My family spent a few days in Radium at the end of March. I had not been that way since last fall. Driving through the Sinclair Canyon’s narrow opening into the Columbia Valley this time, the steep rock walls grabbed my attention.
I went there early on three of the four mornings to play with those solid forms. Lights from passing traffic traced bright lines through the long exposures.
The last morning was the earliest I arrived – a little after 4am. I had some ideas for images with star trails through the gap in the canyon. The clouds were not supportive of those ideas. I watched them knit together and block the night sky as I was setting up. Those ideas will get another chance later this spring I think.
It seems longer than a month ago when Kian and I went to the Columbia Valley in British Columbia for the Labour Day long weekend.
(please click any image to see a higher resolution version)
We had a great time skateboarding in Invermere, touring around Fairmont and even did a little swimming which was unreasonably cold for the late summer.
Photography wasn’t the focus of our trip but, unsurprisingly, I fit a little in here and there. Easily the best of these was our walk along the narrow channel of the Columbia River where it meets the northern tip of Windermere Lake. We found five kingfishers chattering, flying and occasionally diving along the water.
This juvenile alighted on the pillar near us as we were watching another one flying on the far side of the river. He stayed for several minutes. Drawing a flyby from one kingfisher but mostly left alone to scout for dinner before the sun set.
It’s been a couple of years since I last visited the Khutzeymateen Inlet. A situation I hope to correct in the new year. I may even lead a tour there next fall. Thinking about the Khutzeymateen, it’s easy to relive the bear encounters (for me, those can be seen at this link, this one or this one) as they can be intimate in a way that I find unique and mesmerizing. For whatever reason, I’ve been recalling the mists that rarely disappear in the valley. It clings to the trees as the wind and sun push wisps, walls and blankets of fog up and down the steep mountainsides. The continuous motion tears holes in these terrestrial clouds. The view changes endlessly as they drag across the landscape exposing islands of forest here and a rocky shoreline there.
And, it certainly doesn’t hurt having these elements as the backdrop for bear photographs either!
My son and I returned from a weekend hiking and camping with good friends in the Monashee Provincial Park in British Columbia on Monday night. Wildfires have been a clear and present danger across the province for the whole summer and west of Golden we drove between two separate fires that were burning on mountainsides across the valley from each other. The thick smoke obscured the flames and blocked out much of the sun.
It was powerful to directly observe something we have followed all summer remotely. We stopped at a pullout briefly and then continued east towards home. The day retreated and when we were nearing Golden, the moon rose above the forest and mountain ridge lines.
The smoke in the air from the fires, and likely others that were not visible to us, turned the sky a purple colour at dusk that moved quickly into a deep blue.
The nearly full moon shone brightly and had an orange cast to it. Beauty from these wildfires that I enjoyed but that I would trade for rain there in a heartbeat.
Our family stayed at the Emerald Lake Lodge on the weekend. It is a beautiful lake ringed by peaks including Emerald Mountain and Mount Burgess but can prove tricky for sunrise photography. I had two mornings where I was able to watch dawn arrive. I really enjoyed the stillness of the water and its mirroring of the pastel sky. Both mornings ushered in great days for the kids, Bobbi and I.
The boat house across from the lodge is a beautiful, rustic spot that I love to photograph around when I’m visiting. I found a few different looks this time around.
When I was in the Khutzeymateen (K’tzim-a-deen) in June, the sedge was waist-high in the estuary which sits at the end of park’s fjord. The Grizzly bears come out of hibernation in late May or early June and the grass is growing fast and waiting for them. We spent an hour watching this boar mowing a path through the green. He was a big, beautiful bear and it was a privilege to spend some time watching him in his valley.
(Click any image to open a higher resolution version in its own webpage)
We took the zodiac from the sailboat in the morning and were lucky that the weather didn’t beat us up. The rain varied between a drizzle and a downpour which provided great mood to some of the images. Being in the Great Bear Rainforest on the west coast, it can rain hard and often does. There is a point where it is impossible to photograph, or even stay outside, but that day it went easy on us and played nicely. Along the way we saw several bears at different points in the estuary and only headed out when the tide started to come in.
When we were in Osoyoos in August, we stayed at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort. It is a great place to stay and its location above the lake and across from the city gave us a beautiful view of both as well as the hills to the west.
On our last evening, I watched the sunset from one of the rooftop patios and enjoyed the light and its changes on the land and in the sky. As the sun sped away, there were interesting scenes that kept my interest sharp through into night.
(Please click on any image if you would like to view a higher resolution version)
A Grizzly bear male watches from the tall grass of the Khutzeymateen Estuary. He looked to have been on the wrong side of a couple of fights judging by his beaten up coat.
We were on a zodiac inflatable and he was on the edge of the river. We looked at each other, us six in our boat and him now on a log. He growled and huffed while swiping his claws across the tree bark.
Then, having made his point, he turned his back on us, indicating that we were no longer worthy of concern and continued feasting on the sedge.
We watched him as we retreated and he wandered to the edge of the forest and then disappeared from view.
One evening we watched a crab boat come down the Khutzeymateen Inlet and weigh anchor for the night. The next day there were some opportunities to photograph the vessel shrouded in mist. Against the massive trees of the rainforest and the steep valley walls, it looked almost like a toy.
(As always, please click on any image to open a higher resolution version on its own page)
Mornings in the Khutzeymateen often find the coastline wrapped in blankets of fog while low flying clouds cling to the steep hills of the rainforest and the snow-covered peaks. The Grizzly Bears are the obvious draw but the landscape of this northern part of the Great Bear Rainforest is hauntingly beautiful.
Later in the day much of the fog burned off and when we sailed by the boat I was able to have a closer look.
Canon 5DIII and 200-400mm f/4 IS EXT at 526mm: 1/320oth of a second on f/5.6 and ISO 2500
A Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) mows down sedge grass grown tall in the estuary of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. This boar was pretty nonchalant when we came upon him as we rounded one of the river channels that divides up the grassland at low tide. He was sauntering along and sat down across from us to settle down for a snack. When he turned his head sideways to chew away, it created an unusual look at this handsome fellow and his impressive chompers.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
The Elk River runs through a southeastern region of British Columbia’s Kootenay region. Where the river spills out of the mountains into the Elk Valley, it widens and attracts an abundance of fish which in turn draws eagles, osprey and herons. On our recent trip to Fernie I enjoyed several walks along the river and was able to watch all of these birds on separate encounters. On the first evening my nephew Austin and I were out for a walk and watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying low along the river and land at a shallow stretch.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
There was enough light that it worked out well to photograph him flying by and landing.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
He landed nearby but spooked when we walked a bit closer so we headed home. It was the right call not only for the bird but the rain increased from the drizzle to a downpour which we were happy to miss.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2500 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
Thanks Austin – it was fun to be out birding with you!
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2000 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
An eagle enjoying a feast is not often left alone for too long in Brackendale. Finished spawning, the salmon drift downriver listlessly and eventually die naturally or with the assistance of the scavengers along the rivers. The effort is in pulling the fish out of the water. When that is done, competition often arrives to stake a claim. Skirmishes, jousting and all out fights can breakout before one eagle is chased off.
Occasionally, as in the photograph below, an equilibrium of sorts will be found where a few eagles will take turns on a fish with little aggression.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
Justifiably, the Grizzly bears I spent time watching in the Khutzeymateen cast a long shadow and much of my time there and since returning has been spent thinking about them. I have to say that even if I had seen no wildlife, the scenery in the Khutzeymateen is brilliant and I would have been able to fill my memory cards with landscape imagery.
The inlet is relatively narrow, running roughly a mile wide for most of its length. The mountains rise steeply up from the water, blanketed in most places with dense rainforest. The trees are broken up by chutes, large and otherwise, where the snow has conspired to avalanche and by areas where the barren rock has prohibited the forest’s advance.
Throughout the day, chains of mist evolve across the mountainsides. Whether under a leaden sky or in bright, open sunshine, these ethereal cousins to clouds continue unabated. It was a true pleasure to just relax and watch them travel past. While looking for the valley’s wildlife, I enjoyed picking out details along the coast as we motored past in the little zodiac boat.
On the second to last afternoon, the rain abated and the sun lit up the valley a little before night stepped in. It whispered of great weather and that held true for the next couple of days.
We sailed a few miles westwards towards the mouth of the inlet on the last evening. The light was warm, so was the air – a nice time to photograph off the bow.
That night, the moon was full and when it cleared the ridge above the cove, it was a beautiful scene to behold.
The last morning, dawn was spectacular.
From the deck of the sailboat that was home in the Khutzeymateen we spotted a mother and cub padding through the deep sedge grass during low tide. With the full moon, the change between high and low tides was over seven metres. The salmon that have spawned up the creeks, are little more than heartbeats when they float back down to the river mouth. When the water is high they often get caught in the sedge grass and are easy pickings for the clever bears who are in the know.
The cub played unaware we were watching for several minutes. When he did notice, he stared us down before trotting back to momma.
The mother stayed in the grass until the cub came up and growled and pawed at her.
After a while the cub turned his attention back to his mom. He trotted over and growled and pawed at her. He conned her into coming down to the beach and they ran around chasing each other.
It was a really special finish to a great first day in the Khutzeymateen. And more great moments were to come in the next two days I spent in the Khutzeymateen.
I was out on the ocean with my friend Jeff yesterday. We are heading into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary this morning for four days on a boat where we will be looking for the wild bears that own this remote inlet on British Columbia’s Pacific coast. That’s today but yesterday we were out whale watching leaving from Prince Rupert and cruising the coastline in search of humpbacks. On the return, there were a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) attracted by fishing scraps thrown overboard in the channel.
I saw it as a rare easy meal for these beautiful creatures. Seemed like good target practice as well. They circled around a couple of times for the chunks of fish, chasing off a large raft of gulls that seemed to materialize out of thin air.
More to come in a few days when I get back.
Bobbi and I got away to Emerald Lake last weekend for a little retreat. The valley is in the Yoho National Park in British Columbia, about two and a half hours from Calgary. We had a great time enjoying time on the land and enjoying the fine amenities offered by the Emerald Lake Lodge. We have to thank both sets of grandparents for taking care of Kezia and Kian. I spent most of the night out photographing around the water. The image above is looking down the stairs to the boathouse where you can rent canoes and row boats to take out on the lake. There was a wedding in the lodge where Cilantro’s restaurant is located across the bridge. The lights from the party and the bridge illuminated the little cabin and the stacked boats. Emerald Lake is a wonderful place to visit – we are already plotting our next return visit.
We went to Radium on the weekend in search of bears. The dandelions are in bloom in the roadside fields along Highway 93 in the Kootenay National Park that runs west from the British Columbia – Alberta border. These flowers represent one of the first key crops that the bears can graze on.
The narrow valley that winds down to the Kootenay River is beautiful with dense forest, mountain streams and a couple of small lakes. The last 15 kilometers of the highway hides the yellow patches around corners and draws bears consistently at this time of the year. During our visit we came upon a few individual bears munching away. Most drivers stayed in their vehicles and were generally respectful of the bears. A few exceptions, but on this trip at least, not the worst behaviour that I’ve seen.
With the bears not threatened, it was fun to watch them snack away, able to concentrate on eating rather than worrying about people. This black bear settled right down which I took as an indication that he was relaxed.
Later on, in another field, I saw him scrunch up his nose at one point. We left and when we drove by later the bear had also moved on. I’m not sure if the wrinkled nose was a sign of discomfort with the people and cars or he simply wanted to get back into the woods.
I loved the confidence shown by this bear as it strode across the road to a new field. I worry about the traffic but the drivers on this day were patient and no one rushed the crossing. Hope to see more and more of that level of awareness.
I would have liked to have seen a momma with a couple of cubs. Maybe they found secluded dandelion patches to enjoy in private. The bear below took a minute to stare up the hill under the heavy rain. I did not hear or see anything that would have warranted an alert stare but the bear obviously did.
It was great to see these bears. I hope to get out there again before the flowers turn to seed and these animals disappear back into the woods.
(as always, please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
In March, I spent a weekend in Vancouver photographing birds, Granville Market and a few other things with a good friend. On one of the mornings we headed down to Stanley Park around 4:30 AM to see about sunrise. We walked to the seawall along the Burrard Inlet and worked for a while with the lights of North Van across the water.
As dawn came in, we moved slowly towards the Lion’s Gate Bridge and I had a lot of fun working with this dominant structure. I was very happy that they left the bridge lights on right through sunrise. I used to spend a lot of time exploring the park when I went to school in Vancouver but this was one of only a few times that I have photographed there. It is a beautiful place to spend time – with or without a camera.
With morning came the runners that pile on miles along the pathways year round. I enjoyed working them into a few photographs before packing up for breakfast.
Granville Island is a favourite place of mine to stroll around on a rainy day in Vancouver. To be clear, it is great in good weather too but when it is wet the industrial-artistic buildings, galleries and walkways reveal beautiful details. The wood gleams, the rusty browns and reds in weathered metal become deeply saturated and the blooming flowers of mid-March glow despite the grey skies.
When I used to live in Vancouver I would head down to the market on the island regularly. When dark clouds greeted us one morning during a visit my friend Jack and I made to Vancouver in March, my memories of Granville in the rain came back and it was fun to wander around there once more.
Eventually we did head into the market for a little while. The food was, as usual, incredible and we walked out with several bags of fruit as a temporary keepsake from the morning.
I didn’t buy any fish but I did ask the gentlemen presiding over the chilly group below if I could photograph. The rough, inconsistent pattern caught my eye.
All of the morning’s hard work built up a thirst so we stopped by the Granville Island Brewery’s Taproom. These lightbulbs looked like they were from someone’s Steampunk dream and I was compelled to ask a couple if I could lean over next to them in order to grab a quick shot.
On the way out of the maze of buildings, this metal rail contraption drew my attention. It wasn’t in motion, I’m not even sure that there was anything that did move, but it was really cool.
A little earlier, I had really enjoyed the metal construction art at the entrance to the Ocean Concrete yard along the island’s waterfront facing the inlet. The two pieces seemed like distant cousins with the house suggesting a slightly more inviting alternate reality. It is a very cool place where even a concrete company gets into the artistic vibe.
Another great tour through Granville Island. I’m looking forward to the next one, rain or shine.
After watching a Barn owl hunt across the long grass marsh flats at Boundary Bay through dusk in mid-March, I was packing up when I saw a Snowy owl perched on a log. It was about 100 yards away but the white oval shape stood out distinctively against the blues and blacks of evening.
I worked my way along the levee towards the bird and it just stared at me as I stopped about 50 feet away. We stared at one another for a minute and then the owl whipped its head around and cocked it towards some sound or motion I was oblivious to. It didn’t attack and went back to looking around for a while. A few minutes later, it launched onto another large piece of driftwood which was closer to the ground.
From there, the snowy stalked along the wood and ended up jumping into the grass at one point. It stayed in the grass for a little bit but I didn’t see whether it was successful in catching something or not.
The bay was dark by this time and I left the owl as it flew to another perch nearby. I had a few great encounters in Boundary Bay – I’m already excited to go back soon.