This Bald eagle perched along the southern shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park. A Redwing blackbird did not like this visitor and buzzed the much larger creature.
The second time I crossed paths with this family of Grizzly bears it was deep into dusk. I spotted the mother in the hill above the Swan Lake Flat about an hour earlier but quickly lost her and the cubs in the rolling slopes as they made their way down.
When they did appear it surprised me how close they got before I saw them. Knowing the size of an adult Grizzly, it showed me how high those hills are. The trio walked and grazed, with he twins play fighting along the way, towards the Grand Loop Road eventually settling about 150 metres away.
The failing light made photographing the bears a fun challenge. The golden halos created by the glow from the western horizon being caught by the hair in their coats was amazing. That alone was more than worth the wait.
They moved parallel to the road for about 20 minutes before heading back into the hills.
This mother Grizzly bear brought her cubs down to this sage brush meadow on the Swan Lake Flat above Mammoth Hot Springs several times in the four days that I was in Yellowstone National Park. Two of those walkabouts coincided with me being in the area so I was able to watch them for a couple of hours in total. These photographs are from the first encounter in the evening on May 20th.
The twins were playful. Carefree knowing their mother was watchful of the crowds that invariably developed along the Grand Loop Road as well as for any Grizzly males who might cross their path.
The mother had a lot of character in her face, with a bit of a bend in her snout and lighter colouring in the fur in the outer disc.
Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.
For the most part, momma didn’t mind but when they drifted too far away a huff from her would send them scrambling back to her side. She was hungry and spent her time digging up roots but did play with them a little bit.
Occasionally, the little bears would stop and watch the people watching them. I wondered what they made of all of us hugging the edge of the road, lined up facing them.
I watched the trio for an hour that evening. With the shadows lengthening, they moved slowly away from the road into the rolling hills eventually melting into the plateau. Before then, I took the opportunity to frame them in their surroundings.
At the western edge of the Lamar Canyon at a small trailhead just above the river of the same name this fox was curled up under a sage bush. A small crowd had gathered, and under the watchful eye of a park ranger, had their cameras trained on the small patch of red visible between the gray-green branches and leaves. Watching it from a slightly higher vantage point, I could see the ears pointed forward and hoped she was hunting. Within a few minutes, she belly crawled forward a little and it was plain to see she was readying for a leap.
The grass and sage hid any rodents from my sight but not so for the fox. Or, at least through those large ears, their sound was not hidden. When she did jump it was fast but she came up empty. She dug anxiously around this bush and circled it several times but somehow the little creature made good on its escape.
With the meal gone, the fox looked up and seemed only then to realize the crowd to one side of her. At that point, she lowered her head, ears and tail and sprinted past the people, crossed the road (where happily traffic had long been stopped) and sped up a hill through the underbrush, grabbing a rodent along the way.
I went further up the road in the hopes of the fox reappearing down that way. I guessed wrong but soon found that the fox had backtracked and went to a small hollow downhill from the original trailhead. When I set up 35 yards away, she was laying low against another bush with her eyes, and ears, trained on a spot near a rock and some fallen trees.
The weather in Yellowstone is always changing and while she waited sun gave way to rain pushed in by a strong wind, then snow, sun and clouds followed in quick succession.
A lightning run got her on the spot stared at for the previous fifteen minutes in a flash. This time she struck successfully and “wolfed” it down while her head was still hidden by the grass.
She stalked through the hillside again for a few more minutes.
She rubbed against a bush next. I don’t know if that was to rub off scent or to pick up the sage. Then she headed off through the scrub and grass.
Pronghorns are scattered across Yellowstone. They range from the lower grasslands through to high valley meadows. It was a cold morning so I was not surprised this fellow wanted to shake off the cold. When the droplets flew from his position a little higher than me, the effect looked more like there had been an explosion. I thought it was a good start to our respective days.
I watched him approach from Soda Butte Creek at the northeast end of the Lamar Valley. He looked like he had just crossed it but maybe that was just from the rain at daybreak. Shortly after spinning off the water, the sun came out, apparently to help dry his coat. The wet sagebrush began to steam as soon as the sunlight hit it, creating a haze around the Pronghorn.
He passed within 30 yards of me and then crossed the road on his way up the base of Druid Peak’s southern flank.
This Great gray owl was hunting for field mice in West Bragg yesterday. It dove a few times, easily punching through the thin covering of snow left by Friday’s snowstorm. I watched it fly between fence posts before it flew up to this branch. It turned out to be a good vantage point as it caught a mouse on its next dive.
I do want to also wish everyone a Happy Easter! I hope everyone enjoys time with family and friends over the weekend. We started the morning with a fun hunt with yarn that led the kids to their respective jackpots. While we were outside, I looked for our resident rabbit but he was nowhere to be found – so no Easter Bunny photographs this year!
At one point when I was watching the group of Bald eagles I found east of the Crowsnest Pass last weekend, one of the adults landed in a tree close to where I was set up. Looking closely, I saw that he had a Prairie dog in one of its claws.
He finished the meal quickly and then set about cleaning its beak and talons. He used the stubs on the branch to rub against and as leverage during the cleaning. I was fascinated with the fastidiousness with which he carried out this work.
When that was done, he provided a few great poses for portrait shots while scanning the fields for more creatures and the skies for his fellow eagles.
After a few minutes, he flew off to a larger tree nearby where the other three eagles were perched.
The story of the Banff wolf pack’s takedown of the elk last Sunday begins for me where Banff Avenue goes under the Trans-Canada Highway. I had spent some time along the Vermilion Lakes, then the Bow Valley Parkway and was heading for the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. At the stop sign I looked south for oncoming traffic and noticed movement up on the railway overpass. Pulling off the road, I could see an elk from the shoulder up – the body blocked by the solid concrete side of the bridge.
The elk took a couple of paces, doubled back and then repeated that a couple of times. It seemed unusual behaviour so I trained my telephoto lens on her to have a better look. When I did, I couldn’t make out anything unusual – until a wolf’s head came into view when it leaped up and bit the elk’s neck!
At that point, part of me was in amazement but the more important part got to work. I ran up the small hill beside the bridge to get level with the animals. As I did, I could see four wolves (although the pack has five members; I just don’t have one photograph with more than four but all five were likely there) surrounding the elk. I did not see what led to the elk being on the bridge but suspect it was herded there by the wolves.
Over the next seven minutes, the wolves alternated between attacking the animal and walling it in on the bridge. Both the herding and the attacking suggested great intelligence and teamwork.
The large male, likely the alpha, which primarily attacked the face and neck alternated initial lunges with the other wolves at the back. Whoever went first would dodge and parry the increasingly weak counters by the elk while the others would bite viciously while her attention was distracted from them.
When the elk would get closer to one of the ends of the bridge, the wolves would line up along the edge and force her back towards the middle. During the struggle, she was pulled down twice and recovered her legs before being taken down for good by the alpha in a twisting move of immense power.
The cold air, it was about -15°C at 10AM when I came across the attack, condensed the breath and the heat from the open wounds into steam that added to the poignancy of the scene.
When the elk was down, the pack wasted no time in starting their feast. They had about 45 minutes before the carcass was removed which gave the whole pack time to get at least one full meal down.
Parks Canada has said that the elk was removed due to the location beside the tracks in the middle of the bridge and the danger that would pose to the wolves and the other animals the kill would attract. I fully agree with that and hope the carcass is taken to a location where the pack can find it again whenever that decision makes sense. I had hoped they might move the carcass to another location immediately but there are a number of factors involved in making those decisions. I respect the Parks Canada people that follow these wolves on a daily basis and believe they will continue to make those calls with the best outcome for the wildlife. I certainly appreciate their work getting the trains slowed down for a period of time after the attack and giving the wolves a decent amount of time before the elk was moved.
I will post a few more images a little later but wanted to share the story as I saw it now.
On the weekend I was able to watch an amazing encounter in the Banff National Park. A pack of four wolves hunted and took down an elk on the outskirts of the Banff townsite. The wolves had trapped the elk on a train overpass and wore the much larger animal down with continuous lunges and bites. I will detail how the scene unfolded in an upcoming story but I wanted to share this image while I had a few minutes. Watching this was a window into survival in nature and I came away in awe of the victors and their tenacity, intelligence and cooperation. A shadow of sadness for the elk was a part of this story and I gave thanks for what that life lost meant to this pack.
The hoar frost a few days ago was met by ice fog in the morning. I was along a gravel road when I first saw a soft outline in a field. A little further along I found several cows around a swampy pond. The cow above was close to the fence line and I was able to make a nice portrait with ice clinging to the hide.