Posts tagged “wildlife photography

Elk River Heron

Elk River Heron flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

The Elk River runs through a southeastern region of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.  Where the river spills out of the mountains into the Elk Valley, it widens and attracts an abundance of fish which in turn draws eagles, osprey and herons.  On our recent trip to Fernie I enjoyed several walks along the river and was able to watch all of these birds on separate encounters.  On the first evening my nephew Austin and I were out for a walk and watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying low along the river and land at a shallow stretch.

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

There was enough light that it worked out well to photograph him flying by and landing.

 Along the banks - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

He landed nearby but spooked when we walked a bit closer so we headed home.  It was the right call not only for the bird but the rain increased from the drizzle to a downpour which we were happy to miss.

Heron landing - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2500 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

Thanks Austin – it was fun to be out birding with you!

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2000 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800


Elbow Falls Dipper

American Dipper - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend for the sunrise but I stayed for the American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus).

Winter Dipper - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII + 70-200mm lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/8 on ISO 1000

I love watching these aquatically adept birds stalking, diving and swimming in the middle of the rapids.  On the last visit to the waterfall, there were three Dippers flitting about moving between the bottom of the waterfall and the rocks at the top.

Patience - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 4000

An uphill battle - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Splashing around - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

They chased each other down river a couple of times but spent most of their time fishing alone.  On a quiet morning in Kananaskis, it was nice to spend my time watching them.

Dipper Portraiture - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Let's have a look - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600


Great Blue Heron at Red Rock Crossing

Great Blue Heron in the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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.

Heron under the red rocks - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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Down in the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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.

Walking away - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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.


Prairie Falcon over… the prairies

Prairie Falcon in golden light - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

When I was waiting for my new owl friends to provide a beautiful through-the-window moment, my tripod and I were set up out the open on the snow-covered field that surrounds the barn.  I was not expecting any other wildlife to swing by given my foreign presence but this Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) must have taken pity on me.

Falcon's downstroke -2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

More likely, it was scanning the ground for dinner and the sun’s low altitude in the evening kept it from looking in my direction until it was pretty close.  I was happy to see this hunter though as the light was beautiful and the bird even more so.

Silo flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/4 on ISO 200

It was a very pleasant surprise when I ran across another one of these beautiful birds (maybe the same one) when I returned to that same area a couple of days later.  Well we didn’t really run into each other – I was driving and the bird was flying around a grain silo.  It circled around me twice which gave me a moment to get out of my car and track it a bit easier.


An abandoned barn for owls

Reserved observation - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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.

Barn sentinel - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/640 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

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.

Framed - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/320 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

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.

In shadows - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/80 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2000

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).

In the barn - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4 extender: 1/100 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

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.

Up on a grain silo - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4 extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

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.

Fence flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

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.


2013 Favourite Wildlife Photographs

The tail-end of lunch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“The Tail-End of Lunch” from the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Provincial Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens:  1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1250

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.

"Wapiti Water Shake" in the Banff National Park
“Wapiti Water Shake” in the Banff National Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Black Water Launch” from the Khutzeymateen Inlet on northern British Columbia’s west coast
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

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.

A Bald Eagle's winter flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Winter Flight” along the Squamish River in Brackendale in British Columbia
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

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.

Shadow Pelican - 2013 © Christopher Martin“Shadow Pelican” before dawn in Los Cabos, Mexico
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/8000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 3200


Eagle Skirmishes

Eagle Skirmish - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Lox for breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinThis eagle was unchallenged as we floated past but it kept its head on a swivel wary of potential thieves.

Guarding breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinIn another spot, there were a lot of fish along the rocks and a lot of eagles vying for them.

Salmon wars - offense and defense _2013 © Christopher Martin-

Eagle ballet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Salmon Potluck - 2013 © Christopher MartinHowever, one eagle soon came screaming in and upset the delicate balance.

The disruptor arrives - 2013 © Christopher MartinThere are many gulls that wait for opportunities to grab bits out of the water.  When eagles aren’t around, they have similar battles over prime spots.

Seagull skirmishes - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Bald Eagles in Brackendale

Immature in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Walking this way - 2013 © Christopher Martin-33612Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

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.

River Flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin-31222Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 4000

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.

Eagle Battle - 2013 © Christopher Martin-31552

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.

Eagle eye - 2013 © Christopher Martin-34812Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/800 of a second at f/4.5 on ISO 1600

2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2000

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.

Fish hunting - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Brackendale Buffet - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1000

Direct stare - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/2000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

Eagle Portrait - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/2000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

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.

Low Altitude - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender:  1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

Flying downriver - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens:  1/1000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 3200


A Curious Cormorant

Shakin' - 2013 © Christopher Martin
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.

Jumpin' up - 2013 © Christopher Martin
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.

2013 © Christopher Martin

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Shakin' all over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Breaking surf - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

In the surf - 2013 © Christopher MartinThis fellow preened again for a few minutes after this and a couple of other waves crashed.  Then it flew off the rock down to the water.  I left it swimming and diving for fish.
Into the air and back to the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Ocean swimming - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Birds from a visit to the George C. Reifel Sanctuary

Heron at Reifel - 2013 © Christopher Martin - 68547I 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.
Sandhill Squawk - © Christopher Martin-71887A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) squawks to its family nearby.
Sandhill Exhalation - 2013 © Christopher MartinThe same bird exhales a puff of warm air.

Pileated Woodpecker - © Christopher Martin-70987A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) drums on an old tree for insects.A male Mallard's iridescent cap - 2013 © Christopher MartinA Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) swims between the ice chunks in a brackish pond.
Trouble doubled - 2013 © Christopher MartinTwo female Mallards waddle down the pathway.
Wood duck perch - 2013 © Christopher MartinA pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) share a perch over the water.
Crane Flight - 2013 © Christopher MartinA small flight of Sandhill Cranes transit between ponds at the sanctuary.


A Christmas moose… or two

Bull moose grazing - 2013 © Christopher Martin
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.

Antler free - 2013 © Christopher Martin
One of the moose had shed its antlers while the other still carried a beautiful rack.  Both were big, strong boys and it was great to see them in such good health here in the middle of winter.

Reaching up - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Aside from that, it was nice to share an encounter with these wonderful animals with my parents on Christmas morning.

A little shy - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Merry Christmas!

Winter flight - 2013 © Christopher MartinWinter Flight – A Bald eagle flies under falling snow in Brackendale, B.C. on December 20th, 2013

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!


Whale tails and more

 Misty breach - © Christopher Martin-0103(click on an image to open a higher resolution version)

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.

Fin spray - © Christopher Martin-0169While 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.

Coast diver - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Humpback's maw - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Whale Tail

Whale Tail - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 70-200mm f/4 lens: 1/4000 of a second at f/11 on ISO 400

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.


Pelican Landing

Dawn landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The colors in the sky at dawn have been fantastic during our visit to Los Cabos this week.  The wildlife has been even more enjoyable.  Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) have been a favourite bird of mine to photograph since I first saw them here in Cabo san Lucas a couple of years ago.  On the prairies, we have White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) that will hang out on larger ponds for the summer but for some reason they don’t cast the same spell on me that their multi-coloured cousins do.  I had a great encounter with a pair of pelicans a couple of mornings ago.  This image was of the first one maneuvering in to land on a half-submerged rock pile just before sunrise.  The other pelican joined a little while later.  Probably once I get home, I’ll have more to share from these two.


Winter’s raptor

Prairie hunter - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) have arrived along the prairies with winter back.  Along with Snowy owls, they will dominate the skies until well into spring.

Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
I was excited to see Snowies a couple of times in the morning last weekend but they were less enthused to see me and flew away before I could stop.  This hawk was much more tolerant, I was able to photograph it for half an hour as it perched and flew along the fence line.

Rough command - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Backyard Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800

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.

Tongue flick - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800

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.

Looking around - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/8000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1250

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.

Departing now - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/2500 of a second at f/5 on ISO 800


Grizzly Bear Travels

Cub on patrol - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Coastal traveler - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Furry and Feisty - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Berry hunters in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Listening for trouble - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Slippery rocks - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Beach walk - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


Beak to talon

Beak to talon - 2013 © Christopher Martin

There was one additional encounter with a Bald eagle in the Khutzeymateen that I really enjoyed.  The rain cleared on the evening of the second day and the weather was beautiful on the morning of the third day.  We were crossing the inlet heading towards the side where the sun had just reached down the mountains to the shoreline.  An eagle was lit beautifully as it perched on a rock exposed during low tide.

River guardian - 2013 © Christopher Martin

At first I thought it was watching the seagulls at the mouth of the creek it was perched beside.  We watched it for a while as it surveyed its dominion.  It seemed in no rush to join the fray as the gulls jostled for scraps of fish that floated downstream from a bear working on the salmon up in the creek hidden in the forest.

Rocky perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When it took flight clutching the tail end of a salmon in its beak that it had pulled out of a little nook, I realized it had been pausing between feasts.  Watching it pass right in front of our boat, I had a few good images.  When it started to climb off the water, it passed the fish from to its talons, presumably allowing for more comfortable flight.

Sushi to go - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Under the radar - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A raptor in profile - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I loved the light and the sense of place in the flight images.  When the eagle passed the fish back, it was the defining moment of the encounter for me.


Eagles in the Khutzeymateen

Vertical aspirations - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Grizzly bears are the kings of the Khutzeymateen’s wildlife.  In the air, the eagles hold a similar position among the birds along the ten mile inlet.  Most were Bald eagles but a few Golden eagles were also in residence to enjoy the salmon runs that were in full swing.

A golden perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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In the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Constant adversaries on the prairies, eagles and ravens, were occasionally found chasing one or the other around the towering pines.

Catch me if you can - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Often adolescents were dining on the fish in the creeks alongside the seagulls.  That may have been much less trouble than jousting with their elders for the prime fishing locations at the mouth of the estuary.

An avian beachgoer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Beach picking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the heavy rain would roll down the valley, most of the eagles would weather it in the open on a raised perch of one type or another.  They probably don’t care too much about it but on the first two days where there were few breaks in the downpour, I thought there must be at least a few that hunted around for shelter.  I didn’t find them but the exposed raptors provided a good subject when the bears were not to be found.

Waiting out the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the rain did stop, the wings were unfolded to air dry and the daily activities resumed.

Drying out after the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Aerial curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Photographing the eagles throughout the trip into the Khutzeymateen was one of the collective highlights.  I’m fortunate to see them occasionally on the prairies but it was a real pleasure to be able to watch them along the coastline and up in the tops of the rainforest.

Eagles in the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Seals in the Khutzeymateen

A curious friend - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

I see you - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Whiskers - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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 distant onlooker - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A notable exception to this behaviour was when they would float upside down at the surface!

Upside-down seal - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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!

A float in the marina - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


Seagulls in the Khutzeymateen

Khutzeymateen gull in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Though named for its bears, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary shelters a great variety of other wildlife as well.  Seagulls abound in the inlet with several different species mixing in with any one of the flocks.

Symmetry - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With the salmon running up the creeks to spawn, the bears would go into the forest where the water is shallow for easy hunting.  When a bear is feeding upstream, seagulls soon arrive at the river mouth and wait for the scraps.

A sentry for scraps - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Waiting for the bears to feast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Bears are pretty messy when they are feasting on salmon so a lot of bits float down.  The birds hang in the air and perch along the banks watching for the bright red meat in the water.

A morsel of salmon caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The aerial acrobatics as they angle for position, dive for scraps, hold their territory and generally heckle one another are a lot of fun to watch.  The small streams keep the birds packed into a little area which allows for great photography as they fly in the same locations repeatedly.  Even with big lenses, it is relatively easy to track them as they fly up and down, back and forth.

Aerial surveillance - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the sail out of the inlet, a few seagulls were using a stick of driftwood as there base of operations.  I don’t know if they were on a break from the salmon or if the insects along the surface were more enticing.

Adrift in the inlet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

Whether on the rivers or out on the open water, I enjoyed photographing these birds throughout my time in the Khutzeymateen.


Video

Beaver’s Branch

Beaver's branch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


Robins in the bath

One eye open - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Prepping for bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

A Northern Flicker resting in the backyard - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).

Waiting in turn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.

Bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Flying drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


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