Following a beautiful sunrise down on the Vermilion Lakes, my friend and I drove up towards Lake Minnewanka to see if there was any wildlife that wanted to be seen.
We spied this bull elk along the edge of the canal where the lake drains out grazing on the patches of snow-free grass.
He spent a little time in the water and the climbed out and moved towards us along the tree line. I loved the way the reflection cast by the elk and the trees onto the water shimmered and blurred.
Just after walking behind the stand of trees that hung over the water, the elk walked into the trees to graze. Returning to the car, we found the elk had moved to the edge of the trees by the road and that allowed us to watch him stripping bark of fallen tree branches.
The trees in the forest were soaked and the rain was still falling as the morning brightened. We found a large herd of elk in the woods in the Lake Minnewanka area of the Banff National Park. There were seven or eight cows and two calves grazing, grooming and walking in the shadows.
And one beautiful bull.
He was back in the forest for quite a while and only came up to the edge of trees for a few minutes before moving slowly back again. Nearby, one of the calves settled down on a patch of grass in a clearing. It seemed to have only a passing interest in its observers.
The rest of the family was grazing through the forest. The two below were content to share a clump of colourful leaves for lunch.
The bull came back for another lap along the frontline and we left soon after.
I went up to Banff National Park with my friend and fellow photographer Jeff Rhude on the weekend. The clouds were hanging low all the way from Bragg Creek, through Canmore and into the park so we were unsure what opportunities we would find in the mountains on the day. As the sky brightened a little we could find no breaks in the clouds so we left the sunrise plans on the shelf for another day. Focusing our attention on wildlife, we headed up to the ring road which leads up to Lake Minnewanka. With bears trying to fatten up for hibernation, sheep starting into the rut and moose and elk following suit, we hoped there may be a few animals out in the rain.
It was the wapiti, the word for elk in the Cree language, that seemed least put off by the weather and we found a small group of calves and cows led by one majestic bull on the meadow approaching the turnoff to Johnson Lake.
It was still very dark so high ISOs and long shutter speeds were required which resulted in a few blurs when an ear twitched or one of the creatures stepped forward. Still, the family were cooperative and with the benefit of long lenses I was able to stay a good distance away while making some nice images.
Driving on towards the lake, we did not see any other animals. At Minnewanka aside from a couple of mergansers on the water there were two large flotillas of black birds, each probably with over a hundred members, but they were too far out for me to identify. We turned around and retraced our steps. Passing the meadow, we could see the bull on the edge of the trees alongside one calf. A couple of miles down the road, we caught sight of one elk in the trees. Stopping and looking more intently, we soon saw about ten more cows and calves moving through the shadows and the gloom. I will put together a post with a few of those images soon.
During the trip through the Jasper National Park last month, we found an elk feasting in a vibrant meadow on one of the evenings. This bull’s antlers were one of the most impressive I have seen on a young elk. The summer seemed to be moving along well for this beautiful creature judging by the growing rack and the shiny coat.
I drove along the Lake Minnewanka road last weekend with plans to photograph the sunrise from a bluff above Two Jack Lake that affords a great view of the lake along with Mount Rundle in the background. Parking at a pullout near my intended spot, I started setting up my gear when I noticed a female elk standing near a tree about 20 metres away. It was still dark out but I could see her staring at me so we played that game for a few minutes. It was too dark to shoot and she seemed pretty relaxed so I was happy to just watch her. Then, I saw some movement behind her and a bull elk stood up and shook the snow off. She might have been happy to stay there but he wanted to get a bit of separation so they hopped the snow bank onto the road and, after clearing the bank on the far side, climbed the hill to the edge of the forest. At this point, the light was brightening quickly and by raising the ISO on my camera I was able to take the image above of the bull staring at me from the top of the hill. I thought they were going to continue into the forest but when I reviewed the picture in the LCD on the camera, I noticed the female’s ears in the lower left corner of the picture and realized she was laying down.
They were in no hurry to disappear so I stayed on the far edge of the road from them and photographed the bull with his amazing antlers. These are among the best balanced racks that I have seen and one of the largest. Really impressive and when he licked his chops I had a fleeting image of him using them on me. That idea didn’t take hold as his body language did not suggest any agitation. He stayed on this little rise for the time while I was there and the cow got up once but stayed low and mostly out of sight.
I tried not to take it personally when he stuck his tongue out. It’s a funny look that’s hard not to anthropomorphize a bit.
Even while scratching his leg, the elk kept one eye on me presumably to avoid being surprised by any movements I might make.
Switching lenses for a wider composition you can see the first light colouring the peak of Cascade Mountain above the forest.
I left them just before sunrise as he was turning his attention towards the trees. I piled my gear back in the car and headed down to the Bow Valley Parkway and, as it turned out, to a pair of wolves.
The Sibbald Herd is a large group of elk that forage west into the front range of the Kananaskis mountains and east to Springbank near Calgary. They move within a relatively thin band along the eastern part of their land and are often in the scrub brush that edges the farmland along Highway 22 between Highway 8 and the Trans Canada Highway. They often graze behind this ridge in a shallow valley but on this morning I found them lined up among the trees and the rocks. They were quite interested in my for a couple of minutes and then resumed grazing and wandered back behind the hill.
I photographed these animals about an hour after sunrise with the sun still below the crest of this ridge. The strong backlighting made for wider range from dark to light than my camera can capture so I chose to work with the structural elements within the scene. Reduced to black and white, there is an interesting relationship between the land and the elk highlighted in these pictures.
Following my great morning spent photographing the elk, I went down the Vermilion Lake road the next day, Wednesday, with my wife and children to show them the spot where he had been. We stopped there for a few minutes and then carried on to the second lake. At the edge of the lake I was surprised to see the same elk standing in a couple of feet of snow eating leaves. I didn’t bother him for long in case he had reconsidered our encounter but my family enjoyed seeing him.
I didn’t get out photographing again until we checked out on Thursday and we took a quick drive down the lake road just to see if the elk or any other wildlife was hanging around in the middle of the day. After a couple of cloudy days, Thursday was mild and sunny so you never know what might be out warming up. We didn’t see any animals on the drive down the lake but returning I glimpsed the familiar antlers poking up over a bluff near the road.
Driving a little further, I took this last image of the elk who defined the photography on this trip to Banff. He was relaxed, with eyes half closed and sitting down facing the sun. It was an easy decision not to bother him. A bit unusual this elk in his habits and territory but I could not see any signs of ill-health or other impediments. Just an interesting animal. I will certainly be looking for him each time I get back to Banff.
We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain. We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.
I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions. I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge. I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him. I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge. I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks. I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away. I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down. He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time. He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images. Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.
Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer. In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible. This fellow is young and skinny. I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by. A very good reason to look forward to spring.