As cool as that visual could have been, self isolation would frown on people congregating in our backyard. Instead, a flock of 60 or more Bohemian waxwings flew into the trees behind our home in the morning. They nibbled at the trees, and the odd chunk of snow hanging in the branches. Flitting around the forest edge, I enjoyed their industry for half an hour as the morning sun shone over the hills. These are a favourite backyard bird for me. They don’t come around my home often but it is magic when they do.
We found this red fox near our B&B when we were there in August last summer. The foxes in Whitehorse are not too hard to find but at 10:30pm, we weren’t expecting to see one in the gloom. But this one stood out against the bright green lawn of a home that edged on to the forest.
These horses were walking slowly alongside one of Water Valley’s backroads. We pulled over and I took a few minutes to compose them and a couple of cows in a few different ways. This was my favorite. The animals were languid on a nice afternoon in the Foothills. This field was beautiful to my eye with green and pale gold sharing space across the uneven ground. I used a small aperture of f/22 to keep the three horses each in sharp focus while separating them from the forest in the background. Beautiful country there. I’ve enjoyed wonderful encounters with great gray owls there. It was nice to enjoy another aspect.
I liked it in black and white too!
On a morning drive to the Upper Kananaskis Lake, I found a grizzly with her cub foraging beside the road. A Kananaskis conservation officer was watching them from his truck across the road which made me feel better with respect to the risk of a vehicle colliding with them. I did not want to bother them so I stopped for only a few seconds to watch as the little one munched away – her head didn’t come up as she seemed intent on her breakfast – so I continued on.
About twenty minutes later, I was heading on to the Highwood Pass for some hiking and passed by them again. This time the cub favored me with a quick glance when I stopped before she returned to the grass and wildflowers.
It took a little longer to find time to complete my review of my wildlife images this year. Due largely to general busyness and some measure of procrastination. So I appreciated the irony that one of the areas I have put a lot of thought into, and work to improve, is patience. Looking back, this focus on waiting is helping me to get closer to the wildlife imagery that I want to be creating. Waiting for the animals, waiting on their schedule for something to happen, can be a challenge – sometimes, like in the cold, a significant one. I’m happy that I laid down on the snow, crouched in marshes, hiked into valleys and froze my fingers to find those opportunities and try to do something with them.
The 2017 gallery can be viewed at this link or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.
A comparison with my 2016 wildlife gallery suggests some subtle changes. I see exploration into some ideas, blurs for one, that is interesting. I’ve been trying to bring more imagination into my wildlife images. Lot’s more to work on there.
Comparing years past with the last one, I like the direction and that stirs up the motivation coals. The latter always being a good thing, I think.
A family of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) live and fish around a small lake west of Bragg Creek in Alberta, Canada. They are tricky to photograph but a lot of fun to try. Over a couple of hours there were a few close flybys. Some I missed completely, they are very fast and can change direction instantly. But there were a few that got closer to what I have in my head. I’ll be back soon!
A couple of weeks ago I took a break from the snowy owls on the prairie and visited some of my great gray owl haunts near my home. I had not seen a gray for several weeks so it was a fishing expedition at best with limited expectation. I was excited when I found this owl perched over the snow. It wasn’t too long before she dove into the snow and quickly swallowed some kind of mouse or vole. Her back was to me when she landed so I didn’t get a good look at her snack. She flew up into a bare tree and continued surveying the small meadow.
She decided pretty quickly that wasn’t the spot for her and she flew into the evergreens after only a couple of minutes.
She landed and then dozed for close to half an hour from a good spot in the trees overlooking another small patch of snow.
I put on my snow boots and took an indirect path to a little hill opposite her new perch. Her eyes watched me a little bit but the lids shut once I sat down on a log. I was happy to wait and see if she would continue hunting after her rest.
With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.
Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male. I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both! I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).
I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied. The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic. One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area. She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!) She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree. From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often. The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.
With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks. The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point. I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.
Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow. The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest. In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.
The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.
Within a couple of minutes, a strike came. The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish. The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.
Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
When she turned around to dig in another spot, it was impossible to not stare at those incredible claws!
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.