013 © Christopher Martin

This Great blue heron was a highly proficient hunter and it collected fish steadily for the hour that we watched it from a bank in Ladner off of River Road.  The heron moved along the shoreline as the tide was going out and kept up its hunting pace the whole time.  Great opportunities to watch the heron’s behaviour and its technique.  I learned a few tells of when it is readying to strike that yielded some really nice images.  I’m having fun working through the collection.


Wapiti reflections on Two Jack Lake

On his land - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Following a beautiful sunrise down on the Vermilion Lakes, my friend and I drove up towards Lake Minnewanka to see if there was any wildlife that wanted to be seen.

Bull elk on Two Jack - 2013 © Christopher Martin

We spied this bull elk along the edge of the canal where the lake drains out grazing on the patches of snow-free grass.

Wading along - 2013 © Christopher Martin

He spent a little time in the water and the climbed out and moved towards us along the tree line.  I loved the way the reflection cast by the elk and the trees onto the water shimmered and blurred.

Back to the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Just after walking behind the stand of trees that hung over the water, the elk walked into the trees to graze.  Returning to the car, we found the elk had moved to the edge of the trees by the road and that allowed us to watch him stripping bark of fallen tree branches.

Forest snacking - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Eagles along the Grand Valley Road

Soaring - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Our family went for a drive along the Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane a few days ago in search of raptors of any description.  This road is nice drive that is rarely busy and can often yield sightings of owls, hawks or eagles.  In a hilly farmland area we noticed a number of ravens circling around a stand of trees in a field a couple of hundred metres off the road.  When we pulled over to see what the focus of their attention was two coyotes bolted out from under a large cedar and sprinted across the open into the thicker forest on the far side of the field.  Looking back to the spot where they started running we could see a carcass that had been mostly picked clean of what, judging by one of the horns that was sticking up, appeared to be a bison.  As it was on farm land it seems likely there were bison being raised here but there were no other farm animals within sight to confirm that theory.  With coyotes, ravens, magpies and probably a number of other predators drawn to this unfortunate beast, its herd was likely as far away from this spot as the fences would allow.  So, we were watching the ravens which were squawking and pestering the smaller birds picking at the  scraps when Bobbi noticed a Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) approaching from down the valley.

Scouting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

We already had the long lenses out so we were able to photograph the bird as it flew overhead towards the other birds.  Two ravens also saw the eagle inbound and flew up to harass this new attendee.  The three looped around the trees for a minute before the eagle landed in one of the high branches and the black birds returned to ground.

Dogfight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

During this chase, the overcast skies took on a more threatening tone and soon a soft snowfall turned into a blizzard.  I thought the Golden eagle would wait out the height of the storm from the perch so I kept looking around to see if the coyotes, or anything else, came back.

Blizzard flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Out of the sheets of snow a Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped in and took up a spot on a tree near to the Golden.  This had turned out to be a great encounter and when a couple more Bald eagles flew in and around over the next half an hour, it continued to get better and better.  The snow did finally ease up and there were opportunities for nice flight images.

Adult bald eagle in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The lighter skies appeared to spur one of the Bald eagles to say goodbye to a raven it had been sharing a tree with across the field and glide over to the bison skeleton.

Into the air - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Along the forest's edge - 2013 © Christopher Martin

This eagle brought a good amount of conviction to its scavenging intent and it chased off all of the passerine that had been crowding on the ground.

Scattering the scavengers - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When we moved on, this eagle was alone on the ground having successfully landed and taken ownership of what remained.

On guard - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Golden eagle had disappeared and two Bald eagles were perched where they could keep an eye on the bones.  The collection of black birds were scattered in singles and small groups around the scene though none strayed close to the eagle holding dominion on the ground.  The last wildlife we saw as we drove away were the coyotes trotting along the hill towards the farm-house keeping their distance while still keeping an eye on the bison.


Hide and seek with a woodpecker

Things are looking up - 2013 © Christopher Martin

We have two types of woodpeckers that visit the trees in our backyard.  The Downy is the smaller of the two but they are very similar looking otherwise.  The Hairy woodpecker is a beautiful bird and I watched one of them as it pecked at tree trunks for insects under the bark.  They like to hammer one spot for several seconds and then move around the tree or off to another trunk.

Up and over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

(click on any image to open a page with a higher resolution version)

In the woods - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Just pecking around - 2013 © Christopher Martin

As this one flew around it felt like it was playing peek-a-boo with me in between hunts.  Another good encounter in the backyard alongside the Black-capped chickadees and the Common redpolls.

Woodpecker yogi - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Squirrel mischief

A more natural breakfast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Actually the Red squirrels that I was photographing a couple of different times over the weekend weren’t getting up to too much trouble so the title is a little bit misleading.  However, when I watch them tearing up and down trees, leaping between branches, grabbing seeds, etc. they seem mischievous.  We had one, in the image below, that found a way into our attic from the outside last year, that crossed from mischief into nuisance but a live trap and rodent proofing measures allowed us to remove it and for it to return to the backyard

Attempted burglary - 2013 © Christopher Martin

(click on any image to open a page with a higher resolution version)

This same squirrel is drawn to the bird feeders I have put out over the years.  It successfully pilfered from or destroyed each of them!  That has been stopped with the current, rather ugly, feeder which the squirrel can neither knock down nor draw seeds from.  Some of the birds that visit, nuthatches in particular, are very picky about the seeds they eat so many seeds drop to the ground which birds and squirrels alike enjoy snacking on.

Breakfast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Nevertheless the squirrel still takes a crack at this feeder every couple of days as seen above.  Below, he is perched on the top of the metalwork that holds the feeder as well as flowers in the summer.

Planning and plotting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Even with seeds scattered on the deck, when I observe the squirrels eating they prefer stripping cones from the tall conifers they run around in all day to get at the seeds within.  We seem to have an equilibrium with the squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, birds and voles in the backyard.  May it continue to last.

Daydreaming over breakfast - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Dolphins at play in the waves

Exhalation - © Christopher Martin-4239

When I was on a catamaran sailing along the Na Pali Coast we had a close encounter with a small pod of dolphins where they swam alongside for several minutes. I loved watching the deceptive power in their movements. The cat was under full sail and the dolphins seemed to expend little effort to speed past the bow and slip in and out of the waves.

Slipstream - © Christopher Martin-4275

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Nosing under - © Christopher Martin-4273

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Splash - © Christopher Martin-4274

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Dolphin mirage - © Christopher Martin-4277

On the return trip to the harbour, close to the first visit, a couple more dolphins (different I think as they seemed to be gray coloured versus the blue bodies of the first ones – although that could be a change in the light) came by and this time had a couple of humpback whales with them. The dolphins get very excited when the whales return for the winter and the two species are often found playing together and generally hanging out together until the whales head off around the globe again. The whales did not make any spectacular breaches but I felt no disappointment as just seeing them in their waters was magical.

Dolphin pair - © Christopher Martin-4668

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Humpback ridge - © Christopher Martin-4651


Common redpolls in the backyard

Common redpoll flight - © Christopher Martin-2105

The common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) are, as the name implies, common across Canada’s lower latitudes in the winter.  However, they are new to my backyard.  We have had scores of Black-capped chickadees since we put out a winter bird feeder several years ago but not redpolls.  This year, there is a flock of about ten that spend much of the day in the trees behind our house flitting back and forth to the feeder.  They are joined now and then by a larger mob of about thirty more redpolls.  All of them seem to play nice with the incumbent chickadees so they have been a great, and colourful, addition to the forest that edges my backyard.

Common redpoll perched on cold morning - © Christopher Martin-2011

The morning I spent with them this weekend was cold so all of the birds were eating a lot and flying around.  My fingers didn’t like the -20˚C but it was a lot of fun standing in the middle of activity.

Common redpoll in profile - © Christopher Martin-2057

I set up early so the light was decidedly bluish.  When it came up, the sun went in and out of the clouds so I had a lot of different moods to work with.  It was a very fun morning at home.

In the brambles - © Christopher Martin-2153

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Redpoll flight - © Christopher Martin-2419


2012 Favourite Wildlife Photographs

Winter Soaring - © Christopher Martin-5201

In 2012, I had some wonderful encounters with wild animals.  Most were in Alberta near my home either on the prairies or in the mountains.  I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to have an abundance of wildlife living in my literal backyard and in any direction I choose to walk, ride or drive.  Kananaskis Country mesmerized me more this year than ever before and I enjoyed time with coyotes, bears, sheep, moose and hawks there.

Passing through - © Christopher Martin-3946

(please click on any image if you want to open a new page with a higher resolution version)

Hunting in the grass - © Christopher Martin-9706

I started the year with a goal to put significant time and energy into improving my wildlife photography.  My priorities to accomplish this 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 moved forward on all fronts though I know where I want to get to and so I will be keeping the same goals to start this new year.

Water off a loon's back - © Christopher Martin-2213

As spring took hold, I wanted to photograph bears.  In previous years, I hadn’t put in the time to learn their habits, locations and behaviours.  I put in time reading books and talking with people who know a lot about Black Bears and Grizzly (Brown) Bears.  There is much (much) more to learn but the effort was rewarded with some good images from the Kootenay National Park and the Banff National Park.  A decent start to the images that I have in mind.

One of 64's cubs - © Christopher Martin-0678

The cubs above and below were Grizzly Bear #64′s and I found them on a couple of occasions along the Vermilion Lakes Road near Banff.  So beautiful and very photogenic.  The park’s wildlife officers did a good job working with visitors and there seemed to be a level of respect and restraint better than I have observed other years.

Cub play - © Christopher Martin-9724

The meadows of dandelions blooming in the spring draw the bears to the roadsides along Highway 93 in the Kootenay National Park and I made a couple of trips there to photograph the black bears.  This bear had picked the flowers clean on the rocky slope.  The wet fur and the posture made for a nice moment to photograph.

Over the shoulder - © Christopher Martin-0782

In the summer, I visited Jasper National Park for a solid week of photography.  The absolute highlight was this black bear cub sprinting up two different tree trunks.  Momma kept grazing while junior seemed to be playing.  It was amazing how fast this young animal climbed and almost more impressive when it slid down twice as fast.

Cub scout - © Christopher Martin-3942

I love photographing birds.  Left unchecked I would fill this collection with way too many avian photographs.  Trying to rein myself in here but it was a good year for birding and bird photography.  Along the way I saw the movie “The Big Year” and that got me thinking… not yet but probably one day.  Here then are a few from the year that stood out for me.

Solitude - © Christopher Martin-7101

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Mallard shakes - © Christopher Martin-8379

Great Gray Owls dominated my local outings to West Bragg Creek in April and May.  I had a connection with one owl in particular (or at least I felt one and hope the owl did on some level too) and spent many days with it flying around me, landing beside me and generally spoiling with opportunities to photograph this most magical of animals.  This was a favourite among many special images of this owl.

Forest flight - © Christopher Martin-1974

The last part of the year I had a great wildlife trip to the Jasper National Park with my friend Jeff Rhude on a workshop with John Marriott.  John is one of Canada’s pre-eminent wildlife photographers and it was really fun to spend a week focused on wildlife photography.  I worked for the images there and the results were pretty satisfying.

A ram's portrait - © Christopher Martin-5702

The rams were assembling ahead of the rut in groups around the park.  We did not have any head butting to photograph but there was time to really work with the opportunities available.  This post was a favourite of mine from the year.

His land - © Christopher Martin-0886

An encounter with a pair of very approachable ravens at a pullout along the Icefields Parkway and family of juvenile bald eagles along the river just outside of Jasper were two other highlights from a very good trip.

Raven profile - © Christopher Martin-6264

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Juvenile in flight - © Christopher Martin-8123

At the end of the year my family went to Kaua’i and the wildlife fortunes were with us.  We had amazing encounters with Hawaiian Monk Seals, Green Sea Turtles and birds of many feathers.

Egret ballet - © Christopher Martin-1079

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Monk Seal peek-a-boo - © Christopher Martin-2821

The encounters continued below the surface and I fear I’m hooked on this fascinating branch of photography now – we’ll see where that takes me in 2013.

Turtle magic © Christopher Martin-4298

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Camouflage school  - © Christopher Martin-081743

The year finished with the discovery of Snowy Owls very close to my home.  There are a pair, and possibly a quartet, of Snowies currently hunting in the Springbank Airport area.  I spent some time with them before the end of the year and have continued regular evening appointments with them in the first few days of this new year.  These owls have not been seen in this area before and my first photographs of  Snowies made in February and March last year required driving a couple of hours east.  The first image in this post was from a range road near Gleichen an hour east of Calgary during one of these longer drives.  It is very special to me that I have been end the year with Snowy owls very close to my home as they have become a favourite animal of mine.

Downstroke - © Christopher Martin-0178


Swimming with a Honu

Honu - © Christopher Martin-4298

I went on a sailing trip up the Na Pali coast yesterday.  The morning was clear and we had a great trip with visits from a couple of separate pods of dolphins and a few humpback whales.  After turning around at the Kalalau Valley, the captain found us a calm cove and we had an hour to snorkel.  Halfway through the swim, I found a Green sea turtle fishing down in the coral.

Foraging Honu - © Christopher Martin-4230

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 Foraging Honu - © Christopher Martin-4220

I was about 30′ above it and just floated along watching it swim and explore.  After a few minutes, it surfaced and when it turned to me, I had a second to photograph it swimming.  Soon after with lungs full of fresh air, it descended again and soon disappeared into the blue.

The descent - © Christopher Martin-4307


Feasting on rainbows

Feasting on rainbows - © Christopher Martin-2276

This Manini (Acanthurus triostegus) was one of many swimming in the sheltered cove at the Lydgate Beach Park when I was snorkelling there yesterday.  The fish has a great nickname, the Convict Tang, owing to the stripes resembling those of a prisoner’s uniform of old.  When this one moved into an area of the rocks and coral where rainbows were shimmering, I swung my camera that way.

A good friend loaned me a waterproof casing for one of my cameras and it has been fun to play around with during time on the water.  It’s a different game shooting underwater and I am really having fun learning a bit of the how tos required to get a good image.  A very (very) long ways to go to approach the likes of Brian Skerry though!


Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua

Hawaiian monk seal portrait - © Christopher Martin-7310

(please click on any picture to open a higher resolution version)

Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua – that’s what the Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is called in the Hawaiian language.  Literally, it means dog that runs in rough water.  We were watching a sea turtle that had pulled up on a beach in Po’ipu when a friendly fellow who was chatting with Bobbi, told her about a Monk seal he had just seen on a nearby, although fairly remote, beach a little while earlier.  So, we packed up, drove down an old dirt road, hiked over forested sand dune and about half an hour later, we were watching a seal that had hauled itself well up onto the beach.

Sleep before swim - © Christopher Martin-7392

The kids had fallen asleep between beaches, so Bobbi and I alternated a couple of visits to the seal.  The ropes had been set up so passersby did not stray (or walk intently) too close to these critically endangered animals.  Most people respected the boundaries.  When the seal slid out of the area that had been cordoned off to provide some space, it rubbed up against one of the poles which was curious – maybe just an opportunity for a scratch or it was checking out the scent left behind by the person who placed it.

At the post - © Christopher Martin-7301

A few minutes afterwards, the seal had settled a couple of yards above the water line.  It remained there for almost an hour.  People continued to stay back even without an updated perimeter with only two exceptions – nothing that seemed to impact the seal but a local fellow nearby set the clueless observers straight.  The image below was not one of the too close encounters.

Co-existing - © Christopher Martin-7416

I had the benefit of my long lenses and was able to keep well away from the seal and its path back to the ocean.  It dozed for most of the time we were there and not much interrupted its rest.  When it was back down at the surf, even waves that reached up and covered its face, most only a little, rarely even opened an eye.

Sleep and surf - © Christopher Martin-7630

Kian and Kezia woke up after an hour and made the trek down to the beach with us.  It was great to watch the seal together and they were really interested in this beautiful animal, how big it was (7′ long I would guess) and why it was sleeping so much!

Resting on the beach - © Christopher Martin-7989

Nearing sunset and following one good wave in the face, the eyes opened and the seal made short work of the rest of the beach between it and the open water.  It undulated forward, sliding across the sand and slipped into the water.

Time to wake up - © Christopher Martin-7715

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Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8148

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Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8130

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Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8165

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Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8175

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Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8192

There it was transformed from the ungainly land mammal to a graceful sea creature.  It was great to watch it swim for the first hundred yards or so before it went underwater.

Out to sea - © Christopher Martin-8201

This was the last glimpse I had as it headed out to sea.  We lingered for another hour as there was some family sand castle building required.  One of the best days we’ve had in Hawai’i.

In the sea - © Christopher Martin-8238


Moose Travels

These two moose crossed a farm field moving towards the heavier woods of Kananaskis, west of Bragg Creek.  The mother kept up a brisk trot but the calf seemed untroubled by the pace.    She came towards me across the field and then joined a path that crossed a low point in the fence a hundred feet in front of me.  On the road they paused for a second and then hiked up into the forest.


Jasper Rams

In Jasper we revisited the same herd of Bighorn sheep on Edith’s Knoll each day in the hopes of catching the rams smashing their horns together.  There was an element of disappointment as we were early in the rut  and the males did not seem to be ramped up yet.   However, with several hours spent less than twenty yards from these majestic beasts, it proved to be a great experience watching their interactions and their mannerisms.  Spending that kind of time with wildlife on their terms is pretty special.  These are a few of the interesting moments from the time spent up on the hill.

(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)

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The wonder of ravens

When the light is really soft and even, the patterns and subtle colours in their feathers, the scratches that tell stories in their beaks and their intelligent eyes provide great material to work with.  These images are from a little shoot with a curious couple who spend their time at one viewpoint pullout along the Icefields Parkway in the Jasper National Park.  On this day, the clouds were hanging low in the valley and heavily diffused the sunlight so that even the darkest shadows were only a muted grey.  Perfect conditions to photograph these birds around their hangout.  I posted one portrait of these birds a couple of days ago and with a little more time now, I enjoyed putting together a few more images for this entry.

The snow fell intermittently and provided another element to work with.  What had already fallen to the ground over the past week created clean backgrounds and when coupled with wide apertures allowed the ravens to stand out with a nice dimensionality.

The camera I photographed with here, the Canon 5D Mark III has a slight bluish colour cast at higher ISO settings.  These are easily removed in any photo editing software but I really liked the iridescent quality in the image above.

Drawing closer in, the lines drawn by the feathers around the face and neck create really great patterns that go unseen when ravens are usually seen given the dark colours.


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