We were in Banff to celebrate my father’s birthday on the weekend. Sunday morning I was on my own and I decided to explore the Bow Valley Parkway as I have not spent any time there this winter. I stopped at the lookout above the Backswamp and was there for a while before I noticed a light-colored wolf laying down out in the middle of the plain. Some small motion must have caught my eye finally because I had mistaken her for a tree stump from that distance of close to a kilometer. Once I started watching this wolf, a companion cleared the forest and trotted over to the first one. They were pointed west and when they met up, the two wolves slipped across the snow in that direction. I lost sight of them behind the tall trees on the river’s edge a couple of minutes later.
These were the first wolves that I had seen anywhere in the Banff National Park so I did not that to be the end of this encounter. I thought I would try to flank them by driving further west to Muleshoe where I could park and then hike down to the river. The hope being to meet up with the wolves when they passed by – if they did go that way and I was able to notice them.
When I got to Muleshoe, I slung my camera and tripod over my shoulder and started down. My stroll was a bit more arduous than anticipated as the crust of snow was thin so most of my steps broke through. This slowed my progress a bit but it paid off well once I got down to the tracks. There, about two hundred meters east of me, were the two wolves walking briskly along the train tracks. I watched them quietly for a minute before the sound of an approaching train drew their attention and the wolves ran into the forest. The pale wolf went north towards the lower slopes of the mountains along the Parkway. That was my last glimpse of that beautiful creature on the day. The black one slipped into a thin line of trees between the tracks and the river and disappeared.
When the train had passed, I discovered my new friend crossing the snow-covered ice at a bend in the river. The black wolf caught sight of me at that point and hastened to the other side.
Once on the far bank, I was drawn in by the gleaming yellow eyes that stared out above the snow where it had just laid down to watch me.
The wolf waited for more than a few minutes, even laying its head on the snow suggesting it may have a nap, before getting up again.
Stretching a little as it stood up, the wolf kept its eyes on me and then walked in an arc away from me and north towards the tracks. Against the dormant nest of branches I photographed the wolf a couple more times. Then it dashed up the berm to the railway, crossed the line and disappeared into the brush on the northern side.
It was a special first encounter with a couple of the Bow Valley wolf pack. I hope to see them in another quiet moment again soon.
I have completed a few themed galleries this weekend. It was nice to take a couple of hours and work on galleries that reach across my library.
The Winter Wildlife gallery draws on encounters with animals over the last four years. Some meetings were deliberate as with the snowy owls, where I drove out to find them. Some meetings were by chance, where I came upon them without planning.
The gallery can be found along with the other new ones, Abandoned Prairie and Into The Mountains on the Portfolios page.
Leaving the south edge of Calgary this morning, the snow was flying and there was fog growing denser as we went further east. My friend Jeff and I were driving on 22X heading towards the Siksika Nation to see if we could find any snowy owls along the range roads in the prairie outside of Calgary. We made a straight line to an abandoned barn on the edge of the Siksika land that a local there had told me was a favourite location for a snowy year after year. I’ve been there a couple of times this year but have yet to see the owl but it’s a great drive down toward the river. Tracing fresh tracks in the snow-covered gravel roads, we carved a wide rectangle around the outer edges of Namaka Lake searching. Along the way, the fog lifted, the sky brightened and the snow settled right down. Just over two hours in and we hadn’t seen any wildlife following the herd with the exception of a couple of magpies and one acrobatic raven.
And then, once pointed west and heading back towards Calgary, we spotted a snowy along the same back road where I photographed one a few weeks ago. It seems to be the same female but I’m not an owl expert so they may only be similar. Either way, it was fantastic to find this one. And she was a wonderful partner to make a few images with. She watched us for a few minutes and then flew off to another telephone pole. Dutifully, we followed, parked a little ways away and then stepped closer. She flew again after a few more minutes. We followed to a third pole and a fourth. The last leap into the air carried her across the field to a distant perch where she could continue her day without further interruption. Along the way, we both rattled off a bunch of images and had a lot of fun.
Just a great morning and I’m really happy Jeff was able to see and photograph a snowy owl in the wild.
Last weekend I was touring around Bragg Creek’s back roads in the morning looking for wildlife. I did not have any close encounters but had this great moment where I watched this moose dash across the meadow and into the dormant forest. Moose have a grace of movement that you wouldn’t expect from a huge animal. With the mild winter so far, the grass hasn’t been blanketed by snow which allowed this bull to keep a fast pace and he was gone in a few seconds up a slope that would have taken me a few minutes.
Spent one morning last weekend roaming the back roads east of Calgary looking for the snowy owls again.
I found this owl just outside of Cheadle. It was a one-eyed beast that seemed defiant in the face of a strong wind out of the west.
I’ve been carving out a little time to review my photography over the past year. It’s been nice to recall some good adventures and revisit some of my favourites from 2011. I spent a fair bit of time sitting in the snow waiting, driving back roads looking and hiking game trails exploring so it was a great year. I crossed paths with a few animals and here are my favourite images from those encounters.
This moose and her calf were grazing along Highway 40 west of Highwood Pass in Kananaskis. She was beautiful and here I was able to make a nice side portrait of her as she watched her young one prancing around.
Where we live we have a lot of opportunity to see white-tailed and mule deer. I photographed many groups and individuals of both over the last year. This white-tailed buck was wary of me at first but after passing his sniff test he returned to his wandering.
The Great Gray Owls are present throughout the woods and meadows that I often wander through but they seem to appear only when they want to be seen. I was able to have some long encounters throughout the year and I continue to be amazed by these magical creatures.
I wanted to photograph more bears this year and I spent a lot of time reading about behaviour, habits and their movements through the year. It paid off and I was able to enjoy some very good encounters where they were not threatened by my presence and I was able to photograph them safely.
This grizzly encounter was a surprise. Our group was busy photographing the raw wilderness in the Tonquin Valley on the eastern shore of Amethyst Lake when we noticed this boar walking over the rocks and bushes a couple hundred feet away. He saw us at the same time and though he didn’t seem threatened, he wasn’t interested in getting any closer either. He made a quarter turn and walked along the shoreline away from us.
This last one is just a brief glimpse of a humpback whale that Bobbi and I had on a sail we went on in Kaua’i. I like the abstract aspects of the image overall and it is the source of one of my goals which is to photograph more marine wildlife in the coming year.
I felt sad banishing the runner-up images back to the library without giving them a chance to stretch a bit so I’ve put them into a slideshow here. Have a look at the near misses if you are so inclined. Thanks for taking a stroll through 2011 with me.
After photographing sunrise on Namaka Lake in the Siksika Reserve east of Calgary, I toured the nearby back roads for wildlife. I found a few mule deer standing in tall grass and a couple of charismatic old barns but my subject of desire was the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus). There is a healthy population of these owls between Calgary and Brooks. Photographing these wonderful raptors has been on my list for a couple of winters now but yesterday was the first trip into the prairie east of Calgary dedicated to the purpose. The first owl I found was a telephone pole hopper so we traveled together from pole to pole for half an hour before it flew up into a stand of trees (as above) and then on to the open fields.
I saw two more snowy owls while working my way back home on Highway 22X. The first was flighty and I only photographed it flying away from me over the fields.
The last owl of the day I saw just before 11 am. It stared me down from its perch on a fence post and then took off, flying low along the ditch before disappearing behind a small hill. I will be back in the next couple of weeks and try to get one of these beautiful birds to fly towards me.
Another evening down at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary tonight. The wedges of geese and colonies of gulls flying in at dusk are really fun to watch. There are easily hundreds of birds returning to the Bow river for the night. Sunset was just after 6 and by 7 the birds had settled on the rocks in the channel.
After all of the chaos of the returning birds, I liked this isolated Canada goose that was standing motionless. I guess it was sleeping as it did not move for this 13 second exposure. The light reflected from the street lamps above the Deerfoot lit the water like fire. With the small silhouette of the goose anchoring the frame, I like this composition.
Near the town of Exshaw, on the Bow Valley Trail, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) can often be seen on the cliffs and hillsides on either side. This morning my friend Jeff and I were out for a photo drive and we found a herd of about 25 ewes, lambs and adolescent rams.
They were moving across a rocky cliff face when we stopped and started photographing them. We watched them disappear over the ridgeline and then walked up and found them grazing in a wild grass meadow. As we hiked up, we could see a large group of adult rams higher up on the mountain but we didn’t continue up to them. Although it is the season for the rut so I may head back again before the end of the weekend to see if I can photograph some of the head butting that sorts out the mating season.
They kept moving across the mountain slopes but we had a lot of time to watch and shoot them before the cold wind got the better of us and we headed into Canmore for breakfast.
The lamb below was the last to leave the meadow and poked its head up over the grass for a quick look before running back to the herd.
My uncle had a picnic on Saturday afternoon in the Crowsnest Pass southwest of Calgary by about 2 1/2 hours. We drove down with the kids enjoying the ride. After playing hard with their cousins for the afternoon, both Kian and Kezia fell asleep before we got started on the drive back home at 6pm. Left with a quiet vehicle and a beautiful summer evening, Bobbi and I had a great drive home. The highlight came in the Turner Valley near Chain Lakes Provincial Park where there was a hawk circling above or perched on a fence post every mile or two. We identified Red-tailed, Rough-legged and Swainson’s hawks before spying this Bald Eagle.
We pulled over and then both spent the next half an hour photographing this bird. It was not intimidated by us and while Bobbi stayed by the van, I slowly walked closer until my 300mm lens was too big – less than 25′ from its perch.
As the sun dropped behind some clouds, the eagle leapt up and spun away down towards the lakes. A fitting end to a wonderful encounter.
In June, we drove to Invermere, BC for a long weekend. My drove through the Kootenay National Park on our way to Radium and the Columbia River Valley. The dandelions were in full bloom in the meadows and the ditches along Highway 93 leading into Radium so I had high hopes of seeing some bears on the way. With the bright overcast making the wet grass and flowers shine, I knew the light would be a bit of a challenge but when we found this Black bear (Ursus americanus) mother and very young cub all worries about available light, blown out grass and shiny wet fur flew far out of mind. Bobbi and both kids were there so it was special to watch them together.
Click on the images to see larger, and sharper, versions of each image on its own page.
Everyone around stayed in their cars and the bears carried on with minimal concern. After half an hour, the cub sauntered back behind the trees. Mom stayed close to the forest’s edge but grazed for a few more minutes before joining her baby.
All along High,way 40 which runs through the heart of Kananaskis and winds through spectacular scenery, there are Columbia ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus) scurrying around. They are pretty low on the food chain so they are wary critters. When there is any noise or motion approaching they stand upright and assess the danger. When something gets too close, they chirp out a warning and then dive for one of the holes connecting to their hillside tunnel complex.
This little guy watched me from his mound above the pullout while I was loading up for a hike near the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park entrance. I was happy to have this little creature stand for a short portrait session.
Just before the long weekend, I had an evening free to tour the back roads around Bragg Creek. As the shadows grew longer and the heat of the day softened a little, I hoped to see some wildlife come out of the trees. A few miles off the main road, I saw a Great Grey Owl perched on a fence post right on the forest’s edge. It was pretty calm and just stared at me when I stopped my car and walked back towards it.
It flew a couple posts ahead of me and I expected it to not let me get too close. Then it flew just in front of me, crossing the road, and landing on a post on the other side of the road right in front of me. I was using a long lens which meant I couldn’t fit the bird in the frame as it landed in front of me. It is always fantastic to be that close to Great Greys. I took a couple of steps backward and enjoyed watching as the owl scouted for the field mice and rodents touring through the long grass along the fenceline.
I thought the owl might dive into the grass as it stared down periodically for several minutes. In the end, it chose to fly off for a higher branch.
I wandered away from the Lake Windermere shoreline and up a trail to this marshy field. There were two young mule deer stags lounging away the early evening in the tall grass. They showed a little interest for a minute and then went back to relaxing.
This buck stood up to walk over to a fresh set of grass. There was a bit of a glow off the velvet of the growing antlers in the soft light. With the buttercup wildflowers providing a little color and detail to the scene it was pretty easy photography. The osprey and the river otter proved to be more challenging when I finally headed back to the water’s edge.
Between Banff and Radium, in the Kootenay National Park, I found this young bear grazing on dandelions on a steep hillside at the forest’s edge. Probably three years old given the size but still impressive in appearance and bearing. I was happy to have a long lens to bring this one close.
This subspecies of the black bear has even earned its own formal name, Ursus americanus cinnamomum. They are beautiful animals no matter the color but it was great to see one that had such a distinctive rust hued coat. With the rain, the colors really saturated and created a sheen that worked at some angles but was a challenge at other ones.
Driving along Springbank’s backroads, west of Calgary, I found this coyote touring through a field as a storm cleared and the sun had just broken through. Very nice light in the early evening off this resident of the Prairie.
The coyote watched me suspiciously for a minute and then trotted off, heading north across the field.
The last glimpse had her looking towards the west and staying very wide of a farm on the top of the hill.
A large group of ewes were walking along this ridge with a gang of frisky youngsters in tow. A bit further down the road were 12-15 rams that looked to have separated from this group as they were grazing on the south side of the highway. Maybe they were sneaking away for some guy time. This is around the time lambs are born but I didn’t see any really small ones here. Not sure if they will be born soon or if they have been already and their mothers are keeping them in more remote spots for now.
These two younger lambs did not have the sure-feet and confidence of their more mature brethren which made their traverse of this steep, jagged part of the rock below the ridge an interesting walk to follow.
There are a number of great locations to see Bighorn Sheep when heading into the Rocky Mountains from Calgary. The place where I made these pictures is one of the most accessible: it is a long stretch of the Bow Valley Trail between Exshaw and Canmore. The sheep can be frequently seen right beside the road, up the mountain slopes on the scree or, more dramatically, on the cliffs that loom 60′ above the road just north of Lac des Arcs.
This ram came up a few minutes after the herd of ewes and lambs had gone. He was a beautiful animal and we loved watching him stride across the rocks. This ended an incredible day on a fine note after having seen a herd of elk, a moose, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, a grebe, a mating pair of osprey, several hawks and a bald eagle between sunrise and sunset.
Almost every marsh or pond in the Foothills with cattails or some form of brush on the water’s edge is attended by one or more mating pairs of Red-winged Blackbird now. They have returned from their winter south or west of Alberta over the past couple of weeks and are now setting up for the kids. I love the energy that is growing now that spring is truly underway (in May, I know…)
This fellow flew within a few dozen yards to check me out. He may have just thought that the tripod and long lens was overkill for his little pond but he hopped along the bullrushes nearby and then flew across the water to where I could see his mate was perched.
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.
Over the last couple of weeks the North American Robins have begun to arrive and there are now good numbers flitting about the receding snow and the newly exposed grass. In this part of the world, they are one of the most promising signs that spring has successfully beaten back winter. I’m very happy to see them making that case both here in Bragg Creek and in Banff.
There was a storm that burst out of the mountains and settled over the prairies around Calgary in the middle of the week. With the warmer weather that preceded the blizzard, there are hundreds of shallow depressions currently masquerading as ponds in the fields and meadows. It serves the waterfowl that are currently migrating to their breeding grounds in the north. I found this resolute swan paddling in one of these pools in Springbank. Together with a partner, it was dunking its head looking for food and seemingly oblivious to the angry snow falling. The Tundra and Trumpeter Swans briefly stop in this part of Alberta, the largest regattas only staying for one or two days. By the end of this weekend, most will have flown on. I did not get too close to these birds so I have to guess that this is a Trumpeter as I could not see a yellow spot on the bill which is only found on the Tundra Swan. However, with the mottled grey plumage, I think it is an adolescent and I’m not certain whether the yellow spot only develops in adults. Either way, great to see these short-term visitors.
The Ring-billed Gull is sometimes called the fast food gull. They have earned the name as they will often hang around fast food restaurants scavenging for food.
This gull was one of two foraging around a mall parking lot. With the warm, evening light and puddles reflecting the bird and the blue sky, I was happy to spend a few minutes photographing in an unusual wildlife location.