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The party for my son’s sixth birthday was scheduled for last Sunday but a heavy blizzard blew in the night before and travel on the roads was treacherous. We postponed the party to save family from driving in the storm which left Kian quite sad for a little bit. Fortunately his friends who live nearby bundled up, came over and we all headed outside for some tobogganing on the little hill behind our house. Not much sledding happened as the gang decided a snowball fight was a better use of their energy and time.
With smile restored and spirits high, Kian had a great time playing and the rest of us followed his lead. Kezia helped me to return fire after the attack above but then turned her sights my way a few minutes later.
Her brother liked Kezia’s idea and joined in the attack too – Traitors! I was worried about a full mutiny but their attentions soon turned to other targets.
With a small crisis (though rather big to a young boy) averted, we ended up having a great day and Bobbi even arranged to have some cupcakes to finish off the birthday celebrations. Which Kian enjoyed blowing out a solitary candle on (three times as I had a couple of different images that I wanted to make in mind).
Lake Louise is a favourite place for my wife and I to visit in the Banff National Park. This weekend, with my parents taking care of the kids for a night, we went up and stayed on the lake’s eastern shore at the Chateau. The view across the ice up to the Victoria Glacier and the surrounding peaks was hidden by nightfall by the time we arrived so I was anxious for the morning to come. As it turned out, I may have slept right through sunrise, if Bobbi hadn’t looked outside just after 7 and woken me up. The black of night had given way to the dark shades of blue ahead of the dawn. I looked outside and then raced out of the door a few minutes later.
Winter at Lake Louise is magical. The Fairmont had an ice carving competition earlier this year and the sculptures fanned out between the hotel and the lake. At night, they are lit up as is the patriotic castle that is in the middle of the skating rink cleared out on the lake ice.
An ice castle is made every winter by the Chateau’s chefs from large blocks of ice. Nearby is a hockey rink and the trailhead for ski trails along the northern shoreline. Through the evening and again during the day, as it turned out, these drew many visitors who walked, skated and skied around. However at the time I went down to the lake, in the early but quickly brightening morning, there were only a few other people around.
Two people were playing around with hockey sticks and a puck while a couple of other photographers were roaming across the ice. And there was one gentleman out skating laps around the castle – I was glad he wore a red coat.
Once the sunlight hit the peaks, the dark sky disappeared and the cold, clear dawn of a beautiful morning took hold. It was wonderful to be out on the lake and I had a lot of fun working with the details in the castle and the spectacular landscape surrounding it.
When the sun was rising out of the forest east of the lake, the warm light on the ice blocks provided another opportunity to play a bit longer before I headed in for breakfast with my dear, and patient, wife.
In 2012, I had some wonderful encounters with wild animals. Most were in Alberta near my home either on the prairies or in the mountains. I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to have an abundance of wildlife living in my literal backyard and in any direction I choose to walk, ride or drive. Kananaskis Country mesmerized me more this year than ever before and I enjoyed time with coyotes, bears, sheep, moose and hawks there.
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I started the year with a goal to put significant time and energy into improving my wildlife photography. My priorities to accomplish this were to improve my approaches to wildlife (to minimize disruption and increase the chance to observe natural behaviour), improve my technique (better sharpness and quicker response to animal movement) and create images that tell a more complete story about the animals (more engaging and interesting). I moved forward on all fronts though I know where I want to get to and so I will be keeping the same goals to start this new year.
As spring took hold, I wanted to photograph bears. In previous years, I hadn’t put in the time to learn their habits, locations and behaviours. I put in time reading books and talking with people who know a lot about Black Bears and Grizzly (Brown) Bears. There is much (much) more to learn but the effort was rewarded with some good images from the Kootenay National Park and the Banff National Park. A decent start to the images that I have in mind.
The cubs above and below were Grizzly Bear #64’s and I found them on a couple of occasions along the Vermilion Lakes Road near Banff. So beautiful and very photogenic. The park’s wildlife officers did a good job working with visitors and there seemed to be a level of respect and restraint better than I have observed other years.
The meadows of dandelions blooming in the spring draw the bears to the roadsides along Highway 93 in the Kootenay National Park and I made a couple of trips there to photograph the black bears. This bear had picked the flowers clean on the rocky slope. The wet fur and the posture made for a nice moment to photograph.
In the summer, I visited Jasper National Park for a solid week of photography. The absolute highlight was this black bear cub sprinting up two different tree trunks. Momma kept grazing while junior seemed to be playing. It was amazing how fast this young animal climbed and almost more impressive when it slid down twice as fast.
I love photographing birds. Left unchecked I would fill this collection with way too many avian photographs. Trying to rein myself in here but it was a good year for birding and bird photography. Along the way I saw the movie “The Big Year” and that got me thinking… not yet but probably one day. Here then are a few from the year that stood out for me.
Great Gray Owls dominated my local outings to West Bragg Creek in April and May. I had a connection with one owl in particular (or at least I felt one and hope the owl did on some level too) and spent many days with it flying around me, landing beside me and generally spoiling with opportunities to photograph this most magical of animals. This was a favourite among many special images of this owl.
The last part of the year I had a great wildlife trip to the Jasper National Park with my friend Jeff Rhude on a workshop with John Marriott. John is one of Canada’s pre-eminent wildlife photographers and it was really fun to spend a week focused on wildlife photography. I worked for the images there and the results were pretty satisfying.
The rams were assembling ahead of the rut in groups around the park. We did not have any head butting to photograph but there was time to really work with the opportunities available. This post was a favourite of mine from the year.
An encounter with a pair of very approachable ravens at a pullout along the Icefields Parkway and family of juvenile bald eagles along the river just outside of Jasper were two other highlights from a very good trip.
At the end of the year my family went to Kaua’i and the wildlife fortunes were with us. We had amazing encounters with Hawaiian Monk Seals, Green Sea Turtles and birds of many feathers.
The encounters continued below the surface and I fear I’m hooked on this fascinating branch of photography now – we’ll see where that takes me in 2013.
The year finished with the discovery of Snowy Owls very close to my home. There are a pair, and possibly a quartet, of Snowies currently hunting in the Springbank Airport area. I spent some time with them before the end of the year and have continued regular evening appointments with them in the first few days of this new year. These owls have not been seen in this area before and my first photographs of Snowies made in February and March last year required driving a couple of hours east. The first image in this post was from a range road near Gleichen an hour east of Calgary during one of these longer drives. It is very special to me that I have been end the year with Snowy owls very close to my home as they have become a favourite animal of mine.
That went by quick. Seems like things are speeding up and 2012 went by in a flash. I reviewed a large set of landscapes from the past year and it was fun to recall those moments. But, I was a little surprised that a year has gone by since I pulled together a list of my favourites from 2011. I suppose I have little control over how quickly time rolls – I will just continue to try to stuff as much into it as we go. Before I move with my camera forward into 2013, here are some images of mine that stood out for me from 2012.
The mountains in the Albertan parts of the Rockies pulled me close many times over the year. I really enjoyed photographing Mount Kidd from a new location in the fall. Above, the reflecting pools along Highway 40 just past Wedge Pond were a new place for me. And I enjoyed a couple of mornings down along the shoreline of Wedge Pond with the image below resulting from one beautiful morning.
I also was pleased with the images I put together from Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Jasper as well. The photograph of Lake Louise’s canoe cabin is subtle and is a vein of imagery that I am continuing to work in.
The view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks from the top of the rock moraine at the near side of Moraine Lake is spectacular – particularly the alpen glow in the morning. This summer I went up in the evening and was rewarded with a different, and equally beautiful, look at sunset.
This hoar-frost on branches stretching out of a small pool in the marsh west of one of the Vermilion Lakes in Banff provided for a nice abstract composition.
I spend a fair amount of time photographing wildlife and landscapes on the prairie. The storms in the summer can be incredible but the clouds this winter have been really inspiring. In the photograph below I watched a dragon form and stretch towards the east to meet the sun. Beautiful colours and great to let imagination have the reins.
Before the snow flew, I was working to photograph the warm autumn sunrises on the fields. When I had these horses approach as the sun cleared the horizon, the image really came together.
The sunrise photography extended west in Bragg Creek and the image below was made along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22X) just east of the town.
In the summer I joined Bobbi on a journey to Sedona in Arizona. It was my first visit and is a place I was excited to return to as soon as I had returned home. The variety of landscapes in the Coconino National Forest and the time to hike into a few places were great luxuries I enjoyed on the trip.
Cathedral Rock is an iconic subject and it deserves its high standing with artists. Our first day in Sedona we walked along the river to the base of the rock and watched the shadows climb up the red rock. On a hot afternoon, I escaped to the West Fork Trail which meanders up the Oak Creek Canyon. The calm water, lush forest and red rock made many bends in the creek picture worthy and this was my favourite from a productive hike. And there were wonderful butterflies flitting around in one meadow of flowers too.
One of the evenings, I went out to the top of a mesa and photographed the night sky. It was a bit remote so I had the trees, the stars and a few strange sounds in the desert night all to myself. That was another side to Sedona that I was very happy to have experienced.
There were a few other nightscape photo outings through the year but the highlight was photographing the Northern Lights in October. I had missed several good Aurora nights through the summer so I was excited when I got to watch them rolling down from the north for almost two hours.
Later in October I was in Jasper on a wildlife photography trip. The animals were the focus of the week spent driving and hiking along the Icefields Parkway and around Jasper but this gentle scene where snow had just blanketed the valley along the Athabasca River demanded to be photographed (despite some good-natured heckling from my companions).
And in late November our family headed to Kaua’i the northernmost of the populated Hawaiian islands. Time dripped by and we had a great vacation. I had almost too much fun photographing creatures above, on and under the water and those are the images that first came to mind when I was looking back at our visit. However, once I worked through the catalog over the Christmas break, I realized that the landscape images from this year’s trip to the island were solid additions to my Hawaii portfolio.
We stayed a stone’s throw from Nukoli’i Beach on the east shore so the sun rose directly in front of us each morning. I spent a few mornings down on the beach photographing what the ocean delivered with morning sun.
The warm light following the sunrise provided beautiful illumination on the beach and through the waves. One of those places that is easy to spend a whole day shooting, painting or playing at.
We covered a lot of ground during our time in Kaua’i and one of the favourite places for seals, snorkelling, swimming, waves to watch and coastline views was Ke’e Beach on the northern edge of the Na Pali Coast. The last night in Kaua’i we spent at Ke’e and at one point there was a rainbow over the beach when I looked to the east and the mists and violent waves of the Na Pali in winter to the southwest.
A couple of days earlier, the spray kicked up from the waves hitting the rocks rolled up the forested mountainsides to create another magical scene.
An amazing lightning storm over the Hanalei Valley provided the last image for this collection. The rain held off for almost three hours before forcing me into my car and back to the apartment.
Pele is one of the Hawaiian deities and is often associated with the volcanic activities on the islands. She also holds dominion over lightning, wind and fire. One evening, I watched her play with lightning, throwing it over the ridges that rise up from the Hanalei Valley on Kaua’i’s north shore. For almost three hours, beginning at dusk, the clouds lit up with strikes that branched across the sky.
I watched the storm from the Hanalei outlook in Princeville. That put me at almost the same elevation as the strikes which hammered the far side of the valley. With each flash, the taro field ponds lit up as well. The deep blue sky early in the evening tempered the color in the sky. When the valley was totally dark, each flash illuminated the scene in wild shades of purple. It was incredible to see the changes in the color, the clouds and the storm through the night.
Pele became more ferocious as the night deepened. Gradual at first, with the wind picking up slowly but steadily and the lightning coming every couple of minutes. Then increasing quickly along with drops of rain that turned into a downpour after just a few minutes. I retreated to shelter with the rain drenching me and the lightning tracing arcs directly above me. It was raw power and I enjoyed watching the goddess at work – by the end there was a determined nature to the storm that made it feel like play had been joined by purpose.
The week I spent in the Jasper National Park at the end of October coincided with a heavy snowstorm which gripped the park area for most of the week and gave winter a firm grasp over it. I was there to photograph wildlife with a small group but stole a few opportunities to capture the landscape freshly trimmed with its winter coat.
During a scout along the Athabasca River looking for tracks, I stopped to work into this scene for a few minutes. With a bit of time to find something to work with in the foreground, waterproof(ish) boots so I could set up out in the water a bit and a polarizer all helped to realize what I had in mind. Namely, a subtle winter landscape in this national park.
The last day had some of the heaviest snow in the morning but also afforded the only sunshine of the week. This image was along the river’s edge east of Jasper a little while before the clouds started to knit back together.
I woke up this morning at 4:30, not for any particular reason I can recall. I went down for some water and saw there was an Aurora Watch Alert. The live update showed that there was a lot of Auroral activity so, at my wife’s prompting, I headed out.
In Bragg Creek we still get a fair bit of Calgary’s night city glow, so I drove northwest to a dark area of the prairie. Some clouds cleared out along the horizon as I set up and then the show picked up and kept going strong until dawn.
This was a special time under the stars for me. I have been visualizing photographing the Northern Lights and planning to get out for a couple of years. I had a fantastic time watching the streams of light streak across the sky. It was great to be able to realize what had been a little bit elusive.
So now, with this first Aurora shoot, in the rearview mirror, I’m looking forward to finding some new locations and compositions to photograph (and probably a faster f/2.8 or f/1.4 lens to shorten exposures).
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The Bighorn sheep were in a few small groups scattered on either side of the Highwood Pass at the end of the week. These were a few of the photographs from when I saw them throughout the day. At the lower elevations, fall is still in control and I had some warm, colourful backgrounds to work with.
Higher up, around the summit of the pass, the snow that fell earlier in the week was still on the ground and presented an alternate landscape to photograph the sheep in.
There were a good number of lambs within the larger groups. I hope they can put on a few more pounds before winter settles in but they looked to be in good health.
For the most part, the sheep were not very interested in me. The young one below gave me a heavy sidelong glance that made for a good image.
The salts are attracting the sheep, same as always, to the middle of the road. Most people give them a wide berth. This sheep was suggestive of the location they often take along the highway.
The rut is starting now so I hope I can see some good horn collisions the next time I’m up there. The last ram I saw was scrambling up the Rock Glacier and provided a good photographic opportunity in one of the more interesting geographic locations along Highway 40.
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Spent most of the day up in Kananaskis hiking, photographing and looking for wildlife. Such a beautiful and varied country there. I get focused in on a particular location or species so that I forget about the whole package sometimes. Yesterday was one of those great times where I felt like I was enjoying, and appreciating, the whole. If you have a chance to head up to any of the areas that make up K-Country take it, I hope you like it as much as I do.