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.
Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2500
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.
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.
Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/320 second at f/4 on ISO 5000
May 13, 2013 | Categories: Nature, Owls, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animals, bragg creek, Canada, flight, flying, Great Gray Owl, nature photography, owls, strix nebulosa, wildlife photography | 13 Comments »
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.
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.
Another Swainson’s launched out of this tree and looked beautiful in the warm, evening light.
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.
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.
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.
A minute later, it flew to a new post about 30′ from where I was sitting.
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.
That was only a very minor disappointment, being able to watch this master hunter at work was very enjoyable.
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.
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.
(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.
Its plumage matched the bark quite well and I had completely missed it. Luckily my son’s sharp eyes did not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mallard ducks are agile fliers. When they come into land, sometimes grace gets forgotten as kind of seen here. This male careened a little bit over the same pond where I watched the Hooded Merganser before hitting the water and I liked how this image showed an unusual flight position.
While in California last week, every morning flights of Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) would glide over the water off of Aliso Beach in Laguna. A few of these would peel off and spiral up into the sky and then widen their circles while watching the water from high above. The last time I photographed Brown pelicans was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico a couple of years ago. I did not have the opportunity to watch those pelicans fish in the ocean so Laguna with its dive-bombing birds was a lot of fun for me.
When a target was found they would point directly down and plunge towards the ocean.
Most of these dives resulted in the bird completely disappearing underwater for a second or two. More often than not a fish was caught between the chopsticks of the bird’s beak.
The seals were drawn to the same schools of fish so there were some neat moments with them close to a bird either going for a fish close-by or maybe even thieving one from the pelican.
I love watching these pelicans glide over the water. Often, they will skim a few inches above the surface for several hundred yards between wing beats. They will fly alone, in pairs or larger flocks all following the same path.
They are great fliers which is most obvious during the exciting dives as they pin wheel and then dive. When they launch out of the water, the power and skill flying that they command are on display as well.
I could spend a lot of time photographing these birds. They are graceful gliders, spectacular divers and great fishers. They present great opportunities for the photographer – including a little hide-and-seek!
April 7, 2013 | Categories: Birds, California, Nature, Wildlife | Tags: Aliso Beach, birds, brown pelicans, California, fishing, flying, Laguna, nature, Pacific Ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, wildlife photography | 11 Comments »
With visions of the Boundary Bay owls still streaming past my mind’s eye, I went out for a drive on the Prairies this weekend. I have been working on my Snowy owl imagery pretty steady this winter and have found a few images to be elusive to create. For this trip east of Calgary, I was hoping to get some interactions showing a little personality as well as head on flight images. It turned out to be a great afternoon for both.
I went east on highway 22X and roamed a few of the range roads north of Carseland. I found a hawk followed by an eagle in the first couple of miles. I left the Bald eagle on its perch in a barren tree and zigzagged back towards the highway.
Well short of the main road, I found this Snowy owl perched on a fencepost a few hundred yards into the field. I waited for 15 minutes and then the bird launched and flew in front of me along the fenceline and crossed the gravel. I picked it up on a telephone pole nearby and that was its field base for the afternoon.
Over the next couple of hours, the owl dove off the beam several times and earned a few snacks along the grass and snow. At launch and during its return flights to the perch, it gave me some wonderful opportunities as it would keep an eye on me now and then.
During the long breaks between sorties, the owl sat largely motionless except for the full circles carved in the air by its head. There were a few great moments with interesting yawns,
and humorous facial expressions.
One of the tours detoured to a long abandoned windmill which made for a great scene. The blue sky and white bird can make even a worn out relic look great! Well, that particular structure has a lot of good character on its own but I think you know what I mean.
So we had a good rhythm for quite a while and when I finally packed up it was in the middle of a glide back to the same perch. I would have loved to stay until the evening light but the hands were cold and the bird had been a very accommodating host so no reason to wear out the welcome.
March 23, 2013 | Categories: Animals, Owls, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animal, BIF, bird, Bubo scandiacus, flight, flying, nature photography, Prairies, Snowy owl, wildlife photography, winter | 26 Comments »
The past weekend involved a lot of Snowy owls so it was fantastic. On Friday, I made a solo run east of Calgary and roamed the country roads between Langdon and Strathmore eager to find the white owls which enthrall me. I found one perched on a fence post warming under bright sunshine along and had several minutes to enjoy watching her before a tanker truck roared by and the sound spooked her off the roost.
I say her because females Snowies often have dark banding – often but not always as adolescents of both genders have heavy banding as well. It used to be thought that males were usually white with little or no banding and the females were as described. There are convincing arguments for and against however I found this link persuasive. It has helped me to realize that I would need an expert’s opinion before I would state any Snowy owls gender in absolute terms. So, please allow me the license to use he and she with these owls so that I can avoid referring to individuals as “it” which seems to drop them into object status rather than that of a living creature.
The owl took flight across Highway 901 and flew out over the fields. I watched it glide low and out of sight behind the rolling hills to the southwest. I zigzagged along the roads in the same general direction and found her on a telephone pole scanning the landscape. I pulled alongside slowly, set up my camera through the window and got comfortable. Fast forward half an hour and she seemed to lock onto something out in the grasses. When she did launch it was under a cloudy sky which makes for an interesting contrast of white on white (as in the image above). I love watching the Snowy owls fly and then glide low. She dove down in the middle of farmland and settled for several minutes on what seemed to be a successful kill. She was a long ways out so I headed off along the crisscross of back roads.
About a quarter of an hour later I found another owl in a different field. I pulled off, set up and waited to see if this owl would fly in my direction. After five minutes it flew parallel to the road I was on and then swooped up to another telephone pole. This owl was actively hunting and moved around a lot over the next hour.
The highlight was when it perched on a fence post near the road where I was parked and we looked at each other for over a minute before it went over to a higher perch on another pole. The evening was coming in slowly and I left the owl once it had flown up to a very tall transmission line tower where it was glowing in the sun against a dark cloud background.
As the light failed, I retraced my steps back towards the highway but had a visit with one last owl, this one a male (maybe). The soft pastels to the east and the glow from the west on the white feathers were beautiful and I photographed him until the darkness overwhelmed my camera’s sensor.
And then, on Sunday, my wife and I took the kids and one of their cousins to Drumheller to visit the Royal Terrell Dinosaur Museum. This allowed us to search for owls on our drive there and we were not disappointed with the weather or with what we found along the way. The blue sky was a change from Friday’s mixed weather and always provides a great background for white birds.
We saw several owls and all but one lingered on their perches for 5-15 minutes before alighting or us moving on. This allowed the kids the opportunity to watch them and appreciate a magical part of nature. They had a great time with my son surprising me the first time that we drove away from one bird, saying that we should stay and watch a little longer. Normally, having grown up with his dad always stopping to photograph wildlife during walks, hikes, rides, drives, etc., he is often anxious to get going again – not this time. I think the Snowy owls cast the same spell on the children that I have been under for almost two years now.
One of the backyard’s Black-capped chickadees as it landed on their feeder. I liked the motion in the wings and the grip on the post by its feet.
… And that is a great thing. Everywhere may be an exaggeration but if you drive along the range roads west of Calgary or hike along the edges of the fields around the Springbank and Bragg Creek areas, you are very likely to spy one of these beautiful birds perched on a treetop or telephone pole. If you are lucky, or have the time to wait, you can see them gliding over grassy areas searching for the small creatures that they prefer to dine on. In my wildlife searches this winter, I have enjoyed seeing many of these hawks.
Above and below a Rough-legged is on the hunt in West Bragg Creek.
(please click on any image if you want to open a new page with a higher resolution version)
Below, a couple of hawks working the fields around the Springbank Airport came close enough and stayed around long enough for me to photograph.
(please click on any image to open a new page with a higher resolution version)
The days between Christmas and New Year’s have involved watching a pair of Snowy Owls in a new location. Thanks to a sighting near Calaway Park shared by Andrew Hart with the Alberta Bird group, I drove along the back roads in the area looking for one of these majestic owls. It was near sunset when I found the first one along Range Road 40 on a transmission tower. The bird was a long way from the road and even with a 500mm telephoto lens plus a 1.4X extender (for a total of 700mm of reach) the two images below are cropped in significantly. With failing light and a settled bird, I left this one and headed east towards the Springbank Airport. Across the road from the airport, I saw the white oval of a second Snowy perched as seen above. This owl was much closer which helped tremendously given how dark it had become.
Despite the title and the pose, the owl did not fly after this shot. It was readjusting its body by a quarter turn to the east and ended up staying in the position below until sometime after I left.
My wife and I went past the airport the next day and found one of the owls perched alongside Township Road 250. The hunt seemed ready to commence but a raven flew by and spooked the owl into a short flight across the field (and beyond my lens’s range). It was wonderful to see one of the owls glowing in the beautiful winter light.
I was unable to go that way today however my wife did and she watched both of the owls perching, hunting and jousting with a raven. I’m hoping they settle into the area and spend their winter here. Last spring my searches for Snowy Owls took me out to Langdon and on towards Brooks so it’s nice to save the couple of hours driving there and back for more time photographing these owls (as well as the coyotes, eagles and hawks which normally hunt in the Springbank Airport area).
This Cattle Egret flew along the coastline where I was photographing the waves crashing into the sun. Once it was past me, soaring away from the setting sun, the soft pinks and blues in the water and its waves made a nice backdrop.
At Inglewood in November, I spent a few hours along the river watching and photographing the mass of birds that congregate on the rocky islets in the middle of the water each night. I was down there in the morning to watch them takeoff, heading out for another day foraging on the prairie. The vast majority of the birds were Canada goose flocks, followed by Mallard ducks and then small numbers of a wide variety of other species. I really enjoy watching both the Canadas and the Mallards taking flight. The geese run along the water once they get up above the water, before they are fully airborne. Here, I used a lower ISO and smaller aperture (200 and f/11, respectively) to get a shutter speed on 1/30th of a second.
December 18, 2012 | Categories: Birds | Tags: action, animals, birds, birds in flight, Branta Canadensis, Canada Goose, flight, flying, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, motion blur, panning, water, wildlife photography | 4 Comments »
I spent several hours over the weekend on the trails and along the river down at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary. The Mallard ducks and Canada geese flock to the rocky islets in the middle of the water every evening. In the morning, the geese flew back out to the fields while most of the ducks preferred a slower start to the day. Here, I dragged the shutter to a 1/4 of a second and panned with this pair as they flew down river.
The Jasper National Park is an amazing place for wildlife. That statement is not a great surprise but still I wasn’t expect the encounter Jeff Rhude and I had on the last day of our trip up there. Walking along the Athabasca River outside of the townsite we were looking for wolf tracks in the snow. Instead, we found one juvenile bald eagle that was perched above the river. When it flew out of the tree it went to a lower point and that drew our attention to a second and then a third one in the trees. There was a fourth that circled nearby as well. Over the next hour, we hoped they would dive for fish while enjoying watching them fly between one another. Crazily, a set of five mature eagles over them as the afternoon faded and that stirred these younger birds up. They attacked each other a couple of times. Which seemed like play fighting and did not last long enough to be serious. It was incredible to see this action up close. They were in trees less than a hundred feet away when the other eagles flew over and we had a great view of the fights. After these, a couple of them went back to their original perch while the others crossed the river and flew out of sight. I hope to see them again next time I get back to this incredible place.
(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
November 19, 2012 | Categories: Jasper National Park, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, attack, bald eagles, bird in flight, fighting, flying, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Jasper National Park, juvenile, nature, wildlife photography | 8 Comments »
Driving up to Jasper on Friday, Jeff and I detoured through the Bow Valley Parkway to see what wildlife might be in the meadows or along the river. We saw very little on the ground, one skittish elk and that was about it. However, a little higher up, we spotted two separate Rough-legged hawks. They were at opposite ends of the parkway, this one was in the skeleton forest in the Sawback prescribed burn area. Jeff did well to spy this raptor where it was huddled on a branch a hundred yards off of the road. With a long lens, I was able to pull it in and when it decided to fly I had a couple of seconds to make a couple of nice images.
The snow was falling pretty softly, a remnant of the storm that ushered winter into the park over the past week. With the monochromatic background, the caramel and brown patterns in the hawk’s feathers looked particularly nice to my eye.
(as always, please click on an image to link to a higher resolution version)
On the outskirts of Calgary, along Highway 8, there is an enormous nest that is the summer home for a pair of osprey. I drive by the nest most days and have watched them throughout the late spring and summer. A couple of weeks ago, I stopped one morning to photograph the pair and it turned out to be just a few days before they took flight for their winter climes.
There is some road work that started around this time so that may have prompted them to head south a bit early or the noticeably cooler air at night at the end of August may have made up their minds. Either way, they will be back again next year hopefully with plans to fledge a couple more chicks again.
This Red-tailed hawk is often perched on one of the telephone poles which line a gravel road along Highway 8, west of Calgary. This morning I turned off to see if I could find her. I did and she wasn’t overly pleased to see me. As soon as I stopped near her pole-top perch, she took flight. I felt like I stole this one before she flew further down the road. I was happy with this image and didn’t want to harass her further so I left her alone.
August 23, 2012 | Categories: Animals, Birds, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animal, BIF, bird, bird in flight, flight, flying, hawk, morning, nature, Red-tailed hawk, scream, Springbank, summer, wildlife, wildlife photography | 2 Comments »
(please click on an image for a sharper, higher resolution version)
While waiting on the lake at Wild Rose for a heron to drop out of the trees and do something (ideally fly towards me and then start fishing closely I enjoyed watching the dragonflies that were buzzing in and out of the grasses along the shore around me. The courting seems to be in full swing so there are wild chases along the water, hovering showdowns and kamikaze dives.
I end up turning my lens away from the bird and towards these far more cooperative fliers. Here are a few images of some of the dragonflies that I was able to photograph and keep in focus. It was very tricky using a long telephoto (500mm with a 1.4x extender) to get them sharp but the ones that turned out made me pretty happy.
(please click any image for a higher resolution version)
I have watched and photographed this Great Blue Heron for the snow-free months along Wild Rose’s ponds and lakes in Bragg Creek for four years. Last weekend was the first time that I have seen her in the company of other herons. It makes me think that these are two chicks she has raised this year.
I spent an hour watching her perched in a tree across the lake from where I had set up my camera and tripod. I was in plain sight a couple of hundred feet from a spot where she often hunts for fish. When I spied her in the tree, I thought I would wait to see if she flew my way. After waiting for a while, she swooped down into the westernmost pond just below the tree so I packed up and hiked over there to see if I could photograph the hunting. When I got there I saw her and as I approached, I spooked one of the other herons. I thought the heron I have seen for years was alone so I was watching her as I moved closer. Stepping onto the small berm around the pond, I saw a flurry of wings beating as a heron in the grasses near me flew up and across the pond before landing near “my” heron. I was even more surprised when I saw the third one stalking in the water behind a stump. All three took flight a while later and went across the main lake into the tree where I have often seen the single heron preening and watching the water.
I went back to my original spot and watched them fly together to another group of trees where they could watch for fish while keeping an eye on me. They stayed close together and the single heron seemed to be leading their movements around the lake. I may be wrong but it seemed like a family day on the water to me. I had my longest lens on my camera so the best I could get was two of the three birds in one frame. I will have to pull out the second camera with a smaller lens next time to make a proper family portrait!
August 15, 2012 | Categories: Animals, Birds, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, BIF, bird, flight, flying, GBH, great blue heron, herons, nature, nature photography, reflection, summer, water, West Bragg Creek, Wild Rose, wildlife photography | 2 Comments »
I had a great morning earlier this week watching this female Great Gray Owl. She flew to several perches as she moved from the forest into the open meadows nearby.
She was watching for quite a while at each stop. She seemed pretty relaxed, without any great urgency to hunt.
Down the field, the sun was reaching into the trees. The light that got through was really beautiful.
I’m hoping to hang out again over the weekend. We’ll see if she is thinking the same thing.
May 31, 2012 | Categories: Owls, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animals, BIF, bragg creek, Canada, flight, flying, forest, Great Grey Owl, nature, owls, raptors, spring, strix nebulosa, wildlife photography | 3 Comments »
(Please click on each picture for high-resolution versions of each image)
My friend Jeff Rhude came out to Bragg Creek to photograph along the back roads with me this morning. We struck out for West Bragg around 6am with the sun fighting valiantly to burn off the haze. The resulting soft light was wonderful and stayed with us through our first meeting with one of the owls I have photographed a couple of times recently.
We found this owl a couple of hundred metres down the fence line running at a right angle from the road. It flew to a couple of posts and we photographed it from the field facing the forest. It moved back towards the road and we went ahead of the bird to try to guess where it was going to fly next. Moving off the road, we walked into some open forest and had great views to a couple of the flights in the trees. The owl went to a stump overlooking another field and we walked up the hill to have a higher point of view.
Flying up to a knot in a tree the owl was looking past me and after a bit of shuffling it launched… straight towards me. It happened fast but the autofocus was up to the task and I kept the lens on the bird as it flew right over my head. Having that experience and some great images, we agreed to head back to the road and leave the owl to continue its hunting.
We covered a few more productive spots and we found two separate Great Grays. The last owl spent most of its time in the trees near the road but then made a great set of dives. The third attack was successful (for the owl, not as much for the mouse) and completed a good morning. If you are interested in seeing these and a few others from the day, I invite you to visit this web gallery.
My good friend, the owl, took me for a bit of a run last Monday. I found it perched on a stake in the middle of a large field in West Bragg Creek and after a few minutes I had walked to within 100 yards. I stopped at another stake that I thought would provide a better vantage point than the current perch, set up my tripod and waited. The Great Gray glided to a small evergreen first, then to a fencepost and eventually to the stake about 10 yards from me.
It stayed there for a couple of minutes before gliding past me and flying low over the grass. For the next 10 minutes, it lunged a couple of times into the tall grass. These dives proved unsuccessful and I was surprised when it spent a minute or two standing on the ground before pushing up into the air again.
It covered a lot of ground and I just stayed on a straight line moving northward. Our paths came close once but I did not get any memorable photographs during this stretch. I was really enjoying the opportunity to watch how it scouted and attacked.
The field work came to an end when the owl flew into a line of trees and settled on a stray fence post. I moved up on to the road for a better angle and then the owl moved to a post connected a long line of other posts by barbed wire. It flew from the first post to the next in line so I moved a few down to set up in case the pattern continued. It did fly over two more posts but then it got really still on one of the perches and stared intently into a tangle of branches about 15 yards on the other side of the fence. I didn’t have a great line on the branches but I didn’t want to move and make any noise. When the owl launched, it was clear that it had a target lined up. The silence of owls in flight is incredible and I was enthralled watching this attack. This time, the talons caught a field mouse and the owl paused while it moved the kill to its mouth.
When the bird flew up again I had a great line and was able to take some nice images. It crossed back over the field and settled on the far side to dine which signaled the end of this encounter.
May 24, 2012 | Categories: Animals, Owls, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animal, BIF, bird, bragg creek, flight, flying, grassland, Great Gray Owl, Great Grey Owl, meadow, nature, owl, spring, strix nebulosa, wildlife, wildlife photography | 6 Comments »