Posts tagged “flying

Great Gray Owl on a morning hunt

Owl and grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I was able to spend another morning with the Great Gray Owl in Bragg Creek that I have had the good fortune to watch several times (links: #1 and #2) this summer.  She was waiting patiently on a fence post when I spotted her.

Morning perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She almost seemed to wait while I quickly set up my long lens on its tripod before hunting in the deep grass.  Over the next half hour she made several dives and had no trouble catching unlucky field creatures (by my count she was batting .333 on the day).

Owl's attack - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Skimming over the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She would stay in the grass for up to a minute after each lunge so I had the opportunity to focus on the launches back into the air a couple of times.

Out of the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Morning flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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An owl's take off - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Once the sunlight reached the field, the morning warmed up quickly and the owl’s pace slowed.  On one of the last dives before I left, the owl had been on the far side of the field and then glided across.  En route, it dropped down almost disappearing.  When it popped its head back up, there was a great moment where the yellow eyes peered out of carpet of green.

In the field - 2014 © Christopher Martin

By then the light was getting harsh and I was getting hungry.  When she flew out, I packed up and drove off.

Field flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Hunting for breakfast

 A morning flight - © Christopher Martin-8614

Canon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

I left the sun to climb over the horizon on its own this morning and slept in.  The days start early in the summer so when I left my house at 6am, we were well into daylight.  I drove into Bragg Creek looking for wildlife and almost immediately found an owl.  She was perched on a fence post and looked a little sleepy.

Sleep owl - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

I stayed back a good distance and watched her lazily swivel her head a few times but she largely just hunched up and gazed out over the field.  After 15 minutes or so she perked up a bit seeming to pick out something in the tall grass.  She launched (as seen in the first image) then dipped but did not dive into the grass.  Carrying on, she crossed the field and found a higher vantage point in a large evergreen tree in the field near the forest’s edge.

Evergreen perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

Some noises in the trees, unheard by me, drew her attention for the better part of a half an hour.  Her head turned away from me and the field, I waited for her to either head towards the trees or redirect her attention to hunting in the grass.  Lucky for me, she chose the latter and I was able to photograph a few nice flight shots when she flew from the first tree to another.

Green flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 1250

The second perch was a higher spot and she only stayed there for a couple of minutes before picking out a target.  When she flew, it was a masterful attack.  She glided down, hovered for a couple of beats above the area of her attention and  then dove headfirst into the green.

Dive attack - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 3200

After a few seconds, she climbed out of the grass with a field mouse clutched in her beak.  She stayed on the far side of the field and disappeared with her breakfast into the trees.

Breakfast of champions - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 2500


Canada Geese in Flight

Canada goose in flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are busy looking for good nesting spots in the Elk Valley and I enjoyed watching them flying along the river when I was in Fernie during Easter.  In urban areas, they border on being a nuisance in many people’s mind, I don’t see them that way.

In the mist - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/5.6 on ISO 3200

Particularly when they are in flight in a wilderness setting, I find them to be a wonderful animal to watch.  The variation in the weather on the morning I spent photographing along the Elk River didn’t hurt the imagery at all.

Up high - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

Air traffic - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

There was fog and light rain in the morning which burned off early leaving sharp light and blue skies.  The forest along the river provided a beautiful backdrop as well.  I had fun with all of it.

Forest flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1600 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250


Red-tailed Hawks in flight

Above and below - 2014 © Christopher Martin

With Red-tailed Hawks back in our area, I’m still enjoying the novelty of their return.  I went out on the weekend and found a few more who I had the opportunity to photograph in flight.  The snow stole a couple of shots by throwing the auto focus off but it added character that more than made up for those.

Fence launch - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Field flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Extension - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Snow flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 


Snowy Owls on the prairie

Ground flight effect - 2014 © Christopher Martin
I went out several times to photograph Snowy Owls this year but found them to be fewer in number and more elusive.  The ones I did find were less interested in me than the ones I found last year (here, here and here) so there were no long or close encounters.  I love watching them and it was a thrill just to see the ones I did find.  I photographed this one on February 22nd and was the last one I saw this winter.

A wing over the prairie - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We’ll have to see if next year is a good one for Snowies on the prairies east of Calgary.


Flying off a red roof

Off the red roof - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We’re in Fernie with family for the Easter weekend.  We escaped Calgary’s heavy snowfall but the Elk Valley was socked in today with heavy leaden clouds.  Rain, snow and sleet took turns falling through the day which provided a great background with some of the birds I came across.  This raven was a favorite with the red roof providing great color to a potentially weary scene.

 


Flight of a Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

There are large gatherings of swans on the prairie around Frank Lake  right now.  This area is on the migration path and I really enjoy getting to see these birds when they pass through.  This Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) was sharing a small flat of ice apart from a small group.  I watched them, and they watched me for a few minutes.

A curious pair - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Then they took their running launch to get into the sky.  Heading into a steady headwind, they seemed to gain altitude very quickly once they were airborne.

Running to take flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Into the air - 2014 © Christopher Martin-

Tundra Swan flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Prairie Falcon over… the prairies

Prairie Falcon in golden light - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

When I was waiting for my new owl friends to provide a beautiful through-the-window moment, my tripod and I were set up out the open on the snow-covered field that surrounds the barn.  I was not expecting any other wildlife to swing by given my foreign presence but this Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) must have taken pity on me.

Falcon's downstroke -2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

More likely, it was scanning the ground for dinner and the sun’s low altitude in the evening kept it from looking in my direction until it was pretty close.  I was happy to see this hunter though as the light was beautiful and the bird even more so.

Silo flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/4 on ISO 200

It was a very pleasant surprise when I ran across another one of these beautiful birds (maybe the same one) when I returned to that same area a couple of days later.  Well we didn’t really run into each other – I was driving and the bird was flying around a grain silo.  It circled around me twice which gave me a moment to get out of my car and track it a bit easier.


Pelican Landing

Dawn landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The colors in the sky at dawn have been fantastic during our visit to Los Cabos this week.  The wildlife has been even more enjoyable.  Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) have been a favourite bird of mine to photograph since I first saw them here in Cabo san Lucas a couple of years ago.  On the prairies, we have White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) that will hang out on larger ponds for the summer but for some reason they don’t cast the same spell on me that their multi-coloured cousins do.  I had a great encounter with a pair of pelicans a couple of mornings ago.  This image was of the first one maneuvering in to land on a half-submerged rock pile just before sunrise.  The other pelican joined a little while later.  Probably once I get home, I’ll have more to share from these two.


Winter’s raptor

Prairie hunter - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) have arrived along the prairies with winter back.  Along with Snowy owls, they will dominate the skies until well into spring.

Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
I was excited to see Snowies a couple of times in the morning last weekend but they were less enthused to see me and flew away before I could stop.  This hawk was much more tolerant, I was able to photograph it for half an hour as it perched and flew along the fence line.

Rough command - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Beak to talon

Beak to talon - 2013 © Christopher Martin

There was one additional encounter with a Bald eagle in the Khutzeymateen that I really enjoyed.  The rain cleared on the evening of the second day and the weather was beautiful on the morning of the third day.  We were crossing the inlet heading towards the side where the sun had just reached down the mountains to the shoreline.  An eagle was lit beautifully as it perched on a rock exposed during low tide.

River guardian - 2013 © Christopher Martin

At first I thought it was watching the seagulls at the mouth of the creek it was perched beside.  We watched it for a while as it surveyed its dominion.  It seemed in no rush to join the fray as the gulls jostled for scraps of fish that floated downstream from a bear working on the salmon up in the creek hidden in the forest.

Rocky perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When it took flight clutching the tail end of a salmon in its beak that it had pulled out of a little nook, I realized it had been pausing between feasts.  Watching it pass right in front of our boat, I had a few good images.  When it started to climb off the water, it passed the fish from to its talons, presumably allowing for more comfortable flight.

Sushi to go - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Under the radar - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A raptor in profile - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I loved the light and the sense of place in the flight images.  When the eagle passed the fish back, it was the defining moment of the encounter for me.


Eagles in the Khutzeymateen

Vertical aspirations - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Grizzly bears are the kings of the Khutzeymateen’s wildlife.  In the air, the eagles hold a similar position among the birds along the ten mile inlet.  Most were Bald eagles but a few Golden eagles were also in residence to enjoy the salmon runs that were in full swing.

A golden perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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In the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Constant adversaries on the prairies, eagles and ravens, were occasionally found chasing one or the other around the towering pines.

Catch me if you can - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Often adolescents were dining on the fish in the creeks alongside the seagulls.  That may have been much less trouble than jousting with their elders for the prime fishing locations at the mouth of the estuary.

An avian beachgoer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Beach picking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the heavy rain would roll down the valley, most of the eagles would weather it in the open on a raised perch of one type or another.  They probably don’t care too much about it but on the first two days where there were few breaks in the downpour, I thought there must be at least a few that hunted around for shelter.  I didn’t find them but the exposed raptors provided a good subject when the bears were not to be found.

Waiting out the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the rain did stop, the wings were unfolded to air dry and the daily activities resumed.

Drying out after the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Aerial curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Photographing the eagles throughout the trip into the Khutzeymateen was one of the collective highlights.  I’m fortunate to see them occasionally on the prairies but it was a real pleasure to be able to watch them along the coastline and up in the tops of the rainforest.

Eagles in the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Seagulls in the Khutzeymateen

Khutzeymateen gull in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Though named for its bears, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary shelters a great variety of other wildlife as well.  Seagulls abound in the inlet with several different species mixing in with any one of the flocks.

Symmetry - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With the salmon running up the creeks to spawn, the bears would go into the forest where the water is shallow for easy hunting.  When a bear is feeding upstream, seagulls soon arrive at the river mouth and wait for the scraps.

A sentry for scraps - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Waiting for the bears to feast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Bears are pretty messy when they are feasting on salmon so a lot of bits float down.  The birds hang in the air and perch along the banks watching for the bright red meat in the water.

A morsel of salmon caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The aerial acrobatics as they angle for position, dive for scraps, hold their territory and generally heckle one another are a lot of fun to watch.  The small streams keep the birds packed into a little area which allows for great photography as they fly in the same locations repeatedly.  Even with big lenses, it is relatively easy to track them as they fly up and down, back and forth.

Aerial surveillance - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the sail out of the inlet, a few seagulls were using a stick of driftwood as there base of operations.  I don’t know if they were on a break from the salmon or if the insects along the surface were more enticing.

Adrift in the inlet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

Whether on the rivers or out on the open water, I enjoyed photographing these birds throughout my time in the Khutzeymateen.


An owl in the trees

Flying in the trees - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 6400

Earlier, before I waited with the Great Blue Heron for a decent part of the morning, a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunted along one of my favourite Bragg Creek backroads.  I had parked my car, slung my tripod over the shoulder and headed down the road trying to listen for sights and sounds in the trees bordering the gravel.  The owl swooped in front of me, flying near eye level a few metres away.

Note: please click on any image if you would like to see a larger version

A phantom in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

I hadn’t noticed it before the flyby but my attention was held for the next twenty minutes before it dissolved into the forest gain.  During that time, the bird alternately perched, then flew, then perched again.

Hanging out in the sticks - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens (at 105mm): 1/200th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

It kept eyes on the ground from the boughs and fence posts.  When it flew it was on a line to something scurrying in the grass that was invisible to me.  Twice the owl hovered over a spot briefly which was really interesting to watch.

Morning hunt - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

The owl’s wing motion to stay in relatively the same spot was new to me which was great.

Hovering in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000


Great Blue Heron Reflected

A Heron's flight reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I went to the small lake in Wild Rose on the weekend to see whether the cooler weather of the past week had scared off the pair of Great Blue Herons who summer there.  The shoreline was empty and I thought the lake had been left by these large birds until next year.  I turned my attention to the small island in the middle of the lake.  Under a stand of mixed trees at the far end one heron was standing a few metres back from the water’s edge.

Wild Rose High Four - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It stared my way for a few minutes and then resumed its previous activity – perched on one leg, standing motionless except for the occasional pull at a stray feather or similar grooming habit.  When a noise drew its attention it would stare for a bit and then continue.  I loved the colours in the bushes along the shoreline and their soft reflections.  I hoped to see the heron fly low against this backdrop so I waited.  And waited.

Great Blue Heron reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Somewhere close to an hour later it finally stretched out its wings, stepped close to the water and took to the air.  It was worth the wait.  Flying low, the feet dragged in the water a couple of times as it crossed the lake.  I love watching Great Blue Herons fly, their wings are so large that it seems like they are barely putting in any effort when they fly yet they move at a good pace.

Slicing the surface - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The heron checked its flight as it arrived on the other side and started walking along the shallows.  I watched it stalk fish for a while and then I headed home to warm up.  I think it will be heading south soon.

Checked flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Fishing in the shallows - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Anything but common


Into the air - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A great variety of wildlife shares the Khutzeymateen Inlet with the Grizzly Bears.  With coastal wolves and orcas being more elusive during my trip, any disappointment vanished in the face of the diversity of birds on hand or around just about any corner.  Several types of gulls would congregate at the mouth of creeks where bears were catching fish upstream.  The loose bits floating down drew them in for an easy meal.  Eagles, both Bald and Golden, surveyed the waters from perches in the towering cedars lining the bays.

Black water landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One bird which consistently captured my attention was the Common Merganser (Mergus merganser).  They gathered in small flushes on open water and in the wide estuary at the end of the inlet.

Female Common Mergansers perched - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When they take flight, they step along the water once they get airborne and remain low with their wingtips occasionally dipping into the water as they fly along.

High stepping in the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Wing dip - 2013 © Christopher Martin

This activity was great fun to watch and photograph while waiting for some of the more celebrated wildlife to visit.  I didn’t mind the waiting at all.

Long steps to takeoff - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Flight and reflection - 2013 © Christopher Martin


A Heron’s Flyby

A Heron's flyby - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the last evening in the Khutzeymateen, we pulled up the anchor and cruised halfway westward down the inlet.  It felt like I was going in the wrong direction as we sailed away from this home of the bears.  We sheltered in a cove about halfway down the ten-mile inlet for the night and enjoyed a quick zodiac ride around this new area.  There were a few seals who popped their heads out of the water to watch us as we puttered along the shoreline.

A curious friend - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Ahead of dinner, I pulled up chair on the bow and enjoyed watching the day slide away.  I had noticed some birds on the shore but they were a long distance from our location so I did not keep too sharp an eye on them.  Until, one of the larger birds took to the air and made a direct line for the sailboat.  Swiftly closing the distance between us, I realized this cove resident to be Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

Coming for a visit? - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Herons are a favourite bird of mine.  I love how they fly, huge wings tracing out powerful beats while their necks hold their heads back in a seemingly laid back manner.  I see them frequently whether I’m on a lake in the mountains, near a marsh on the prairies or, luckily, on a boat in one of the most wonderful places I have ever been.

Downstroke - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Drawing near, it was clear he was curious who was staying over that night and he had decided to complete a flyby to check us out.  He flew within a couple of metres of my head, banked over the stern and flew back to the beach.  Apparently we had not raised any ire as all of the birds continued with their activities along the water before nightfall.

Passing by - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Although I have spent a lot of time watching Great Blue Herons, I have never had one circle directly around me.  I liked being their almost at his approval.  Romantically, I thought of it as an acceptance of us being in this wild place for a few days.  It was a gift to be able to end the last night with this highlight.


Hanging out with an owl

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I have had a couple of visits with a Great Gray Owl on one of the backroads in West Bragg over the past week.  This particular section of the gravel road has only yielded one moose a couple of years ago.  Still, it is a beautiful area so I often head up there as far as the private gate that cuts off the road’s climb out of the forest to a hilltop meadow.  Last weekend I was turning my car around and having a look up at the wind-broken treetops more out of habit than expectation.  The owl was perched in shadow just inside the forest’s edge.

Gazing up and over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I hopped out and watched him for a minute before climbing up the hill across from the trees so that I could be at a similar height to the perch and hopefully catch some hunting action whenever the owl decided to dive down.

Note regarding the gender of this owl: I say him, because there was no urgency to this owl so I presume a nest full of owlets wasn’t waiting at home.  I could easily be wrong – I have not figured out how to determine whether a Great Gray Owl is male or female – yet.  So, I will stick with he for now as I much prefer that over “it”.  Either way, between concentrated stares into the tall grass below, feather grooming and very quick naps occupied his time.

Preening - 2013 © Christopher Martin-5533

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

From his perch, the owl was busy looking around in the direction of any sounds or movement on the ground.  I heard little and saw less – the same was definitely not true for my figurative companion.   After the better part of an hour, he gave a quick shake and then dove almost straight down.

Free diving - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500.

I captured a few nice frames of the dive (the image above and the one that opens this post) but he disappeared from my view into the tall grass.  A couple of hops brought the now familiar head into sight and I could see he missed his target.

On the down low - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

He launched back into the air and settled on the branch of a dead tree.  This time he was in the morning sun so he favoured me with a different setting to photograph him in.  Very photographer friendly was this fellow.

Settling onto a new perch - © Christopher Martin-5742

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I stayed on my hill for another half an hour and enjoyed watching the grooming, staring and napping habits.  I left him there and continued on the back roads.

In the forest - © Christopher Martin-5871

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

This weekend, I had the house to myself and ended up sleeping in late on the morning I had planned to head out for sunrise.  Still, I was back on the same country road around 8 am with faint hopes of a repeat visit.  Scanning the broken trees again, I found no wildlife of any kind and completed my turn around.  Then, I saw the owl sitting in a branch about 20′ off the ground on the side of the road opposite where I had been looking.

Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-3289

Canon 5DII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4 extender at 121mm: 1/800 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 640

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Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8597

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 500

He gazed at me for a few seconds, I nodded and he continued the pattern of watching, grooming and napping that I had watched the week before.  He added a bit of variety with a yawn here…

A big yawn - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8661

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 2500

A wing stretch there…

Owl yoga - © Christopher Martin-8734

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2500

After a half an hour, the owl flew to another stump and then went higher up into the trees further up the road.  As he launched out of the tree and went past me, I had a nice opportunity for a couple of in flight shots.

 Launch - © Christopher Martin-8759

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Forest flight - © Christopher Martin-8762

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

He seemed to decide he had other places to be and flew deeper into the forest after just a couple of minutes perched in the canopy.

 Perched in the canopy - © Christopher Martin-8803

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500


The emperors of the marsh

Yellow-headed Blackbird in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) is a beautiful marsh dweller.  It also rules many of the prairie marshes it inhabits with an iron fist (or claw, as the case may be).  With smaller birds, like its cousin the Red-winged Blackbird, it will chase them off hounding them well past the edge of its nesting territory in the reeds.  Members of the heron family, gulls and coots will predate the nests and with these creatures the Yellow-heads will defend against very aggressively.

Marsh oration - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the day I was at Frank Lake most of their activity was spent calling to one another and holding boundaries with other Yellow-headed neighbours.

Neighbourly visit - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A balanced landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I think the females are on the nests now as I only saw males flying around.  The babies may have hatched already but if so, I would have expected to see some hungry predators.  The males defending their nests can be very dramatic but I was happy to not see any of these would-be egg thieves around.  They will come at some point so it was nice to see the Blackbirds having respite during a warm afternoon.  I enjoyed photographing them flying around and perching with great balance on the reeds waving around in the breeze.

An intent examination - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A balancing act - 2013 © Christopher Martin -

Call from the post - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The nests are built over deeper water which helps keep curious creatures (animal and human) away.  I have seen the occasional person wading into reeds, presumably to look for nests and more reclusive birds, however the potential for disturbance is enormous and I am not comfortable with seeking out the next great photograph that way.  It is a personal choice but if you go in, learn all you can about the birds residing there beforehand so that you don’t inadvertently cause a nest to be abandoned, trampled or exposed to predators that come along afterwards.  I didn’t see any signs of people tramping through the large marsh around the Ducks Unlimited blind at the lake so I’m hopeful it will stay undisturbed through the nesting season.

An evening flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Owl flights in Bragg Creek

Evening launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

Kezia and I drove out to see the owl the other night.  This visit was a real treat.  The Great Gray Owl was very relaxed and flew towards us in two short glides separated with twenty minutes of perching on a fencepost.

A golden flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

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Fence launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/640 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

Kezia was delighted watching the owl’s swooping flight and she whispered to the owl urging her to keep flying.  As it got darker the owl got more active so Kezia got to watch it flying every couple of minutes.  It moved into the forest, came back and then crossed the road, perched nearby and then we left for home.

Forest flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/640 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

It was a great evening to be out, especially with Kezia and I having so much fun.

Night watchmen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/320 second at f/4 on ISO 5000


Prairie Hawks in flight

Banking in and looking out - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With spring sprung, there are an abundance of hawks wheeling in the sky over the Prairies now.  Through the winter, the Rough-legged hawks had the air to themselves and now Red-tailed, Swainson’s and Broad-wings have joined them.  This dark morph Swainson’s was beautiful and wheeled around me for a couple of turns.

Red-tailed Hawk - 2013 © Christopher Martin

This Red-tailed hawk screamed at me when I stopped to photograph it flying over the fields.  It flew beside me and let loose one of the shrieks that Hollywood still often uses to dub over the Bald Eagle’s less impressive one.

Red-tailed launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Another Swainson’s launched out of this tree and looked beautiful in the warm, evening light.

Curious - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One other Red-tailed watched me out of the corner of its eye as it glided past but saved any vocalizations for another time.  This hawk was one of the few I saw that wasn’t flying.  I did not see a nest nearby so I think the bird was just taking a break from hunting.

Perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Great Gray Owl in Water Valley

Owl scout - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Water Valley is a lushly forested area broken up with farm fields, hills and streams.  Any one of these can attract owls so it is little surprise that many are seen in the locales between Cremona and Cochrane.  I drove along Horse Creek Road and the Grand Valley Road a few days ago to enjoy the countryside as well as see what wildlife I might find.  Near Cremona I found a Gray watching the grass in the front yard of a ranch from one of the fence posts.

On maze of old fencing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

By that time it was early evening so I set up my gear on the shoulder of the road and waited to see if the owl might start hunting.  It looked at me languidly a few times and I thought that might be the all there was to this sighting when it flew into the trees.  I was wrong.  It stayed in the woods for a few minutes and then came back to the fence again.

Onto the fields - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A minute later, it flew to a new post about 30′ from where I was sitting.

Flying postal - 2013 © Christopher Martin

From that point the owl started hunting and remained less than 100′ away for the next hour.  It proved to be adept at attacks into the long grass and grabbed five mice over that period.  The strikes onto the field creatures were impossible to photograph as the talons and head of the owl would disappear completely into a screen of pale yellow.

Attack! - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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On prey - 2013 © Christopher Martin

That was only a very minor disappointment, being able to watch this master hunter at work was very enjoyable.

Great Gray Owl flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Flying along the fence line - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I had great opportunities to photograph the owl flying before night took hold.  In the image below it was quite dark so I needed a longer exposure to gather enough light.

Dusk flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Just as I decided to pack up and head home, a car came down the road and I snapped this last image with the help of the headlights.

Good night dear owl - 2013 © Christopher Martin


On the edge of Kananaskis with an owl

Forest flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

(click on any image to open a window to a higher resolution version)

I persuaded my children to join me for a drive through Bragg Creek into Kananaskis last night to look for the Great Gray Owls that have returned to some of their summer haunts.  We traveled several of the backroads with not much wildlife found but the sun was out and we enjoyed chatting away.  I had turned back towards home when Kian spotted a beautiful Great Gray up in an aspen tree.

Curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Its plumage matched the bark quite well and I had completely missed it.  Luckily my son’s sharp eyes did not.

Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Having accomplished the find, Kian then returned to his story while Kezia and I got out and watched the owl swoop across the open forest between trees for almost an hour.  There was great light and the owl was hunting and resting normally so we enjoyed the encounter and I was rewarded with some great opportunities to photograph the bird.

Wings up - 2013 © Christopher Martin

By 8 pm, it was time for bed – for the kids not the owl – so we left her perched on a branch near the road and went home.

Up in a perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Rough-legged hawks and the advancing spring

 

Rough-legged hawk in spring flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Through the winter, Rough-legged Hawks, as with the adult above and the juvenile below, keep watch over the Prairies.  These hawks are equipped for the cold temperatures and many choose to skip the migration and over winter here.  As the weather warms, their cousins, the Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s and Broad-winged Hawks are starting to return.

Pre-flight perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One of the great joys of spring for me is the return of these hawks to the fields and grasslands.  However with a few great encounters with the Rough-legged hawks shown here, I’m not in any particular rush.

Hawk flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Rough-legged perched - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The robins have been coming home for the last couple of weeks and a flight of about thirty Dark-eyed Juncos swarmed our backyard a couple of days ago.  So, spring seems close at hand.  I’m looking forward to more time with all the different hawks that spend their summers raising chicks here.

A quick peek - 2013 © Christopher Martin


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