Posts tagged “nature photography

Enjoying winter with the chickadees

Black-capped Chickadee in sunlight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

After a nice break over Christmas where I was outside playing with my kids and walking along the river, I’m enjoying winter now.  Following one of the cold snaps, the chickadees that visit our backyard seemed happy to be flying around in the -5°C weather after -30°C the day before.  They were flitting back and forth between the feeder and the tree beside our second floor deck which allowed me to practice capturing their launches off of the evergreen branches.

Chickadee flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin
The mid-flight images were not successful in the least (not shown – nothing worthwhile…) but I’m trying different strategies as me and auto focus are not quick enough to track their small bodies in their darting, quick flight movements.  For now, I was happy to spend some time with these little birds in my backyard while the sun drifted in and out of the clouds.

Wings up - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

One-eyed Chickadee - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Flight preparation - 2013 © Christopher Martin


On the rocks with a Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican Launch - © Christopher Martin-5810

Brown Pelicans are frequent fliers just above the waves all around Los Cabos.  I love watching them glide and I had a special encounter one morning when we were staying near Cabo San Lucas in December.  Just before sunrise down on the beach near Punta Cabeza De Ballena, east of Cabo, when one landed on rocks near the shore close to me.  This pelican came in when it was still pretty dark but there was enough light to make the landing a good photo opportunity.

Pre-dawn flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin-Landing run - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the two images above, I brought out some detail by bringing up the shadows in post.  Below, I went the other way and deepened the shadows to create a solid silhouette of the pelican.

2013 © Christopher Martin

This fellow flew off before the sun came up.  I had hoped he would stay as the sun was at an angle where the sun would be backlighting the feathers which I thought would look beautiful.

Pre-dawn launch - 2013 © Christopher MartinEven though he left a bit early for me, it was great when it flew close to the waves in between the rocks and the crests of the waves as it passed me by.

Brown Pelican's sea flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

As the sun came up so too did the tide.  The waves were breaking around the rocks where the pelican had rested which looked beautiful.  I was really happy when another pelican came in and landed very close to the original one’s spot.  With the sun and sea spray, it was a great scene to photograph.  The first image in this set was from this point in the morning.

Brown Pelican in black and white - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Brown Pelican observations- © Christopher Martin-Air drying - 2013 © Christopher Martin-
Brown Pelican Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The second pelican stayed for a little while and then took off allowing for a nice launch photograph and then headed over the waves in the opposite direction from the first pelican.

Water flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 


Beak to talon

Beak to talon - 2013 © Christopher Martin

There was one additional encounter with a Bald eagle in the Khutzeymateen that I really enjoyed.  The rain cleared on the evening of the second day and the weather was beautiful on the morning of the third day.  We were crossing the inlet heading towards the side where the sun had just reached down the mountains to the shoreline.  An eagle was lit beautifully as it perched on a rock exposed during low tide.

River guardian - 2013 © Christopher Martin

At first I thought it was watching the seagulls at the mouth of the creek it was perched beside.  We watched it for a while as it surveyed its dominion.  It seemed in no rush to join the fray as the gulls jostled for scraps of fish that floated downstream from a bear working on the salmon up in the creek hidden in the forest.

Rocky perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When it took flight clutching the tail end of a salmon in its beak that it had pulled out of a little nook, I realized it had been pausing between feasts.  Watching it pass right in front of our boat, I had a few good images.  When it started to climb off the water, it passed the fish from to its talons, presumably allowing for more comfortable flight.

Sushi to go - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Under the radar - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A raptor in profile - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I loved the light and the sense of place in the flight images.  When the eagle passed the fish back, it was the defining moment of the encounter for me.


Eagles in the Khutzeymateen

Vertical aspirations - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Grizzly bears are the kings of the Khutzeymateen’s wildlife.  In the air, the eagles hold a similar position among the birds along the ten mile inlet.  Most were Bald eagles but a few Golden eagles were also in residence to enjoy the salmon runs that were in full swing.

A golden perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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In the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Constant adversaries on the prairies, eagles and ravens, were occasionally found chasing one or the other around the towering pines.

Catch me if you can - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Often adolescents were dining on the fish in the creeks alongside the seagulls.  That may have been much less trouble than jousting with their elders for the prime fishing locations at the mouth of the estuary.

An avian beachgoer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Beach picking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the heavy rain would roll down the valley, most of the eagles would weather it in the open on a raised perch of one type or another.  They probably don’t care too much about it but on the first two days where there were few breaks in the downpour, I thought there must be at least a few that hunted around for shelter.  I didn’t find them but the exposed raptors provided a good subject when the bears were not to be found.

Waiting out the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the rain did stop, the wings were unfolded to air dry and the daily activities resumed.

Drying out after the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Aerial curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Photographing the eagles throughout the trip into the Khutzeymateen was one of the collective highlights.  I’m fortunate to see them occasionally on the prairies but it was a real pleasure to be able to watch them along the coastline and up in the tops of the rainforest.

Eagles in the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Seals in the Khutzeymateen

A curious friend - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Living in Alberta, I do not get to photograph seals very often.  When I spent a couple of days in the Khutzeymateen, Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were often nearby and I was really taken by their curiosity and the challenge of getting good images of them.  Some seals I’ve been around will lounge close-by but not do too much.  These ones were wary but it seemed like their interest in seeing who was about and what we were up to drew them in.  When I say nearby usually that meant no closer than a hundred metres or so – long lenses were quite handy here.

I see you - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Whiskers - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The challenge came that the seals in the inlet would usually pop their heads out for a second and then submerge again only to resurface in a different spot.  While waiting for bears, it became a game trying to anticipate where these creatures would come up next.   Usually, I would see them a long ways off and then they would go under and come up a few seconds later much further away.

A distant onlooker - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A notable exception to this behaviour was when they would float upside down at the surface!

Upside-down seal - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was a strange sight and I was glad that our captain had an explanation for this behaviour: they watch the fish from the high vantage point.  Remaining pretty motionless, the fish come pretty close and the seals can then lunge after them.  It would be incredible to be underwater and photograph that action.  Maybe next year!

A float in the marina - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When I returned to Prince Rupert I was eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, Breakers Pub (great food and friendly staff), when a couple of seals swam into the marina.  The deck is perched on the rocks above the marina so I had a great view of them swimming around.  It was the first time that trip that I was able to see and photograph their entire body.  The light was a bit harsh but a polarizer cut the reflection off the water.  I was told by our waitress that these three seals had been frequent visitors to the marina for a couple of months so they didn’t duck and surface like their cousins in the Khutzeymateen.


Seagulls in the Khutzeymateen

Khutzeymateen gull in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Though named for its bears, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary shelters a great variety of other wildlife as well.  Seagulls abound in the inlet with several different species mixing in with any one of the flocks.

Symmetry - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With the salmon running up the creeks to spawn, the bears would go into the forest where the water is shallow for easy hunting.  When a bear is feeding upstream, seagulls soon arrive at the river mouth and wait for the scraps.

A sentry for scraps - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Waiting for the bears to feast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Bears are pretty messy when they are feasting on salmon so a lot of bits float down.  The birds hang in the air and perch along the banks watching for the bright red meat in the water.

A morsel of salmon caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The aerial acrobatics as they angle for position, dive for scraps, hold their territory and generally heckle one another are a lot of fun to watch.  The small streams keep the birds packed into a little area which allows for great photography as they fly in the same locations repeatedly.  Even with big lenses, it is relatively easy to track them as they fly up and down, back and forth.

Aerial surveillance - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the sail out of the inlet, a few seagulls were using a stick of driftwood as there base of operations.  I don’t know if they were on a break from the salmon or if the insects along the surface were more enticing.

Adrift in the inlet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

Whether on the rivers or out on the open water, I enjoyed photographing these birds throughout my time in the Khutzeymateen.


Video

Beaver’s Branch

Beaver's branch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

There were two beavers working at Wild Rose yesterday.  My daughter was thrilled to see them swimming around.  She had never seen one before so two was double perfect in her words.  This one was working hard ferrying tree branches back to their lodge.


Robins in the bath

One eye open - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) which have lived in the trees behind our house for through the warm months have a habit of bathing in our little pond regularly.

Prepping for bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the summer, they seem to prefer washing up in the morning whereas in the cooler days of spring and now in autumn, they visit in closer to noon.  The other day the pond seemed more like an airport as there were eight Robins along with several Black-capped chickadees and a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) flying around.

A Northern Flicker resting in the backyard - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).

Waiting in turn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.

Bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Their enthusiasm when splashing water around with their wings is a great photography subject and high shutter speeds can freeze the action at interesting moments.

Flying drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I expect they will be leaving soon and will return next year as the harbingers of spring in late May a couple of weeks before spring has subdued winter.


An owl in the trees

Flying in the trees - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 6400

Earlier, before I waited with the Great Blue Heron for a decent part of the morning, a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunted along one of my favourite Bragg Creek backroads.  I had parked my car, slung my tripod over the shoulder and headed down the road trying to listen for sights and sounds in the trees bordering the gravel.  The owl swooped in front of me, flying near eye level a few metres away.

Note: please click on any image if you would like to see a larger version

A phantom in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

I hadn’t noticed it before the flyby but my attention was held for the next twenty minutes before it dissolved into the forest gain.  During that time, the bird alternately perched, then flew, then perched again.

Hanging out in the sticks - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens (at 105mm): 1/200th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

It kept eyes on the ground from the boughs and fence posts.  When it flew it was on a line to something scurrying in the grass that was invisible to me.  Twice the owl hovered over a spot briefly which was really interesting to watch.

Morning hunt - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

The owl’s wing motion to stay in relatively the same spot was new to me which was great.

Hovering in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000


Great Blue Heron Reflected

A Heron's flight reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I went to the small lake in Wild Rose on the weekend to see whether the cooler weather of the past week had scared off the pair of Great Blue Herons who summer there.  The shoreline was empty and I thought the lake had been left by these large birds until next year.  I turned my attention to the small island in the middle of the lake.  Under a stand of mixed trees at the far end one heron was standing a few metres back from the water’s edge.

Wild Rose High Four - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It stared my way for a few minutes and then resumed its previous activity – perched on one leg, standing motionless except for the occasional pull at a stray feather or similar grooming habit.  When a noise drew its attention it would stare for a bit and then continue.  I loved the colours in the bushes along the shoreline and their soft reflections.  I hoped to see the heron fly low against this backdrop so I waited.  And waited.

Great Blue Heron reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Somewhere close to an hour later it finally stretched out its wings, stepped close to the water and took to the air.  It was worth the wait.  Flying low, the feet dragged in the water a couple of times as it crossed the lake.  I love watching Great Blue Herons fly, their wings are so large that it seems like they are barely putting in any effort when they fly yet they move at a good pace.

Slicing the surface - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The heron checked its flight as it arrived on the other side and started walking along the shallows.  I watched it stalk fish for a while and then I headed home to warm up.  I think it will be heading south soon.

Checked flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Fishing in the shallows - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Anything but common


Into the air - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A great variety of wildlife shares the Khutzeymateen Inlet with the Grizzly Bears.  With coastal wolves and orcas being more elusive during my trip, any disappointment vanished in the face of the diversity of birds on hand or around just about any corner.  Several types of gulls would congregate at the mouth of creeks where bears were catching fish upstream.  The loose bits floating down drew them in for an easy meal.  Eagles, both Bald and Golden, surveyed the waters from perches in the towering cedars lining the bays.

Black water landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One bird which consistently captured my attention was the Common Merganser (Mergus merganser).  They gathered in small flushes on open water and in the wide estuary at the end of the inlet.

Female Common Mergansers perched - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When they take flight, they step along the water once they get airborne and remain low with their wingtips occasionally dipping into the water as they fly along.

High stepping in the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Wing dip - 2013 © Christopher Martin

This activity was great fun to watch and photograph while waiting for some of the more celebrated wildlife to visit.  I didn’t mind the waiting at all.

Long steps to takeoff - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Flight and reflection - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Landscapes in the Khutzeymateen

Into the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Justifiably, the Grizzly bears I spent time watching in the Khutzeymateen cast a long shadow and much of my time there and since returning has been spent thinking about them.  I have to say that even if I had seen no wildlife, the scenery in the Khutzeymateen is brilliant and I would have been able to fill my memory cards with landscape imagery.

Shade and sun fight in the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Trapped in the ridges - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The inlet is relatively narrow, running roughly a mile wide for most of its length.  The mountains rise steeply up from the water, blanketed in most places with dense rainforest.  The trees are broken up by chutes, large and otherwise, where the snow has conspired to avalanche and by areas where the barren rock has prohibited the forest’s advance.

Rainforest silhouettes - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Forest in mist - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Throughout the day, chains of mist evolve across the mountainsides.  Whether under a leaden sky or in bright, open sunshine, these ethereal cousins to clouds continue unabated.  It was a true pleasure to just relax and watch them travel past.  While looking for the valley’s wildlife, I enjoyed picking out details along the coast as we motored past in the little zodiac boat.

A spontaneous creek - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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The edge of coastal forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Berries in the wilds - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the second to last afternoon, the rain abated and the sun lit up the valley a little before night stepped in.  It whispered of great weather and that held true for the next couple of days.

Lighting smoke - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Into night in the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

We sailed a few miles westwards towards the mouth of the inlet on the last evening.  The light was warm, so was the air – a nice time to photograph off the bow.

2013 © Christopher Martin

That night, the moon was full and when it cleared the ridge above the cove, it was a beautiful scene to behold.

Blue Moon rising over the Khutzeymateen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The last morning, dawn was spectacular.

Dawn on the water in the Khutzeymateen Inlet - 2013 © Christopher Martin


A Heron’s Flyby

A Heron's flyby - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the last evening in the Khutzeymateen, we pulled up the anchor and cruised halfway westward down the inlet.  It felt like I was going in the wrong direction as we sailed away from this home of the bears.  We sheltered in a cove about halfway down the ten-mile inlet for the night and enjoyed a quick zodiac ride around this new area.  There were a few seals who popped their heads out of the water to watch us as we puttered along the shoreline.

A curious friend - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Ahead of dinner, I pulled up chair on the bow and enjoyed watching the day slide away.  I had noticed some birds on the shore but they were a long distance from our location so I did not keep too sharp an eye on them.  Until, one of the larger birds took to the air and made a direct line for the sailboat.  Swiftly closing the distance between us, I realized this cove resident to be Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

Coming for a visit? - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Herons are a favourite bird of mine.  I love how they fly, huge wings tracing out powerful beats while their necks hold their heads back in a seemingly laid back manner.  I see them frequently whether I’m on a lake in the mountains, near a marsh on the prairies or, luckily, on a boat in one of the most wonderful places I have ever been.

Downstroke - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Drawing near, it was clear he was curious who was staying over that night and he had decided to complete a flyby to check us out.  He flew within a couple of metres of my head, banked over the stern and flew back to the beach.  Apparently we had not raised any ire as all of the birds continued with their activities along the water before nightfall.

Passing by - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Although I have spent a lot of time watching Great Blue Herons, I have never had one circle directly around me.  I liked being their almost at his approval.  Romantically, I thought of it as an acceptance of us being in this wild place for a few days.  It was a gift to be able to end the last night with this highlight.


Among the clouds at Wedge Pond

Moutn Kidd cloaked - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I was up in Kananaskis a few days ago to explore the recently opened stretch of Highway 40 up to the Highwood Pass.  Leaving home in the dark, I arrived at Wedge Pond just as light was creeping into the eastern edge of the sky.

Peeking at the peaks of Mount Kidd - 2013 © Christopher Martin

We had several days of rain preceding this visit so I was unsure what the weather would be like in the mountains.  The reports called for partly sunny with showers.  From experience, that can mean anything from empty blue skies to heavy, wet gray clouds.  I don’t mind either so I was happy to head up and find out.  That morning the mist was swirling above the pond and rising up to meet the low hanging clouds that were stuffed into the valley.  I trotted down to the water’s edge and moved along keeping an eye on Mount Kidd.  The mountain catches the early pre-dawn Alpen glow and can be spectacular right through sunrise.  The view over Wedge and up to Kidd whispered of something good that might come and I was happy to move around, watching and waiting.

Sunrise at Wedge Pond - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Dawn along the shore - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Seven minutes later, pink light was hitting a few of the higher clouds.  The lower clouds were breaking up and it seemed like a clear view of the mountain was coming forward.

Dawn sneaks a look down at Wedge Pond - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It didn’t – the clean view was swallowed up by the clouds as the rich colours on Mount Kidd came in.  I didn’t mind at all as a few fleeting openings afforded beautiful views of one or two of the peaks for the next couple of minutes.

Morning in the mountains - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I have not had such a dynamic encounter with the weather up at Wedge Pond and I had a great time.  It was fun to play around with the moodiness under the clouds balanced (and thrown out of balance) with the sunrise opening above.  I’m enjoying the late resurgence of summer we are enjoying but I found myself looking forward to the fall colours that always look so wonderful in this special place.  I will be there and would be very happy if these clouds returned then too.


Strolling in the Khutzeymateen

2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

After having photographed the Grizzly bear named Blondie on the first day in the Khutzeymateen, we met up with her again on two separate occasions.  Here she was at the mouth of the main river in the estuary.  She had been in the water just before and the droplets were still shaking loose as she stepped across the sand.  She noticed us right away but showed little interest and kept on her hunt for fish.

In the estuary - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2500th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

She had swum around the grassy sandbar we were moored beside and carried on around another bend a few minutes later.

On the river - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 800


A Grizzly on the move

Blondie's bear stare - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Finishing off dinner - 2013 © Christopher Martin
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.

River crossing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

An easier path to the estuary - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Bear claws - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

You should be swimming too - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Along the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Along the shoreline - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Bear hurdles - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


A secluded waterfall in Kananaskis

 

A quiet place - 2013 © Christopher Martin-7750

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 17mm: 2 seconds at f/22 on ISO 200

I have spent a fair bit of time hiking and travelling around Kananaskis Country.  That said, I have only seen a small amount of its beautiful landscape.  It is always wonderful to find a new place.  On the weekend, I was revisiting a few favourite spots that I had not been able to see since the flood.  Along the drive between two such spots, up Highway 66, the morning mists and fog were slowly rising up in the warming air in a small meadow I have passed by many times but never explored.  I stopped this time for a few minutes to photograph the light and shadows playing with one another.  There was a roar of water nearby but it was hidden deeper into the forest and I had another spot on my mind so I headed on.

Forest morning - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0428

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 81mm: 1/400th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400

Morning sunlight - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0342

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens at 135mm: 1/200th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400

On my return past the same place an hour later, I pulled off and set out for a little exploration.  I found a trail that led down from the meadow and into the woods.  Following that for a few minutes, I walked up to the top of this small waterfall.  It was the source of the roaring heard earlier.  The water drops only a few metres but it falls into a narrow bowl of rock which intensifies the sound significantly.

2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 17mm: 6 seconds at f/22 on ISO 50

A bit of mountain goating saw me step and then jump down into the bowl.  Water vapour was heavy in the air which played a little havoc with the front of my lens but it was nothing a couple of cloths couldn’t handle over the time I was down there.  I stayed for more than an hour – at one point just sitting down and enjoying this wonderful little place.

Over the rocks and through the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-7599

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 23mm: 5 seconds at f/22 on ISO 50

The stream is only a metre wide above and below the falls.  At the base, the pool opens up to a few metres across.  There were some signs of recent high water activity but it seems the flow was not enough to damage the trees and bushes that overhang the channel.

Downstream - © Christopher Martin-7731

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 19mm: 2 seconds at f/16 on ISO 50

I believe this stream falls into the Elbow River but I’m not sure if it, or this waterfall, have their own names.  I have to find out from a few of the locals who know Kananaskis Country in a way I hope to some day far down my path.

River rock abstraction - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens at 39mm: 5 seconds at f/22 on ISO 200

So, for me at least, this waterfall remains unnamed.  In truth, I like it that way for now.  I really enjoyed that narrow wedge of rock and water below the forest and will be returning there soon.


A few of Frank Lake’s Avocets

Wave runner - 2013 © Christopher Martin-9644

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2500th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I have fallen in love with American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) this year.  These birds are beautiful and I enjoy watching them high step in the shallow water as they fish for insects and small crustaceans.  Following the floods, which devastated nearby High River, I went down to Frank Lake – curious to learn how the wildlife that summers there had fared.  I was very happy to see masses of birds in their respective nesting areas and flying overhead.  I can’t say the lake wasn’t impacted but its residents appeared to be doing well.

Water drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/3200th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I found a small colony of Avocets dispersed over a couple of hundred metres of shoreline west of the viewing blind on the lake.  They were fishing close to the sand and within a couple of minutes of my arrival had drifted quite close apparently unconcerned with my presence.   I settled in and spent most of the next hour following their activity on the water.

Curious? - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Seeing them fight over fishing territory is exciting as well.  When one of the Avocets drifted past an invisible line, its neighbour would race across the water to confront the offender.  It occurred only a couple of times while I watched them but the flurry of activity had my camera clicking and my attention captured.  Usually one ends up running away but on one occasion the defender felt the need to take to the air and truly chase the other one away.  Below, the chaser is falling back to the water while the other Avocet carried on several metres further along.

The end of a territorial dispute - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/500th of a second at f/11 on ISO 1600

The landing was nice as it banked slightly just above the water which created the opportunity for a dynamic image.

Reching for the landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/320th of a second at f/11 on ISO 1600

Most of the time was spent watching the repetition of their stalk, pause, dip, sweep and catch cycle.

Water rolls - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

It seemed to go by quickly as enjoyable things often do.

Caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2500th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600


A grizzly bear grazing and running in Kananaskis

One gorgeous blonde grizzly bear - © Christopher Martin-0061-2

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

Note: For this first image, I removed the wireless transmitter in the bear’s left ear which you will see in the subsequent images.  I don’t normally remove tags and such but this bear was so beautiful I had to share an image where the distracting antenna was erased.

On the weekend I drove along Highway 40 into Kananaskis Country where I had planned to head up to the Highwood Pass to see about the bighorn sheep that herd up there at this time of the year.  That did not happen as #40 is closed past the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park junction due to damage from the flood.  I was turning around at the gate to head down into the provincial park when I noticed a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) shuffling through the grass just off the road.

Heading downhill - 2013 © Christopher Martin-9975

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/2000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 800

This was one of the most beautiful grizzlies that I have ever seen.  A young brown bear that I would guess is three or four years old, with a lovely blonde coat and an energetic bounce in her step.  I believe the bear was a female although I could not confirm gender conclusively.  I was reminded of a pair of blonde cubs I photographed in the fall of 2011 about five miles away from here.  However, I cannot say whether this was one of these two bears as neither were tagged then and I did not find any references online to her tag number.

Bear lick - © Christopher Martin-0082

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

She was busying herself digging up rocks and snacking on what was found underneath.  Amid the tall grass, I did not get a clean look at what she was eating but I assume it was mostly insects.  She appeared to have little interest in the wildflowers surrounding her, as I only saw her stop to lick a few of the blossoms, but I loved having these colours to frame her with!

Run Bear Run - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0115

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

After about 15 minutes watching her from the far side of the road (being able to stay far away but photograph closeup is one of the nice benefits of long lenses), she started moving uphill and I thought she would head off shortly.  As it came to pass, that was hastened along only a few minutes later.  I had been the only person watching the bear at first but within 10 minutes there were a couple of other cars that had stopped too.  I was happy to see everyone stay in their vehicles and give the bear space.  We all watched for a while, then a couple more cars showed up so I pulled away from the gate, crossed the road, drove about 200m past the bear and stopped to have a last look.  Shortly afterwards, a conservation officer pulled up.  I was curious to see how he would approach this situation so I waited for a bit.  He stayed in his truck for a few minutes and then decided that was enough bear watching.  He stepped out with a shotgun in hand and fired a couple of bear banger shells while yelling at the bear to get going.  Startled by the loud noise – it did.

Galloping Grizzly - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

Banff National Park’s officers handle bears a bit different from what I have seen, and in a manner that I prefer, in that they usually do not interfere with bears unless people are being stupid or the bears show an interest in the people watching.  In my opinion, neither was true at that time.  However, this officer probably knows this bear by sight and he is there almost every day so I have to trust that he made the call as he deemed appropriate.  I would have liked to seen him take a little more time to let the bear continue, and potentially finish, grazing but keeping a bear from becoming habituated to humans is a thin tightrope to walk on.  It is easy for those watching to think they could do better.

A little high stepping - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0127

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1600th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

Nonetheless, with the first loud noise, the bear sprinted halfway up the hill before slowing down and glancing back at the officer.

Glancing back - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0133

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600

With the second shot, she galloped further up and kept on towards the edge of the forest.  I  thought of the running fox that I photographed last month as I watched the bear run – though spurred on by different antagonists, they both can move very fast.  Seeing how much of the meadow it covered when it was sprinting, I was reminded just how quick, deceptively quick, these massive animals can move.   With the bear moving into the woods, I headed onwards.

Back to the woods - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0138

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 1600


Mornings with loons

A Loon's stretch 2013 © Christopher Martin-0305

The small lake surrounded by the Wild Rose Estates west of Bragg Creek is a very nice place to watch wildlife.  I often find Great Blue Herons, eagles, geese and osprey plying their various trades in or around the water.  One of my favourite visitors to the pond are Common Loons (Gavia immer).  Occasionally I will see up to four of them swimming and diving.  However, it is usually one couple who comes back in the spring, who then disappear for a couple of months and then return in late summer for a while before migrating on.  They do not nest on this lake so I assume they disappear while they are nesting and raising chicks.  When they return, that is when I usually see three or four loons together.  The fishing at Wild Rose must be worthwhile.

On the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0307


A Warbler in the Weaselhead

Yellow Warbler - 2013 © Christopher Martin

About a half an hour after watching the Goldeneyes on the Elbow River at the Weaselhead delta, I had trekked along a path overhung with very wet branches.  I was soaked through but heard some bird chatter in a clearing.  And soon caught sight of a pair of Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia) flitting through the trees.  The male was reclusive, staying hidden inside the bushes, but the female was a little less so.

Wily Weaselhead Warbler - 2013 © Christopher Martin

She moved fast and often but seemed a little bit curious which afforded a couple of opportunities.  It proved to be a challenge to pick her out cleanly against the foliage even with the bright yellow colouring.  But I thought she was beautiful so I watched her for another half an hour before continuing onwards to the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Yellow Warbler in the brambles - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Goldeneyes at Weaselhead

Three Common Goldeneyes - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I walked around Calgary’s Weaselhead Natural Environment Park this morning.  The park is where the Elbow River spreads out across the flats into a delta threaded with smaller streams that drain into the Glenmore Reservoir.  At the first bridge I crossed over, I noticed several female Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) floating around.  I watched them flying up to this nesting box gone slightly askew.  It seemed they may have enjoyed the view from this spot .

Leaving Peru - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When one would fly away it wouldn’t take long before a new duck stopped in.  It seemed like I could hear murmurings about possession being 9/10ths of the law.  However determination won a little longer rest on the perch for one of the Goldeneyes.  She held her ground, flapped the wings and the would-be usurper flew back down to the river.

Playing queen of the perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

These three ladies threw some interesting looks at me, each other and across the river.

A cadre of Goldeneyes - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Run Fox Run

Flying fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the weekend I was out early combing the prairies west of Cochrane, Alberta for wildlife.  The clouds were heavy from rain overnight and had only started to thin out at dawn.  I was driving northward along a hillside gravel road when I saw a couple of ravens explode out of a tree on the edge of the ditch just ahead of me.  Watching them fly in haphazard circles it seemed something had stirred them up.  In a break between a few of the trees, I caught a flash of something racing through the field away from the birds.  I was going 40 km/h when I looked at the speedometer and this creature was pulling away from me.  I sped up and realized I was alongside a Red Fox.  It was about a 100 metres from the fence dividing the field and was absolutely flying.

Full tilt - 2013 © Christopher Martin

For the few hundred metres that we traveled in parallel, we were going at 50 km/h.  Its stride was incredible – fast, powerful and efficient.  The back and tail were straight as an arrow and the legs were a blur as it hurtled along.  I have never witnessed an animal move so fast on the ground (I can’t imagine watching a Cheetah!)  My camera was in the passenger seat and my window was already down so I had to try to photograph this sublime athlete in motion.  There were three openings between the trees over the distance we covered together.  The last one had a small rise that the fox disappeared behind and the first one yielded six out of focus shots.  But, the middle gap was a little bigger and I was able to focus and capture three good frames.

Speeding across the prairie - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Before a fourth break in the trees, the fox veered downhill directly west across the green field.  This last image with it close came as I was slowing down and it was turning away.

Fox trot - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I stopped to watch it bound away.  That’s when I noticed that the ravens had been chasing the fox since they flushed out of their tree.  Probably it had come too close to their nest and the birds wanted to make sure it did not come back.  They banked with the fox when it turned and followed along across the field.  About a kilometre down they stopped the chase, circled higher for a minute and then glided back towards their tree.  When the chase ended the fox checked up beside a creek, grabbed a quick drink and then stared in my direction for a minute.

Ravens and a fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin

For its part, I don’t know if the fox grabbed an egg or a chick before being chased off but it seemed to have a contented look on its face to me.  With the remnants of a winter coat still wet from the rain and the rich colour on the face and flanks, I think this fox was a magnificent animal.  It was an amazing encounter that I could not have dared to imagine.

A rest for the fox - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Kootenay Black Bears

Stare down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Roadside bear - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Black bear down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Chowing down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Chewing or growling - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Bear Crossing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

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.

A regal animal - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

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.

One look back before returning to the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


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