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Bear scratching in Yellowstone


Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male.  I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both!  I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).

I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied.  The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic.  One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area.  She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!)  She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree.  From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often.  The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.


With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks.  The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point.  I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.



Catching sunrise in the clouds


I spent a morning up at Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country a few days ago.  The sky was dark when I showed up there but I could make out the clouds as they ran eastward.  Dawn came quickly as it often does at this time of the year and I was pleased that a loose knot of these clouds had not yet disappeared behind the silhouetted tree line.  They caught the early light and spun it into reds, purples and oranges for a couple of minutes before the sunlight turned to gold and they continued the journey towards the prairies.

Autumn scenes before they’re gone


The snow fell hard enough to allow us to go sledding last weekend has melted away but it feels like winter will be here soon.  It has been a good fall and I have looked for a few more intimate scenes to represent the season before it leaves.




A couple of these are from the Jasper National Park in the first few days of September.  Banff is 350m higher elevation but, with her higher latitude, fall in Jasper seems to come at least a couple of weeks earlier.  Kian was flanked by leaves starting to turn as he watched the water run down Tangle Falls along the Icefields Parkway .


By contrast, the cormorants on the Bow River in Calgary were photographed in an autumn season on the last day of September.


Bear play

On our last day in Jasper, Kian and I went for a walk along Pyramid Lake that morning.  It was the first weekend of September so it was cool with a bit of mist on the water and the autumn colors were just starting to come in.  We headed back to town around 9am and spotted a Black bear in the open forest above the road.




One bear soon became two when the other stepped out from behind a dense clump of Buffalo berries.  The berries were ripe at that time so the bears had been drawn in.  At first we thought they were a mother and cub but when they were side by side, and then when they were wrestling, we could see they were both the same size.


To me, they seemed like they were near adults and given their play fighting I think they are siblings that are still hanging out together.  Whether related or not, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company and stayed close to each other as they munched through the patches of berries along the hillside.



A second night with the Aurora Borealis


Only three days after I was able to watch a great showing by the Northern Lights, they came out to dance over the foothills again.  The clouds were heavier this time around and grew steadily through the night while I was out.  That set up for some backlighting by the aurora that looked really beautiful.  This time around, I started at the same small pond as before but then drive to a couple of different spots along Highway 1 before ending my night at the small lake beside the Sibbald Creek Trail (Highway 68) where it meets Township Road 252.




At first I was trying to get away from the cloud bank as it coalesced and then moved southwards and increasingly obscured my view of the night sky.  Soon I became a little hypnotized by the glow around and through the clouds so I settled down and enjoyed the moment.


After 2am, the clouds broke up and seemed to return back to the north.  I was too tired to see how far they retreated and made my way home just before 3.



My first night with the Northern Lights this fall


September closed out with several strong Northern Lights displays that reached down to southern Alberta.  I was happy to make it out to the Foothills to photograph in the middle of the night for two of them.  These images are from the first foray which started around 11:30pm and continued rippling when I finally headed home around 2am on the 26th.

The clouds seemed to move in slow motion and picked up the glow from Cochrane differently as the night progressed.  Above, the aurora’s color palette shifted into pastels.  A few of the later images reminded me of cotton candy and were fantastic to watch slowly ripple then fade away.  I imagined these were tie-dyed waves rolling in both over the pond but also the sky they were reflecting.


Ursa Major and its Big Dipper were constant companions in the sky behind the dancing lights.  The stars would run in and out of the clouds, hiding at times and burning brightly at other times.  There was good magic to watch throughout.


A morning in the Valley of the Ten Peaks



Moraine Lake is a beautiful location in the Banff National Park to visit.  To photograph it often proves to be tricky and that keeps me returning.  The winds run haphazardly through, over and below the Valley of the Ten Peaks stirring the water, pushing the clouds low then high and generally making unpredictability the only thing predictable.  I love it but it continues to demand flexibility every time I go up.  There are a number of images that I have visualized, or maybe just dreamt about, but have yet to realize.  On my last visit with good friend and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude, the sky looked promising as we drove up from Lake Louise.  Clouds were stacked along the peaks and the sky to the east was clear.  As we climbed the rock pile which gives the lake her name, the wind came up, pushing the cloud off the cliffs.  These slid eastward seemingly on a mission to block the early light of dawn.  I stopped for a moment with my back to the lake to photograph these broken clouds as the pink sunlight brushed through them.


We scrambled into a spot with a view down the valley which seemed to still be sleeping.  The wind was soft and the lake was calm, allowing for a beautiful reflection of the peaks and the sky above.


Around the valley the autumn colors were still hanging on while winter looked to be settling onto the mountains above the lake.


A heron fishing in silhouette


Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow.  The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest.  In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.


The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.



Within a couple of minutes, a strike came.  The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish.  The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.




Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.


A Cormorant in motion on the Bow


I spent an evening on the Bow River at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the weekend.  It was a beautiful day, warmly lit in golden light, and I had a great time photographing the birds well into dusk.  Among the birds nearby were a few Double-crested cormorants fishing and flying around.  I photographed as they flew or swam by.  They are exceptionally fast birds and they often fly just above the water at speed which is exciting to watch.  After the sunlight had left the river, I caught sight of one of these cormorants moving upriver.  Darkness was starting to settle in so I dragged my shutter in order to use the lack of light to pan with the bird as it passed me.  I used a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second and it worked out pretty well.

Walking through autumn


This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.



She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.


Autumn Grizzly in the park

autumn-grizzly-in-the-banff-national-park-christopher-martin-4206Autumn strode confidently into the Banff National Park at the beginning of September.  While some berries and flowers were still producing their best work of the year, much of the foliage has started to turn with grass yellowing and leaves falling.  It is a beautiful season in the park (but I would have to say that I like them all!).  A couple of weeks ago I found this Grizzly bear in the Bow Valley between Lake Louise and the Castle Junction.  It moved steadily through the palette of fall colors, eating berries as it found them.


It left this hillside meadow after a while and melted into the forest.  I caught sight one more time and could see it watch me for a second before continuing on and easily disappearing again.


A beast in the bushes


When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.


We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near.  When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush.  The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past.  It was cool to share that experience with Kian.