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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).
It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.