With the day slipping away from the Vermilion Lakes in the Bow Valley, the clouds began to light up in the last light of the day. This column started out bright white and soon burned into a hot pink. It hung over the valley between Sulphur Mountain and Sunshine Peak brushing them with a faint pastel hue before dimming as night took hold.
I found this great horned owl on December 20th. She was perched a couple of meters off the ground in a stand of trees along the edge of a farm east of Langdon on Alberta’s prairie. It was just before noon and the day was cool but not frigid. The warm sun was lovely as I walked from the range road to a position with a better view of the owl. I was excited to photograph the bird – especially once I had the sunlight at my back and I could catch the glow of the golden eyes.
She watched the ground intently at times and tracked any ravens that flew overhead. I settled in on a mound and waited for the bird to launch. Despite a couple of shakes and repositions early on, the bird didn’t fly then and soon the eyes were shutting for increasingly long intervals.
For four hours I waited before the owl jumped into the air. I was in a great position but was chagrined when she flew away from me. Hope returned when she alighted on a branch 20 meters away and turned back towards me. A few minutes along and the excitement returned. This time the flight path was towards me and she flew beside me on her way to another line of trees towering over a snow-covered field. This time afforded me a great angle on the owl.
West of the hamlet, Desirée and I watched the sunrise over the frozen prairie. Despite the slightly wicked cold, the beauty of the snowy fields, black tree silhouettes and the deep hues in the sky was overwhelming. The lens was in my trunk so when I put it on, it frosted up. That was partially by design and partially due to a lack of planning earlier in the morning. I loved the haze around the frame that resulted and had a lot of fun shooting with that for a bit.
I enjoy the backroads on the prairies. This afternoon I found a pair of ravens perched on the peak of this weathered homestead east of Dalemead. When they flew I tried to compose their flight against the field and the house.
I spend a lot of time photographing on the edges of the day. On this morning, as the winter sun cleared the horizon, I found my shadow watching me from the side of a hay bale.
It was a great spring to spend lot of time with these majestic owls. For many years there have been several pairs of great gray owls that I’ve been able to photograph hunting and resting on perches in and around forests near my home. I’ve never taken it for granted. Happily the great spring has continued into summer. Here are a few of my favorites from July so far.
A good friend and I went up to Moraine Lake at the beginning of June. We photographed from dusk into dark, crashed out for a couple of hours and then shot the sunrise. These are a few of the photographs as the time rolled by.
Into the night…
Rising with the sun…
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.