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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Thank you to those who have served and those who continue to serve. May you enjoy every day afterward, they are well-earned.
On a personal note, to those in my family that served and who I never had the chance to know, I remember everyday.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
I was walking along a forested stream that runs parallel with the Elbow River where they run under Highway 8 near Discovery Ridge on the western edge of Calgary on Saturday morning. When the snow started to fall, it took very little time for the flakes to grow in both size and frequency.
The trees were soon cloaked in white, leaving the water alone to provide a little colour in the landscape.
It was quiet with only the sound of the snow falling. And a serene walk along this tributary to the Elbow River among the trees that edge its length.
Near the end of the walk, a raven flew overhead – the snow visible between us.
(click on any image to open a page with a larger version)
A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard. The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on. Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while. While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.
Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits. Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.
While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew. I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball. Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.
The slushy rain we had for a couple of hours last night in Redwood Meadows was snow in Bragg Creek. The kids and I toured through West Bragg to check out the first snow and see what wildlife we might find.
We found a few small groups of deer, Mules and White-tailed, in different places. A young bull moose walked in front of us when we were on the edge of Kananaskis Country. It was nice to see a few creatures out and about.
The afternoon was beautiful so I’m not sure if this first snowfall will stay on the ground or not. It was great to work with white back in the color palette.
Winter is beginning to win the hearts and minds of the mountains in Kananaskis Country. After the sunrise at Wedge Pond, I hiked around the Upper Kananaskis Lake for a little while. There are some lovely yellows and golds in the trees reaching up along the lower flanks. With a few days of cool weather the patches of snow have knitted together and trekked down the slopes to meet, and pass through, the forest.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600
There were two beavers working at Wild Rose yesterday. My daughter was thrilled to see them swimming around. She had never seen one before so two was double perfect in her words. This one was working hard ferrying tree branches back to their lodge.
The American robins (Turdus migratorius) which have lived in the trees behind our house for through the warm months have a habit of bathing in our little pond regularly.
In the summer, they seem to prefer washing up in the morning whereas in the cooler days of spring and now in autumn, they visit in closer to noon. The other day the pond seemed more like an airport as there were eight Robins along with several Black-capped chickadees and a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) flying around.
I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).
It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.
Their enthusiasm when splashing water around with their wings is a great photography subject and high shutter speeds can freeze the action at interesting moments.
I expect they will be leaving soon and will return next year as the harbingers of spring in late May a couple of weeks before spring has subdued winter.