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.
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.
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.
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.
Creatures in our forest are readying for winter right now. This squirrel, one of our long-time neighbours, was out collecting warm material to line her home with when she found one of our strings of Buddhist Lung ta prayer flags (Tibetan:རླུང་རྟ་; Mandarin Chinese:風馬 – Feng ma; meaning “Wind horse”). I found her while she was well into separating one of the flags. I really can’t take much issue with this resourceful little creature so I think we will have to buy some more flags to replace these.
I really like Brown Pelicans (their scientific name is Pelecanus occidentalis). They can be acrobatic in flight but generally look very cool while gliding in the sky or low over waves. They are inquisitive, excellent hunters and socially engaging. They are also active early in the morning and late in the evening which allows for some great lighting opportunities when photographing them.
I have put together a gallery of a few of my favourite Brown Pelican images here (or click the image above). In the gallery, please click on any picture to see a full size image. Most of these images are from Los Cabos in Mexico with a couple of flight pictures from Laguna Beach, California.
A small herd of bull elk were gathered near Moose Meadows on the Bow Valley Parkway when I was there on the weekend. The frost bleached the grass and the cold air made the breath visible.
These were mature adults with massive antlers and they were putting them to use. The rut is on and these elk were challenging each other repeatedly.
They would be eating grass and then stare at another one. Soon after, they would stalk slowly towards each other and lock antlers. Once entwined, a push and a pull fight would take place. Unlike Bighorn sheep battles where they smash into each other, these were shoving matches.
It was a cold morning which made for a particularly appealing scene to watch these giants battle. The elk below was noticeably larger than the others and only one bull challenged him in the half hour that I watched. That contest seemed like more of a measuring stick for the smaller one as it was short and there was no real challenge.
He wandered off after a while heading for the trees and leaving the others to graze and continue the odd skirmish.
On the weekend, I found a Grizzly bear traversing along the edge of the Bow Valley Parkway near the southeast entrance. The bear, a female with the tag #148 (I think), I could see where she had been digging up roots but when I saw her she was already on the move.
She crossed the road between a couple of parked cars and then disappeared into the trees. I played a hunch and drove a kilometre down the road and waited hoping she might continue in that direction. A little while later, she came down the road and scrambled up onto this rock shelf above the road.
That offered a great view of this beautiful creature and I was able to create some solid imagery when she paused to decide on her next route.
Leaving the rocks, she crossed a grassy meadow and then walked through the open forest for a few hundred metres. I loved watching her walk through the trees – at this time of the year her coat blends in with the autumn foliage.
She then crossed the road again and shuffled down the hillside. Out of sight again and this time she did not return. I saw a video of her fishing earlier this summer so maybe she went down to the river for that!
When I was in Shangri-La last month, I spent one day touring the Pudacuo National Park (also called Potatso; in Chinese it is 普达措国家公园). Not enough time by any stretch of my imagination but I enjoyed the time I had. In the morning I walked along the shoreline of Shudu lake and early on came across this White wagtail (Motacilla alba alboides) hunting for insects.
From this partly submerged perch, he flew down and skimmed the water’s surface. Each dive appeared to be successful and after a few minutes the bird flew into the trees and disappeared.
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.
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.
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.
Once he had checked me out, then he skipped back again and joined in snacking on the greenery.
I had the great pleasure of seeing a Great horned owl at an old barn east of High River. It is one that I have visited a couple of times over the past couple of years. This window, which faces north, is a favourite daytime perch. The heavy clouds only threatened rain and their midday dimming effect seemed to encourage the owl to make a couple of sorties over the surrounding fields during the time I spent there.
The owl flew along the fence line twice which afforded me a few great in-flight shooting opportunities. I left the barn with my friend perched in the deep shadow of the barn’s interior.
On one of our morning drives, Kian and I came across a few Bighorn rams on the Akamina Parkway near Cameron Lake in the Waterton National Park. These were adolescents, not the adult males which will battle for the attention of the ewes in the fall. Nonetheless, a couple of them were practicing their rutting between grazing on the roadside vegetation.
When the big boys crash their horns together it can echo across a valley. These battles didn’t carry that kind of power but it was great action with no lack of enthusiasm. We were able to watch three battles and my son and I both loved watching, and hearing, the collisions.
I do wonder if concussions are a problem as they are with human contact sports.