Loons on the lake in Banff National Park
I found a pair of common loons on the third Vermilion Lake in the Banff National Park on the weekend. They were diving and skimming the water surface for food, enjoying the sunshine and paddling close to each other at different points.
The sunlight caught the iridescence in their feathers. It is beautiful when the red eyes glow and the silky greens shimmer along their necks.
A frozen dawn in the Bow Valley
In late January I spent time on a small pond between two of the Vermillion Lakes watching the day break. The blues of the early morning held on to the landscape as pastels started to be brushed into the clouds above Mount Rundle. The silence in this sheltered spot was wonderful and helped me to enjoy a calm, mindful meditation while I watched and photographed.
A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise
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.
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.
Winter in Lake Louise: snow, ice and water
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A morning in the Valley of the Ten Peaks
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.
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.
Around the valley the autumn colors were still hanging on while winter looked to be settling onto the mountains above the lake.
Walking through autumn
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.
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.
Autumn Grizzly in the park
Autumn 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.
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.
A fight over a fish
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A step towards winter: morning at Moraine Lake
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.
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.
Ospreys at the Castle Junction
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.
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.
Four large raptors on one nest, even theirs which is massive, is pretty crowded accommodations.
The parents seemed very feisty with the young ones, cajoling them to get airborne with squawks and dive bombs.
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.
The Banff National Park through my son’s eyes
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.