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.
We stayed at Lake Louise a couple of weeks ago and I set up to take some photographs from my room of the ice sculptures lit up around the front lawn of the Chateau. It was then I noticed the stars and how wonderfully bright they were. With the reflection of lights from below there was a lot of distortion, refraction and general murk to wrestle with. The hazy arcs above the mountain are one of the interesting effects from the lamps around the pathways. I worked away for a little while and liked this somewhat abstract image of Mount Whyte under the night sky.
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.
The second sunrise at Vermilion Lake this weekend produced some wonderful images this weekend. There was a break between clouds and mountain peaks farther east so the clouds above Mount Rundle and the lake were painted with this amazing light. One of the best mornings that I have had in the Banff National Park.
The hot springs that seep into the water along the chain of lakes allow for a few pools without ice to remain open through the winter. These pools pull many photographers to their shores and this morning was no exception. It’s always interesting how quiet these moments become even with five other photographers nearby. The better the light gets, the quieter it usually becomes. It was silent at the peak of this morning’s sunrise.
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 sunset in West Bragg Creek was beautiful last night. The warm sunlight alternating with the long shadows striped the land and looked great in every direction. However it was the same light caught in the clouds above that stole the show.
We have two types of woodpeckers that visit the trees in our backyard. The Downy is the smaller of the two but they are very similar looking otherwise. The Hairy woodpecker is a beautiful bird and I watched one of them as it pecked at tree trunks for insects under the bark. They like to hammer one spot for several seconds and then move around the tree or off to another trunk.
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Actually the Red squirrels that I was photographing a couple of different times over the weekend weren’t getting up to too much trouble so the title is a little bit misleading. However, when I watch them tearing up and down trees, leaping between branches, grabbing seeds, etc. they seem mischievous. We had one, in the image below, that found a way into our attic from the outside last year, that crossed from mischief into nuisance but a live trap and rodent proofing measures allowed us to remove it and for it to return to the backyard
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This same squirrel is drawn to the bird feeders I have put out over the years. It successfully pilfered from or destroyed each of them! That has been stopped with the current, rather ugly, feeder which the squirrel can neither knock down nor draw seeds from. Some of the birds that visit, nuthatches in particular, are very picky about the seeds they eat so many seeds drop to the ground which birds and squirrels alike enjoy snacking on.
Nevertheless the squirrel still takes a crack at this feeder every couple of days as seen above. Below, he is perched on the top of the metalwork that holds the feeder as well as flowers in the summer.
Even with seeds scattered on the deck, when I observe the squirrels eating they prefer stripping cones from the tall conifers they run around in all day to get at the seeds within. We seem to have an equilibrium with the squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, birds and voles in the backyard. May it continue to last.
It was a sunny morning today so I spent some time photographing the Black-capped chickadees that live in our backyard. There are several of them that share the bird seed we put out with a large flock of Common redpolls and a few Red-breasted nuthatch through the winter.
As from a couple of weeks ago with their redpoll cousins, the chickadees were elusive to capture nicely in flight. But it was a very nice time with my backyard neighbours.
A couple from the morning.
I like my backyard, it’s a cool place.