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Alces alces in a Kananaskis snowstorm

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As dawn broke on a recent morning when I was up in Kananaskis, the skies were leaden and threatening to drop some form of precipitation.  It was cold and windy so it seemed an open question whether it would be rain, snow or a frozen mix of the two.  The weather foiled my plans for a sunrise shoot of Mount Kidd but made it an easy decision to drive further up the valley into the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  I passed a few White-tailed deer but did not see much else on the way up.  Apparently I had an appointment (unbeknownst to me at the time) with this wonderful family of moose.  They were standing around this marsh in plain view beside the turn off of the Kananaskis Lakes Trail up to the Upper Lake’s parking lot and trailhead.

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The calf stayed close to her mom but was not very shy.  Staring at me several times to satisfy her curiosity about what I was and whether I was something of interest or not.  The bull was hidden within a few trees at first so it was a great surprise when I saw his antlers first come into sight.

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When a snowplow passed by, its scoop loudly grinding against the asphalt, the young one was startled and ran a little ways off from the roadside.  Mom followed and they munched along as they slowly headed into the forest.

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The bull was a magnificent creature.  Healthy and very confident, neither the vehicles nor my presence made any impression on him.  He kept his eyes on any activity around him but was focused on grazing.  I watched him for the next hour as he moved between trees, bogs and little fields.  Their ability to blend in and disappear, despite their size, was observed many times and always surprises me.

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The storm’s intensity ebbed and flowed through the morning and the snow followed accordingly.  At times falling hard, at times almost stopping completely.  Along with adjusting the camera settings to drag the shutter and blur the snow’s motion or freeze the flakes in action, it was a great setting to photograph these moose in.

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The bull kept an eye on the family as they went into the trees and eventually followed them away from the marsh.  The encounter ended shortly thereafter but I would not ask for anything more.  It was a great day in Kananaskis.

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A gallery of Great gray owls

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(Please click on either image to open the Great gray owl gallery)

It has been a while since I put together a gallery of animal images so I worked on one last night.  I chose Great gray owls as they are among my very favourite birds to watch and to photograph.  They have a balance of power and intelligence that always impresses me.  All of these images are from the Bragg Creek area, either in West Bragg or on the edge of Kananaskis that shares a border with it.  I have been photographing some of these owls for six years or more although most of the early images didn’t make this cut for various user operator (me!) issues.  For the 35 images that did, it was fun to look at the scenes I’ve been able to see them hunt, perch and fly in.

A Great gray owl in evening sunlight near Bragg Creek, Alberta

Looking back over these I feel very fortunate to be able to have spent so much time with these beautiful raptors.  At some times of the year, I see them rarely but I enjoy knowing that they are still there.  When are paths do cross, it never fails to be a continuation of my education about Great grays.  I still have a lot to learn… lucky me!


Bear scratching in Yellowstone

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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.

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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.

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Catching sunrise in the clouds

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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

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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.

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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 .

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

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Bear play

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A second night with the Aurora Borealis

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My first night with the Northern Lights this fall

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A morning in the Valley of the Ten Peaks

 

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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.

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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.

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

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A heron fishing in silhouette

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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.

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

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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.

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

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A Cormorant in motion on the Bow

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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

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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.

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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.

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