The Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) I see are usually wading in the water or flying above it. When I was in Sedona I went down to Red Rock Crossing and was surprised to catch sight of one not by Oak Creek but in a field of tall grass a couple of hundred meters away from the water.
The bird was walking on a path leading up towards a ridge but lingered fairly close which allowed me to change lenses for a couple of different looks. I really love these birds and it was a treat to see one in an unusual environment.
I noticed some crimson flecks on its bill and when I left the bird and went back towards Oak Creek, I figured out why the Heron stayed nearby. I realized I had interrupted its dinner. I left the area and returned to the edge of the clearing an hour later to find it had left but not before returning to finish the meal.
I went out on the prairie a couple of times on the weekend. I was looking for owls. On the “hope to see” list were Great Horned, Snowy and Short-eared. I went to the back roads around Frank Lake. I encountered a couple of Snowies but it was too dark to photograph them. I returned to both locations in better light a couple of times but unsurprisingly they had both moved on. Nice to know they were around though. Short-eared proved elusive and I did not see any ears, short or otherwise.
I did find a great old barn set off in a remote spot with a couple of grain silos on the first evening. That scene was great on its own but the Great Horned Owl I saw perched in a window. The window frame was weathered with peeling red paint so character was not in short supply. The owl was shy once I stopped my car and it hopped inside the barn to perch on a beam. I set up a ways back from a west-facing window at the other end of the barn in the hopes that the owl might fly through it as dusk approached and it went out to start hunting.
A chilly wait through the golden light had no results and when the owl did head out, it flew through the eastern window. While I waited, a long lens and high ISO allowed for a couple of nice shadow dominated images. I left the owl the first night with it perched on a fencepost near the barn. When I returned home and looked at the images, I was surprised to see a second owl buried in the shadows inside the barn. It had been invisible to my eyes but had just barely resolved on the highest ISO images.
I returned two days later before dawn and saw the pair of owls working out of the same eastern window. I set up on the same western window and could see them through main entrance as the sun rose. Their activity wound down as the day wrestled with the night and soon they were perched on the same beams as before.
This time, I took a wide path around the side of the barn and was able to photograph each owl on their respective beams through the eastern window (per the image at the top of this post and directly below).
I returned to my original spot and as I came around the barn saw that one of the owls had flown up to the top of a silo. It was perched there scanning the fields. I guess it wanted one last snack before its nap.
It stayed up there for ten minutes and then flew along the fence-line, dropped on a fence post for a minute and then glided over the patchwork of snow and grass to a mound of earth a few hundred meters away.
I waited a while longer to see if the owl would come back or its mate would head out. Neither happened and I packed up as the owl inside the barn dropped off to sleep.
I’ll head back to see about that window again in a couple of weeks. Maybe they’ll give me an opportunity then. It was great to see these beautiful birds either way. They have amazing faces and I really enjoyed studying them for a couple of hours.
Last year was a good year for wildlife. I had some really great encounters with animals in Brackendale, Cabo San Lucas and the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast. Closer to home, I enjoyed a lot of time on the Prairies and in the mountains photographing . These hikes and drives were rewarded with nice images of birds, bears and a moose that made it into this collection.
If you are interested in the list of 32 selected photographs, please CLICK THIS LINK to open the gallery’s webpage. Continue reading below if you want to know a bit more about my goals in 2013 and how they are evolving for the new year.
When reviewing my wildlife images from 2012 last January, I said my goals for 2013 would be the same. At that time, I said my goals were to improve my approaches to wildlife (to minimize disruption and increase the chance to observe natural behaviour), improve my technique (better sharpness and quicker response to animal movement) and create images that tell a more complete story about the animals (more engaging and interesting). I did work on those throughout the year and I can see improvements in my imagery as a result.
Increasingly I am also trying to bring more artistry into my wildlife compositions. Overall, I have been happy with the results of that effort. I’m excited about this new year. Drawing more creativity and beauty into the photographs I make is the path I will stay on for now. With our children growing up and more willing to occasionally head out early and stay late, I am really looking forward to enjoying more and more of these encounters with my wife and our son and daughter. That is the most important goal for me in 2014.
An eagle enjoying a feast is not often left alone for too long in Brackendale. Finished spawning, the salmon drift downriver listlessly and eventually die naturally or with the assistance of the scavengers along the rivers. The effort is in pulling the fish out of the water. When that is done, competition often arrives to stake a claim. Skirmishes, jousting and all out fights can breakout before one eagle is chased off.
Occasionally, as in the photograph below, an equilibrium of sorts will be found where a few eagles will take turns on a fish with little aggression.
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200
I was in Brackendale, just north of Squamish, for a couple of days in December. Every year thousands of Bald Eagles congregate in this area along the banks of the Squamish River. There are three separate salmon spawning runs that overlap between November and February that result in dead and dying salmon littering the rocky shoreline. The easy dining is a draw for eagles, seagulls as well as the occasional otter and seal (which in turn are quite the draw for photographers as it turns out!) I was there for the Bald Eagles and was not disappointed in any way. The first day was spent along the berm, that serves as a main viewing point, a bit further upriver in an eddy where a particularly cool eagle was hanging out.
I will do a separate post from the second day when the snow fell and I was out on a birdwatching float down the river. For now, these images are from the first day where the overcast skies allowed for open shadows and allowed the texture and detail in the eagle plumage to be seen. It was pretty dark at times as you can tell by the ISO settings I was using but it was a great day filled with eagles coming and going.
There are so many fish that serious fights appear to be rare but eagles are opportunistic so there are still skirmishes where one will try to chase off another who has already gone through the effort of retrieving a salmon out of the water.
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 4000
Others preferred a little more distance from their brethren. This eagle hung out on a perch in the middle of a pond-like eddy off the river. At one point it called out but it didn’t fly over to the scattered groups of eagles in the trees across the water nor did any of them come over to visit.
It splashed around in the shallow water for a while, stopping to snack for a minute, but seemed to return to this stick as its preferred resting spot.
I never tired of watching these eagles flying. I think they are one of the most beautiful birds to watch in flight. It was a great day on BC’s west coast.
When we were in Cabo San Lucas in early December, I saw many cormorants flying past our beach. They fly low and fast with little deviation from a straight line past the shore. The odd one would dive under to fish but our location did not seem to be a great spot for a meal. One morning, I was watching for Brown Pelicans, who will occasionally land quite close by, when a juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) popped up on a rocky shelf about 30 meters away.
It looked at me for a second, started shaking off the water and then set to preening its feathers. I was thrilled to see one of these birds closeup. From afar, they appear to be completely black. With this opportunity, I was able to see the different shading in the feathers and the lighter shading around the face.
That was interesting for me but the location made the images even better than the close proximity. It had chosen a dynamic spot where the waves were breaking close behind it, one even crashed right on the bird. The water droplets from the cormorant’s shaking, the sea spray and warm morning sunlight as well as some nice looks from my new friend made for a really great encounter.
I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Sunday. I was hoping to see Saw-Whet Owls but with the cold snap that hit Vancouver and the Lower Mainland a few days before, I was told they had disappeared. Hardier birds were hanging around the snowy pathways so I wasn’t disappointed with the visit. This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was hunting in the shallows near a blind and wandered very close.
A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) squawks to its family nearby.
The same bird exhales a puff of warm air.
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) drums on an old tree for insects.A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) swims between the ice chunks in a brackish pond.
Two female Mallards waddle down the pathway.
A pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) share a perch over the water.
A small flight of Sandhill Cranes transit between ponds at the sanctuary.
My parents and I went out for our fairly annual moose run this morning. The kids give the drive to look for wildlife a pass as they were busy assembling new toys and reading new books. We found two bull moose in a line of aspen along a ridge and watched them walking for a few minutes. They dropped down through the deep snow into a meadow of scrubby willows nearby and set about grazing on the slender branches.
Aside from that, it was nice to share an encounter with these wonderful animals with my parents on Christmas morning.
December has been a busy end to a busy year. It is nice to have a few days over Christmas to spend time at home with my family. I hope you are able to do the things that make for a great holiday for you and yours. Merry Christmas!
When we were in Cabo San Lucas the first week of December, Bobbi and I both went out on whale watching trips. Whales found Bobbi less than a mile out of the Cabo San Lucas Marina while I had a longer travel along the Pacific coastline before sighting one active Humpback. We both had long encounters with these magnificent animals. Our children had enjoyed the dolphin swim the day before but were not excited about the whale watching. So one parent went out while the other patrolled the kids at the pool and beach.
While we went on separate excursions, we went with the same operator and were both similarly impressed. Whale Watch Cabo runs their tours on Panga boats, low to the water and great sight lines for everyone on board. Every tour they run is led by a marine biologist and a local captain. It was nice to hear more information about whales and other local ocean wildlife during the trip.
We enjoyed a close look of the Sea Lion colony and the groups of birds around Land’s End. Then headed out onto the open ocean up the coastline of western Baja. On my tour, we found an energetic whale and it was incredible to watch three separate breaches and numerous airborne tails. Bobbi and I both had great times and thank Janneke and Peter, the owners of Whale Watch Cabo, for making our trips very memorable.
Water sprays off a whale’s tail as it begins a dive in the Pacific Ocean west of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. This Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was very active with some great tail lifts and breaches before settling into a steady swim just under the surface which we used as our queue to part company. It is amazing just to see them and for it share some of its out of the water action was very fun to watch.
We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
Living in Alberta, I do not get to photograph seals very often. When I spent a couple of days in the Khutzeymateen, Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were often nearby and I was really taken by their curiosity and the challenge of getting good images of them. Some seals I’ve been around will lounge close-by but not do too much. These ones were wary but it seemed like their interest in seeing who was about and what we were up to drew them in. When I say nearby usually that meant no closer than a hundred metres or so – long lenses were quite handy here.
The challenge came that the seals in the inlet would usually pop their heads out for a second and then submerge again only to resurface in a different spot. While waiting for bears, it became a game trying to anticipate where these creatures would come up next. Usually, I would see them a long ways off and then they would go under and come up a few seconds later much further away.
A notable exception to this behaviour was when they would float upside down at the surface!
It was a strange sight and I was glad that our captain had an explanation for this behaviour: they watch the fish from the high vantage point. Remaining pretty motionless, the fish come pretty close and the seals can then lunge after them. It would be incredible to be underwater and photograph that action. Maybe next year!
When I returned to Prince Rupert I was eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, Breakers Pub (great food and friendly staff), when a couple of seals swam into the marina. The deck is perched on the rocks above the marina so I had a great view of them swimming around. It was the first time that trip that I was able to see and photograph their entire body. The light was a bit harsh but a polarizer cut the reflection off the water. I was told by our waitress that these three seals had been frequent visitors to the marina for a couple of months so they didn’t duck and surface like their cousins in the Khutzeymateen.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600
There were two beavers working at Wild Rose yesterday. My daughter was thrilled to see them swimming around. She had never seen one before so two was double perfect in her words. This one was working hard ferrying tree branches back to their lodge.
The American robins (Turdus migratorius) which have lived in the trees behind our house for through the warm months have a habit of bathing in our little pond regularly.
In the summer, they seem to prefer washing up in the morning whereas in the cooler days of spring and now in autumn, they visit in closer to noon. The other day the pond seemed more like an airport as there were eight Robins along with several Black-capped chickadees and a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) flying around.
I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).
It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.
Their enthusiasm when splashing water around with their wings is a great photography subject and high shutter speeds can freeze the action at interesting moments.
I expect they will be leaving soon and will return next year as the harbingers of spring in late May a couple of weeks before spring has subdued winter.