Banff National Park

A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

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On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water.  This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are  present across North America.

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I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year.  That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet.  Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.

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Winter in Lake Louise: snow, ice and water

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Last weekend I spent the morning looking for wildlife along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.  I drove along, stopping several times for short hikes to get a view over the river valley or along a creek into the forest.  None of the animals graced me with their presence but the land made it a good morning nonetheless.  In Banff, the lakes are frozen but there was very little snow on the ground.  Halfway towards Lake Louise, the snow was more prevalent and when I got to the lake, the trees were heavy with snow, the ground was well-covered and winter was firmly set.  It has been a couple of years since I wandered along the lake shore in winter with camera in hand.  I enjoyed the time, working to create some images while listening to the multilingual hum from the other visitors as they came and went.  It was a good time to be up there to photograph.  The snow was falling gently, the river that drains out of the northeastern end of the lake was yet to freeze over and the clouds were moving fast so the peaks were in and out of view.  Lot’s of dynamic elements to weave together into a variety of images.  This was my favourite from a relaxed morning doing what I love.


A wander up to Boom Lake

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On the suggestion of a reader (thanks Jo Ann!), I hiked up to Boom Lake on the western edge of the Banff National Park near the British Columbia – Alberta border.  The trail is a gentle ~5km hike complicated only by a bit of snow, ice and mud given the time of year.  I enjoyed the walk through the trees and over the numerous streams.  The lake appears suddenly and is walled in on the far side by Boom Mountain.

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I would have thought the name came from the sound of the avalanches whose tears down the slopes can be seen in several places.  However, I found that the lake was named Boom owing to the driftwood created by the trees that are pushed into the water by the avalanches.

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Many of these logs are submerged but a large number have collected at the eastern end and where they poke out of the water suggested a logger’s boom to the person who formally named the lake in 1908.  I found that interesting as I did the lake itself.

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I scrambled over the rocks along the shore for a couple of kilometres while the wind, snow, sun all wrestled overhead, as they often do in these mountains.

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Winter’s teeth have yet to be bared with any sincerity so it felt more like mid-October than mid-November.  This little patch of vegetation drew my eye on the way down, the shock of color seemed a direct challenge to colder weather while the ice frozen over the leaf suggested its inevitability.  Needless to say, I enjoyed my random thoughts and musings as I strolled back down the trail.

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A morning in the Valley of the Ten Peaks

 

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Moraine Lake is a beautiful location in the Banff National Park to visit.  To photograph it often proves to be tricky and that keeps me returning.  The winds run haphazardly through, over and below the Valley of the Ten Peaks stirring the water, pushing the clouds low then high and generally making unpredictability the only thing predictable.  I love it but it continues to demand flexibility every time I go up.  There are a number of images that I have visualized, or maybe just dreamt about, but have yet to realize.  On my last visit with good friend and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude, the sky looked promising as we drove up from Lake Louise.  Clouds were stacked along the peaks and the sky to the east was clear.  As we climbed the rock pile which gives the lake her name, the wind came up, pushing the cloud off the cliffs.  These slid eastward seemingly on a mission to block the early light of dawn.  I stopped for a moment with my back to the lake to photograph these broken clouds as the pink sunlight brushed through them.

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We scrambled into a spot with a view down the valley which seemed to still be sleeping.  The wind was soft and the lake was calm, allowing for a beautiful reflection of the peaks and the sky above.

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Around the valley the autumn colors were still hanging on while winter looked to be settling onto the mountains above the lake.

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Walking through autumn

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This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.

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She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.

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Autumn Grizzly in the park

autumn-grizzly-in-the-banff-national-park-christopher-martin-4206Autumn strode confidently into the Banff National Park at the beginning of September.  While some berries and flowers were still producing their best work of the year, much of the foliage has started to turn with grass yellowing and leaves falling.  It is a beautiful season in the park (but I would have to say that I like them all!).  A couple of weeks ago I found this Grizzly bear in the Bow Valley between Lake Louise and the Castle Junction.  It moved steadily through the palette of fall colors, eating berries as it found them.

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It left this hillside meadow after a while and melted into the forest.  I caught sight one more time and could see it watch me for a second before continuing on and easily disappearing again.

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A fight over a fish

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The pair of Ospreys who summer on the Castle Junction bridge’s nest raised two chicks through adolescence this year.  When I spent a day watching them in August that meant there were four of these raptors, now all very close to the same size, interacting with one another on and around the bridge area.  Flying, fishing, chasing and fighting over fish dominated the moments of action amid a lot of time spent perching over the river up in the trees that line that stretch of the Bow River.

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I spied this Osprey when it alighted on a weathered log with a freshly caught meal.  By the time I walked a few hundred metres so that I was directly across the river from the bird, it was no longer alone.  Ospreys have excellent vision, roughly twice the distance capabilities of humans, so it was no surprise that company arrived quickly.  Another Osprey landed close by, shrilly announcing its arrival and crying out for a share of the sushi.  The successful fisher had no interest in sharing and resisted all advances from the other to do so.

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Over the next four hours, I watched this bird defend its prize from sneaky grabs for a scrap, frustrated attacks, a couple of near dive-bombs and outright theft!  Throughout, the Osprey nibbled away on the fish – whether another bird was nearby or not.  The other Osprey never ganged up on their family member but I’m pretty sure two of the three made individual advances.

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With the repeated flybys the interloping Ospreys gave me some great opportunities for in flight shots that were interesting and new for my library.  The low to ground shots in particular.

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The birds were aware of my presence, I didn’t blend in with the rocks on the shoreline.  I didn’t move around much and, with the river between us, I felt confident that I was not impacting their behaviour and so I enjoyed the opportunity to watch the family dynamics play out.

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Several times the Osprey clutched the fish in one talon and looked to be getting ready to fly.  That didn’t happen – the bird didn’t stray more than a couple of metres from the log and stayed on it for most of the time.  That made me suspect this was an adolescent with little experience flying with fish but given the size, and the fact that it had caught the fish in the first place, I’m definitely not sure.

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Steadily the Osprey worked away on dinner, despite the numerous distractions, and finally finished all but the smallest scraps.  Shortly after finishing the Osprey flew off down the river.  It flew across my sight line affording me a nice flight series – a fun little reward after four hours crouching among the rocks.  I watched it all the way back to the nest where it few around a couple of times before I lost sight of it.  I hiked back to the bridge and came back to the shoreline a short stone’s throw from the Ospreys new perch.  Again, it took note of me and then continued looking down the river and up at the nest.  Several minutes went by before the bird launched and flew up to the nest.

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A step towards winter: morning at Moraine Lake

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I spent the morning at Moraine Lake today.  A cold front swept in last night and when I caught my first glimpse of the valley when I drove up, the snow line was visible amid the layers of forest, rock and cloud.

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At the lake, daybreak started cold with a steady drizzle of rain.  The blue water’s hue varied as the amount of light let through by the clouds changed.  I enjoyed the morning with the whole valley changing steadily.

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Ospreys at the Castle Junction

Osprey in flight - © Christopher Martin-0876

Last week I spent a day walking, sitting, waiting and watching along the Bow River in the Banff National Park.  I was enthralled with the comings and goings of four Ospreys centred around their part of the river at the Castle Junction between Banff and Lake Louise.

Osprey banking in flight - © Christopher Martin-8729

My last visit with them was in April and there were only two of these sea hawks flying around.  It was wonderful to see their two chicks now almost fully matured.

Osprey on the nest - © Christopher Martin-7707

Four large raptors on one nest, even theirs which is massive, is pretty crowded accommodations.

Osprey in the Castle Junction - © Christopher Martin-8851

The parents seemed very feisty with the young ones, cajoling them to get airborne with squawks and dive bombs.

Ospreys around their nest - © Christopher Martin-8807

Amid all of the excitement, the birds circled the nest, perched in the trees over the river and they flew nearby several times.  I would imagine they will migrate south in less than a month so I will try to get back to spend time watching them before they go.

Osprey in flight - © Christopher Martin-0871

Banff Osprey in flight - © Christopher Martin-8733

Osprey fishing flight - © Christopher Martin-8049

Osprey fish flight - © Christopher Martin-8051

Osprey fish fight - © Christopher Martin-0962

Ospreys in flight - © Christopher Martin-8684


The Banff National Park through my son’s eyes

Banff in the Bow Valley - © Kian Martin-3389

Kian and I spent a great day in the Banff National Park last week.  We met my parents, his grandparents, in Banff and divided the day between the Gondola that runs up Sulphur Mountain and the Lake Minnewanka boat cruise.  It was a lot of fun touring with my son and my parents.  Here is a recap – I have used Kian’s photographs to illustrate the day.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3499

When we got started, Kian asked me if he could use one of my cameras.  The answer was, and always is, yes.  We then spent big chunks of the day photographing away.  This was one of the first times where he has really wanted to spend time doing it and I was happy to join him.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3445

From the top of the gondola, we walked up to Sanson’s Peak and found Golden-mantled ground squirrels all around plus a couple of Hoary marmots on the rocks.  Kian picked out these creatures and angled for good spots to shoot them (with a camera).

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3485

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3486

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on Sanson's Peak - © Kian Martin-3497

On the water, we covered the length of the lake and Kian made some very nice landscape images along the way.  Coming back, he started experimenting with the reflection of his camera in the window against the scenery beyond.  These were some of my favourites from his set.  When droplets settled on the glass towards the end of the trip, he turned his attention to them framed with the mountains.  Those joined my list of favourites too – great vision and creativity.

Minnewanka's emerald waters - © Kian Martin 2016 -3503

The east end of Lake Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3555

Photographing Lake Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3558

Photographing Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3560

Photographing the mountains from Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3577

The next day, we spent a couple of hours post processing his work.  It was fantastic!  I love the way he sees things and creates images.  I’m a one trick pony and didn’t do much more than photographing through the day.  Kian however was also the safety model for the flotation device, shared ecological knowledge about the forest along the lake and took a turn piloting the boat.

Kian in the photobooth - © Christopher Martin-3518

Piloting Minnewanka - © Christopher Martin-3569

After the boat ride, my parents headed back to Cochrane and Kian and I waded in the water for a bit – right up until our legs went numb!  We then went down the Johnson Lake road to see if the Buffalo berries were ripe and drawing in any bears.  They were and they did!  We saw a Black bear and a Grizzly.

Johnson Lake Black bear - © Kian Martin-3598

After all of that excitement, we headed for home.  Dusk came quickly and we decided to pull off of the Trans-Canada Highway and drive up the Sibbald Creek Trail to find a spot to photograph the sunset for a few minutes.  We found a small lake close to the road and this was Kian’s final picture from a great day.  An absolutely wonderful landscape image and one we both agreed was among his best (so far).

Sunset from the Sibbald Creek Trail - © Kian Martin-3641

He is a competent young man intent on trying out new things – I am exceptionally happy for him about the person he is choosing to become.  And, I am very proud of him.

 


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