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This bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) was snacking on salt roadside and was unsure of my intentions as I drove by. A flash was needed as the morning was still waiting for night to loosen its grip. I was just west of the Highwood Pass on Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country – likely my last drive over this spot before it is closed for the winter.
The early light worked well with a few interesting clouds hanging above Elbow Falls on the day I was up there this weekend. The soft pink ahead of sunrise shared the sky with the waning full moon early. As the clouds turned to a deep peach color I moved just above the waterfall. From there the reflections of colour on the excited water were beautiful and I watched the morning open up.
A cold morning greeted me at Elbow Falls yesterday. I set up from a rocky perch above the river and enjoyed watching the day come in. The clouds above caught the early pink light while the land below was gently brushed by the alpen glow that preceded sunrise.
Last weekend I was in Kananaskis and was very fortunate to watch a Grizzly bear digging up roots, swimming in the Kananaskis River and walking above and along the shoreline. After a beautiful, mist-filled morning at Wedge Pond I pulled out my longer lenses and drove along Highway 40 intent upon driving over the Highwood Pass. There is a spot a few kilometres south of Mount Kidd where a bend in the river draws close to the road and affords a clear view of both sides of the shoreline.
I saw the bear walking into the forest above the water as I came up to the river bend. She came back into sight a couple hundred metres further down in a small clearing. For a half an hour she shuffled between a couple of similar breaks in the forest above the water. I thought she was going to continue around the corner and out of sight but instead she walked into the water and swam across to the other shore. She pulled out of the water and set about digging back in the trees for most of an hour.
She came into clear view on the bank twice which allowed for some nice opportunities. The rest of the time I enjoyed watching her as she went about her business. During this time, one of the park rangers stopped by and monitored the bear for a while. He kindly shared information about this beautiful animal. She is Bear Number 151 and is one of three cubs that left their mother this spring. The mother is native to Kananaskis and raised the triplets in the area for their first three years covering an impressive amount of territory during that time.
151 looked very healthy and the ranger confirmed that these bears were doing well and had not developed any habits which could bring them into conflict with people. I was very glad to hear that. He carried on with his duties which called him to other parts of Kananaskis and I continued watching her. Several times, when a few minutes had passed with no sign of her, I thought she had melted into the forest and ended this special encounter. At one point I didn’t see her for 15 minutes and had begun packing up my gear. I looked back towards the river just as she stepped out of the thick bushes and onto a sandy strip on the far side of the river.
She sniffed at the air, angled to her left and crossed the sand. At the water, she crossed a shallow part and then swam over to a dead tree likely uprooted in the 2013 flood.
It was a first for me to watch a bear climb this kind of tree, with all of the spiny branches, in this river shore landscape.
I really had fun photographing her moving through her land. When she got onto the bank, returning to the clearing where I had first photographed her, she made a quick dig for roots and then walked into the woods towards the road. I jogged up to the road and after a few minutes she came out a few hundred metres north, quickly crossed the road and headed into the forest that anchors the western slope of The Wedge.
With the early snows of the past week, I was eager to get into the mountains to see how things looked up there this weekend. I went up to Wedge Pond which sits below Mount Kidd in Kananaskis. This small, shallow pot lake is a great location in the fall as it is ringed by a variety of trees and catches the mountain’s reflection in its quiet waters.
It was overcast when I headed out but the sky was more promising in the mountains. Before dawn, the mist started to rise off the water. It was cold and seemed to be perfect conditions for the creation of low clouds and heavy mist. That worked for me and I enjoyed photographing along the shoreline through sunrise.
The leaves on the deciduous trees are just starting to change color so I will make sure to return in a couple of weeks to catch their golds and oranges. The elk rut should start around the same time so I’m looking forward to hearing their bugling in the forest surrounding the pond then too.
I had not seen a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) since last fall and I was deeply missing them. Usually by the end of April, there are two owls in West Bragg Creek that I start seeing regularly. They are always there, just not for me with any consistency until spring. So, it was with great happiness that one was waiting for me on the weekend when I was out early in the morning.
This owl hunted along the forest edge, gliding past me several times, for over an hour. I had great opportunities to photograph her in flight and while perched. These owls mesmerize me and I feel enormous gratitude that she chose to not fly away to one of the other productive hunting fields nearby.
At one point she flew deeper into the woods where I think her nest is. I headed off but came back a half an hour later and she was out on the field. She flew directly towards me and perched in a tree not far away before hunting along the grass a couple more times. Then she flew silently back into the forest. I will head back soon and am excited to spend some more time with this owl.
In early April I went into Kananaskis along Highway 66 from Bragg Creek. I was late getting out of bed and did not leave myself enough time to set up for a sunrise shoot. I went for a short hike around Elbow Falls but returned to my car pretty quickly. Heading back, I was scouring the hillsides and trees for wildlife. I was lucky to catch this female just as she was stepping out of the forest. The sun hadn’t cleared the mountains across the Elbow River so the moose was not yet in the sunlight. I decided to set my camera up on my tripod and wait for a few minutes.
Patience often pays off and it was true on this occasion. After at least fifteen minutes of watching the moose casually grazing along the slope, I heard a couple of sticks break near where she had come out from the trees before. A couple of minutes after that, a calf came out onto the hillside.
The pair dined for a while occasionally eating together with mom always watchful as cars passed by or a strange sound came to her ears. They were calm and it was special to be able to watch them. I hope the buds, leaves and shoots start to grow soon so their rather austere winter diet is replaced.
I went back to Elbow Falls for the third time in the last couple of weeks. With the snowstorm that blew in on the weekend, I was drawn back to see another face to the area. Heavy snowflakes had piled up in the trees and across the rocks with more falling rapidly when I was up there. A slip on the ice was my payment for passage but I liked the scene I slid into. The falling snow gave the trees a charcoal sketched look while the rocks and water in the river had texture and character that seemed to suit black and white processing.
With fresh snow on the ground, I went back up to Elbow Falls to see how the valley would look in a return to winter clothing. I was there only a week ago and the change, beyond the cold, was significant. I love snow-covered landscapes so I found this visit to Kananaskis to be a very beautiful one. I think spring is coming soon but when winter is this pretty, I don’t mind a little delay.