The snow returned for a weekend long storm. I was in Banff for a night and this was the town on Saturday morning. Heavy snow then and more since then.
The night before I was out for a walk and a friend at the bus stop suggested a photo of the storm. The flash lit up the flakes of snow between me and them and illustrate this spring storm’s intensity.
A herd of elk fanned out on the edge of the first Vermilion Lake and, with a slight break in the low cloud, one flank of Mount Rundle came into view to make for a nice scene.
Last weekend, on June 9th, winter crept in a side door and threw some weather at the Rocky Mountains around Banff. I was hoping to find bears on my drive but wasn’t sure if the snow would convince them to stay hidden deeper in the forests. Around 8 am the gloom lifted a little after I photographed a young bighorn on the edge of Lake Minnewanka. I drove back towards Banff, passed a lone elk on the far side of a meadow and merged back onto the Trans-Canada Highway. I was on the way to Highway 93 which runs down the spine of the Kootenay National Park and is a haven for black bears and grizzly bears at this time of the year. As I approached the westernmost entrance to the Banff townsite, Vermilion’s siren call beckoned. I pulled onto the off ramp and then slowly glided along the lakeside road scouring the trees for wildlife.
On the second pass, I found #64 and her three cubs. The snow was falling in big, wet flakes. The moisture on the leaves, grass and everything else seemed to create a soft glow which was beautiful. The bears were only 15 or 20 metres off the road but clean, clear shots were hard to come by.
That didn’t bother me too much as I wanted to show the weather in the images I was making of the bears. They lingered in that spot for a few minutes and then trundled off, slipping back into the woods. The next day provided an easier vantage point to photograph this same family from. However, the image at the top of the post was easily my favourite from the weekend.
This cub is one of three two-year olds growing up in the Banff National Park under their mother’s attentive guidance and watchful gaze. I spoke with one of the conservation officers on Sunday and he knew much about this little family. I was happy to hear that the mother is roughly twenty years old. When Dave told me that it made me hopeful that her experience will help her bring all three cubs to maturity. A great addition to the overall Grizzly population in the park. First, a bit about this encounter and then some details about the mother bear and her story.
The snow the day before had given way to rain by Sunday morning. The wet hairs glistened as did the foliage which made added some interest to the images. The family was grazing near the roadside but were still in pretty deep forest so the dark scene was a puzzle to work with. We were able to stay in the car and use long lenses to fill the frames with the bears. A safe way to encounter bruins and they carried on with very little intrusion from our car and the couple of others that came and went.
The bears laid down at one point for a short snooze. Two of the little bears curled in with their mom while the third draped over her shoulder hump. I didn’t have a good angle on that moment but it was really nice just to see. After about half an hour, the bears moved on shuffling deeper into the forest and disappeared quickly.
Bear #64 is a well-known bear in the Banff area. John Marriott wrote a post that touches on her while telling the tragic story of the loss of bears #109 and #108. 108 was five-and-a-half years old when she was hit by a car on July 11, 2011. 109 was her twin sister and had been run over by a train the year before. If I had a wish I would spend it on helping these young cubs growing to an age where my kids are driving up on their own to photograph them with their own cubs.
I drove around the Minnewanka Loop in the Banff National Park this morning on the search for wildlife, bears in particular. The loop starts at the easternmost Banff townsite exit and goes uphill to Lake Minnewanka. Along the way you can occasionally see wolves, bears, moose, elk, bighorn sheep and deer. The snow was falling with great enthusiasm by 8 am this morning. It made finding wildlife a bit more challenging but I loved how the sky looked filled with these huge flakes.
In the image above I was on a bluff looking over Two Jack Lake towards Mount Rundle. This stand of trees is on a small point that juts out prominently. With the snow this was the only feature of the lake that could be seen. The trees looked like they were painted with brush strokes and this image shows some of that.
Trains in the Rockies raise mixed feelings for me. There is a majesty to travel by rail, especially through the mountains. And, the railway certainly played a role historically in binding this country together that continues today. The wildlife deaths from train collisions on the tracks that wind through the Banff National Park is an issue that has improved but has a long ways to go before the animals are safe. Wildlife photographers like John Marriott and Peter A. Dettling are among those stakeholders who are raising awareness and making positive changes. Hopefully increasing awareness and engagement by the public and those on all sides of the equation will continue to reduce deaths of wolves, bears and other wildlife on the railways in the Rocky Mountains. It will be good when the trains and their rich history can be enjoyed without the dark shadow that currently hangs around them.
I drove along the Lake Minnewanka road last weekend with plans to photograph the sunrise from a bluff above Two Jack Lake that affords a great view of the lake along with Mount Rundle in the background. Parking at a pullout near my intended spot, I started setting up my gear when I noticed a female elk standing near a tree about 20 metres away. It was still dark out but I could see her staring at me so we played that game for a few minutes. It was too dark to shoot and she seemed pretty relaxed so I was happy to just watch her. Then, I saw some movement behind her and a bull elk stood up and shook the snow off. She might have been happy to stay there but he wanted to get a bit of separation so they hopped the snow bank onto the road and, after clearing the bank on the far side, climbed the hill to the edge of the forest. At this point, the light was brightening quickly and by raising the ISO on my camera I was able to take the image above of the bull staring at me from the top of the hill. I thought they were going to continue into the forest but when I reviewed the picture in the LCD on the camera, I noticed the female’s ears in the lower left corner of the picture and realized she was laying down.
They were in no hurry to disappear so I stayed on the far edge of the road from them and photographed the bull with his amazing antlers. These are among the best balanced racks that I have seen and one of the largest. Really impressive and when he licked his chops I had a fleeting image of him using them on me. That idea didn’t take hold as his body language did not suggest any agitation. He stayed on this little rise for the time while I was there and the cow got up once but stayed low and mostly out of sight.
I tried not to take it personally when he stuck his tongue out. It’s a funny look that’s hard not to anthropomorphize a bit.
Even while scratching his leg, the elk kept one eye on me presumably to avoid being surprised by any movements I might make.
Switching lenses for a wider composition you can see the first light colouring the peak of Cascade Mountain above the forest.
I left them just before sunrise as he was turning his attention towards the trees. I piled my gear back in the car and headed down to the Bow Valley Parkway and, as it turned out, to a pair of wolves.
I heard a lady walking past me on the Vermilion Lakes road say to her friend that this was the first Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on the lakes this year. It certainly was the first one I’ve seen paddling around the open water near one of the warm springs that run out of the hillsides and hold back the ice through the winter.
The light was diffused by the clouds and the water was calm with no wind to disturb it. This bird swam around in large circles, lapping us several times as my wife and I photographed it and the kids watched it. It honked a few times but was not angry as when something gets too close to a nest. Seemed more like a call for a fellow goose to stop by. It could have been an inquiry to a potential mate but I did not see any other geese in the area.
As it was, we stayed with the bird for about half an hour. I worked with the reflections, the ripples, the edge of the ice and really enjoyed the personality I saw in the goose as it watched us. I may have been projecting this personality but it seemed very curious and even a little bemused as we looked one another over.
Yesterday, I went out for a morning photography tour along the Vermilion Lakes just outside of Banff. I enjoy returning to this area and usually am rewarded by the wildlife, the landscapes or something little thing that draws my eye. I settled into a favourite spot along the second Vermilion Lake where there are some hot springs that seep out of the mountainside, collect into a network of small streams and keep a few pools of water free of the snow-covered sheet of ice that hides the rest of the lake.
Mount Rundle stands directly between the lakes and the point where the sun rises at this time of the year so you need some broken clouds to be in the right place to catch the warm light.
It was -14°C on Sunday morning when I walked down the path to the shore of the first Vermilion Lake just west of Banff. The lakes are largely frozen over after several days of cold weather. A great benefit to birds, photographers and other wild creatures are the hot springs that bleed into the lake from different spots around the lakes. For photographers, the warm springs keep patches of water ice-free throughout the winter.
I have a couple of favourite locations across the three lakes including this one. Arguably it has the best view of Mount Rundle. On this morning, the warm water had cut a winding path out across the lake and I enjoyed playing with the composition of this element with the sky, the mountain and all of the reflections. When I arrived it was still dark but the sky was showing great promise. The clouds pushed up towards Rundle and parked there as the sun neared the horizon catching the warm light beautifully. A very nice place to photograph landscapes on a very nice morning.
This dead forest is along the Bow Valley Parkway in the Banff National Park. Fire swept through this stand of Lodgepole Pines as part of a prescribed fire burn almost 18 years ago. There is new growth springing up from the ground but none has reached high up the trunks so far. With the late spring snowstorm, there was a lot of interesting elements to work into my images there.