Animals

Tail slapping at Wild Rose

beaver-tail-slap-christopher-martin-6520

A couple of weeks ago I spent the morning at the Wild Rose ponds in West Bragg.  I watched this beaver swimming on the far side of the pond for several minutes before turning away to watch the sunrise.  I realized she had kept coming my way when I heard the first tail slap on the water.  She was about 15 metres away and had set a course parallel to me and the shoreline.  I took this photograph of her as she raised her tail for another slap.  She wasn’t too happy with my presence so I moved along after one more slap.


A smiling Grizzly in Kananaskis

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1046

A couple of hours after watching a Black bear in a patch of Buffalo berries, I found this Grizzly in another one a few kilometres away.  She appeared to be a very happy bear, taking some anthropomorphic liberties, I even thought she smiled a few times as in the photo above!

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1335

This female’s tag has the number 152 and she has spent her life in Kananaskis Country according to what I could find online.  With the poor berry crops of the previous two years, it is not surprising she is without cubs this year.  I hope that the much better fortune this year will lead to her and the other females in the central Rockies bringing many cubs out of their winter caves next spring.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1000

At one point, the Conservation officer attending blew the fog horn which startled the bear into a short run. One that ended at the next berry patch.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1277

She dug up the ground near the second patch a little bit too.  I expected her to be solely focused on the berries but maybe a few roots made for a better, and more complete, lunch.

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1176

When she turned around to dig in another spot, it was impossible to not stare at those incredible claws!

Kananaskis Grizzly 152 - © Christopher Martin-1162


Buzzing a Bald eagle

Eagle and Blackbird in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5036

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.

 

 

 


An evening with Grizzly bears in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9331

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9292

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9348-3

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9360

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9395

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9352

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9423

They moved parallel to the road for about 20 minutes before heading back into the hills.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs at dusk - © Christopher Martin-9481


A family of Grizzly bears in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8002
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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-7922

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8030

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8108

Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8045

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8154

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8214

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8173

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8126

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.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8249

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8258-2

 


A Red fox in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9834

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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9833The 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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9846

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9801

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9902With 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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9938

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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9959

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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9975

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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9986

She stalked through the hillside again for a few more minutes.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-0006

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.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-0032

The Pronghorn shake

Yellowstone Pronghorn Shake - © Christopher Martin-8435-2

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.

Yellowstone Pronghorn Shake - © Christopher Martin-8421

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.

Yellowstone Pronghorn Shake - © Christopher Martin-8457

He passed within 30 yards of me and then crossed the road on his way up the base of Druid Peak’s southern flank.

Yellowstone Pronghorn Shake - © Christopher Martin-8466

Yellowstone Pronghorn Shake - © Christopher Martin-8492


Great gray owl on frost and in gold

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6695-2

Last week’s dropping mercury and precipitation allowed the fields around Bragg Creek to be encased in frost on the weekend.  I spent the morning watching birds of all sizes waking up – with most waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit.  This Great gray owl was more interested in breakfast and I watched him hunt for a couple of hours taking his catches back to the nest hidden somewhere in the forest nearby.  These images of the owl just lifting off the grass with a field mouse in its beak really captured the tone of the morning – frosted grass, shafts of golden light, a spectacular bird in flight.  It was another wonderful morning spent in awe of the natural world.

 

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6646

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6692

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6647


Bald eagles flying around their dinner perch

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-5968

Watching these two eagles for an hour back in March, I am convinced they are the pair who will occupy the large nest perched in these trees over a pond on a farm on the high prairie east of the Crowsnest Pass.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6157-2

 

Both had no difficulty catching the ground squirrels in the fields surrounding the pond.  When they did, they returned to this branch to eat – possibly for the company.  It was very cool to be a stone’s throw away from the wonderful creatures.  At close range, I was reminded how big these birds are.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6153

Other eagles circled the water as well but none seemed paired up like these two which leads me to believe they “own” the nest.  I’ll get back there soon and see where things stand now!

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6210

There were a lot of fun shots to choose from which I whittled down to these few here.  It was, obviously, a well spent afternoon by my standards.

Bald Eagles in the Crowsnest - © Christopher Martin-6203

 


Great gray ascension

Great gray owl's ascension - © Christopher Martin-6677-2
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!


Eagle ways

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2910

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.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2842

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.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2967

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.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-2990

After a few minutes, he flew off to a larger tree nearby where the other three eagles were perched.

Maycroft bald eagles - © Christopher Martin-3060


More from the Banff wolf pack’s attack on the elk

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1575

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting an elk - © Christopher Martin-1462

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!

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1449

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1603

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1605

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1493

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1608

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1633

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1760

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1781

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.

Banff Wolf Pack Hunting - © Christopher Martin-1832

I will post a few more images a little later but wanted to share the story as I saw it now.