I met this handsome fellow, a bull Elk, in a meadow near Lake Minnewanka. He was grazing along with a few other males earlier in the month, shortly before the snow began to fly in the park.
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.
I went for a hike along the trail to Boom Lake on the weekend and felt like I walked into a preview of winter. The lake is near the aptly named Storm Mountain on the western edge of Banff National Park and the area was already blanketed in 1-1.5′ (30-45cm) of snow. With the sun shining, I was happy to walk along the trail for a couple of kilometres as it was an area new to me. From the trailhead a bridge crosses over Boom Creek almost immediately. I slipped under the bridge on my way out and set up the photograph above which I felt illustrated the wintry feel. This image is also the December image on my just completed 2016 landscape calendar so it was a worthwhile hike on a couple of fronts!
With the cooler days that have come with November, we have had some snow fall up in the mountains. I went up to Two Jack Lake for sunrise on Friday to see how things would look with a bit of snow in the picture. Facing Mount Rundle and her reflection in the water there was just the odd skiff of snow along the shoreline. The color deepened in the sky for a few minutes before it started to color the clouds clinging to the mountain.
When I first arrived, the sun was still a while away from lighting up the clouds. The darker scene, below, allowed for a longer exposure and more stretch to the clouds and water.
I love this time of year when snow starts to build up and the scenic opportunities shift to one dominated by the white blanket that settles unevenly across the land. Winter in the Banff National Park is probably my favourite time of the year there. It is exciting to be on the edge of it.
When I set up my gear on the shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes, it was cold and dark. I wanted to be there early to catch Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky before it brightened too much. The pair, with Mars less visible to the left, were directly above Mount Rundle’s peak when I arrived.
As the horizon brightened the stars faded while color started to creep into the clouds. The lake was frozen with a thin cover of ice which gave abstract reflections of the sky and the silhouettes across the water.
(Please click on any image to see a higher resolution version)
Early sunshine brought a cloud to life as it stretched and broke up over Mount Rundle. Before long, bright pink strands hung above the Bow Valley. It was a beautiful morning and I loved watching it build from darkness into light.
The pink softened quickly and pastels held the sky until the sun blew away the soft hues of the early morning.
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!
The Sarrail Falls that spill across several terraces before emptying into the Upper Kananaskis Lake is a beautiful stretch of water surrounded by heavy forest in the steep hillside of Mount Sarrail’s lower slopes. The path to this waterfall starts at the lake’s eastern parking lot and is set just above the shoreline. It is a comfortable trail that is about 1-1.15 km to this feature but carries on around the entire lake. I had planned to complete the loop but spent almost two hours watching, photographing, enjoying and studying the waterfall instead.
The 2013 flood hit this creek heavily destroying the bridge as well as sending tree trunks and boulders cascading down. These are still found perched, lodged or lying nearby all along the water’s path. I found a beauty in these that added to the overall scene and suggested to me the cycles of birth, growth and death as well as of constant change. Along with the varying crescendos of the water’s orchestra, I found myself enjoying some deep thoughts and the time to chew on them – a luxurious gift to allow oneself!
At the end, with the morning moving quickly towards noon, I chose the short walk back and the lunch I had waiting for me.
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.