I left Jasper early in the morning heading south along the Highway 93, enjoying the empty road given the time of day. I had hopes of finding a bear or two along the forest’s edge during my drive through the park (and did sight a very handsome fellow a little later). I had gone about ten kilometres out of town and then felt compelled to retrace my path, thinking I would drive back to last bridge before town and then head south again. Turning back, I went a couple of kilometres and then saw an animal quite a distance straight ahead.
I pulled off to the shoulder and levelled my long lens quickly. I was happy to have a composition with the wolf in the middle of the road with the surrounding landscape visible. I watched the wolf trot steadily down the middle and shoulders of the highway for several minutes.
She had a route in mind and stayed on it. She paused near an opening to the river, and I had thought she might go down to the water. That wasn’t her path as she carried along the road, passing me on the other side and stopping to give me a stare before moving on. At close range I noticed her tracking collar and it seemed like she had been freshly shaved around the neck so I wonder if she had been fitted with a new collar and was now catching back up with her pack.
Wolves are one of my unicorn animals. That is to say that I don’t see them anywhere near as often as I would like. So it is very special when I do get to spend time with one. Especially one as pretty as this wolf!
I visited Jasper National Park for a couple of days over the Victoria Day long weekend. The park has a different feel (both are great – just different) from Banff and I always look forward to spending time there. I plan to share a few stories of time I spent with some of the magnificent wildlife there but will start with a really fun moment.
This black bear was grazing in the ground cover of a stretch of open forest when I found him. I watched him scratch, sniff and chew on shrubs, flowers and roots for several minutes and then he sauntered over to this small tree.
Rearing up on his hind legs, he seemed really happy to rub his back up and down against the spiky needles. I’m not sure how much scratching he felt with his thick coat so maybe it was more for the scent or to shake off some insects. No matter the reason, it was cool to see a bear dancing for his own reasons.
On a walk a couple of weeks ago I came across a Great gray owl nest in Bragg Creek. I had noticed an owl perched high up in a tree and while watching it, I heard its very soft hooting, about 10 seconds apart – almost like a slow, steady beat which was not a vocalization I was familiar with. A bit of motion higher up in another tree about 50′ away drew my attention and I could see two owlets in a large nest. The activity was the larger one spreading, and flapping, its wings. The vocalization seemed like a steady reassurance to the owlets that mom was close by.
I’m always a bit anxious when I find a nest as I don’t want to stress the chicks or, in a very much worst case scenario, cause the parents to abandon them. This nest was very high up and the mature owl did not appear to be agitated so I took a few photographs and then carried on my way. The sight lines to the nest were not great but I planned to come back in a couple of weeks to see how the little ones were doing.
Earlier this week, I returned to the path and walked back towards the nest. Rounding a corner, another flutter of activity caught my eye. This time, it was not at the nest as I had been expecting but about 30′ off of the ground in a tree neighbouring the nest’s holder. It took me a second before I realized it was one of the chicks perched on a branch flapping its wings for balance. I looked around and soon spied one of the parents perched in an aspen watching intently. It seemed the owlet had left the nest at some very recent point, and was making its way to the forest floor. That’s being a bit kind – as I watched for the next couple of minutes it somersaulted, tumbled, grabbed and slid its way down the branches in a series of 3 to 6′ drops until it half flew, half crashed to the ground. I had my longest lens on a tripod and was set up to watch this even from my spot about 150′ away. The birds hadn’t noticed me as all of their attention was presumably consumed by this flight of the still mostly flightless owlet.
The little owl righted itself and peered around to get its bearings. I moved up the path a little ways which gave me a good line to the bird and we stared at one another for a few seconds. Mother dropped down to a fallen tree and the little one jump/flew over to it. The two of them moved off to the side towards a bit of an opening in the trees.
I lost sight of them and was picking up my tripod to see if a spot a little further up the trail might afford a better view when I looked up and saw the second owlet (the first picture in this story and the one below). About 20′ away, perched about 12′ off the ground and staring at me. I retreated to the edge of the trail, set up again and was able to photograph this beautiful creature.
All the while I could hear the other owlet flitting about and crashing around in the underbrush. I circled away from the smaller owl in front of me and found a great spot a good distance from that owl with a nice view of the first one I had seen fall out of the tree. It had now managed to fly up to a bent branch about 8′ off the ground. Its mom was perched 5′ directly above that on another aspen. I closed to about 80′ away and watched them for several minutes. The highlight was when the father swooped in and fed the owlet a mouse. The actually handoff (beak off?) happened just out of sight from my position so I didn’t photograph it but it was so cool to see. The father flew off back towards the nearby fields and the mother found a new perch a little higher up. I left the chick in its spot watching me languidly as it digested supper.
I checked on the second owl, which was noticeably smaller than the other, and it was still in the same spot. The sun had dropped and was tracing an outline of the bird’s profile which I found to be appealing.
One of the parents had flown to a perch nearby and was watching this owlet. My ears picked up the soft, steady hooting once more and I thought that was the right time to leave the family to themselves. I had no interest in delaying this one’s supper as I expected the next mouse caught would be hers (or his).
A storm overnight cooled off the Greater Calgary region considerably on Tuesday morning. Even then I was still a little surprised to drive into a heavy blizzard on my way into town around 8 AM. I didn’t want to waste a good snowfall so I pulled into a little pond where a few ducks spend a part of their summers at. A Blue-winged teal and three Northern shovelers were paddling around the water while the snow fell.
I went to Wild Rose Lake a few days ago to see what animals might be active early in the day before dawn. I’m waiting for the loons to return to the lake so I visit regularly. On this morning, a beaver and a muskrat were paddling along different parts of the shoreline and there were small bands of ducks nearer to the middle. Thin bands of fog blew over the surface and I stopped to watch that dance for a while. It was a tranquil scene supported by gentle calls from the birds including three Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that floated by.
And then, all hell broke out. Apparently the geese were not three friends but one couple and a third wheel. The boyfriend apparently had enough and changed his tone from soft quacking to loud, angry honking. That happened right when he lunged at the other male and the two were in the equivalent of a back alley brawl – maybe a better description would be a pond pounding or a mid-lake mashup. The beaks were the main duelling weapon but wings and bodies were used to attack and defend as well. The main fight lasted less than a minute and then the chase began.
The male in the relationship trounced the other one and sent him scooting away. The chastened goose started beaking off from a short distance away and that seemed to rile the champion up. He then swam/flew to the instigator and nipped at him until he dove under the water. Popping up several meters away, the cycle then repeated itself six or seven more times. It was crazy to watch!
In the end, the lone goose ended up flying across the lake and the lovebirds continued their morning swim.
Owls don’t care about what day it is, but, on some level I guess I do. I went out this morning when the sun was shining and the day was quickly warming up. I was happy that the first day of May picked up where April left off as I was able to continue spending time with owls. This owl was hunting around a farm field and a horse meadow in Bragg Creek.
This Great gray owl was landing on some strategically placed posts in the middle of the field and successfully grabbed a couple of mice over a short span. I haven’t watched owls hunt on this field before but I will be back as it appears to be a very productive spot for this owl.
A golden owl… or rather a Great gray owl in soft, golden morning light. This owl had swallowed a mouse a few moments before and here she was readying her jump into the air. The single downstroke of these broad wings being enough to get her airborne.
At some time in the middle of night, clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. This morning there was a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow covering Bragg Creek. I drove and walked along a couple of the country roads in West Bragg to photograph the landscape after what should be a short visit by the winter spirits.