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 have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
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.
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.
The Chickadees, Bluejays and Nuthatches in our backyard stay year round. For some of the other birds, the heavy snowstorm on Sunday and the cold temperatures left behind have prompted discussion about overwintering or heading for the south. This Evening Grosbeak seemed to be weighing his options as he nibbled on twigs while perched in the bushes above the pond.
With the cold and the snow, I will not blame him if he takes flight soon.
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.
I drove up to Apgar, a small village in Glacier National Park, this morning. I arrived at the southern edge of Lake McDonald in the dark and headed past the sleeping townsite for the rocky beach. The full moon provided a bit of light out over the water and I could see the mist was already rising up into the cold air. I started getting excited as the eastern edge of the sky brightened and silhouetted the mountain peaks above the north and east sides of the lake. The glow in the sky deepened and the colours came in beautifully.
As the intense colour began to fade, I was able to balance this great stem of autumn leaves with the lovely Grinnell argillite rocks under the water (the first image). A very beautiful morning in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
During the tail-end of the full phase of August’s blue moon I went to the edge of the first of the Vermilion Lakes just west of the Banff townsite and set up for a night of long exposures. I drifted in and out of sleep but my timer remote stayed awake and kept running across the dark hours of the night. The clouds raced across the sky under pretty steady winds. With the longer exposures, they were stretched out and occasionally lent a mystical quality to the images.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 658 seconds at f/11 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
As it drew closer to the morning, the land started to brighten and one of the last images revealed more of the scenery.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 238 seconds at f/11 on ISO 1000
Since the floods, I have been eager to drive up Highway 66 which runs in and out of the valleys where the Elbow River unwinds out of the mountains. A few weeks ago, the road reopened and I have been back into this quieter side of Kananaskis Country a couple of times since. On the first trip I went straight to Elbow Falls to see what remained. Rumours through June and July ranged from the Elbow Falls being reduced to a set of rapids through to vast swathes of land disappearing, replaced by river rock spread over the lost forest area. The former is not true – the falls remain, as seen in the image here from that first visit after the floods, and are still beautiful. The latter is very true in many places – many favourite spots, including the winding river path above the falls, have been drastically reshaped.
After flying into the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park by float plane in the early afternoon, we moved all of our gear onto the Sun Chaser which was our base of operations for the four days spent in the inlet. The captain, Dan Wakeman, sailed us east towards the end of the inlet for a couple of miles and then weighed anchor in a beautiful little cove. We set up for shooting and hopped into Dan’s inflatable zodiac boat to look for bears. Earlier we had passed a river and watched a dark coloured Grizzly slip into the shadows of the rainforest. Now on a more mobile vessel, with shallow draft and a strong outboard, we headed back and went upriver about one hundred metres to see if the bear had lingered in the area. It did not reappear and we soon headed down to the estuary and the main river flowing out of the mountains there. We waited and watched but found no bears on that first visit to the head of the valley. I didn’t mind, the scenery was beautiful and I enjoyed building a familiarity with the land. Dan has spent the non-winter months of each of the last 35 years in the Khutzeymateen and it was a great to soak up some of the knowledge he freely shared as we trolled around and watched for wildlife. We headed back to the Sun Chaser and spotted a female Grizzly who was picking dead salmon out of the sedge grass. They get caught in there during the high tide when the meadows are covered and having spawned do not have the energy to untangle themselves.
With the Grizzly finishing off a fish, Dan introduced her as Blondie. As I mentioned in an earlier post, she had been blonde as a cub and a few long tufts of hair behind her ears had stayed with her into adulthood. She hunted in the grass for a bit longer and then went fishing in the river. She splashed around a bit but pretty quickly headed to the grassy field on the far side and resumed looking for salmon there.
She paused frequently to smell the air. Lifting her nose up and looking around it seemed likely there was another bear in that area, perhaps the dark bear seen earlier. She was wary and Dan was not surprised when she pointed east and left the grass for the slippery rocks exposed during low tide. She was heading for the estuary where the majority of the salmon run and the hunting can be very productive for the bears.
With the full moon pushing and pulling water down the long Khutzeymateen Inlet, there was a difference of six metres between high tide and low tide. When the water was up, it came right to bottom branches of the trees on the edge of the rainforest. When it is low, many of the bears use the easier path along the exposed band of lichen and kelp covered rock to cover ground.
With rain now moving from a drizzle to a steady downpour, we settled into a rhythm with Blondie paralleling her as she walked and swam along the coastline. We moved with her for the better part of an hour. She disappeared into the forest in a couple of impassable spots and then re-emerged again. Twice she slipped into the water and paddled along that route for a while before making landfall and carrying on.
This was an incredible opportunity to watch a Grizzly bear move through her environment at her pace, undisturbed by us due to Dan’s understanding of this population and this specific animal. We met up with Blondie again a couple of days later and I will share that story in another post.
At the next meadow of sedge grass she pawed at the ground in a couple of places, sniffed at the air a couple of times and then walked into the trees to a trail that Dan has seen which leads to the estuary still a mile further down the inlet. We parted company and returned to the Sun Chaser for our own dinner.
From the deck of the sailboat that was home in the Khutzeymateen we spotted a mother and cub padding through the deep sedge grass during low tide. With the full moon, the change between high and low tides was over seven metres. The salmon that have spawned up the creeks, are little more than heartbeats when they float back down to the river mouth. When the water is high they often get caught in the sedge grass and are easy pickings for the clever bears who are in the know.
The cub played unaware we were watching for several minutes. When he did notice, he stared us down before trotting back to momma.
The mother stayed in the grass until the cub came up and growled and pawed at her.
After a while the cub turned his attention back to his mom. He trotted over and growled and pawed at her. He conned her into coming down to the beach and they ran around chasing each other.
It was a really special finish to a great first day in the Khutzeymateen. And more great moments were to come in the next two days I spent in the Khutzeymateen.
This summer has been very god for hawk watchers on the prairies around Calgary. To the west around the Springbank area I have spent a good number of afternoons watching mostly Swainson’s Hawks scouting over the fields.
This is a small set from a few of these encounters. I looking forward to a few more before fall comes and these fair-weather friends head south.
This hawk above was staring me down from her nest while I stopped briefly to see if her chick was looking out yet. On a separate visit, I saw the young one’s stare was equal to its mother’s.
Earlier in the summer, on the same day as my running fox encounter, I was watching a female hawk on this ranch entrance when its mate swooped down. When I saw the bird descending, as below, I thought it was attacking but it was getting closer for other reasons.
The hawk above had just finished a meal when I came by its perch on a fence near the airport. It preened for a while before launching for a higher viewing point. It stayed in the skeleton tree below before flying through the bare branches and gliding over the fields.
On one of the rainy mornings that I was out, this hawk flew alongside me for a few seconds which was really cool. When it crossed over to the driver’s side and banked back, I caught the nice image of the downstroke of his wings below.
I will be trading the opportunity to photograph these wonderful raptors for the wild residents of Prince Rupert’s coastal rainforest next week. I’m always excited about a return to the province I grew up in and especially when it is to visit a part of British Columbia that is new to me. We will see what opportunities present themselves starting tomorrow.
This fawn was in a shaded bend of a stream west of Bragg Creek. I noticed this little one’s mom in the middle of the stream first but the light stealing through the trees into this nook grabbed my attention. I watched for a minute and then the fawn stepped into the light and created a good photo op for me. It is very nice when wildlife helps to make the images that much better.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/8000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 800
After spending time with the Avocets on the northwest corner of Frank Lake, I turned my attention skyward and watched for the White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) who fly between the spots they like to fish and their nests in the tall reeds near the viewing cabin. The feathers on both sides of their wings shimmer when caught by sunlight and they have the long, down-curved bills inherent to the Ibis family of birds. I find them to be as beautiful as they are striking and unusual.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/4000th of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 2500
I had only seen them from a distance previously as their nests are far from the shoreline that is accessible (I’ve heard of some people stalking through the reeds towards these nests but that’s nothing I’m interested in doing given the potential for damage and disruption) and they were staying close to them on my last visit. This time around, there were several of these iridescent birds in flight overhead at any given moment.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/6400th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200
I set up near a small pond separated from the lake by reeds and grasses and had great opportunities to photograph these birds flying. In addition to being along the flight path of the Ibis, Double-crested Cormorants and Black-crowned Night-Herons were frequently seen highlight species.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/8000th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600
I saw a few Ibis carrying grasses and reeds as they flew towards the nesting area. Presumably, constant maintenance is required to keep the nest in good repair. I photographed one of these deliveries when the Ibis below flew relatively close by.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2500
After hanging out by the pond for a half an hour, a couple of shorebirds landed in the shallow water nearby. They flitted about and were joined by a few others at one point. The evening light was beautiful and I was very happy to have these little fellows to photograph against the bold patterns created by the stalks along the far side of the pond. About an hour later, I was really excited when two Ibis flew in and landed.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/250th of a second at f/8 on ISO 3200
They set to fishing right away and ended up staying for only five minutes or so. I’m not sure if they didn’t notice me when they flew in and when they did they took off. Or, they just decided to fish elsewhere. Whatever the case, it was really great to see them in another part of their environment.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1000th of a second at f/11 on ISO 3200
The little shorebirds came out from the reeds they had slipped into when the much larger Ibis came in. I spent the rest of the daylight photographing them, particularly the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) below, as they carried out their hunting duties before night took over.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1600th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 4000
We went to Radium on the weekend in search of bears. The dandelions are in bloom in the roadside fields along Highway 93 in the Kootenay National Park that runs west from the British Columbia – Alberta border. These flowers represent one of the first key crops that the bears can graze on.
The narrow valley that winds down to the Kootenay River is beautiful with dense forest, mountain streams and a couple of small lakes. The last 15 kilometers of the highway hides the yellow patches around corners and draws bears consistently at this time of the year. During our visit we came upon a few individual bears munching away. Most drivers stayed in their vehicles and were generally respectful of the bears. A few exceptions, but on this trip at least, not the worst behaviour that I’ve seen.
With the bears not threatened, it was fun to watch them snack away, able to concentrate on eating rather than worrying about people. This black bear settled right down which I took as an indication that he was relaxed.
Later on, in another field, I saw him scrunch up his nose at one point. We left and when we drove by later the bear had also moved on. I’m not sure if the wrinkled nose was a sign of discomfort with the people and cars or he simply wanted to get back into the woods.
I loved the confidence shown by this bear as it strode across the road to a new field. I worry about the traffic but the drivers on this day were patient and no one rushed the crossing. Hope to see more and more of that level of awareness.
I would have liked to have seen a momma with a couple of cubs. Maybe they found secluded dandelion patches to enjoy in private. The bear below took a minute to stare up the hill under the heavy rain. I did not hear or see anything that would have warranted an alert stare but the bear obviously did.
It was great to see these bears. I hope to get out there again before the flowers turn to seed and these animals disappear back into the woods.
Eared Grebes are a very cool bird. They look fantastic (especially the red eyes), are great divers and really show their personalities. I watched a group of eight that swam alone and in pairs on the marsh.
There were a couple of characters who squawked or bickered a little but mostly they all meandered around grabbing insects off the water, diving for things under it and paddling around.
I was watching these birds from the Ducks Unlimited blind on Frank Lake. They swam within a few yards many times and gave me a wonderful opportunity to observe them in good detail for over three hours.
It was a beautiful afternoon on the water and along with the Eared Grebes, I watched Western Grebes, Black-crowned Night Herons, White-faced Ibis, American Avocets, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Canada Geese. It was a great afternoon on a beautiful Prairie lake.
The Aurora Borealis lit up for a couple of hours last night so Jack and I were out until 5 AM watching the ribbons stripe the night sky. There were few clouds and it turned out to be a very enjoyable performance.
A few images from the same night can be seen at this post.
A Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) rests between calls in a bramble of willow catkins.
This coyote didn’t seem impressed with the storm that tore across the Foothills on the weekend. The front of the blizzard was pretty wet so when the temperature started to drop, everything built up a layer of ice. I suppose this creature didn’t feel like trotting around with the extra weight, and the blinding snow, so it laid down and burrowed in. It was resolute to stay put and only watched me as I set up my camera and lens for this picture. Most coyotes will perk their ears so I wondered if this one may have been injured or sick. However, I went by a couple of hours later and the coyote had moved on. The storm was still raging so maybe dinner had called her to action. When I’d seen her earlier, I thought she might not leave until the weather improved considerably.
From a small pond in Granville Island where a light rain was falling. The circular ripples created by the raindrops hitting the water distorted the reflections of trees above.