We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor. It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along. Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
(click on any image to open a page with a larger version)
A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard. The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on. Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while. While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.
Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits. Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.
While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew. I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball. Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.
The Chickadees, Bluejays and Nuthatches in our backyard stay year round. For some of the other birds, the heavy snowstorm on Sunday and the cold temperatures left behind have prompted discussion about overwintering or heading for the south. This Evening Grosbeak seemed to be weighing his options as he nibbled on twigs while perched in the bushes above the pond.
With the cold and the snow, I will not blame him if he takes flight soon.
Living in Alberta, I do not get to photograph seals very often. When I spent a couple of days in the Khutzeymateen, Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were often nearby and I was really taken by their curiosity and the challenge of getting good images of them. Some seals I’ve been around will lounge close-by but not do too much. These ones were wary but it seemed like their interest in seeing who was about and what we were up to drew them in. When I say nearby usually that meant no closer than a hundred metres or so – long lenses were quite handy here.
The challenge came that the seals in the inlet would usually pop their heads out for a second and then submerge again only to resurface in a different spot. While waiting for bears, it became a game trying to anticipate where these creatures would come up next. Usually, I would see them a long ways off and then they would go under and come up a few seconds later much further away.
A notable exception to this behaviour was when they would float upside down at the surface!
It was a strange sight and I was glad that our captain had an explanation for this behaviour: they watch the fish from the high vantage point. Remaining pretty motionless, the fish come pretty close and the seals can then lunge after them. It would be incredible to be underwater and photograph that action. Maybe next year!
When I returned to Prince Rupert I was eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, Breakers Pub (great food and friendly staff), when a couple of seals swam into the marina. The deck is perched on the rocks above the marina so I had a great view of them swimming around. It was the first time that trip that I was able to see and photograph their entire body. The light was a bit harsh but a polarizer cut the reflection off the water. I was told by our waitress that these three seals had been frequent visitors to the marina for a couple of months so they didn’t duck and surface like their cousins in the Khutzeymateen.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600
There were two beavers working at Wild Rose yesterday. My daughter was thrilled to see them swimming around. She had never seen one before so two was double perfect in her words. This one was working hard ferrying tree branches back to their lodge.
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: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
After having photographed the Grizzly bear named Blondie on the first day in the Khutzeymateen, we met up with her again on two separate occasions. Here she was at the mouth of the main river in the estuary. She had been in the water just before and the droplets were still shaking loose as she stepped across the sand. She noticed us right away but showed little interest and kept on her hunt for fish.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2500th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
She had swum around the grassy sandbar we were moored beside and carried on around another bend a few minutes later.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800
After flying into the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park by float plane in the early afternoon, we moved all of our gear onto the Sun Chaser which was our base of operations for the four days spent in the inlet. The captain, Dan Wakeman, sailed us east towards the end of the inlet for a couple of miles and then weighed anchor in a beautiful little cove. We set up for shooting and hopped into Dan’s inflatable zodiac boat to look for bears. Earlier we had passed a river and watched a dark coloured Grizzly slip into the shadows of the rainforest. Now on a more mobile vessel, with shallow draft and a strong outboard, we headed back and went upriver about one hundred metres to see if the bear had lingered in the area. It did not reappear and we soon headed down to the estuary and the main river flowing out of the mountains there. We waited and watched but found no bears on that first visit to the head of the valley. I didn’t mind, the scenery was beautiful and I enjoyed building a familiarity with the land. Dan has spent the non-winter months of each of the last 35 years in the Khutzeymateen and it was a great to soak up some of the knowledge he freely shared as we trolled around and watched for wildlife. We headed back to the Sun Chaser and spotted a female Grizzly who was picking dead salmon out of the sedge grass. They get caught in there during the high tide when the meadows are covered and having spawned do not have the energy to untangle themselves.
With the Grizzly finishing off a fish, Dan introduced her as Blondie. As I mentioned in an earlier post, she had been blonde as a cub and a few long tufts of hair behind her ears had stayed with her into adulthood. She hunted in the grass for a bit longer and then went fishing in the river. She splashed around a bit but pretty quickly headed to the grassy field on the far side and resumed looking for salmon there.
She paused frequently to smell the air. Lifting her nose up and looking around it seemed likely there was another bear in that area, perhaps the dark bear seen earlier. She was wary and Dan was not surprised when she pointed east and left the grass for the slippery rocks exposed during low tide. She was heading for the estuary where the majority of the salmon run and the hunting can be very productive for the bears.
With the full moon pushing and pulling water down the long Khutzeymateen Inlet, there was a difference of six metres between high tide and low tide. When the water was up, it came right to bottom branches of the trees on the edge of the rainforest. When it is low, many of the bears use the easier path along the exposed band of lichen and kelp covered rock to cover ground.
With rain now moving from a drizzle to a steady downpour, we settled into a rhythm with Blondie paralleling her as she walked and swam along the coastline. We moved with her for the better part of an hour. She disappeared into the forest in a couple of impassable spots and then re-emerged again. Twice she slipped into the water and paddled along that route for a while before making landfall and carrying on.
This was an incredible opportunity to watch a Grizzly bear move through her environment at her pace, undisturbed by us due to Dan’s understanding of this population and this specific animal. We met up with Blondie again a couple of days later and I will share that story in another post.
At the next meadow of sedge grass she pawed at the ground in a couple of places, sniffed at the air a couple of times and then walked into the trees to a trail that Dan has seen which leads to the estuary still a mile further down the inlet. We parted company and returned to the Sun Chaser for our own dinner.
From the deck of the sailboat that was home in the Khutzeymateen we spotted a mother and cub padding through the deep sedge grass during low tide. With the full moon, the change between high and low tides was over seven metres. The salmon that have spawned up the creeks, are little more than heartbeats when they float back down to the river mouth. When the water is high they often get caught in the sedge grass and are easy pickings for the clever bears who are in the know.
The cub played unaware we were watching for several minutes. When he did notice, he stared us down before trotting back to momma.
The mother stayed in the grass until the cub came up and growled and pawed at her.
After a while the cub turned his attention back to his mom. He trotted over and growled and pawed at her. He conned her into coming down to the beach and they ran around chasing each other.
It was a really special finish to a great first day in the Khutzeymateen. And more great moments were to come in the next two days I spent in the Khutzeymateen.
I am traveling back from Prince Rupert right now after my trip into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. We were in there for four nights and had an amazing time. My high hopes were exceeded in every respect and I will have a lot more to share once I’m back home and can work through the images. This beautiful bear is called Blondie due to her colouring as a cub and the stray tufts that remain behind her ears now that she’s an adult. She mated for this first time this year so cubs are expected next year. We were able to watch her on a few separate occasions and she was a favourite amongst us. She’s a bit of a wild one but on this day she was cowed by the weather, as were we. The rain fell hard early, kept going strong all day and stayed late. We spied her walking along the exposed rock during low tide. She headed towards the estuary and our guide, Dan, who has been taking people into the Khutzeymateen for the last 35 years, got us into the zodiac boat and we paralleled her travels for over a mile. This was one of two times where she elected to swim past a steep section of rock. With the raindrops bouncing off the water, the image gives a feeling of the inlet on that wet day.
I was out on the ocean with my friend Jeff yesterday. We are heading into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary this morning for four days on a boat where we will be looking for the wild bears that own this remote inlet on British Columbia’s Pacific coast. That’s today but yesterday we were out whale watching leaving from Prince Rupert and cruising the coastline in search of humpbacks. On the return, there were a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) attracted by fishing scraps thrown overboard in the channel.
I saw it as a rare easy meal for these beautiful creatures. Seemed like good target practice as well. They circled around a couple of times for the chunks of fish, chasing off a large raft of gulls that seemed to materialize out of thin air.
More to come in a few days when I get back.
This summer has been very god for hawk watchers on the prairies around Calgary. To the west around the Springbank area I have spent a good number of afternoons watching mostly Swainson’s Hawks scouting over the fields.
This is a small set from a few of these encounters. I looking forward to a few more before fall comes and these fair-weather friends head south.
This hawk above was staring me down from her nest while I stopped briefly to see if her chick was looking out yet. On a separate visit, I saw the young one’s stare was equal to its mother’s.
Earlier in the summer, on the same day as my running fox encounter, I was watching a female hawk on this ranch entrance when its mate swooped down. When I saw the bird descending, as below, I thought it was attacking but it was getting closer for other reasons.
The hawk above had just finished a meal when I came by its perch on a fence near the airport. It preened for a while before launching for a higher viewing point. It stayed in the skeleton tree below before flying through the bare branches and gliding over the fields.
On one of the rainy mornings that I was out, this hawk flew alongside me for a few seconds which was really cool. When it crossed over to the driver’s side and banked back, I caught the nice image of the downstroke of his wings below.
I will be trading the opportunity to photograph these wonderful raptors for the wild residents of Prince Rupert’s coastal rainforest next week. I’m always excited about a return to the province I grew up in and especially when it is to visit a part of British Columbia that is new to me. We will see what opportunities present themselves starting tomorrow.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 200mm: 1/1000th of a second at f/4 on ISO 400
I walked along the Bow River at the west end of Baker Park. The pathway was quiet and I was happy to see a deer bedded down for an afternoon’s rest staring at me passively as I stopped for a second and then carried on. Always a good indication that things are pretty calm.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 140mm: 1/320th of a second at f/10 on ISO 1600
When I turned around and walked back upstream, I took an interest in a group of soft purple wildflowers. The wind was pushing them gently and I was thinking about a long exposure blur. Watching them more closely, they were hosting a steady line of pollen collectors. These bees and wasps were buzzing from one blossom to the other.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 200mm: 1/1000th of a second at f/4 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 200mm: 1/1000th of a second at f/4 on ISO 400
I wished for my macro lens but the 70-200mm I had with me coupled with some decent cropping resulted in something close to what I was envisioning.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 200mm: 1/1600th of a second at f/4 on ISO 400
The flowers knitted in tight clusters along the path occupied my attention for the rest of the walk. Even when the creatures had been left behind, my eyes stayed with them.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 75mm: 1/125th of a second at f/16 on ISO 400
This fawn was in a shaded bend of a stream west of Bragg Creek. I noticed this little one’s mom in the middle of the stream first but the light stealing through the trees into this nook grabbed my attention. I watched for a minute and then the fawn stepped into the light and created a good photo op for me. It is very nice when wildlife helps to make the images that much better.