Banff National Park

Eagle fishing in the Banff National Park

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5085

I watched this eagle glide across the Vermilion Lake from its nest on the far side.  Ahead of his arrival on the shore in front of me, waterfowl and a couple of Great blue heron scattered in all directions.  The eagle flew higher and circled a couple of times, staring into the water.  He dove, his claws slicing the water, but finding no joy.  The raptor pulled up into a branch of a dead tree to reconsider its approach.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5077

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5078

Twenty minutes passed before his second flight.  He flew in a wide arc, gaining a little more altitude.  The birds that had been on the water, had not returned so the eagle had a clean line this time.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5086

He dove, again, and this time his talons came off the surface with a fish in their grasp.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5089

The fish was quickly moved from talons to beak and then swallowed mid-flight.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5093

The eagle flew back up to the same tree and settled on a branch near where it had been pestered by the blackbird earlier.  From there, I hoped he would fish again and I waited for more than an hour.  Along the way, he called out a few times which gave some interesting head and beak positions to photograph.

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5253

Eagle fishing in Banff - © Christopher Martin-5420


After the Osprey’s plunge

Osprey in the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-3235

The pair of Ospreys I photographed in the Banff National Park a couple of weeks ago spent most of the afternoon with her on the nest and him perched high in trees over the Bow River.  I waited a couple of hours for one of them to dive into the water for a fish.

Osprey on the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-3207

It happened once, and it was fast.  I missed the descent and the initial contact with the water.  That bugged me but I got locked in once he surfaced.

Osprey in the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-3227

I hoped to see a fish in his clutches but when his talons were out of the water and visible, there was no such luck – for them or me.  It was interesting to watch the lifting into the air so I was not dismayed in any real way.

Osprey in the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-3231-2

Flying past me, I waited to see where the next perch would be. I wanted to see if I would continue to be in a good location for the next dive.  The Osprey had other ideas, and flew upriver, disappearing around a bend several hundred metres away.  I watched that bend for a little while, in case there was a return flight, but ended the day shortly after that and headed home.

Osprey in the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-3267


Ospreys in flight

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-3031

There was a lot of flight time during the afternoon that I spent watching a pair of Ospreys last weekend.  They flew along the Bow River fishing, perching and collecting branches for their nest.  I enjoyed watching them and having the opportunity to photograph them flying.

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2884

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-3243

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-3004

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-3092

Banff Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2652


An Osprey’s bath

A bathing Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2750

I watched this osprey bathe in a shallow stretch of the Bow River in the Banff National Park on the weekend.  The splashing around and dunking under water reminded me of my son when he’s having a soak in the bathtub.

An Osprey's launch - © Christopher Martin-2418

After delivering a fish to his mate, he flew off, gliding under the bridge the nest is built on top of.

An Osprey in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-2675

An Osprey in flight along the Bow River - © Christopher Martin-2669

He took a break to soak for a few minutes and then dry out his feathers for a couple more.

A bathing Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2703

A bathing Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2742

After a long shake, the Osprey flew back to a high point to better survey the water.

A bathing Osprey - © Christopher Martin-2755


A big, beautiful black wolf

Banff black wolf - © Christopher Martin-1685

Wolves are a polarizing animal – many love them and what they represent, others would shoot them on sight, no questions asked. I see them as an integral part of the food chain in the ecosystems where they still exist.  In the Banff National Park they are not thriving but the pack of five that I watched take down an elk in late February, are finding their way and I hope they are able to raise pups this spring.

 

Banff black wolf - © Christopher Martin-1630

There is one black wolf, one of the younger ones in the pack I have been told, which is a beautiful creature. He seems to be a bit more curious than the others and once the elk was down strode across the bridge deck to the edge of the forest seeming to be momentarily more interested in assessing his surroundings than joining the feast.

Banff black wolf - © Christopher Martin-1726

I look forward to this wolf and his pack continuing to occupy their rightful place as a carnivore in the Bow Valley’s food web.

Banff black wolf - © Christopher Martin-1708


Banff and the early morning blues

Banff and the morning blues - © Christopher Martin-1413

I love when I can get out early in the morning.  When it is pitch black as I get to my destination, I get excited as I wait for the first hint of light on the eastern horizon.  As the sky slowly brightens, there is a magical time ahead of any color in the sky where blues of almost every hue color the world.  I enjoyed one of these mornings on the shore of the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park a couple of weeks ago.


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.


Wolf pack attack in the Banff National Park

Banff wolf pack hunting an elk - © Christopher Martin-1607
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.


A glimpse of winter at Boom Creek

Boom Creek dressed for winter - © Christopher Martin-2829

I went for a hike along the trail to Boom Lake on the weekend and felt like I walked into a preview of winter.  The lake is near the aptly named Storm Mountain on the western edge of Banff National Park and the area was already blanketed in 1-1.5′ (30-45cm) of snow.  With the sun shining, I was happy to walk along the trail for a couple of kilometres as it was an area new to me.  From the trailhead a bridge crosses over Boom Creek almost immediately.  I slipped under the bridge on my way out and set up the photograph above which I felt illustrated the wintry feel.  This image is also the December image on my just completed 2016 landscape calendar so it was a worthwhile hike on a couple of fronts!


Dawn at Two Jack Lake in the Banff National Park

Two Jack Sunrise in Banff - © Christopher Martin-2600

With the cooler days that have come with November, we have had some snow fall up in the mountains.  I went up to Two Jack Lake for sunrise on Friday to see how things would look with a bit of snow in the picture.  Facing Mount Rundle and her reflection in the water there was just the odd skiff of snow along the shoreline.  The color deepened in the sky for a few minutes before it started to color the clouds clinging to the mountain.

Two Jack Sunrise in Banff - © Christopher Martin-2610

Two Jack Sunrise in Banff - © Christopher Martin-2607-2

When I first arrived, the sun was still a while away from lighting up the clouds.  The darker scene, below, allowed for a longer exposure and more stretch to the clouds and water.

Two Jack Sunrise in Banff - © Christopher Martin-2585

I love this time of year when snow starts to build up and the scenic opportunities shift to one dominated by the white blanket that settles unevenly across the land.  Winter in the Banff National Park is probably my favourite time of the year there.  It is exciting to be on the edge of it.

Two Jack Sunrise in Banff - © Christopher Martin-2648

 

 


Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1817

When I set up my gear on the shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes, it was cold and dark.  I wanted to be there early to catch Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky before it brightened too much.  The pair, with Mars less visible to the left, were directly above Mount Rundle’s peak when I arrived.

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1698

As the horizon brightened the stars faded while color started to creep into the clouds.  The lake was frozen with a thin cover of ice which gave abstract reflections of the sky and the silhouettes across the water.

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1733

(Please click on any image to see a higher resolution version)

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1772

Early sunshine brought a cloud to life as it stretched and broke up over Mount Rundle.  Before long, bright pink strands hung above the Bow Valley.  It was a beautiful morning and I loved watching it build from darkness into light.

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1801

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1808

The pink softened quickly and pastels held the sky until the sun blew away the soft hues of the early morning.

Vermilion Lakes Sunrise in the Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1831

 

 

 

 


Rutting Elk in the Bow Valley

Bull Elk Rutting in Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1946

A small herd of bull elk were gathered near Moose Meadows on the Bow Valley Parkway when I was there on the weekend.  The frost bleached the grass and the cold air made the breath visible.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1945

These were mature adults with massive antlers and they were putting them to use.  The rut is on and these elk were challenging each other repeatedly.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1896

They would be eating grass and then stare at another one.  Soon after, they would stalk slowly towards each other and lock antlers. Once entwined, a push and a pull fight would take place.  Unlike Bighorn sheep battles where they smash into each other, these were shoving matches.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1929

It was a cold morning which made for a particularly appealing scene to watch these giants battle.  The elk below was noticeably larger than the others and only one bull challenged him in the half hour that I watched.  That contest seemed like more of a measuring stick for the smaller one as it was short and there was no real challenge.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-2063

He wandered off after a while heading for the trees and leaving the others to graze and continue the odd skirmish.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-2087


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