I spent an afternoon on the prairie east of High River, birds are stocking up in the fields as they head north. Swans, Pintails, Geese and a number of Bald Eagles were active in the sky. At one grain bin where I saw a Kestrel streaking by, this pigeon proved less elusive. Curiosity drew it out for a couple of quick looks. In the direct sunlight I liked the iridescent purple on the throat.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens: 1/320 of a second at f/1.6 on ISO 50
I love driving along backroads through the farmlands on the prairies and in the foothills of Alberta. The landscape is beautiful, wildlife (when they allow you to see them) abounds and I often have the roads to myself. On these tours, I keep an eye out for interesting farm vehicles and buildings. There are many unusual items designed for a specific agricultural purpose that can be very photogenic. As purposes move forward alongside changes in technology, some of these barns, tractors and other things fall out of use and weather. This tractor is a beautiful example of the worn down equipment that dot the landscape. This old Massey Ferguson seemed to be parked in an idyllic spot to enjoy a hard-earned rest after a long run of service. That’s a rather romantic notion and I could drive by there next week and find it out turning soil in one of the fields on the far side of the pond. Whatever the truth, it was a great subject to photograph on a summer day north of Cochrane.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the weekend, I found myself on a hill overlooking the farm fields south of Cochrane waiting for the morning to arrive. I had went out at 4 in the morning looking for the Northern Lights but they eluded me. This time of the year dawn comes early and by 4:30 there was already a bright line on the horizon to the east. I enjoyed listening to the birds waking up as I sat beside this gravel road hoping for a nice sunrise. As the sun prepared to rise, this wonderful cloud caught the early light and met all expectations that I brought to the day.
A few minutes later, the cloud hanging above the farmland took over the show. The colours and textures were brilliant. Dawn comes early but I’m rarely disappointed when I do force myself to roll out of bed and get out to enjoy it.
While the sun and the cloud were performing magic, the moon was full and glowing above the Rocky Mountains. I’m glad I had a look behind me while I was changing lenses as the view to the west was on equal terms with its eastern counterpart.
The Northern Lights on the weekend were beautiful. On Friday morning they were active from 10 pm through to 5 am Saturday morning. Fiery, green ribbons rippled under the stars with faint echoes of blue and purple streaming skyward.
(for a higher resolution version, please click on any picture)
When I received an email from Aurora Watch’s alert service, I was in Calgary finishing dinner with my friend Jack. We headed up to a hill that overlooks downtown to check the sky. Even with the orange glow in the atmosphere from the city’s lights, we could see shimmering swaths of green. That whet the appetite and we headed west along the Trans Canada Highway out of the city and into the rolling hills to the west. A small marsh south of Cochrane being our destination to take in the lights.
By the time we were at the pond, it was after midnight and the early wisps of color had intensified in color and solidity. The thick bands stretched west and east, from one horizon to the other. With the Northern Lights reflected in the water, there were some interesting images available. I also posted another photograph separately called The Phantom Menace which is a favourite of mine from the night. You can see that image here.
The aurora was at its most discrete around 2 am with beautiful details etched into the fabric swimming between land and sky. The Cree named these colourful displays the Dance of the Spirits. I really like that. On this evening, the spirits enjoyed a long spell on their dance floor.
With the east starting to brighten ahead of the coming sunrise, we were a bit restless for another viewpoint so we followed the road west for a little while. This small industrial plant was overlooking the fields and when we stopped to have a look, the aurora was pulsing in what turned out to be the final flurry of the night.
The Aurora Borealis lit up for a couple of hours last night so Jack and I were out until 5 AM watching the ribbons stripe the night sky. There were few clouds and it turned out to be a very enjoyable performance.
A few images from the same night can be seen at this post.
Driving through farmland south of Cochrane today, I came across a glowing ball in the top branches of a thicket of scrub bush. The ball was a North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). The glow was from the sunlight reflecting off of the quills.
I knew this was one of the things that porcupines frequently do as they climb up to eat the bark, but it was my first time to see it directly. I had to cross a field to get remotely close and as I drew near, the spiky fellow dropped down lower into the branches. Indicating it was uncomfortable with me coming over for a visit. I waited a hundred feet away for a few minutes to see if it would relax and climb back to a higher spot where I would have a clear line of sight. It didn’t but I was able to find a couple spots where the face and front claws could be seen amid the brambles.
Hopefully next time I can approach a little slower or find a more curious porcupine that will let me take a couple of photographs that better portray these interesting creatures.
This week’s cold snap came with a lot of moisture and it wrapped the prairie in a thin sheet of white. This old truck, long parked in this spot and used to advertise a nearby tree farm, did not escape the icy snow either. Drawing in closer, I really liked the details in the front, particularly the grille.
A cold snap has taken hold of the prairies around Calgary for the past few days. I saw this eagle picking away at some bones out in a field in Springbank and stopped to photograph it for a few minutes. After a few minutes, it took to the air to find the next meal. Given the damp cold, I would suggest it carry on the migration that brought it our way last week and head for somewhere more temperate. That said, I will be very happy if I have the chance to photograph it a few more times before then.
The winter morning was beautiful earlier this week. I watched the sky brighten and start to illuminate the sparse clouds scattered along the horizon and further off to the west. With the color running into the day, I saw a dragon stretch its wings out as it reached towards the rising sun. Surely a victim of my exuberant imagination, I was little surprised when I saw a phoenix flying low along the eastern horizon when I turned in that direction. Switching from one fantastic creature to the other during the short time that the best light of the day held, I enjoyed this sunrise tremendously. A childhood spent reading legends and myths revisited for a few minutes out on the cold prairie. A warm thank you to my elementary teacher, Alanda, who introduced our class to these stories and kindled the fire of my imagination.
Once the horses moved on, I returned to watching the brightening sky. I didn’t have to wait long for the colour to brush into the clouds.
(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
And when the warm sunlight came in, it only stayed for a couple of minutes. It was great to shoot a few different images while the light was really nice. The sun cleared the horizon quickly, the light cooled and the day began.
The horse that ended up posing for me before padding away led the small herd up the hill towards me. During one of their pauses on the way up I took the opportunity to frame them as part of the larger scene of dawn on the prairie. As I said before, I wish I had brought some horse-friendly snacks.
This morning I hiked up a hill for the sunrise. As the light started to brush the clouds stacked above the eastern flank of the Kananaskis mountains, a horse came up close to where I was set up. She nuzzled around for a bit but I didn’t have any carrots with me. Just after turning back towards her colt, she paused for a few seconds and I framed her against the bright horizon.
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).
The crops around the Springbank airport have all now been harvested. This leaves the fields shorn bare except for the uncollected bales of hay. The attraction drawing hawks is the exposed ground which presently offers little protection for field mice and the like. I have spent a fair bit of time walking and driving along the range roads to photograph some of the activity while it lasts. This Red-tailed hawk, one of the light morphs, was absolutely beautiful. It flew between a couple of posts before launching out across the meadows.
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After a warm weekend where we crested 25°C, winter jumped out of his hiding place and threw snow down overnight. The weather report calls for rain by this afternoon and then warming up to 17°C by the weekend. It would seem that this is a short reminder of what will come. It would be nice if autumn held on a little longer – we’ll see.
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The Bews are a ranching family and the youngest generation is following that well-worn path. When I was photographing them at the ranch Mady and Katie showed their ease in the saddle and proved to be very good sports while the shutter clicked away.
Katie was learning to trot and she seemed to master it over the course of a few crosses of the overgrown field during the morning. Mady practiced her roping which made for some great photographic opportunities.
While the girls rode, their grandmother Rosemary, grandfather Tom and his brother Joe alternated between time in front of the camera, tending to their horses and chatting. Very good people with lot’s of room in their hearts for their family, their animals and their land. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them.
Joe Bews in the morning leading his horse up with his partner by his side and later running through the dry creek bed.
Tom taking a break from the saddle
The last image I took up at the ranch was of the Bews family as they headed back for the trail back down to their farms. A warm thank you to them for coming out on a cold morning which became a hot afternoon. And, thanks to Julian Ferreira and his team at The Camera Store for arranging for a great day in the High Country on the edge of Kananaskis.
In fact, Julian stood in as a cowboy model in the cook shack and played the role exceptionally well.
Joe Bews is a cowboy I was fortunate to photograph last weekend at one of his family’s stations near Longview. When I asked Joe if he would mind doing a bit of rope work, he kindly obliged and I had the opportunity to try a few different approaches while he roped some imaginary targets lurking in the tall grass. His skills certainly didn’t need the practice so it was really great of Joe to throw for me and a couple other photographers on a pretty warm afternoon.
(As always, please click on any image to view a higher resolution version)
I was at a ranch for a photography workshop put on by The Camera Store on the weekend. The workshop was with William Albert Allard and it proved to be n educational and very enjoyable weekend. On Saturday the group went to Kananaskis where access had been granted to shoot on a long-standing ranch back in the High Country. The venue was full of character and the cowboys, lady and cowgirls that came up to model for us had the same in ample supply. I will post some more images from the day soon but wanted to start with a concept image that I worked on in post a bit. During the Sunday critiques, one of the participants had shown a few sepia toned images and that got some ideas rolling around in my head. I had completed my work keeping most of the portraits in straight colour. With this photograph of Tom, one of two lifelong ranching brothers that own the ranch and rode up for the day, I wanted to make a desaturated and almost metallic look to this tight portrait. I used Lightroom’s Develop suite for the post-processing and leaned heavily on dropping saturation and increasing the clarity to realize the look. For reference, here is one of Tom as he really looked in the warm light bouncing off of the exposed wood beams inside the barn.
The clouds make or break sunrises in many landscape scenes. On Sunday, they broke apart just before sunrise leaving a nice gauzy patchwork above the glow on the horizon. A good start to the day just west of Calgary in Alberta, Canada on May 27th.
With spring having taken control, the hawks have returned in earnest to the prairie and the foothills around Bragg Creek. During my hikes and drives, I often cross their path. When they wait long enough for me to pull up my camera, I really enjoy photographing them in flight. I’ve had a couple nice flight series so far and wanted to share a few ahead of a larger raptor project I’m working towards completing in the fall.
When the sun is low in the sky, the warm light can beautifully illuminate the stretched out primary feathers (the fingers), the splayed out tail feathers (particularly true with the Red-tailed hawks) and the patterns in the covert feathers (the layers covering the wing at the base of the primaries). With the sun behind, the backlit feathers can glow in a striking fashion which I find very appealing.
Leaving the Calgary this afternoon, I drove through some heavy rain pouring down from some dark gray clouds rolling over Calgary. As I reached the western edge of the city along Highway 8, I was back in the sunshine and enjoyed the drive past the fields. Drawing closer to home, I looked back east and found a rainbow straddling the road. The arch was a mile wide and looked brilliant against the dark clouds still dragging the storm through the city. I pulled onto one of the gravel top range roads and composed this image of the scene.
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