Canon 5D III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/200 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
This squirrel has been a resident in the trees behind our house for five years. He’s feisty and acts like the backyard, our deck and everywhere else he travels is under his dominion. In this encounter I had my feet up on the railing and he squared off staring at me. It became pretty clear that he was impatiently waiting for me to put my feet down so he could pass. I obliged, but snapped off a couple of frames before removing the barricade. He chirped as he ran by and kept up the chatter as he climbed up a tree. I thought a simple thank you would have sufficed!
A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring. I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed. I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket. It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.
On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years. I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.
I spent an afternoon on the prairie east of High River, birds are stocking up in the fields as they head north. Swans, Pintails, Geese and a number of Bald Eagles were active in the sky. At one grain bin where I saw a Kestrel streaking by, this pigeon proved less elusive. Curiosity drew it out for a couple of quick looks. In the direct sunlight I liked the iridescent purple on the throat.
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.
When my wife and I went to Cabo San Lucas last December I was lucky to find this Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) in a stand of cacti during a morning walk. I had noticed the hole in this cactus and was looking on when this one flew in. It poked its head out a couple of times before heading off again. I carried on and saw it flying around a couple more times when I came back that way near the end of my stroll.
I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend for the sunrise but I stayed for the American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus).
I love watching these aquatically adept birds stalking, diving and swimming in the middle of the rapids. On the last visit to the waterfall, there were three Dippers flitting about moving between the bottom of the waterfall and the rocks at the top.
They chased each other down river a couple of times but spent most of their time fishing alone. On a quiet morning in Kananaskis, it was nice to spend my time watching them.
This Ermine, a short-tailed weasel in its winter coat, was bounding in the snow hunting. They are so quick that a sharp image can be a challenge. The bright day and relatively uncluttered scene helped the auto focus and I nabbed a couple of shots before it skipped into deeper brush and out of sight.
Three years ago, we had a weasel that set up for a couple of months in a woodpile in our backyard. I haven’t seen one since then so it was great fun to have a short encounter again.
One of our resident woodpeckers was drumming away for a good part of the afternoon a few days ago. Several Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have wintered near our home this year.
The long bill of the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was put to good use by this fellow. He used it to his advantage pecking away at the bark. I’m not sure if it was idle practice or if, despite the cool temperatures, there were insects to be had.
With warmer temperatures coming back this weekend, I hope to see them out pecking again.
The Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) I see are usually wading in the water or flying above it. When I was in Sedona I went down to Red Rock Crossing and was surprised to catch sight of one not by Oak Creek but in a field of tall grass a couple of hundred meters away from the water.
The bird was walking on a path leading up towards a ridge but lingered fairly close which allowed me to change lenses for a couple of different looks. I really love these birds and it was a treat to see one in an unusual environment.
I noticed some crimson flecks on its bill and when I left the bird and went back towards Oak Creek, I figured out why the Heron stayed nearby. I realized I had interrupted its dinner. I left the area and returned to the edge of the clearing an hour later to find it had left but not before returning to finish the meal.
When we were in Sedona a couple of weeks ago, I drove to the Page Springs Sanctuary in search of birds to photograph. Arizona is the winter home to many species that summer in Canada and I enjoyed seeing a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) during my visit to the river near the springs.
It was mid-morning and they were not active. They were perched over the river deep in the tangled branches of the huge trees. This yawn was the most action that I saw while I watched them. Didn’t bother me, they were great to see resting in this quiet forest.
… Not in Alberta though. Bobbi and I were in Sedona, Arizona last week and we learned that there was one species of Hummingbird that stays in the area through the winter. In the spring and summer, there can be up to 14 different types of Hummingbirds there but only the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) will spend the full year.
I went to the Red Rock State Park where I had been told a couple of these birds had staked out the feeder put out by the park staff as their territory. Tucked off to the side of the visitor center, they have a sheltered garden with native trees surrounding a few benches and various bird feeders catering to those who overwinter nearby. The Hummingbird feeder is in a slightly unusual position beside an exit door and close to the large bay windows of smoked glass. I suppose it allows people to stand close to the window on the inside and watch these speedy fellows at close range. I liked the clean background afforded by the opaque window so it suited my purposes.
I believe there were two individuals that I saw but they never appeared at the same time so it could have been one, two or more as I’m not familiar with this species and could easily mistake the unique number observed. Regardless, I was entranced by their iridescent feathers, the speed and precision of these birds as I always am with Hummingbirds. It will be several months until they return to my home so it was a treat to spend some time with them last week.
I went out on the prairie a couple of times on the weekend. I was looking for owls. On the “hope to see” list were Great Horned, Snowy and Short-eared. I went to the back roads around Frank Lake. I encountered a couple of Snowies but it was too dark to photograph them. I returned to both locations in better light a couple of times but unsurprisingly they had both moved on. Nice to know they were around though. Short-eared proved elusive and I did not see any ears, short or otherwise.
I did find a great old barn set off in a remote spot with a couple of grain silos on the first evening. That scene was great on its own but the Great Horned Owl I saw perched in a window. The window frame was weathered with peeling red paint so character was not in short supply. The owl was shy once I stopped my car and it hopped inside the barn to perch on a beam. I set up a ways back from a west-facing window at the other end of the barn in the hopes that the owl might fly through it as dusk approached and it went out to start hunting.
A chilly wait through the golden light had no results and when the owl did head out, it flew through the eastern window. While I waited, a long lens and high ISO allowed for a couple of nice shadow dominated images. I left the owl the first night with it perched on a fencepost near the barn. When I returned home and looked at the images, I was surprised to see a second owl buried in the shadows inside the barn. It had been invisible to my eyes but had just barely resolved on the highest ISO images.
I returned two days later before dawn and saw the pair of owls working out of the same eastern window. I set up on the same western window and could see them through main entrance as the sun rose. Their activity wound down as the day wrestled with the night and soon they were perched on the same beams as before.
This time, I took a wide path around the side of the barn and was able to photograph each owl on their respective beams through the eastern window (per the image at the top of this post and directly below).
I returned to my original spot and as I came around the barn saw that one of the owls had flown up to the top of a silo. It was perched there scanning the fields. I guess it wanted one last snack before its nap.
It stayed up there for ten minutes and then flew along the fence-line, dropped on a fence post for a minute and then glided over the patchwork of snow and grass to a mound of earth a few hundred meters away.
I waited a while longer to see if the owl would come back or its mate would head out. Neither happened and I packed up as the owl inside the barn dropped off to sleep.
I’ll head back to see about that window again in a couple of weeks. Maybe they’ll give me an opportunity then. It was great to see these beautiful birds either way. They have amazing faces and I really enjoyed studying them for a couple of hours.
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.
After a nice break over Christmas where I was outside playing with my kids and walking along the river, I’m enjoying winter now. Following one of the cold snaps, the chickadees that visit our backyard seemed happy to be flying around in the -5°C weather after -30°C the day before. They were flitting back and forth between the feeder and the tree beside our second floor deck which allowed me to practice capturing their launches off of the evergreen branches.
The mid-flight images were not successful in the least (not shown – nothing worthwhile…) but I’m trying different strategies as me and auto focus are not quick enough to track their small bodies in their darting, quick flight movements. For now, I was happy to spend some time with these little birds in my backyard while the sun drifted in and out of the clouds.
Brown Pelicans are frequent fliers just above the waves all around Los Cabos. I love watching them glide and I had a special encounter one morning when we were staying near Cabo San Lucas in December. Just before sunrise down on the beach near Punta Cabeza De Ballena, east of Cabo, when one landed on rocks near the shore close to me. This pelican came in when it was still pretty dark but there was enough light to make the landing a good photo opportunity.
In the two images above, I brought out some detail by bringing up the shadows in post. Below, I went the other way and deepened the shadows to create a solid silhouette of the pelican.
This fellow flew off before the sun came up. I had hoped he would stay as the sun was at an angle where the sun would be backlighting the feathers which I thought would look beautiful.
As the sun came up so too did the tide. The waves were breaking around the rocks where the pelican had rested which looked beautiful. I was really happy when another pelican came in and landed very close to the original one’s spot. With the sun and sea spray, it was a great scene to photograph. The first image in this set was from this point in the morning.
The second pelican stayed for a little while and then took off allowing for a nice launch photograph and then headed over the waves in the opposite direction from the first pelican.
An eagle enjoying a feast is not often left alone for too long in Brackendale. Finished spawning, the salmon drift downriver listlessly and eventually die naturally or with the assistance of the scavengers along the rivers. The effort is in pulling the fish out of the water. When that is done, competition often arrives to stake a claim. Skirmishes, jousting and all out fights can breakout before one eagle is chased off.
Occasionally, as in the photograph below, an equilibrium of sorts will be found where a few eagles will take turns on a fish with little aggression.
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200
I was in Brackendale, just north of Squamish, for a couple of days in December. Every year thousands of Bald Eagles congregate in this area along the banks of the Squamish River. There are three separate salmon spawning runs that overlap between November and February that result in dead and dying salmon littering the rocky shoreline. The easy dining is a draw for eagles, seagulls as well as the occasional otter and seal (which in turn are quite the draw for photographers as it turns out!) I was there for the Bald Eagles and was not disappointed in any way. The first day was spent along the berm, that serves as a main viewing point, a bit further upriver in an eddy where a particularly cool eagle was hanging out.
I will do a separate post from the second day when the snow fell and I was out on a birdwatching float down the river. For now, these images are from the first day where the overcast skies allowed for open shadows and allowed the texture and detail in the eagle plumage to be seen. It was pretty dark at times as you can tell by the ISO settings I was using but it was a great day filled with eagles coming and going.
There are so many fish that serious fights appear to be rare but eagles are opportunistic so there are still skirmishes where one will try to chase off another who has already gone through the effort of retrieving a salmon out of the water.
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 4000
Others preferred a little more distance from their brethren. This eagle hung out on a perch in the middle of a pond-like eddy off the river. At one point it called out but it didn’t fly over to the scattered groups of eagles in the trees across the water nor did any of them come over to visit.
It splashed around in the shallow water for a while, stopping to snack for a minute, but seemed to return to this stick as its preferred resting spot.
I never tired of watching these eagles flying. I think they are one of the most beautiful birds to watch in flight. It was a great day on BC’s west coast.
When we were in Cabo San Lucas in early December, I saw many cormorants flying past our beach. They fly low and fast with little deviation from a straight line past the shore. The odd one would dive under to fish but our location did not seem to be a great spot for a meal. One morning, I was watching for Brown Pelicans, who will occasionally land quite close by, when a juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) popped up on a rocky shelf about 30 meters away.
It looked at me for a second, started shaking off the water and then set to preening its feathers. I was thrilled to see one of these birds closeup. From afar, they appear to be completely black. With this opportunity, I was able to see the different shading in the feathers and the lighter shading around the face.
That was interesting for me but the location made the images even better than the close proximity. It had chosen a dynamic spot where the waves were breaking close behind it, one even crashed right on the bird. The water droplets from the cormorant’s shaking, the sea spray and warm morning sunlight as well as some nice looks from my new friend made for a really great encounter.
I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Sunday. I was hoping to see Saw-Whet Owls but with the cold snap that hit Vancouver and the Lower Mainland a few days before, I was told they had disappeared. Hardier birds were hanging around the snowy pathways so I wasn’t disappointed with the visit. This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was hunting in the shallows near a blind and wandered very close.
A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) squawks to its family nearby.
The same bird exhales a puff of warm air.
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) drums on an old tree for insects.A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) swims between the ice chunks in a brackish pond.
Two female Mallards waddle down the pathway.
A pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) share a perch over the water.
A small flight of Sandhill Cranes transit between ponds at the sanctuary.
My parents and I went out for our fairly annual moose run this morning. The kids give the drive to look for wildlife a pass as they were busy assembling new toys and reading new books. We found two bull moose in a line of aspen along a ridge and watched them walking for a few minutes. They dropped down through the deep snow into a meadow of scrubby willows nearby and set about grazing on the slender branches.
Aside from that, it was nice to share an encounter with these wonderful animals with my parents on Christmas morning.
December has been a busy end to a busy year. It is nice to have a few days over Christmas to spend time at home with my family. I hope you are able to do the things that make for a great holiday for you and yours. Merry Christmas!
When we were in Cabo San Lucas the first week of December, Bobbi and I both went out on whale watching trips. Whales found Bobbi less than a mile out of the Cabo San Lucas Marina while I had a longer travel along the Pacific coastline before sighting one active Humpback. We both had long encounters with these magnificent animals. Our children had enjoyed the dolphin swim the day before but were not excited about the whale watching. So one parent went out while the other patrolled the kids at the pool and beach.
While we went on separate excursions, we went with the same operator and were both similarly impressed. Whale Watch Cabo runs their tours on Panga boats, low to the water and great sight lines for everyone on board. Every tour they run is led by a marine biologist and a local captain. It was nice to hear more information about whales and other local ocean wildlife during the trip.
We enjoyed a close look of the Sea Lion colony and the groups of birds around Land’s End. Then headed out onto the open ocean up the coastline of western Baja. On my tour, we found an energetic whale and it was incredible to watch three separate breaches and numerous airborne tails. Bobbi and I both had great times and thank Janneke and Peter, the owners of Whale Watch Cabo, for making our trips very memorable.