Posts tagged “wildlife photography

A truly lone wolf

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9050

I left Jasper early in the morning heading south along the Highway 93, enjoying the empty road given the time of day.  I had hopes of finding a bear or two along the forest’s edge during my drive through the park (and did sight a very handsome fellow a little later).  I had gone about ten kilometres out of town and then felt compelled to retrace my path, thinking I would drive back to last bridge before town and then head south again.  Turning back, I went a couple of kilometres and then saw an animal quite a distance straight ahead.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-8963
I pulled off to the shoulder and levelled my long lens quickly.  I was happy to have a composition with the wolf in the middle of the road with the surrounding landscape visible.  I watched the wolf trot steadily down the middle and shoulders of the highway for several minutes.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-8978
She had a route in mind and stayed on it.  She paused near an opening to the river, and I had thought she might go down to the water.  That wasn’t her path as she carried along the road, passing me on the other side and stopping to give me a stare before moving on.  At close range I noticed her tracking collar and it seemed like she had been freshly shaved around the neck so I wonder if she had been fitted with a new collar and was now catching back up with her pack.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9010
Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9007
Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9038

Wolves are one of my unicorn animals.  That is to say that I don’t see them anywhere near as often as I would like.  So it is very special when I do get to spend time with one.  Especially one as pretty as this wolf!

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9054


A backscratching bear’s dance

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9297

I visited Jasper National Park for a couple of days over the Victoria Day long weekend.  The park has a different feel (both are great – just different) from Banff and I always look forward to spending time there.   I plan to share a few stories of time I spent with some of the magnificent wildlife there but will start with a really fun moment.

Black bear shuffle and stare - © Christopher Martin-9121

This black bear was grazing in the ground cover of a stretch of open forest when I found him.  I watched him scratch, sniff and chew on shrubs, flowers and roots for several minutes and then he sauntered over to this small tree.

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9279

Rearing up on his hind legs, he seemed really happy to rub his back up and down against the spiky needles.  I’m not sure how much scratching he felt with his thick coat so maybe it was more for the scent or to shake off some insects.  No matter the reason, it was cool to see a bear dancing for his own reasons.

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9286

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9287

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9300

 

 

 

 


Owlets starting and staring…

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9592-2

On a walk a couple of weeks ago I came across a Great gray owl nest in Bragg Creek.  I had noticed an owl perched high up in a tree and while watching it, I heard its very soft hooting, about 10 seconds apart – almost like a slow, steady beat which was not a vocalization I was familiar with.  A bit of motion higher up in another tree about 50′ away drew my attention and I could see two owlets in a large nest.  The activity was the larger one spreading, and flapping, its wings.  The vocalization seemed like a steady reassurance to the owlets that mom was close by.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9061

I’m always a bit anxious when I find a nest as I don’t want to stress the chicks or, in a very much worst case scenario, cause the parents to abandon them.  This nest was very high up and the mature owl did not appear to be agitated so I took a few photographs and then carried on my way.  The sight lines to the nest were not great but I planned to come back in a couple of weeks to see how the little ones were doing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9438
Earlier this week, I returned to the path and walked back towards the nest.  Rounding a corner, another flutter of activity caught my eye.  This time, it was not at the nest as I had been expecting but about 30′ off of the ground in a tree neighbouring the nest’s holder.  It took me a second before I realized it was one of the chicks perched on a branch flapping its wings for balance.  I looked around and soon spied one of the parents perched in an aspen watching intently.  It seemed the owlet had left the nest at some very recent point, and was making its way to the forest floor.  That’s being a bit kind – as I watched for the next couple of minutes it somersaulted, tumbled, grabbed and slid its way down the branches in a series of 3 to 6′ drops until it half flew, half crashed to the ground.  I had my longest lens on a tripod and was set up to watch this even from my spot about 150′ away.  The birds hadn’t noticed me as all of their attention was presumably consumed by this flight of the still mostly flightless owlet.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9446

The little owl righted itself and peered around to get its bearings.  I moved up the path a little ways which gave me a good line to the bird and we stared at one another for a few seconds.  Mother dropped down to a fallen tree and the little one jump/flew over to it.  The two of them moved off to the side towards a bit of an opening in the trees.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9483

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9641

I lost sight of them and was picking up my tripod to see if a spot a little further up the trail might afford a better view when I looked up and saw the second owlet (the first picture in this story and the one below).  About 20′ away, perched about 12′ off the ground and staring at me.  I retreated to the edge of the trail, set up again and was able to photograph this beautiful creature.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9655

All the while I could hear the other owlet flitting about and crashing around in the underbrush.  I circled away from the smaller owl in front of me and found a great spot a good distance from that owl with a nice view of the first one I had seen fall out of the tree.  It had now managed to fly up to a bent branch about 8′ off the ground.  Its mom was perched 5′ directly above that on another aspen.  I closed to about 80′ away and watched them for several minutes.  The highlight was when the father swooped in and fed the owlet a mouse.  The actually handoff (beak off?) happened just out of sight from my position so I didn’t photograph it but it was so cool to see.  The father flew off back towards the nearby fields and the mother found a new perch a little higher up.  I left the chick in its spot watching me languidly as it digested supper.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9757

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9742

I checked on the second owl, which was noticeably smaller than the other, and it was still in the same spot.  The sun had dropped and was tracing an outline of the bird’s profile which I found to be appealing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9875

One of the parents had flown to a perch nearby and was watching this owlet.  My ears picked up the soft, steady hooting once more and I thought that was the right time to leave the family to themselves.  I had no interest in delaying this one’s supper as I expected the next mouse caught would be hers (or his).

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9856


A ruckus on the water

One angry goose - © Christopher Martin-8709

I went to Wild Rose Lake a few days ago to see what animals might be active early in the day before dawn.  I’m waiting for the loons to return to the lake so I visit regularly.  On this morning, a beaver and a muskrat were paddling along different parts of the shoreline and there were small bands of ducks nearer to the middle.  Thin bands of fog blew over the surface and I stopped to watch that dance for a while.  It was a tranquil scene supported by gentle calls from the birds including three Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that floated by.

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8629

And then, all hell broke out.  Apparently the geese were not three friends but one couple and a third wheel.  The boyfriend apparently had enough and changed his tone from soft quacking to loud, angry honking.  That happened right when he lunged at the other male and the two were in the equivalent of a back alley brawl – maybe a better description would be a pond pounding or a mid-lake mashup.  The beaks were the main duelling weapon but wings and bodies were used to attack and defend as well.  The main fight lasted less than a minute and then the chase began.

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8671
The male in the relationship trounced the other one and sent him scooting away.  The chastened goose started beaking off from a short distance away and that seemed to rile the champion up.  He then swam/flew to the instigator and nipped at him until he dove under the water.  Popping up several meters away, the cycle then repeated itself six or seven more times.  It was crazy to watch!

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8685

Geese flight - © Christopher Martin-8670

In the end, the lone goose ended up flying across the lake and the lovebirds continued their morning swim.

Canada goose portrait - © Christopher Martin-8726


A Great gray owl on the edge of the Kananaskis forest

Great gray owl flying in the forest - © Christopher Martin-8140

Great gray owls blend into the forest effortlessly so it is easy to lose track of them.  When I have a chance to photograph one flying through the trees it is very special for me.  I discovered this owl while hiking a trail on the edge of the Kananaskis Country park area west of Bragg Creek.  It stayed on the perch for a half an hour keeping track of other creatures nearby and following unusual noises around.  I can’t count on which way a bird will launch when it does decide to fly so I was happy when this one flew in my direction and flew to my right.  It climbed to a higher perch on the opposite side of the trail which is where I left it to its business.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-8055

 

Great gray owl gliding - © Christopher Martin-8144


An owl in the muskeg

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6926-2

Muskeg is not a landscape that I think of owls hunting in but that is probably due to me not spending much time in them.  The word is Algonquin for grassy bog and in the Bragg Creek area there are only I couple places that I visit which would qualify.  On the weekend I was in one of these spots as they are a spring and summer haunt for moose.  I was surprised to find a Great gray owl perched on one of the stubby trees.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6877

I was using a long lens and was able to follow it as it flew around the bog landing in several spots.  The last perch it settled on a weathered fence post.  Despite being worn down and long out of any real service, it served as a good scouting tower for the owl.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6892-2

Within a few minutes, she cocked her head a couple of times, raised her wings and then dove into the grass.  On the ground, she hopped around a little bit and when she flew up to the post again had a mouse in her beak.

 

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6894

 

The owl fussed with the little creature for a few seconds to get the right grip.  With the meal secure, she flew away from the muskeg and up into the open forest nearby.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6911

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6917

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6918

 

 

 


An evening in the forest

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5762

The owls have been spoiling me over the past couple of weeks so please forgive yet another Great gray post with images from these most wonderful birds!

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5794

I found this owl hunting deeper in the forest and then worked the fence line on either side of the gravel road I was on in West Bragg.  After a mouse there, it moved out of the shadows and into the late day sunlight filtering through the forest.  These photographs cover that time where he flew between trees and dove into a couple of grassy spots.  All the effort yielded two more field mice and some great opportunities for me.  After another hour passed, he flew towards a field as the sun dipped behind the hills across the valley and I headed home.

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6120

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6125

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6145
Great gray owl in spring flight - © Christopher Martin-6243

 


Evening on the hunt

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4561

After hunting in the forest for a while, the owl flew to the edge of the tree line and operated from the fenceposts there.  He snagged two field mice within a couple of minutes, consuming one in the grass and one on a post.  He then flew deep into the woods.  Possibly to share with its mate or to continue hunting in another area.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4603

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4618

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4619

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4667


Forest Flight

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4314

I had an incredible weekend all centred around wildlife in Bragg Creek.  There was a heron, some geese, a couple of beavers, a coyote, a moose and even a crane that I had the opportunity to watch for varying amounts of time.  But the owl encounters were what made the mornings and evenings so special for me.  It started a couple of days earlier with my first Great gray owl time this spring where I photographed one hunting at night.  Then I was able to find two other adults hunting, each in a separate location.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4354

Of the three owl pairs that I have photographed for the past six years, all are represented in their respective regular haunts.  There was a male Great gray owl killed in an apparent collision with a vehicle in that area a couple of weeks ago so I suspect that one of these couples is without its mate.  That loss had brought great sadness so it was uplifting to see the others hunting and doing what they all should be doing.  I suspect the lone female will not raise chicks this year but it could have been an owl passing through the area that was struck so maybe all three pairs will have broods.  I have never scouted out any of the nests as I need to learn much more before I feel comfortable getting close and knowing I will not adversely impact the chicks.  So, I may never be able to confirm which, if any, of these pairs lost their partner.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4319

… back to the uplifting part – I’m really excited about the photographs from the weekend as the owls were unperturbed by my presence and stayed visible for long periods of time while successfully hunting in the forest and the fields.  It was a lot of unbroken time where I was able to be a part of their environment.  So lucky for me!  I will post a few entries of the individual encounters and start today with the Friday evening where one of the owls was hunting in a small opening in the forest.  I watched as he flew between fence posts and perches on stubby trees.  His attacks into the tall grass were hidden from my view but I had great chances to capture his flight.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4361

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4320

 


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


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