Posts tagged “prairie

An in-flight snack

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5597

I found this Merlin feasting from a fence top perch near High River last weekend.  I watched him for a couple of minutes before a hauling truck passed by.  At that point, the noise and proximity disturbed this fellow and he took flight.  He shot upwards with a couple of fast wing beats and then surprised me with a hovering break to grab another bite.  It was likely a readjustment of the load but it was neat to watch.

A Merlin's dinner - © Christopher Martin-5572

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5595

With the prey in the right place, he then banked away over the prairie and settled in the grass a couple hundred metres away to finish his meal.

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5610-3

On old friend around a weathered barn

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5454
I had the great pleasure of seeing a Great horned owl at an old barn east of High River.  It is one that I have visited a couple of times over the past couple of years.  This window, which faces north, is a favourite daytime perch.  The heavy clouds only threatened rain and their midday dimming effect seemed to encourage the owl to make a couple of sorties over the surrounding fields during the time I spent there.

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5403

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5402

The owl flew along the fence line twice which afforded me a few great in-flight shooting opportunities.  I left the barn with my friend perched in the deep shadow of the barn’s interior.

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5414

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5443

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5445

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5344

Great horned owl - © Christopher Martin-5347

Catching early light in the clouds

Prairie dawn over Springbank - © Christopher Martin-8717-2

The perch on the hill I photographed the Aurora Borealis and lightning storm from a couple of weeks ago is now officially one of my favourite prairie viewpoints.  On the weekend, I left my home in the dark and headed northeast towards the growing dawn.  With a short drive I returned back to the same spot and found the view to be beautiful.

Prairie Dawn - © Christopher Martin-8716

A heavy cloud stretched overhead towards the horizon with a break which allowed the first rays of pink sunlight to skip along the underside.  The fast rising sun quickly changed the light from pink to gold as it pushed through less of the atmosphere.

Prairie Dawn - © Christopher Martin-8747



Birding before dawn

Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4044
While waiting for sunrise when I was out on the prairie I stopped at a small roadside slough where there were a variety of shorebirds milling about.  One Avocet and two Black-necked stilts were curious about my nighttime activities and stayed close by.
Avocet in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4036It was too dark for the camera to expose the birds as they moved around so I used a flash set on low power to illuminate the Avocet swimming a few yards off the shoreline.  The stilt found that quite intriguing and circled me on land and in the air a couple of times before I carried on towards the eastern glow.
Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4074
Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4053

Aurora over the prairie

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3907

A little over a week ago, on June 13th, I spent a night out on the prairies near Nanton.  I love the vast skies and many of the interesting things that fill them – above and below.  I settled into my sleeping bag to watch the stars while I drifted off.  That idea evaporated when I received an Aurora Red Alert indicating that there was a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3745

(If any images look a little grainy, please click on the picture to open a higher resolution version in a new window)

The image directly above was one of the first taken once I was set up.  I used a long exposure of 30 seconds to stretch out the lights of a semi-trailer traveling north along Highway 2.

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3923

I played around there for a while before moving further east to reduce the golden glow on the undersides of the clouds resulting from High River’s lights.

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3900

I found a quiet field several miles away and the timing worked out as the spikes in the Aurora had just started to appear.

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3910

The Northern Lights were still glowing as dawn started to push into the sky and before 4 AM I was transitioning into sunrise landscapes.

Aurora Borealis over Nanton  - © Christopher Martin-3953

Fox kits at play on the prairies

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1233

The family of foxes I had the opportunity to photograph last week were an energetic bunch.  Well, the kits were – I didn’t see the adults at any point during the couple of hours I watched them.  Neighbours of the human type indicated that the adult pair raise a brood here every year.

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1035

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1029

However, the siblings all seemed to smoothly shift between play, tricks, sleep and just watching throughout the time I watched them.  Just as you would expect for young foxes in training.

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1231

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1092

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-1047

I was struck by their similarity to my own canines at home – particularly our one year old labradoodle (frenetic, smart and above all else playful) but still decidedly foxy!

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0847

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0850

Fox kits on the Prairie - © Christopher Martin-0851

Fox watching

Fox kits in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-1319

I have wanted to photograph Red fox kits for a long time and with a friendly tip from a fellow photographer (thank you Mike!), was able to find this beautiful family last Wednesday evening.  The photograph above is of two of the five, or possibly six, young foxes as they watched a couple of their siblings playing off to the right.  The sun slid in and out of the clouds early on and fought through some haze along the way so it was a great evening for lighting.  On this particularly bright moment, I liked the contrast of the dreamy, abstract look of the field with the alert stares and sharp backlit outline of the foxes.

A hot Snowy owl on the prairie

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1721

The early spring this year may see the Snowy owls leave their wintering grounds around Southern Alberta soon.  When I was in Irricana photographing this owl, it was 16°C and she was panting to stay cool.  I’m not concerned about their health in this heat as their nesting sites in the north get into, and above, these temperatures in the summer.  However, I don’t know when it, or something else, will prompt them to leave as they always do.

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1697


Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1702

Snowy owl on the hunt in Irricana


Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1653-2

This Snowy owl’s dive into the grass directly below was a great moment to watch.  The bird’s intense focus when it started tracking the prey from the perch on the fence through to the awesome descent to attack were welcome rewards given the time invested.  I found this Snowy on this fence post a little after 9 am and quickly set up my camera and lens across the field from her.  For the next 2 1/2 hours, she shuffled, scratched, preened, and dozed.  She seemed to have little interest in me, the field mice or in flying for most of that time.  She kept watch of everything going on around her but her talons may have been nailed to the wood!  I was hadn’t expected to wait that long but with her relaxed manner, I hoped when she did fly it would be in the direction she faced when I first stopped.  That direction was facing towards me and in the end she did do that.  I thought if she flew that way, I would have a few in flight opportunities but this dive was short in both time and distance.  I was happy to have captured a couple of frames before she disappeared into the grass.

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1654-2

I waited for about 10 minutes for her to climb out of the tall grass and when she did it was heading away from me.  Given the time on the ground, I would wager that she did catch the prey and spent the time out of sight enjoying the meal.

Irricana Dawn

Irricana farm before sunrise - © Christopher Martin-0755-2
I returned to Irricana recently to look for Snowy owls.  I left early and arrived well before night had given much ground to day.  Having criss-crossed the backroads west of the town, I have a decent feel for the farmland in the area and took the opportunity to photograph a couple of locations while the clouds were glowing pink ahead of the sunrise.

Prairie abstract - © Christopher Martin-0787
A lost wallet and a flat tire, both noticed about an hour after the last of these photographs was taken, made me feel like I earned these images a bit more than usual.  The wallet had fallen out of my pocket unnoticed when I was at the farmstead above.  A fair bit of time spent retracing my stops before finding it undisturbed in the middle of the gravel road.  When I picked up the wallet, I noticed the flat rear tire.  Along the way to Irricana, I apparently drove over a hardware store as Phil’s Auto in Irricana (very friendly people – thank you for the coffee!) later showed me the 3 inch long screw that had lodged into the tire.  The wallet was recovered before I found the first owl and by the time of my appointment at 3 pm, I was happy to have had several good encounters with 5 different Snowies.  I will share those soon.  These prairie landscape images from a beautiful morning heralded what became one of the more interesting days I have had out on the prairies.

Irricana sunrise - © Christopher Martin-0799-2

Coyotes on the Albertan prairie

Coyote scout - © Christopher Martin-0668

I found this pair of Coyotes while driving the backroads west of the Springbank airport last weekend.  The male was laying down and enjoying the sun when they came into view.  The female, seen in the image below, had been trotting around nearby and only stopped when she saw me.  She stared at me for a few seconds but with the headwind and the sun in her eyes she took a long blink before turning away and taking up a sitting position a bit further from me.

Coyote blink - © Christopher Martin-0661

The male rose up and crossed warily along a low ridge parallel to me before heading back towards the female.  They both looked healthy and I believe the patches on the female’s side are her winter coat shaking out rather than mange or some other irritation.  I hope they are planning to den in that area – I’d love to watch their pups this spring.

Coyote scout - © Christopher Martin-0676

Clutching at grass

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1864

One of the Snowy owls that I photographed recently made a dive while I was watching.  She came up without a mouse but had a clutch of grass instead.  I’m sure it wasn’t her preference but it was a bit unusual to see one of these raptors flying around with a talon full of grass.  She gave a couple of good looks around as she looked for another target during the same sortie but had no luck on this flight.

Snowy's stare - © Christopher Martin-1863

Prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-1859



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