Following a beautiful sunrise down on the Vermilion Lakes, my friend and I drove up towards Lake Minnewanka to see if there was any wildlife that wanted to be seen.
We spied this bull elk along the edge of the canal where the lake drains out grazing on the patches of snow-free grass.
He spent a little time in the water and the climbed out and moved towards us along the tree line. I loved the way the reflection cast by the elk and the trees onto the water shimmered and blurred.
Just after walking behind the stand of trees that hung over the water, the elk walked into the trees to graze. Returning to the car, we found the elk had moved to the edge of the trees by the road and that allowed us to watch him stripping bark of fallen tree branches.
I went up to Banff National Park with my friend and fellow photographer Jeff Rhude on the weekend. The clouds were hanging low all the way from Bragg Creek, through Canmore and into the park so we were unsure what opportunities we would find in the mountains on the day. As the sky brightened a little we could find no breaks in the clouds so we left the sunrise plans on the shelf for another day. Focusing our attention on wildlife, we headed up to the ring road which leads up to Lake Minnewanka. With bears trying to fatten up for hibernation, sheep starting into the rut and moose and elk following suit, we hoped there may be a few animals out in the rain.
It was the wapiti, the word for elk in the Cree language, that seemed least put off by the weather and we found a small group of calves and cows led by one majestic bull on the meadow approaching the turnoff to Johnson Lake.
It was still very dark so high ISOs and long shutter speeds were required which resulted in a few blurs when an ear twitched or one of the creatures stepped forward. Still, the family were cooperative and with the benefit of long lenses I was able to stay a good distance away while making some nice images.
Driving on towards the lake, we did not see any other animals. At Minnewanka aside from a couple of mergansers on the water there were two large flotillas of black birds, each probably with over a hundred members, but they were too far out for me to identify. We turned around and retraced our steps. Passing the meadow, we could see the bull on the edge of the trees alongside one calf. A couple of miles down the road, we caught sight of one elk in the trees. Stopping and looking more intently, we soon saw about ten more cows and calves moving through the shadows and the gloom. I will put together a post with a few of those images soon.
During the trip through the Jasper National Park last month, we found an elk feasting in a vibrant meadow on one of the evenings. This bull’s antlers were one of the most impressive I have seen on a young elk. The summer seemed to be moving along well for this beautiful creature judging by the growing rack and the shiny coat.
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The finals of the Calgary Stampede’s Centennial Rodeo were a wet, muddy affair this afternoon. It was awesome! The last event was the Bull Riding Final. Earlier in the day, the rain and mud seemed to work in the bull’s favour and of the ten cowboys that qualified for last day, only three of the four places in the final four were filled. The other men were bucked off and did not get a shot at the $100,000. In the final, luck stayed with the bulls and all three riders were thrown. That meant another round of rides but adrenaline took over and you wouldn’t have known that these guys were each on their third bull of the day! Shane Proctor, the 2011 Stampede Champion from Mooresville, North Carolina, got started and hung on from the side of the bull for the last two seconds to make full-time and earned a score of 66.50. With the wet conditions and the ferocity of the animals, no one ruled out that as the winning ride even though the cowboy himself would have liked more.
Next up was Aaron Roy from Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. He rode beautifully aboard Risky Remedy and scored an 86.0. He had great control and it was a ride worthy of a champion.
The final ride, barring a tie, was Chad Besplug riding on Kish This. When the gate swung open, they came out like a huge whirling dervish.
Mud flying, cow jumping and spinning while the cowboy stayed balanced and rode out the madness.
Chad won the battle and remained firmly in place past the horn. He did end up getting thrown and went flying in the air a couple of seconds after time.
However, you have to get off a bull somehow and as long as you don’t get hurt doing it then it’s a good dismount.
The crowd knew it was a great ride but it was not clear where his score would land. Later, when he was being interviewed he said neither him or Aaron Roy were sure who won. They had a minute to share a couple of words while the judges confirmed the score and shook hands agreeing that either one was deserving. The score was an 87.0 and Chad Besplug earned the title of Calgary Stampede Bull Riding Champion for 2012.
The three rodeo clowns, who practice their craft of keeping the bull riders safe exceptionally well, were the first to congratulate the winner.
Then, as he crossed the infield, they tackled him into the muddy bog created by the rain that had just ended. That was almost as much fun as the winning ride itself.
Congratulations Chad – well-earned and it is fantastic to have a Canadian champion on the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede!
The last few mornings I have been driving the backroads in West Bragg Creek looking for moose. With the days warming up, their winter coats are being shed and I like the parallels between these sleek summer hides being revealed and the rapidly growing buds and leaves. The energetic growth of spring has my attention firmly in its grasp. I have had a few really nice encounters where we watched each other for a few minutes and I was able to photograph them in interesting spots. The moose above took a shortcut between two paths which gave me an opportunity to photograph him surrounded by the branches.
The antlers of the bull above are just starting to push out and you can see the dark coat where the shaggy winter hair has worn away. I hope I can photograph this moose later in the year when he’s at his most impressive.
This is the same moose as in the first image. I liked how all his hooves are in the air and he seems to be skipping across the road. Definitely my imagination taking a flight of fancy but still nice. I was disappointed to see his ears back as that likely meant I had made him uncomfortable. It happens but I try hard to avoid that.
I drove along the Lake Minnewanka road last weekend with plans to photograph the sunrise from a bluff above Two Jack Lake that affords a great view of the lake along with Mount Rundle in the background. Parking at a pullout near my intended spot, I started setting up my gear when I noticed a female elk standing near a tree about 20 metres away. It was still dark out but I could see her staring at me so we played that game for a few minutes. It was too dark to shoot and she seemed pretty relaxed so I was happy to just watch her. Then, I saw some movement behind her and a bull elk stood up and shook the snow off. She might have been happy to stay there but he wanted to get a bit of separation so they hopped the snow bank onto the road and, after clearing the bank on the far side, climbed the hill to the edge of the forest. At this point, the light was brightening quickly and by raising the ISO on my camera I was able to take the image above of the bull staring at me from the top of the hill. I thought they were going to continue into the forest but when I reviewed the picture in the LCD on the camera, I noticed the female’s ears in the lower left corner of the picture and realized she was laying down.
They were in no hurry to disappear so I stayed on the far edge of the road from them and photographed the bull with his amazing antlers. These are among the best balanced racks that I have seen and one of the largest. Really impressive and when he licked his chops I had a fleeting image of him using them on me. That idea didn’t take hold as his body language did not suggest any agitation. He stayed on this little rise for the time while I was there and the cow got up once but stayed low and mostly out of sight.
I tried not to take it personally when he stuck his tongue out. It’s a funny look that’s hard not to anthropomorphize a bit.
Even while scratching his leg, the elk kept one eye on me presumably to avoid being surprised by any movements I might make.
Switching lenses for a wider composition you can see the first light colouring the peak of Cascade Mountain above the forest.
I left them just before sunrise as he was turning his attention towards the trees. I piled my gear back in the car and headed down to the Bow Valley Parkway and, as it turned out, to a pair of wolves.
Hiking west of Bragg Creek last weekend I ended up in a meadow that was a mix of evergreen trees and waist-high wild grasses. Navigating this open field is much easier in the winter with the frozen ground and there are all manner of animals trails to follow. It was one of these that led me to this incredible bull moose who was grazing beside a large stand of trees. I noticed him from a distance and then slowly moved closer under his occasional glance.
I was quite surprised when, as I moved around the trees to get a better view of the whole animal, I saw a second bull. I often see female moose and calves in groups of 2-10 but I can’t think of a time outside of the rut when I’ve seen two bulls together.
As I watched them, they seemed very comfortable and were not intimidating one another. I was fascinated and really enjoyed studying them interacting. I stayed with them for about half an hour and I came away with the impression that they acted like brothers. One, the first one I saw, had the larger rack and acted like the big brother. Both were beautiful creatures. I’m always happy to see healthy bulls as it means good things for the local population in general.
This encounter came about an hour after photographing a mother and baby moose a few miles away so it was a great morning in K-Country. Much more for me to learn about these beautiful animals. I love the opportunities I have to do that with them in their natural surroundings. I rarely forget how lucky I am.
We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain. We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.
I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions. I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge. I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him. I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge. I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks. I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away. I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down. He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time. He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images. Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.
Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer. In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible. This fellow is young and skinny. I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by. A very good reason to look forward to spring.