Alberta

Flying low on the prairies

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I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

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The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

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A sliver of dawn on the prairie

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Yesterday I was on the prairie north of Langdon.  When I left my home it was snowing steadily so I was unsure what an hour’s drive east would find.  As the night slipped away, clouds opened small, uneven windows to the morning’s early light.  It did not take long for the color to deepen while it painted more of sky.  The farm structure’s silhouette served as an anchor in the landscape while dawn pulled the day forward.

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To the west, the full moon fell below the clouds as it slid towards the Rocky Mountains.  I found the alpenglow, the color of the clouds and the golden hue of the moon from the light pushing through a long stretch of the atmosphere to be absolutely beautiful.  A lovely way to start any day by my standards.

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A frozen dawn in the Bow Valley

Frozen dawn over the Vermilion Lakes © Christopher Martin-1599-3

In late January I spent time on a small pond between two of the Vermillion Lakes watching the day break.  The blues of the early morning held on to the landscape as pastels started to be brushed into the clouds above Mount Rundle.  The silence in this sheltered spot was wonderful and helped me to enjoy a calm, mindful meditation while I watched and photographed.


Horses, rider and sleigh

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The blizzard tailed off this afternoon and I went out to see how the fresh blanket of snow looked laid over the prairie. With the clouds wrapping up the sun, I headed home and passed by this moment in the wintry outdoors.  The mother and child appeared to be engaged in a good conversation but a wave seemed to earn me a quick smile.  They were traveling along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22X) so this slightly unusual scene seemed rather appropriate.

 

 


2016 wildlife images – some of my favourites from the past year

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I love photographing wildlife, whether it’s a frigid morning, a warm afternoon, blizzards, or whatever, you will usually find me with a smile on my face.  I put this gallery together of my favourite images from those times over the past year.

The 2016 highlights started with snowy owls on the prairie, in March was a wolf pack’s takedown of an elk in Banff and eagles migrating through the high meadows east of Crowsnest Pass, my first visit to Yellowstone National Park in May was wonderful, summer saw the bears in buffalo berry patches throughout Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper, birds migrating along the Bow River in early fall provided some great opportunities and the year wound down, as it started, with snowy owls east of Calgary.

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Throughout the year I spend an enormous amount of time hanging out with the great gray owls who have allowed me to photograph them for several years.  Owls, any species, are absolute favourite birds for me.  I feel exceptionally lucky that I continue to be able to watch them, learn more about them and just simply enjoy being in their presence.

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You can click on any of these three images to open the 2016 wildlife gallery in a new window.


My favourite landscape photographs from 2016

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The landscape imagery that stood out for me when I was reviewing the past year was vibrant and played with light and dark, shadow and illumination.  There are some loose themes I worked on this year – stillness on the prairie, bringing elements of motion into landscapes and watching the sky and what the wind carried overhead.  It was fun to go through these images, I hope you enjoy the collection that came out of that work.

Please click on this link, or any of the pictures here to open a new window with my favourite landscapes from 2016.

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Last year flew by as each when seems to do when I look at them in the rear view mirror.  The time I spend outside, often photographing, helps to slow time down a little.  I treasure those moments and in 2016 it was wonderful to share more of that time with my children.  Increasingly, they choose to join me for my wilderness forays and I couldn’t enjoy those more.

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Winter prairie landscapes

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I spent a lot of time on the prairies in December.  These days started early in the morning so I was able to enjoy watching night give way to day.  And several hours later, watch the principles switch as the short daylight hours ran out.

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Happy New Year’s Eve Deer

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This White-tailed stag was found during a short drive into Bragg Creek on Christmas day this year.

We are slowly warming up to New Year’s Eve and looking forward to the fireworks that our local community of Redwood Meadows puts on.  Always a great show – and they go early so the children get to enjoy them too!

I hope everyone has enjoyed, or is enjoying the last day of 2016.  It has been a winding year for our family, as it often goes, but still filled with a lot of laughs and the continued wonders of rearing my two children.


A Snowy owl hunting on a rise

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The Snowy owl that I had photographed the previous week, I found again last Sunday.  This time she was on a snow-covered rise ~50 metres from the fence line.  It was much warmer than the week before and the sun was out so it was quite a pleasant visit.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6232

The owl perched taking in a complete view of her surroundings – me included.  The wind was gusting ahead of a chinook that was arching across the prairies so she crouched low whenever it picked up.

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In between one of the wind blasts, she caught sight or sound of something to her left and glided towards a broken post.  She hovered for a moment and then dropped to the ground.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6315

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6320

She grabbed something and quickly swallowed it.  She landed a little further behind the rise and in line with the post so I missed a clear line on the hunt’s conclusion.

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She soon returned to scanning the field.

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And I found another sight line.

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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.


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.