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 back to Elbow Falls for the third time in the last couple of weeks. With the snowstorm that blew in on the weekend, I was drawn back to see another face to the area. Heavy snowflakes had piled up in the trees and across the rocks with more falling rapidly when I was up there. A slip on the ice was my payment for passage but I liked the scene I slid into. The falling snow gave the trees a charcoal sketched look while the rocks and water in the river had texture and character that seemed to suit black and white processing.
With fresh snow on the ground, I went back up to Elbow Falls to see how the valley would look in a return to winter clothing. I was there only a week ago and the change, beyond the cold, was significant. I love snow-covered landscapes so I found this visit to Kananaskis to be a very beautiful one. I think spring is coming soon but when winter is this pretty, I don’t mind a little delay.
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.
I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend and ice-covered all but a sliver of the river and most of the waterfall too. With the warm days since then, I wanted to see how this beautiful spot looked now. Much of the snow and ice has melted, opening the waterway and showing another side of Kananaskis. Spring may be around the corner.
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/4000th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400
The winds that came with the weather change last weekend were heavy when I left my home in Bragg Creek for the Banff National Park in the morning. When I got into the mountains, the Bow Valley was pretty calm but higher up on the slopes, the snow was blowing around in opaque sheets while the clouds raced by above. Watching from the Vermillion Lakes shoreline, I was mesmerized by the view of Mount Rundle. The sun catching the wispy snow drawn out over the slopes before fraying into the shadow as it flew over the cliffs was beautiful to watch.
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 waves of mild temperatures then bitter cold that have been winter’s pattern this year have played havoc with the ice.
Along the Elbow River the once smooth sheets of water frozen layer on layer, have buckled and split along the channel.
The temperature went into free fall yesterday but the blue skies pulled me outside this morning. Near the edge of the ice down the Elbow I spent some time photographing the forms created by the blanket of snow, broken ice cover, and the long shadows of winter.
The Northern Lights came to life over my home in Redwood Meadows a couple of nights ago. I threw on some winter gear and walked down to the Elbow River with my camera and tripod. The moon was waning but was close to full and lit up the snow and ice so my headlamp wasn’t needed. I went out on the ice and watched the Aurora ripple across the northern quarter of the sky. It was a cold and very late show. And I loved it.Note: Click on any photograph to open a higher resolution version of the image.
The colors dimmed after an hour or so and I could barely make out the lights. The camera could still resolve them and I liked the subtle color in one of the last images from the evening.
A member of the ground crew at the Calgary International Airport does the critical work of de-icing the airplane during a cold sunrise well below freezing in Alberta, Canada.
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.
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.
The first day of the year was a bright, sunny one in the Foothills. I took a little drive through the backroads near my home in the afternoon and found this resolute young tree to be the right subject for the first photograph of 2014.
We sent 2013 packing in style and had fun welcoming in 2014. The kids didn’t make it to midnight but we did a countdown for them when my daughter woke up in the night. It was great to spend the night with our good friends and hope everyone was able to enjoy their New Year’s Eve in the way that works for them.
From my family to yours, we wish you a year of happiness, health, good surprises and the opportunities to make it a great year. Happy New Year!
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.
Fuji X100S: 1/30 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800
I couldn’t help but think of the carnival ground food staple when I was photographing at dawn a couple of days ago.
This is a collection of a my favourite landscape photographs from the past couple of years. Locations include North America’s Rocky Mountains, the Prairies, and the island of Kaua’i. If you are interested in having a look, please click on this link or on the image above.
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.
We are just coming out of a long cold snap here on the eastern flanks of the Rockies. Temperatures started out around -10°C (14°F) last week and then dropped to -25°C (-13°F) a couple of days ago and have stayed there. This image is from a stretch of the Elbow River just a couple hundred meters from my home in Redwood Meadows (west of Calgary). Most of the river there is now iced over but I haven’t been back at dawn to photograph the difference.
Apparently we start climbing upwards later today and should be just below freezing by the weekend. That will feel balmy – I hope the forecasts hold! I love the winter landscapes but this year when the temperature fell below about -15 my enthusiasm for the season fell too. Maybe some powder skiing on the weekend will remind me of the upside of winter.
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.