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.
This coyote didn’t seem impressed with the storm that tore across the Foothills on the weekend. The front of the blizzard was pretty wet so when the temperature started to drop, everything built up a layer of ice. I suppose this creature didn’t feel like trotting around with the extra weight, and the blinding snow, so it laid down and burrowed in. It was resolute to stay put and only watched me as I set up my camera and lens for this picture. Most coyotes will perk their ears so I wondered if this one may have been injured or sick. However, I went by a couple of hours later and the coyote had moved on. The storm was still raging so maybe dinner had called her to action. When I’d seen her earlier, I thought she might not leave until the weather improved considerably.
A few echos of the blizzard from last week blew through since then. More opportunities to photograph winter storms and with the image above I wanted to show the chaotic aspect often seen when the wind blows and the snow flies. Click on the image to open a page with a higher resolution version.
(as always, please click on any image to open a webpage with a higher resolution version)
The party for my son’s sixth birthday was scheduled for last Sunday but a heavy blizzard blew in the night before and travel on the roads was treacherous. We postponed the party to save family from driving in the storm which left Kian quite sad for a little bit. Fortunately his friends who live nearby bundled up, came over and we all headed outside for some tobogganing on the little hill behind our house. Not much sledding happened as the gang decided a snowball fight was a better use of their energy and time.
With smile restored and spirits high, Kian had a great time playing and the rest of us followed his lead. Kezia helped me to return fire after the attack above but then turned her sights my way a few minutes later.
Her brother liked Kezia’s idea and joined in the attack too – Traitors! I was worried about a full mutiny but their attentions soon turned to other targets.
With a small crisis (though rather big to a young boy) averted, we ended up having a great day and Bobbi even arranged to have some cupcakes to finish off the birthday celebrations. Which Kian enjoyed blowing out a solitary candle on (three times as I had a couple of different images that I wanted to make in mind).
A heavy blizzard blew through southern Alberta on Sunday. The snow fell throughout the day with the wind keeping pace alongside. The trees on the edge of Kananaskis Country caught pieces of the storm and twirled the snow around the branches in the evergreens.
As the moon waxed towards full this weekend, I spent an evening at Elbow Falls to photograph the landscape at night. The clear air allowed stars to shine even with a relatively short exposure and small aperture (10 seconds and f/8.0, respectively). Always a bit lonely sitting out there for a couple of hours but the stars are really good company.
The 6400 ISO and the bright moonlight allowed for some of the great details at this magical place in Kananaskis Country to show in the image. I am impressed with the improvements in the dSLR’s low-light capabilities over the last couple of years. A couple of years ago I spent another evening up at these falls. At that time I was using a Canon 1D Mark III and when compared with the image above and others where I used a 5D Mark III, the detail, structure of the noise and the color are all vastly improved. The technology is less and less of an obstacle to realizing the images I want to make. I like that a lot.
Our family went for a drive along the Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane a few days ago in search of raptors of any description. This road is nice drive that is rarely busy and can often yield sightings of owls, hawks or eagles. In a hilly farmland area we noticed a number of ravens circling around a stand of trees in a field a couple of hundred metres off the road. When we pulled over to see what the focus of their attention was two coyotes bolted out from under a large cedar and sprinted across the open into the thicker forest on the far side of the field. Looking back to the spot where they started running we could see a carcass that had been mostly picked clean of what, judging by one of the horns that was sticking up, appeared to be a bison. As it was on farm land it seems likely there were bison being raised here but there were no other farm animals within sight to confirm that theory. With coyotes, ravens, magpies and probably a number of other predators drawn to this unfortunate beast, its herd was likely as far away from this spot as the fences would allow. So, we were watching the ravens which were squawking and pestering the smaller birds picking at the scraps when Bobbi noticed a Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) approaching from down the valley.
We already had the long lenses out so we were able to photograph the bird as it flew overhead towards the other birds. Two ravens also saw the eagle inbound and flew up to harass this new attendee. The three looped around the trees for a minute before the eagle landed in one of the high branches and the black birds returned to ground.
During this chase, the overcast skies took on a more threatening tone and soon a soft snowfall turned into a blizzard. I thought the Golden eagle would wait out the height of the storm from the perch so I kept looking around to see if the coyotes, or anything else, came back.
Out of the sheets of snow a Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped in and took up a spot on a tree near to the Golden. This had turned out to be a great encounter and when a couple more Bald eagles flew in and around over the next half an hour, it continued to get better and better. The snow did finally ease up and there were opportunities for nice flight images.
The lighter skies appeared to spur one of the Bald eagles to say goodbye to a raven it had been sharing a tree with across the field and glide over to the bison skeleton.
This eagle brought a good amount of conviction to its scavenging intent and it chased off all of the passerine that had been crowding on the ground.
When we moved on, this eagle was alone on the ground having successfully landed and taken ownership of what remained.
The Golden eagle had disappeared and two Bald eagles were perched where they could keep an eye on the bones. The collection of black birds were scattered in singles and small groups around the scene though none strayed close to the eagle holding dominion on the ground. The last wildlife we saw as we drove away were the coyotes trotting along the hill towards the farm-house keeping their distance while still keeping an eye on the bison.
I’ve spent a lot of time this winter driving the township and range roads which divide the prairie up into a grid work of crisscrossing dirt roads. The primary goal has been to photograph Snowy owls during their winter stay here but I’m always happy to see bald eagles when I happen across them. These were two separate encounters. Above, the eagle was flying low over the fields west of Calgary and I parked at a driveway in time to photograph the bird flying past. In the photograph below, the eagle was perched in this tall tree near Gleichen east of Calgary for ten minutes while I watched before it launched and headed out over the fields.
Dawn at the second Vermilion Lake was beautiful with some lovely colour in the sky around Mount Rundle early in the sunrise. As the sun climbed, I moved into the contrasts and this one worked well in black and white.
Lake Louise is a favourite place for my wife and I to visit in the Banff National Park. This weekend, with my parents taking care of the kids for a night, we went up and stayed on the lake’s eastern shore at the Chateau. The view across the ice up to the Victoria Glacier and the surrounding peaks was hidden by nightfall by the time we arrived so I was anxious for the morning to come. As it turned out, I may have slept right through sunrise, if Bobbi hadn’t looked outside just after 7 and woken me up. The black of night had given way to the dark shades of blue ahead of the dawn. I looked outside and then raced out of the door a few minutes later.
Winter at Lake Louise is magical. The Fairmont had an ice carving competition earlier this year and the sculptures fanned out between the hotel and the lake. At night, they are lit up as is the patriotic castle that is in the middle of the skating rink cleared out on the lake ice.
An ice castle is made every winter by the Chateau’s chefs from large blocks of ice. Nearby is a hockey rink and the trailhead for ski trails along the northern shoreline. Through the evening and again during the day, as it turned out, these drew many visitors who walked, skated and skied around. However at the time I went down to the lake, in the early but quickly brightening morning, there were only a few other people around.
Two people were playing around with hockey sticks and a puck while a couple of other photographers were roaming across the ice. And there was one gentleman out skating laps around the castle – I was glad he wore a red coat.
Once the sunlight hit the peaks, the dark sky disappeared and the cold, clear dawn of a beautiful morning took hold. It was wonderful to be out on the lake and I had a lot of fun working with the details in the castle and the spectacular landscape surrounding it.
When the sun was rising out of the forest east of the lake, the warm light on the ice blocks provided another opportunity to play a bit longer before I headed in for breakfast with my dear, and patient, wife.
The common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) are, as the name implies, common across Canada’s lower latitudes in the winter. However, they are new to my backyard. We have had scores of Black-capped chickadees since we put out a winter bird feeder several years ago but not redpolls. This year, there is a flock of about ten that spend much of the day in the trees behind our house flitting back and forth to the feeder. They are joined now and then by a larger mob of about thirty more redpolls. All of them seem to play nice with the incumbent chickadees so they have been a great, and colourful, addition to the forest that edges my backyard.
The morning I spent with them this weekend was cold so all of the birds were eating a lot and flying around. My fingers didn’t like the -20˚C but it was a lot of fun standing in the middle of activity.
I set up early so the light was decidedly bluish. When it came up, the sun went in and out of the clouds so I had a lot of different moods to work with. It was a very fun morning at home.
I have been able to spend a couple of evenings with the two Snowy Owls since my first encounter with them near the Springbank Airport just before New Year’s. These are a few of the images that have stood out from the growing collection. I absolutely love watching these birds and with more time I’m learning some of their habits and behaviours.
The images below are from a drive I made east of Calgary on the weekend. I had good luck finding Snowies around Langdon and Gleichen last year and the success continued when I spotted this beautiful owl flying around one of the fields.
The cold continues which was great for our family wildlife drive this morning. The moose we saw were scattered over a few different spots in West Bragg Creek. This bull looked up with a small amount of interest and then went back to chewing branches. I’ll take it as a good sign and wanted to share this image of a moose on Christmas Morning along with wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas. I hope you have time to relax with those you love today and over the next few before many of us get wound up again.
When the mother and calf had retreated into the woods, this moose remained in the meadow and kept grazing.
When she moved into a stand of brambles, I used larger apertures to minimize the depth of field to separate her head from the branches in the foreground and background.
The shallow plane of focus and a black and white conversion worked well for this image below.
The moose around Bragg Creek, and elsewhere I would imagine, like the cold. When the thermometer drops below zero, they seem to come out. The colder, the better. This weekend we have stayed below -20°C and I found moose in a few different places around West Bragg Creek.
I got to spend an hour with a small herd of three cows and one calf. They were pretty docile, grazing on slender, red branches for much of the morning. They moved together and apart between stands of these branches and more open meadow. The young one played a little bit, running between mother and minders a couple of times.