A blizzard swept out of the mountains on the weekend. The ground had been almost bare but winter felt everyone’s enthusiasm for spring was premature. The snow fell through the night and in the morning there was almost a foot blanketing the grass, the trees and almost anything else that doesn’t move. In the middle of the storm, I went outside to watch the snow and enjoy the sound of the huge flakes touching down and watching them tumble through the darkness.
I went back to Elbow Falls for the third time in the last couple of weeks. With the snowstorm that blew in on the weekend, I was drawn back to see another face to the area. Heavy snowflakes had piled up in the trees and across the rocks with more falling rapidly when I was up there. A slip on the ice was my payment for passage but I liked the scene I slid into. The falling snow gave the trees a charcoal sketched look while the rocks and water in the river had texture and character that seemed to suit black and white processing.
With fresh snow on the ground, I went back up to Elbow Falls to see how the valley would look in a return to winter clothing. I was there only a week ago and the change, beyond the cold, was significant. I love snow-covered landscapes so I found this visit to Kananaskis to be a very beautiful one. I think spring is coming soon but when winter is this pretty, I don’t mind a little delay.
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/4000th of a second at f/11 on ISO 400
The winds that came with the weather change last weekend were heavy when I left my home in Bragg Creek for the Banff National Park in the morning. When I got into the mountains, the Bow Valley was pretty calm but higher up on the slopes, the snow was blowing around in opaque sheets while the clouds raced by above. Watching from the Vermillion Lakes shoreline, I was mesmerized by the view of Mount Rundle. The sun catching the wispy snow drawn out over the slopes before fraying into the shadow as it flew over the cliffs was beautiful to watch.
This Ermine, a short-tailed weasel in its winter coat, was bounding in the snow hunting. They are so quick that a sharp image can be a challenge. The bright day and relatively uncluttered scene helped the auto focus and I nabbed a couple of shots before it skipped into deeper brush and out of sight.
Three years ago, we had a weasel that set up for a couple of months in a woodpile in our backyard. I haven’t seen one since then so it was great fun to have a short encounter again.
The waves of mild temperatures then bitter cold that have been winter’s pattern this year have played havoc with the ice.
Along the Elbow River the once smooth sheets of water frozen layer on layer, have buckled and split along the channel.
The temperature went into free fall yesterday but the blue skies pulled me outside this morning. Near the edge of the ice down the Elbow I spent some time photographing the forms created by the blanket of snow, broken ice cover, and the long shadows of winter.
The Northern Lights came to life over my home in Redwood Meadows a couple of nights ago. I threw on some winter gear and walked down to the Elbow River with my camera and tripod. The moon was waning but was close to full and lit up the snow and ice so my headlamp wasn’t needed. I went out on the ice and watched the Aurora ripple across the northern quarter of the sky. It was a cold and very late show. And I loved it.Note: Click on any photograph to open a higher resolution version of the image.
The colors dimmed after an hour or so and I could barely make out the lights. The camera could still resolve them and I liked the subtle color in one of the last images from the evening.
Rain has been a rare commodity in northern Arizona for the last couple of months. When clouds started to roll in from the north while we were down there people were hopeful that they would drop some of their precipitation before moving on. The rain did come eventually and the evening before I hiked along the airport trail to watch the storm’s approach.
I was content to watch the blues and greys in the sky deepen with night coming. However, a break in the clouds to the west allowed for some color to break through and I turned my attention out over West Sedona’s forested cityscape.
There was an uneven stream of traffic passing below me towards the airport and the lookouts around the mesa. Long exposures of cars driving up and down the road to the airport seemed to work well with this sunset.
… Not in Alberta though. Bobbi and I were in Sedona, Arizona last week and we learned that there was one species of Hummingbird that stays in the area through the winter. In the spring and summer, there can be up to 14 different types of Hummingbirds there but only the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) will spend the full year.
I went to the Red Rock State Park where I had been told a couple of these birds had staked out the feeder put out by the park staff as their territory. Tucked off to the side of the visitor center, they have a sheltered garden with native trees surrounding a few benches and various bird feeders catering to those who overwinter nearby. The Hummingbird feeder is in a slightly unusual position beside an exit door and close to the large bay windows of smoked glass. I suppose it allows people to stand close to the window on the inside and watch these speedy fellows at close range. I liked the clean background afforded by the opaque window so it suited my purposes.
I believe there were two individuals that I saw but they never appeared at the same time so it could have been one, two or more as I’m not familiar with this species and could easily mistake the unique number observed. Regardless, I was entranced by their iridescent feathers, the speed and precision of these birds as I always am with Hummingbirds. It will be several months until they return to my home so it was a treat to spend some time with them last week.
Winter in Sedona is a relative term. I spent the morning scrambling over the odd icy patch but was in shorts for most of the day. It can snow here but only a few times a year. Coming from Canada’s frozen lands, I find this part of Arizona’s version of this season very appealing. I hiked around for much of the day and ended up at Red Rock Crossing in the afternoon. Cathedral Rock is a siren’s call for artists and I spent hours enjoying the views across Oak Creek and up to the red rocks. I love the colour palette with the gray branches of the dormant trees, the colourful rocks above and below with the yellow grasses providing a nice bridge to tie them together. A beautiful place to spend time.
A member of the ground crew at the Calgary International Airport does the critical work of de-icing the airplane during a cold sunrise well below freezing in Alberta, Canada.
After a nice break over Christmas where I was outside playing with my kids and walking along the river, I’m enjoying winter now. Following one of the cold snaps, the chickadees that visit our backyard seemed happy to be flying around in the -5°C weather after -30°C the day before. They were flitting back and forth between the feeder and the tree beside our second floor deck which allowed me to practice capturing their launches off of the evergreen branches.
The mid-flight images were not successful in the least (not shown – nothing worthwhile…) but I’m trying different strategies as me and auto focus are not quick enough to track their small bodies in their darting, quick flight movements. For now, I was happy to spend some time with these little birds in my backyard while the sun drifted in and out of the clouds.
The first day of the year was a bright, sunny one in the Foothills. I took a little drive through the backroads near my home in the afternoon and found this resolute young tree to be the right subject for the first photograph of 2014.
We sent 2013 packing in style and had fun welcoming in 2014. The kids didn’t make it to midnight but we did a countdown for them when my daughter woke up in the night. It was great to spend the night with our good friends and hope everyone was able to enjoy their New Year’s Eve in the way that works for them.
From my family to yours, we wish you a year of happiness, health, good surprises and the opportunities to make it a great year. Happy New Year!
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.
We are just coming out of a long cold snap here on the eastern flanks of the Rockies. Temperatures started out around -10°C (14°F) last week and then dropped to -25°C (-13°F) a couple of days ago and have stayed there. This image is from a stretch of the Elbow River just a couple hundred meters from my home in Redwood Meadows (west of Calgary). Most of the river there is now iced over but I haven’t been back at dawn to photograph the difference.
Apparently we start climbing upwards later today and should be just below freezing by the weekend. That will feel balmy – I hope the forecasts hold! I love the winter landscapes but this year when the temperature fell below about -15 my enthusiasm for the season fell too. Maybe some powder skiing on the weekend will remind me of the upside of winter.
A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor. It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along. Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.
I was walking along a forested stream that runs parallel with the Elbow River where they run under Highway 8 near Discovery Ridge on the western edge of Calgary on Saturday morning. When the snow started to fall, it took very little time for the flakes to grow in both size and frequency.
The trees were soon cloaked in white, leaving the water alone to provide a little colour in the landscape.
It was quiet with only the sound of the snow falling. And a serene walk along this tributary to the Elbow River among the trees that edge its length.
Near the end of the walk, a raven flew overhead – the snow visible between us.
(click on any image to open a page with a larger version)
A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard. The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on. Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while. While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.
Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits. Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.
While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew. I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball. Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.
The Chickadees, Bluejays and Nuthatches in our backyard stay year round. For some of the other birds, the heavy snowstorm on Sunday and the cold temperatures left behind have prompted discussion about overwintering or heading for the south. This Evening Grosbeak seemed to be weighing his options as he nibbled on twigs while perched in the bushes above the pond.
With the cold and the snow, I will not blame him if he takes flight soon.
The slushy rain we had for a couple of hours last night in Redwood Meadows was snow in Bragg Creek. The kids and I toured through West Bragg to check out the first snow and see what wildlife we might find.
We found a few small groups of deer, Mules and White-tailed, in different places. A young bull moose walked in front of us when we were on the edge of Kananaskis Country. It was nice to see a few creatures out and about.
The afternoon was beautiful so I’m not sure if this first snowfall will stay on the ground or not. It was great to work with white back in the color palette.
Winter is beginning to win the hearts and minds of the mountains in Kananaskis Country. After the sunrise at Wedge Pond, I hiked around the Upper Kananaskis Lake for a little while. There are some lovely yellows and golds in the trees reaching up along the lower flanks. With a few days of cool weather the patches of snow have knitted together and trekked down the slopes to meet, and pass through, the forest.