I have been trying to capture this image for a long time. With the familiarity I’ve been lucky to establish with the Great Gray Owl pair in West Bragg Creek this year, they will often hunt near to where I am set up. On the weekend, one of the owls flew towards me and made a couple of dives from the post he landed on a few yards away. The stars aligned on one of these attacks and I froze him just before he disappeared into the knee-high grass.
It always exciting when I come across a new creature for the first time. On the weekend, while photographing two beautiful owls, I had my first encounter with a Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis). I’m used to seeing Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers frequently around Bragg Creek but the distinctive red patches sent me looking through my bird book to identify this new (to me) species. We are on the northwest edge of their summer range but they are apparently quite conspicuous so I must have missed them previously.
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When one of the owls flew to a fence post near a stand of trees, it disturbed this small woodpecker. The little bird started chittering away and ended up flying out of the tree above the owl and landing on a post in front of me. He settled down and took a minute to scratch the feathers on his nape before heading across the meadow. It didn’t bother the owl in the least but I really enjoyed the short visit.
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A hazy sky created deep, rich hues in the rising sun and the morning sky. A beautiful scene to watch unfold as the day grew but it was a small silver lining to forest fires burning across the province right now responsible for the haze. While we haven’t had forest fires around Bragg Creek and Kananaskis so far this summer, there are ten fires in Alberta currently. Most are being held or are under control presently with only one reported as being out of control. It is a testament to people involved in fighting these fires and a reminder of our place in this natural cycle that allows for rebirth.
While watching a Great Gray Owl hunting in the morning, this young White-tailed Deer entered the field and wandered around for the better part of an hour. It saw me and the owl but was not particularly interested in either of us. Preferring to devote its attention to finding the best grass shoots and dandelion stems.
A little earlier, I came across another White-tail in a forested meadow. This young stag was head down eating when I noticed him but then lifted his head and gave me a beautiful look before I left.
The Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) rule the Khutzeymateen Inlet without challenge. In June, the boars roam the fields of sedge grass and the creeks that drain out of the mountains looking for females to court. The males are the kings but the mothers are the not only the queens, they are the heart and spirit of this land. With their cubs there is a tenderness and caring that is plain to see and wonderful to watch.
This mother and cub spent a couple of days along the beach near where we moored the sailboat and we were able to watch them for many hours. Here, they both looked up when a noise behind us drew their attention. A great mother raising a beautiful cub.
Bobbi and I just returned from the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary where Dan and Sandy hosted us aboard the Sun Chaser sailboat and we spent many hours looking for, finding, photographing, discussing and dreaming about Grizzlies. It was a magical experience and I have had little time to look at any images so far.
That said, this image of a cub resting on a rock is already a favorite of mine. Mom brought this two-year old down to the beach in the bay where Dan enjoys anchoring several times. They were both very relaxed about our presence, with the elder concerned only about Grizzly boars coming out of the forest edge. Her back was often to our little raft scanning the tree line as she ate the sedge grass. Meanwhile the cub, free from much – though not all – of this worry, watched us in-between explorations nearby, feasting on vegetation and mewling for milk.
Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 99mm: 1/100oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 400
We had a great afternoon in Prince Rupert today. The marina in Cow Bay was busy with boats of many different stripes coming and going throughout the day. Seals popped up amongst the boats looking for scraps from the fishermen – a quick snack between meals. While several Bald Eagles flew by overhead looking for a similar handout. One group cleaned and divided up several large Halibut on one of the tables on the dock. This drew in the seals and one eagle. The seals made out quite well and at the end, a chunk of fish was left beside the table for the eagle.
Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 105mm: 1/250oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1000
It swooped down from its piling, grabbed the fish and then flew off to eat. I was watching from across the marina on a wharf. When the eagle left the dock, it flew towards the wharf and flew right under me as it headed away. A good start to the weekend.
Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm lens at 70mm: 1/40oth of a second on f/4 and ISO 1000
The loons have been back for a few weeks, their distinctive calls echoing across many of the lakes and ponds around Bragg Creek and the neighbouring Kananaskis Country. I have had a couple of nice morning and evening encounters with them and am now looking forward to photographing the chicks.
Bobbi and I are off to the Khutzeymateen to catch up with the bears that I met last fall. They are up from their hibernation and the cubs will be out to play while the mothers stay wary of the boars who are looking to couple up. It will be an exciting trip and I’m so happy Bobbi is able to join me this time around. When we get back, I will be out looking for the loons and their babies.
A Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) launches over the fields near the town of Turner Valley in Alberta, Canada.
This owl caught sight of something from a branch above the grass and silently launched. It glided past me and then dropped into the tall grass – flying away with a mouse in its beak shortly thereafter.
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.
When this Red-tailed hawk launched off the post I had been watching him on for a few minutes, I was really impressed by the power and balance displayed. He flew closer and then went to the ground after circling back towards the fenceline. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an attacking dive only an uninspired landing in the tall grass.
I was on the edge of the lake at Wild Rose a week ago watching the three loons who were diving in and swimming on the water. A few different times a small flight of swallows deftly skimmed the water nearby while searching for low flying and water-walking insects to pick off. These Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are swift, acrobatic fliers so trying to catch a sharp image is a fun challenge. This little one had just hit the water but missed the little creature and was just pulling up when I caught up to him.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/160 second at f/8 on ISO 1600
The beavers that live beside the lake at Wild Rose are back to their busy ways now that the water is ice-free. The other night I watched one swimming along the shoreline and around its lodge. It was a beautiful evening with warm sunshine and clear skies.
Although Fernie is in the heart of the Rockies, it is deeper into spring than Calgary so the visit there over the Easter weekend was great. Robins have always been a sure sign of spring for me and I found a few hunting in a field during the rain. This one was particularly beautiful as it chirped away from its perch in a tree by the Elk River.
Canon 5D III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/200 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
This squirrel has been a resident in the trees behind our house for five years. He’s feisty and acts like the backyard, our deck and everywhere else he travels is under his dominion. In this encounter I had my feet up on the railing and he squared off staring at me. It became pretty clear that he was impatiently waiting for me to put my feet down so he could pass. I obliged, but snapped off a couple of frames before removing the barricade. He chirped as he ran by and kept up the chatter as he climbed up a tree. I thought a simple thank you would have sufficed!
A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring. I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed. I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket. It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.
On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years. I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.
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.
When my wife and I went to Cabo San Lucas last December I was lucky to find this Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) in a stand of cacti during a morning walk. I had noticed the hole in this cactus and was looking on when this one flew in. It poked its head out a couple of times before heading off again. I carried on and saw it flying around a couple more times when I came back that way near the end of my stroll.
I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend for the sunrise but I stayed for the American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus).
I love watching these aquatically adept birds stalking, diving and swimming in the middle of the rapids. On the last visit to the waterfall, there were three Dippers flitting about moving between the bottom of the waterfall and the rocks at the top.
They chased each other down river a couple of times but spent most of their time fishing alone. On a quiet morning in Kananaskis, it was nice to spend my time watching them.
One of our resident woodpeckers was drumming away for a good part of the afternoon a few days ago. Several Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have wintered near our home this year.
The long bill of the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was put to good use by this fellow. He used it to his advantage pecking away at the bark. I’m not sure if it was idle practice or if, despite the cool temperatures, there were insects to be had.
With warmer temperatures coming back this weekend, I hope to see them out pecking again.