Archive for January, 2012

Up into the blue

On Saturday evening, I was combing Bragg Creek’s back roads for a Great Gray Owl I have seen a couple of times lately.  I did not find the owl but enjoyed the scintillating blues in the sky contrasting with the bright white clouds.  I paused my search to watch the sky and see if any of the clouds picked up the sunset colors once the sun dropped.  I was mesmerized by these colors and contrasts and the scene faded to gray and then black in just a few minutes.

2011 Favourite Photographs – Wildlife

I’ve been carving out a little time to review my photography over the past year.  It’s been nice to recall some good adventures and revisit some of my favourites from 2011.  I spent a fair bit of time sitting in the snow waiting, driving back roads looking and hiking game trails exploring so it was a great year.  I crossed paths with a few animals and here are my favourite images from those encounters.

This moose and her calf were grazing along Highway 40 west of Highwood Pass in Kananaskis.  She was beautiful and here I was able to make a nice side portrait of her as she watched her young one prancing around.

An early spring hike found me exchanging glances with a large female moose after I heard rustling in this stand of slender branches and saw her a few meters away.

I had some bull moose encounters throughout the year and the hour I walked parallel to this pair in West Bragg Creek near Wild Rose was a highlight.

Where we live we have a lot of opportunity to see white-tailed and mule deer.  I photographed many groups and individuals of both over the last year.  This white-tailed buck was wary of me at first but after passing his sniff test he returned to his wandering.

The mule deer at the edge of the forest was flanked by another, possibly younger deer, deeper in the woods.  They stared at me for a minute before I drove on and they leapt further into the trees.

The Great Gray Owls are present throughout the woods and meadows that I often wander through but they seem to appear only when they want to be seen.  I was able to have some long encounters throughout the year and I continue to be amazed by these magical creatures.

I wanted to photograph more bears this year and I spent a lot of time reading about behaviour, habits and their movements through the year.  It paid off and I was able to enjoy some very good encounters where they were not threatened by my presence and I was able to photograph them safely.

This grizzly encounter was a surprise.  Our group was busy photographing the raw wilderness in the Tonquin Valley on the eastern shore of Amethyst Lake when we noticed this boar walking over the rocks and bushes a couple hundred feet away.  He saw us at the same time and though he didn’t seem threatened, he wasn’t interested in getting any closer either.  He made a quarter turn and walked along the shoreline away from us.

This black bear cub was feasting in a dandelion meadow in the Kootenay National Park in eastern British Columbia.

These mountain goats were taking a break from their mineral foraging to look over the river valley along the Icefields Parkway in the Jasper National Park.

The warm springs along the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park opened a stretch of water where an American Dipper came to reflect and enjoy a nice bath.

The ripples from this American Coot distorted the reflection of the dark telephone pole above a pond in Springbank.

The Sula sula (Red-footed booby) birds in Kilauea on Kaua’i, Hawai’i were great fliers that were a lot of fun to watch at the National Refuge there.

This last one is just a brief glimpse of a humpback whale that Bobbi and I had on a sail we went on in Kaua’i.  I like the abstract aspects of the image overall and it is the source of one of my goals which is to photograph more marine wildlife in the coming year.

I felt sad banishing the runner-up images back to the library without giving them a chance to stretch a bit so I’ve put them into a slideshow here. Have a look at the near misses if you are so inclined.  Thanks for taking a stroll through 2011 with me.

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Canadian Rockies Landscapes: Dawn on Vermilion Lake

Yesterday, I went out for a morning photography tour along the Vermilion Lakes just outside of Banff.  I enjoy returning to this area and usually am rewarded by the wildlife, the landscapes or something little thing that draws my eye.  I settled into a favourite spot along the second Vermilion Lake where there are some hot springs that seep out of the mountainside, collect into a network of small streams and keep a few pools of water free of the snow-covered sheet of ice that hides the rest of the lake.

Mount Rundle stands directly between the lakes and the point where the sun rises at this time of the year so you need some broken clouds to be in the right place to catch the warm light.

Patience was rewarded on this morning as the clouds were perfect and the sky burned with fiery reds and oranges for a few minutes.  It was a great morning to be out on the lakeshore.


Hawaiian Landscapes: Kaua’i Sunrises

I was able to enjoy three consecutive sunrises down on the eastern shore of Kaua’i in the last days of our trip in December. I went to a couple of different spots between Kealia and Kapa’a and each offered a different perspective of the coastline. Here are a few of the photographs I liked from these mornings on the water with the rising sun.

A defiant shelf of rock juts out into the surf while the sun drives through a set of breaking clouds. Before dawn, these clouds were knitted together and lashed the coast south of Kealia with a heavy rain. I was happy they had the good graces to separate and catch the early morning light.

A break between waves allow the water resting in these small tidal pools to reflect the color in the sky along the shore just north of Kapa’a.

Spray from the waves hitting the rocks was a challenge and demanded frequent spot cleanings. In this image above, I found the water spots on my lens were diffracting the sunlight in the middle of the image which added to the motion in the water and drew my eye up to the sun. I liked these rocks grouped just off shore and enjoyed trying to show the movement of the waves and sunlight in that time just after sunrise there.

The color lasts for only a couple of minutes this close to the equator as the sun seems to jump into the sky very quickly. This large cloud bank was in good position to catch the pink light as the sun pulled clear of a distant storm on the edge of the horizon.

The sun halo I could create here stole the show from the foreground rocks so I centered on it and eliminated any strong elements that would distract from this interesting optical illusion.

Hawaiian Nightscapes: Crescent moon over Hanalei

On two separate evenings, I photographed the sunset from a viewpoint overlooking Hanalei Bay.  It is the wet, stormy season on Kaua’i’s north coast which was still warm and pretty sunny.  It does help to create amazing clouds and when the sun was long gone I was still shooting the clouds, the moon and the afterglow.  The picture below was from a few minutes earlier when the glow up the coast was at its strongest point.

Prairie Wildlife: Snowy Owls

After photographing sunrise on Namaka Lake in the Siksika Reserve east of Calgary, I toured the nearby back roads for wildlife.  I found a few mule deer standing in tall grass and a couple of charismatic old barns but my subject of desire was the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus).  There is a healthy population of these owls between Calgary and Brooks.  Photographing these wonderful raptors has been on my list for a couple of winters now but yesterday was the first trip into the prairie east of Calgary dedicated to the purpose.  The first owl I found was a telephone pole hopper so we traveled together from pole to pole for half an hour before it flew up into a stand of trees (as above) and then on to the open fields.

I saw two more snowy owls while working my way back home on Highway 22X.  The first was flighty and I only photographed it flying away from me over the fields.

The last owl of the day I saw just before 11 am.  It stared me down from its perch on a fence post and then took off, flying low along the ditch before disappearing behind a small hill.  I will be back in the next couple of weeks and try to get one of these beautiful birds to fly towards me.

Hawaiian Seascape: Soft water and black rock

This time of year the northern coast of Kaua’i receives the heavy swells that hit the shoreline unchecked from the open water of the Pacific.  I was waiting for the sun to rise and the low light of dawn allowed me to use a shutter speed of four seconds.  This long exposure blurred the rows of spiky waves softening them into a supporting role, allowing this dramatic chunk of rock standing apart from the shore to be the dominant subject in the image.

Hawaiian Landscapes: Sunset in Koke’e State Park

We went up highway 550 in the southern part of Kauai which takes you from the ocean’s edge up to and along the Waimea Canyon.  It is a beautiful drive with great views of canyon and over the Pacific Ocean.  The drive up rewarded us with two different rainbows over the canyon which we could stop and photograph both times.  We went up in the afternoon so that we would be in nice, warm evening light by the time we were at the top of the canyon.  That worked out really well and Bobbi and I both took some lovely images on the way up.  After weathering a heavy rainstorm while we were looking over the Kalalau Valley we headed back down and as the clouds cleared we found the sun was falling fast and we stopped at a bend in the road in the Koke’e State Park.

The sunlight on the clouds started out these incredible yellows and golds.  Within a couple of minutes, oranges and then purples entered the scene.  It was beautiful light and the silhouettes of the trees against these colors were really interesting.  It turned out to be an unusual and wonderful place to watch a Hawaiian sunset.

Hawaiian Landscapes: Limahuli Stream

I have been to the island of Kaua’i a couple of times before and each time I have enjoyed exploring the north shore particularly along the Na Pali coast.  If you drive up to Ke’e Beach and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail, right near the end of the road you will cross over the Limahuli Stream.

On my last trip on one trip I passed the creek and I was captivated by the scene and wished we had time to stop.  Unfortunately, at that moment, we could not stop and I have honestly had many dreams about this location and photographing here over the past three years since that trip.  On this last visit, we made time to stop and I really enjoyed having a little time in this beautiful place.  Here are a few images from Limahuli.

The feline queen of the parking lot

On a grocery stop in Kapa’a the kids and I watched this feral cat strut around the parking lot.  It never broke into a run but it chased away roosters, hens and one small dog with the piercing stare and an aggressive posture very much reminding me of the mountain lions from the Rocky Mountains in my part of the world.  This cat made it very clear to me that she ruled this stretch of blacktop, simply allowing people to park their cars but ceding no authority to them.  Even the cats in Hawai’i are incredible.

Hawaiian Wildlife: Kilauea’s Sula Sula Birds

The Sula sula is commonly known as the Red-footed Booby.  This bird is the smallest in the Sula family with a wingspan of up to one metre and a body length about 2/3’s of that.  They are seabirds who are acrobatic fliers and are relatively common across the tropics.  They spend most of their time at sea but breed and raise their chicks in large colonies.  One of the great nesting sites for this close relative of the Gannet family is at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai’s northeastern shore.  During my stay on Kauai I made time to get out to the viewing platform beside the colony three times and enjoyed each visit enormously.

The nests are built in trees clinging to a steep cliff side which makes up one side of a ravine that drops into the ocean and is battered by waves through most of the winter.  The cluster of birds in the image above show the lowest part of the colony, closest to the water.  Across from this cliff is the Kilauea Lighthouse which faces the colony from the far side of the ravine and makes a great subject on its own in addition to playing a supporting role in the rainbow bird image below.

The warm, morning light illuminating the rainbow also shared its magical touch with this image of one of the birds where it was perched above the waves facing the nests.

At times, courtship involving skirmishes, flybys and the exchanges of sticks (presumably symbolic of the nest) took place on branches less than 25 metres away.  It was interesting to watch this behaviour and the landings that could easily be thought to be out of control.

And moments of quiet between or despite the action.  Those were some of the photographs I enjoyed making the most.

Hawaiian Wildlife: Monk Seal

The Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is one of two mammals native to the islands.  They are endangered and seeing them sunning on a beach or resting along a flat stretch of rocky shoreline, is special.  Around Kaua’i, there are an estimated 35 resident seals with some nomadic visitors from smaller islets further northwest along the Hawaiian chain (the animal’s total population is estimated to be around 1100).  The Hawaiians call the seals ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua which means “dog that runs in rough water”.  Ke’e Beach is a frequent destination for a lone seal to visit and I just missed seeing a seal there on three separate visits.  While photographing Red-footed boobies courting at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on the island’s northeast tip, I noticed a dark shape sliding across the rocks far below the viewing point on was photographing from.

It took a minute for me to put on as much lens as I had brought with me, a 300mm and a 1.4 extender for a total telephoto reach of 420mm, which turned the spot into a recognizable seal.  I would have liked more reach but the airlines don’t make travelling with large lenses an easy proposition.  Nevertheless I could watch the seal well through the lens and the upside was certainly that no one was disturbing the animal from that distance.

I wasn’t expecting to see a seal after my near misses so it was a treat to see one near the end of my trip.