A heavy blizzard blew through southern Alberta on Sunday. The snow fell throughout the day with the wind keeping pace alongside. The trees on the edge of Kananaskis Country caught pieces of the storm and twirled the snow around the branches in the evergreens.
As the moon waxed towards full this weekend, I spent an evening at Elbow Falls to photograph the landscape at night. The clear air allowed stars to shine even with a relatively short exposure and small aperture (10 seconds and f/8.0, respectively). Always a bit lonely sitting out there for a couple of hours but the stars are really good company.
The 6400 ISO and the bright moonlight allowed for some of the great details at this magical place in Kananaskis Country to show in the image. I am impressed with the improvements in the dSLR’s low-light capabilities over the last couple of years. A couple of years ago I spent another evening up at these falls. At that time I was using a Canon 1D Mark III and when compared with the image above and others where I used a 5D Mark III, the detail, structure of the noise and the color are all vastly improved. The technology is less and less of an obstacle to realizing the images I want to make. I like that a lot.
There are significant pressures on the forests that extend from Bragg Creek through Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis has sixty parks within its borders which protect two-thirds of the area. Kananaskis was set up as a multi-use area which would address the “needs of industry, ranching and tourism are still balanced with the mandate to preserve the animals, plants, and processes that keep the Kananaskis Country ecosystem healthy” (history). The current plans include a clearcut of roughly 700 hectares west of Bragg Creek around the Moose Mountain area. I was asked to pull together a gallery of images from West Bragg Creek and Kananaskis that could help show what stands to be lost if plans like this are acted upon. Click on the image below to link to this gallery if you are interested.
Clear-cutting scares me. I grew up in the Kootenay Valley in British Columbia’s interior and my father had a logging operation along with several tourism based businesses. His crew harvested forests by employing selective logging, they didn’t clearcut. The areas which were clearcut in the valleys there, and here in Alberta, often do not recover well. The topsoil washes away, new trees planted have challenges taking hold and then there are the animals. Obviously they can’t stick around once the cover, their homes and their food is lost. The impact is severe for most species and I hope the efforts made to change the current plans are successful. The Bragg Creek and Kananaskis Outdoor Recreation group has their finger on the pulse of this issue. For those who are interested there are things we can do to be heard and help to influence the decision makers. If you are interested, please visit their website for information on the proposed logging and what is being done. Sustain Kananaskis is another group that is working very hard to raise awareness and change the current plans. I do not have any direct connection with Sustain Kananaskis but their website has a lot of information and I agree with everything that I see in their mission statement.
A storm threatened to cross over the western ridges in Kananaskis yesterday when I was in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The ridge above caught my eye and displayed the tension high up on the mountains.
Jeff and I were driving back from the Kananaskis Lakes in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park when we saw a coyote trotting along the side of the road. We pulled over, set up some long lenses and watched it approach. As it drew closer, it neither sped up nor slowed down. It cast a few glances our way but seemed to have some other place to be.
This animal looked to be in good health and did not look to be stressed as it carried on. We were both very curious where it may have been heading.
After a few minutes, with the tail bobbing up and down with its bouncy stride, the coyote went out of sight as it rounded a corner further up the road.
My friend and fellow photographer Jeff Rhude and I made it up to the reflecting pools which provide a beautiful mirror for Mount Kidd while it was still dark. While dawn was still only a bit of light to the east, I used an exposure just a bit over two minutes long to see this early morning.
The wind was blowing in short blasts as we were waiting and once it was brighter I took an opportunity to show a bit of that in the blurred water.
The rain fell hard up in Kananaskis on Friday morning and it served to make this deer almost glow in the wet forest. There were a couple of coyote encounters and a beautiful sunrise that preceded this moment but this was really nice.
(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
The Bighorn sheep were in a few small groups scattered on either side of the Highwood Pass at the end of the week. These were a few of the photographs from when I saw them throughout the day. At the lower elevations, fall is still in control and I had some warm, colourful backgrounds to work with.
Higher up, around the summit of the pass, the snow that fell earlier in the week was still on the ground and presented an alternate landscape to photograph the sheep in.
There were a good number of lambs within the larger groups. I hope they can put on a few more pounds before winter settles in but they looked to be in good health.
For the most part, the sheep were not very interested in me. The young one below gave me a heavy sidelong glance that made for a good image.
The salts are attracting the sheep, same as always, to the middle of the road. Most people give them a wide berth. This sheep was suggestive of the location they often take along the highway.
The rut is starting now so I hope I can see some good horn collisions the next time I’m up there. The last ram I saw was scrambling up the Rock Glacier and provided a good photographic opportunity in one of the more interesting geographic locations along Highway 40.
The morning got bright quickly when I was at a set of reflecting ponds just west of Wedge Pond and the Galatea Trailhead in Kananaskis. I met a fellow Calgarian photographer, Graham McKerrell, along the water’s edge and we watched the most promising cloud slip behind the mountain just a couple of minutes before the sunrise hit the face. The early light was still beautiful on the rock of Mount Kidd and its reflection. I really had fun once the morning sun was well established as I switched from hunting warm light to thinking about the sun and shadows for black and white images as seen here.
(please click on the image to link to a larger, higher resolution version)
These ponds are a beautiful location to welcome the morning, I hope to get out there once more this season.
The small lake in Wild Rose, west of Bragg Creek, has been a great place to enjoy photographing birds this summer. I have spent a number of mornings along the strip of land that divides the pond. Several of these mornings have been spent with a few different Common loons. These are a few of my favourites from these times.
Driving up to the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis this black bear ran across the road a few hundred yards ahead of me. I pulled up where it had climbed the bank and saw it looking at me from the forest’s edge. A quick look and then it ran into the woods.
That reminded me of a slightly longer encounter I had in the spring near Radium with another black bear. The dandelions that spring up in thick carpets on the roadside fields draw the bears and this one was not deterred by a steady downpour.
The wet fur provided a great sheen and defined the coat well.
On the same trip through the Kootenay National Park in early June, I saw a second black bear grazing in another meadow. This one was a beautiful ginger colour – really beautiful. I’m hoping to get back into the mountains to enjoy the autumn season and see a bear or two soon.
(please click on any image to go to a higher resolution version)
The morning was cold as I walked down to Wedge Pond on Friday. No frost, but very chilly under the clear skies. I woke early so I was there before the skies had started to brighten. The only sounds were the splash of the occasional fish jumping and bull elk bugling challenges nearby in the forest. It was a special moment to take in. In the darkness the exposures ranged up to five minutes to show the pre-dawn scene as below. The slowly lightening sky to the east reflected on the upper flanks of the mountain.
As the sun approached, the birds started chattering and a few other photographers showed up for the alpen glow and then first light on Mount Kidd. Kananaskis lived up to expectations again. It was lovely to be on the lake’s shore for the morning with the autumn colours coming in.
(please click on this image to link to a higher resolution file)
Clouds blocked the early pink light at down this morning but as the color went to gold, nice breaks higher off the horizon let the sunlight in. The light reflected on the water and the look of the rocks under the water made a very pretty scene.
(click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
The Bews are a ranching family and the youngest generation is following that well-worn path. When I was photographing them at the ranch Mady and Katie showed their ease in the saddle and proved to be very good sports while the shutter clicked away.
Katie was learning to trot and she seemed to master it over the course of a few crosses of the overgrown field during the morning. Mady practiced her roping which made for some great photographic opportunities.
While the girls rode, their grandmother Rosemary, grandfather Tom and his brother Joe alternated between time in front of the camera, tending to their horses and chatting. Very good people with lot’s of room in their hearts for their family, their animals and their land. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them.
Joe Bews in the morning leading his horse up with his partner by his side and later running through the dry creek bed.
Tom taking a break from the saddle
The last image I took up at the ranch was of the Bews family as they headed back for the trail back down to their farms. A warm thank you to them for coming out on a cold morning which became a hot afternoon. And, thanks to Julian Ferreira and his team at The Camera Store for arranging for a great day in the High Country on the edge of Kananaskis.
In fact, Julian stood in as a cowboy model in the cook shack and played the role exceptionally well.
Yesterday, I was hiking in Kananaskis Country, west of Bragg Creek, morning along a trail that winds through the forest. The trees are often well spaced out and allow a lot of streaming sunlight to reach down. The highlight of the trek was finding a small herd of White-tailed Deer that were moving slowly towards the hills.
I stepped off the trail and shadowed their progress for a few minutes. I waited for one deer to step into a shaft of light and then tried to create an interesting image.
There were a couple occasions where everything lined up and I got close to what was in my head. In these pictures, I like the sense of the forest and the magic of sunlight.
I was enjoying the stroll in the woods when I was alone, save for the birdsong and angry squirrel reports, but crossing paths with these deer made it a very memorable day.
The mountains around the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country were holding onto a blizzard for most of Sunday morning while I was up there hiking and driving on the lookout for wildlife. My regular spots were empty of creatures, apparently they didn’t think too much of the snow and sleet blowing around. A couple of hours went by before this coyote came trotting along the ditch beside Highway 40.
He took scant notice of me as he passed and I was so surprised by his nonchalance that I enjoyed watching him without taking any pictures. I soon corrected that, as I turned my car around and followed him for two kilometres as he headed up the road. As I followed, he spent most of the trip trotting along in the snow but came onto the road a few times. Maybe he likes having his picture taken.
Regardless, he dug out three rodents while I watched. Fascinating to watch him listen, wait and then pounce. I was impressed as he stopped only for a moment and then came up with the prey without fail. A couple of bites, swallow and carry on. I think he was happy for the snow providing the cover above the mice. Very efficient.
When we reached the turn off to Elpoca, he followed the side road into the valley and I turned back down and headed for home.
I spent three hours photographing four Grizzly bears in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Sunday morning. My parents were hiking there the day before and had seen the small troop digging up a meadow to get at small roots in the soil. I followed their directions and found the mother with her two cubs and a lone sow. The mother was protective of her cubs and the other bear kept her distance.
A couple of times mother bear chased the other one away either because she had strayed too close or momma wanted to graze in the loner’s spot. I have to say, watching a bear run is incredible. It is a shuffling gallop that doesn’t look fast but when you look at the ground covered you understand exactly how fast bears are. One of the charges sent the lone bear running towards me which got the adrenalin going. The image of the lone bear running away below is a bit blurry as the light was pretty soft but it illustrates some of the power these animals carry in their movements (and look at those claws).
The meadow is a narrow strip about two hundred meters wide which is lined with trees on both sides. I stayed along the forest’s edge but made sure the bears knew I was there when I was more than a few hundred meters away. I took almost an hour to get to my final photographing spot. Trying to watch for any signs of agitation, particularly from the mother. She looked my way a couple of times but did not stop grazing other than to chase the other bear. The cubs noticed me too but went back to their digging without any concerns.
The lone female seemed curious for the first few minutes but then settled back to the big dig. She would watch me whenever I moved but once I set up in a new spot, she would tend to her hunger. By mid-morning I was close enough to see their faces clearly through my lens but I was wishing I had longer glass than my 300mm lens and extender. A 500mm lens would have been perfect but no complaints.
The berries were late this year and I wonder if these roots are a fallback option that the bears look to late in the season to top off their bellies before hibernating. I left them as I found them, shuffling around and burying their heads in the piles of dirt, and headed back up the trail around noon.