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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


Afield with a fox on the hunt

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(Click on the image to open a larger version)

I found this Red fox last weekend in Langdon, Alberta.  She was hunting mice in a farm field. alongside the highway.  A couple of times she came relatively close to the fence.  I really liked this image from one of these nearby encounters.  I’m heading there this afternoon to see if I can find her, or one of the three Snowy owls I saw last Sunday, again.


A phantom hunting in the snow

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5076

The snowstorm and the cold accompanying it were considerable the morning I watched this Great gray owl hunting west of Bragg Creek.  Neither one impeded her focus or her ability to hunt.  She caught three mice as they scurried beneath the snow.  The sharp eyes guiding her to great effect.  The descent above started with her perched in a branch.  Her head cocked at subtly different angles to range in before she flew.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5066

This strike proved unsuccessful as it appeared she came close but came away with nothing.  She looked at me for a second and then lifted off to alight on a post holding up the fence I was leaning against.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5092

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5093

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5103

A short regroup was over after a few minutes when she dove with her back to me, grabbed and returned with a mouse.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5125

That was swallowed quickly and she then retreated to another branch on the tree line behind the fence.  She flew along the forest’s edge between a couple of spots.  Which gave me a few good opportunities to shoot her in flight.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5215

She snagged another unfortunate creature as we approached noon and I left soon after that.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156


A traffic lit landscape

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When the first serious blast of winter cold rolled onto the Prairies last weekend, it caught me west of Calgary near Springbank.  The heavy clouds that introduced the snowstorm were already blocking most of the light as the sun started to rise.  I stood on the south side of Highway 8 watching the irregular morning traffic on its way to and from Calgary.  I liked how the headlights lit up the asphalt.


Forest flights in a snowstorm

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4970

A snowstorm hit Bragg Creek last weekend quickly draping the area in white and pushing the temperature way down.  I caught sight of this owl along a familiar stretch of open forest divided by a gravel road.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4954

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4968

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4972

It was a steep challenge keeping sharp focus as she flew through the trees and with the heavy snowfall but I had a great hour or so watching her and trying to keep up.  I ended up with many in-focus tree, out-of-focus owl shots but when it worked out the other way around there were some interesting images.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4916

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4914

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5159

When I did return to my car, it did take a few minutes for my fingers to thaw – that’s always painful but quickly forgotten.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5244
She was very successful during the time I watched her.  Three field mice were the first courses for breakfast from five silent descents into the tall grass.  When time allows, I will share a few of those action shots in another photo story here.


A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

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On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water.  This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are  present across North America.

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I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year.  That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet.  Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.

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Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

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It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek.  I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area.  In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country.  This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images.  Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed.  A beautiful creature.

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A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

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About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek.  The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.

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Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

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After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust.  Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.

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Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards.  He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.

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Winter in Lake Louise: snow, ice and water

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Last weekend I spent the morning looking for wildlife along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.  I drove along, stopping several times for short hikes to get a view over the river valley or along a creek into the forest.  None of the animals graced me with their presence but the land made it a good morning nonetheless.  In Banff, the lakes are frozen but there was very little snow on the ground.  Halfway towards Lake Louise, the snow was more prevalent and when I got to the lake, the trees were heavy with snow, the ground was well-covered and winter was firmly set.  It has been a couple of years since I wandered along the lake shore in winter with camera in hand.  I enjoyed the time, working to create some images while listening to the multilingual hum from the other visitors as they came and went.  It was a good time to be up there to photograph.  The snow was falling gently, the river that drains out of the northeastern end of the lake was yet to freeze over and the clouds were moving fast so the peaks were in and out of view.  Lot’s of dynamic elements to weave together into a variety of images.  This was my favourite from a relaxed morning doing what I love.


A wander up to Boom Lake

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On the suggestion of a reader (thanks Jo Ann!), I hiked up to Boom Lake on the western edge of the Banff National Park near the British Columbia – Alberta border.  The trail is a gentle ~5km hike complicated only by a bit of snow, ice and mud given the time of year.  I enjoyed the walk through the trees and over the numerous streams.  The lake appears suddenly and is walled in on the far side by Boom Mountain.

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I would have thought the name came from the sound of the avalanches whose tears down the slopes can be seen in several places.  However, I found that the lake was named Boom owing to the driftwood created by the trees that are pushed into the water by the avalanches.

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Many of these logs are submerged but a large number have collected at the eastern end and where they poke out of the water suggested a logger’s boom to the person who formally named the lake in 1908.  I found that interesting as I did the lake itself.

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I scrambled over the rocks along the shore for a couple of kilometres while the wind, snow, sun all wrestled overhead, as they often do in these mountains.

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Winter’s teeth have yet to be bared with any sincerity so it felt more like mid-October than mid-November.  This little patch of vegetation drew my eye on the way down, the shock of color seemed a direct challenge to colder weather while the ice frozen over the leaf suggested its inevitability.  Needless to say, I enjoyed my random thoughts and musings as I strolled back down the trail.

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Canmore – clouds racing the moonlight

clouds-over-canmore-christopher-martin-3015-2A couple of weeks ago I spent a night under the stars on the shore of Lake Minnewanka.  On the way there, as I passed through Canmore, the full moon was lighting up the mountains that connect the town with the sky.  Here the tip of Ha Ling and the East End of Rundle (EEOR) were lit up during the long exposure I made looking across the Trans-Canada Highway and over the town.


An owl on the other side

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On the other side of the road, this Great gray owl continued hunting after it flew across.  She left the open forest for the denser evergreens on the southern approach which provided a completely different look from the images that I shared yesterday.

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She flew between a couple of posts before gliding between a couple of trees.  I was lucky to be in position for some great opportunities.

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The owl flew into the middle of this large tree, beside the trunk, and I thought she might choose to rest there for a while.  She did for a few minutes, but soon grew restless and began scanning the ground for activity.  She turned around, saw something and then shot out of the tree.  I lost sight of her almost right away but heard a lot of squawking and commotion before things went quiet again.  I assume the owl struck successfully but did not go into the woods to check – either way the cycle of hunter and hunted continued with one coming out successfully.

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