Wildlife

Snowy owl on the hunt in Irricana

 

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1653-2

This Snowy owl’s dive into the grass directly below was a great moment to watch.  The bird’s intense focus when it started tracking the prey from the perch on the fence through to the awesome descent to attack were welcome rewards given the time invested.  I found this Snowy on this fence post a little after 9 am and quickly set up my camera and lens across the field from her.  For the next 2 1/2 hours, she shuffled, scratched, preened, and dozed.  She seemed to have little interest in me, the field mice or in flying for most of that time.  She kept watch of everything going on around her but her talons may have been nailed to the wood!  I was hadn’t expected to wait that long but with her relaxed manner, I hoped when she did fly it would be in the direction she faced when I first stopped.  That direction was facing towards me and in the end she did do that.  I thought if she flew that way, I would have a few in flight opportunities but this dive was short in both time and distance.  I was happy to have captured a couple of frames before she disappeared into the grass.

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1654-2

I waited for about 10 minutes for her to climb out of the tall grass and when she did it was heading away from me.  Given the time on the ground, I would wager that she did catch the prey and spent the time out of sight enjoying the meal.


Coyotes on the Albertan prairie

Coyote scout - © Christopher Martin-0668

I found this pair of Coyotes while driving the backroads west of the Springbank airport last weekend.  The male was laying down and enjoying the sun when they came into view.  The female, seen in the image below, had been trotting around nearby and only stopped when she saw me.  She stared at me for a few seconds but with the headwind and the sun in her eyes she took a long blink before turning away and taking up a sitting position a bit further from me.

Coyote blink - © Christopher Martin-0661

The male rose up and crossed warily along a low ridge parallel to me before heading back towards the female.  They both looked healthy and I believe the patches on the female’s side are her winter coat shaking out rather than mange or some other irritation.  I hope they are planning to den in that area – I’d love to watch their pups this spring.

Coyote scout - © Christopher Martin-0676


Clutching at grass

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1864

One of the Snowy owls that I photographed recently made a dive while I was watching.  She came up without a mouse but had a clutch of grass instead.  I’m sure it wasn’t her preference but it was a bit unusual to see one of these raptors flying around with a talon full of grass.  She gave a couple of good looks around as she looked for another target during the same sortie but had no luck on this flight.

Snowy's stare - © Christopher Martin-1863

Prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-1859

 


Snowy owls aloft in the blue sky

Overhead, underview - © Christopher Martin-2425
A sky free of clouds and a polarizer filter allowed for rich blue sky backgrounds for the flight shots I was able to take from morning through to noon last weekend.  South of Irricana, along Highway 567, there were five owls that I saw.  I was able to have eight separate encounters with these owls as I drove between their respective territories.
Snowy owl mid-flight - © Christopher Martin-1519
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Full extension - © Christopher Martin-1517
It was pretty cold, -20°C, so waiting for each of the launches was a bit numbing.  But I like the set of images and the fingers did warm up later in the day.
Shadow wing - © Christopher Martin-2469
With the mild winter, that day excepted, that we have enjoyed so far, I have no idea how long the Snowy owl population will stay before they head north to their breeding grounds.  While they are here, it is great fun to be able to spend some time watching and photographing these most beautiful of birds.
Wings up, landing gear down - © Christopher Martin-1509

A Snowy owl’s elusive smile

A Snowy cry - © Christopher Martin-1524

This Snowy owl had been chirping at some ravens nearby when it was perched on a telephone pole and they were flying above.  Eventually one came too close which prompted the owl’s leap into the air.  She looped around the pole once before settling on another one further from the mischief makers.  While banking in the turn photographed above she cried out again.  This time proved an excellent opportunity to photograph her “smile”.


A Snowy Owl’s flight over the prairies

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1458

On the weekend I followed reports of Snowy owls northeast of Calgary near Irricana.  I left home early and arrived in the area just after sunrise.  I was lucky enough to spy the first Snowie of the day perched on a fence post glowing in the soft light.

Irricana Snowy Owl - © Christopher Martin-1415

The pure white owls were until quite recently thought to always be males.  That has been disproved leaving it hard to determine the gender from casual observation.  I will allow for the old convention though and refer to this one as a he.  The other four birds I photographed that morning were banded to varying degrees and I will refer to them as ladies in a future post.  It took only a few minutes before he launched and scouted low over the field for breakfast.  This was repeated a couple of times with each sortie ending with a return to the fence line.

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1457

On the last flight that I photographed of this owl, he flew away from the fence and landed in the middle of the field on a pipeline valve which allowed for an interesting backlit shot as he flared his wings to land.

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1474


2014 Favourite Wildlife Photographs

Bald Eagle in the Prince Rupert harbour - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Eagles, owls and bears were chief among the highlights when I look back over my wildlife photography in 2014.  I spent time with Grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country and the Banff National Park.  Eagles were often elusive, spiralling far above or banking around a corner, but I had great encounters in Prince Rupert and in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Closer to home, Great Gray Owls and Great Horned Owls let me find them now and then in the foothills and out on the prairie.

(Please click on any image to open the gallery of 2014 wildlife images)

A flight over wildflowers - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Beyond these animals, interesting and beautiful wildlife in Mexico, Arizona and around southern Alberta also grabbed my attention.  Taking a bit of time to enjoy recalling all of these highlights, I created a gallery with 45 images that meant the most to me.  If you are interested in having a look, please click on any image or this gallery link to open a new webpage with my collection of these photographs.  It was a good year and I’m looking forward to more exciting encounters, taking more opportunities to learn more about the animals I photograph and to keep learning to see deeper and to create interesting imagery that tells some of their stories.

Banff Grizzly Bear - © Christopher Martin-8215


Eagles in the Elk Valley


Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0150

We were in Fernie a couple of weeks ago and on the drive home found a few Bald eagles who were flying around a carcass that had been pulled a few hundred meters off the highway.  They scattered when we first stopped but came circling back around the trees and back to the easy meal.  A nice break during the lean winter months.

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0157

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0161

 


A Grouse in Kananaskis

Kananaskis Grouse - © Christopher Martin-0013

This bird was teasing seeds on the roadside in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis.  It continued on as I got close to the ground and photographed it at eye level.


Priddis Moose

Priddis Bull Moose - © Christopher Martin-9415

On a cold morning in Priddis, this young bull was in an open meadow in the forest with a small group of females.  It was -20ºC which seems to be a temperature where moose like to be out of the forest.
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Priddis Bull Moose - © Christopher Martin-9463
Priddis Bull Moose - © Christopher Martin-9398
Priddis Bull Moose - © Christopher Martin-9468

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