By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls. This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night. The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt. Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields. This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.
A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond. Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.
I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field. She, however, did not miss. He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow. She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances. And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.
From there the owl flew over the field again. This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery. From sign to beam was only six minutes. Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.
There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment. Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies. Here is the little story behind this image.
I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road. The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away. Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for. I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl. I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird. After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.
The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day. It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly. None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.
Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens. As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely. That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.
She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.
After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more. Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye? Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.
Vehicle lights stretch across the scene during a two second long exposure. I set up across the road from this farmstead and the sign. I took a few photographs of the passing traffic. I liked this one as I thought it had beautiful tone and good luck with the interesting light trails. A photograph an hour after sunset from west of Calgary near the Springbank Airport taken on December 15th.
Winter retreated last week and the autumn skies have been beautiful since. West of Calgary, near Springbank, the clouds glowed above the sun as it rose behind a farmstead earlier this week.
A 25 second exposure and a fast lens (in this case, a Canon 24mm f/1.4 set at f/1.8) revealed wisps of clouds stretching east across the Kananaskis River valley a little after 4 in the morning on October 7th. The soft green glow betrayed the Aurora Borealis pulsing low over the northern horizon.
Red light from my headlamp illuminated Highway 40 in this 10 second exposure that centered on the hazy Northern Lights.
Following the heavy snowfall early in the week, I found a few different times to get out to photograph this interesting transition from autumn to winter. The cold snap caught the trees off guard and the leaves have been falling steadily since.
The thunder and lightning rolled over the prairies several times over the past couple of weeks. On August 1st, I went out to photograph dusk as the smoke from the wildfires has helped create some beautiful evening scenes. The haze thinned after sunset and a large cloud took shape from it as the sky cooled into night.
While the color slipped away, the cloud grew and I caught a flicker of lightning on the northern edge. Rain didn’t fall and the wind never really picked up. However a fork crackled through the air every few minutes for the next couple of hours.
The storm slowly churned east towards Calgary and the open prairie beyond. The trailing edge left behind a clear sky dotted with stars. This last photograph caught the moon illuminating the cloud as it rose.
The wildfire smoke gave the setting sun a fiery hue as it fell towards the horizon on the first day of August. A few minutes earlier I had watched as it slipped into the clouds rendered indistinct in the hazy atmosphere. When the orb re-appeared just above the horizon, with the pink light tracing out the tops of the cloud bank, I enjoyed this beautiful moment.
During the road trip home after a quick trip to the Kootenays my dad and I stopped to enjoy this view of the hills, valleys and mountains on the eastern flank of the Rockies above the Chain Lakes.
A couple of weeks ago my son spied this rainbow as it arched out of a storm cloud rolling over the prairies east of Black Diamond. I am very glad he did!
It was fun to look back over the past year’s photographs recently and recall the story behind them. I’ve created a gallery of my favorite images you can check out here (or click on any image to open that page in a new window). I moved in new directions with my landscape work which, through trial and error, yielded some work I really like.
I practiced a technique where I change the focal length (zoom) the lens during a long exposure which creates a variety of effects that I have had great fun exploring.
I walked into some of my images, to provide scale in some and interest in others, which I want to continue to explore and build on. I also hope my children will join me for some of those in the coming year – if I can wake them up early enough!
I had a lot of fun scrambling around valleys and peaks in Banff and Kananaskis. I wanted to hike more in the warmer months and was happy with the images I made from those outings to new locations. I photographed through many nights along the lakes there and enjoyed seeing these amazing places under the stars. I have always loved the mountains and that love continues to deepen.
A trip to the Palouse in Washington in May was a definite highlight. The agricultural geometry laid over the rolling hills is beautiful. Exploring the area and searching for interesting compositions filled a long weekend and a couple of memory cards.
Excursions on the Prairies, searching for snowy owls in winter and a long list of other birds in the other seasons, were regular for me in 2017. These are often solitary travels for me and I find the landscape imagery often reflects that. Lone subjects, standing as islands on endless fields, stand defiant under the massive skies in one image and vulnerable in the next. I have much more that I want to create out there in this new year.
There were many pieces of last year that bring a smile when reflecting back. And a few that well some tears up. They combined to make for a good year. For me, this gallery reflects that. Thank you for following the visual journey I share here.
In August I photographed through the night along the Vermilion Lakes. The air was heavy with smoke from nearby wildfires. This long exposure caught the glow from the town of Banff as it pushed through thick haze and got caught in clouds hanging low in the Bow Valley. A timer and a flashlight allowed me to run out onto this dock on the third Vermilion Lake and trace out the circle in this image.