Jasper National Park

A beast in the bushes

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When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.

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We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near.  When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush.  The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past.  It was cool to share that experience with Kian.

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Rainbows over Medicine Lake at sunset

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A double rainbow arched over Medicine Lake just before sunset in Jasper National Park.  Light rain fell on Kian and I as we watched these rainbows develop on the edge of a storm that had rolled up the Maligne Valley.  The sun was near setting so the sunlight was pure gold and the colors across the landscape were incredible.

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Jasper National Park: Sunset near Excelsior Creek

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On the Labour Day weekend, my son and I camped in Jasper.  I hadn’t been there in over a year and I was shocked to see a vast swath of burnt hillsides in Medicine Lake area of the Malign Valley.  Somehow I completely missed the Excelsior Wildfire that burned over a 1000 hectares between July 9th and 22nd, 2015.  We were looking for wildlife and enjoying the chaotic weather when the sun broke through to paint select trees amid the skeleton forest left behind as a stark reminder of the wildfire.


Dawn at the Columbia Icefields

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0431

After a chilly night photographing and then sleeping at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier, I shook off the cold with a cup of tea before getting out of my sleeping bag and taking a look around.  It was about 5:30 am when I was up and the blues and whites in the sky and on the mountains were lovely as they waited for the sun to light them up.

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0416-2

The image above was made at 5:47 am and less than 10 minutes later, the pink sunlight of dawn was splashing the upper reaches of the mountains on either side of the glacier.  It was beautiful and I took turns between watching the light move across the slopes and trying to remember to photograph.

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0688

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0698

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0712

I started where the light first reached along Parker Ridge and Hilda Peak on the western side of the Sunwapta Pass, then worked to the right watching as Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda were hit with shafts of light here and there.

Dawn on Mount Kitchener - © Christopher Martin Photography-0424-2

I panned across the Athabasca Glacier towards the Dome Glacier and saw the light show unfolding there a couple of minutes behind my location.  I ran to my car and drove to a viewpoint where I could see up the valley to the glacier and up to the peak of Mount Kitchener (the first image in this post).  It proved to be a good move and I was able to watch the sunlight as it transitioned from pink into gold.

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0693

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0695

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0723

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography-0736

When the golden hue started to drain out of the light, I packed up and headed north towards Jasper.  A couple of kilometres down the road, I noticed this peak still basking in beautiful light.  I stopped and made this last image of a fine morning in the Rocky Mountains.

Dawn at the Columbia Icefields - © Christopher Martin Photography -0437-2

 


A night at the Athabasca Glacier – sparkling stars, blurred clouds, glowing skies and jagged peaks

Athabasca Glacier under the stars - © Christopher Martin Photography-0666

When I ventured up to Jasper National Park in May, I spent the first night at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. After laying my sleeping bag across the reclined passenger seat, I set up my tripod and camera along one of the trails that lead up to the edge of the ice.

Athabasca Glacier under the stars - © Christopher Martin Photography-0663

Looking up the glacier, between the clouds as they slid by, a subtle green-blue glow was visible above the ice, rock and snow. With long exposures, the glow was more pronounced. I first thought it may be the Aurora Borealis but I was facing towards the southwest so I would have expected a show behind me more than where I was looking. It was a new moon that night so I’m not sure was responsible for the glow. Could it be the starlight on a clear night, free from light pollution, reflecting off of the ice? Maybe, but I really can’t explain it. It was hauntingly beautiful and I enjoyed spending a couple of hours in that place within this immeasurably vast universe – a night with the stars will get you thinking such things!

Mount Andromeda under the stars - © Christopher Martin Photography-0660-2

It was a great auditory experience as well, the ice cracks and rock falls echoed off the mountains and down the glacier field irregularly through the night which broke up the steady cries of the racing winds.

Athabasca Glacier under the stars - © Christopher Martin Photography-0676

Sparkling stars, blurred clouds, glowing skies and jagged peaks – it was a special night.


Same bear, similar itch, different tree

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9725

The Black bear that I photographed doing a bit of a dance while rubbing against a small tree continued on its path through the trees for a while before crossing the highway.  It was early in the morning so no traffic interrupted him as he sauntered down the middle of the road for a couple of hundred metres.

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9380

Crossing a thin tree line, he grazed on spring flowers amid the tall grass while heading parallel to the road.

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9360

A while after that, he wandered close to the Athabasca River and grazed near the shoreline and even laid down for a short nap on a grassy spot.

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9587

A few minutes later, he moved into the trees and finding a new scratching post to rub against for a little while.

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9728

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9726-2

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9733-2

Jasper Black Bear - © Christopher Martin Photography-9739


A different tree of life

An abstract tree of life - © Christopher Martin -0619-2

I found this abstract tree form in the exposed bed of Medicine Lake east of Jasper.  I liked how water was running down the branches that led into the dry ground.


A truly lone wolf

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9050

I left Jasper early in the morning heading south along the Highway 93, enjoying the empty road given the time of day.  I had hopes of finding a bear or two along the forest’s edge during my drive through the park (and did sight a very handsome fellow a little later).  I had gone about ten kilometres out of town and then felt compelled to retrace my path, thinking I would drive back to last bridge before town and then head south again.  Turning back, I went a couple of kilometres and then saw an animal quite a distance straight ahead.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-8963
I pulled off to the shoulder and levelled my long lens quickly.  I was happy to have a composition with the wolf in the middle of the road with the surrounding landscape visible.  I watched the wolf trot steadily down the middle and shoulders of the highway for several minutes.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-8978
She had a route in mind and stayed on it.  She paused near an opening to the river, and I had thought she might go down to the water.  That wasn’t her path as she carried along the road, passing me on the other side and stopping to give me a stare before moving on.  At close range I noticed her tracking collar and it seemed like she had been freshly shaved around the neck so I wonder if she had been fitted with a new collar and was now catching back up with her pack.

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9010
Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9007
Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9038

Wolves are one of my unicorn animals.  That is to say that I don’t see them anywhere near as often as I would like.  So it is very special when I do get to spend time with one.  Especially one as pretty as this wolf!

Highway 93 Wolf - © Christopher Martin-9054


A backscratching bear’s dance

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9297

I visited Jasper National Park for a couple of days over the Victoria Day long weekend.  The park has a different feel (both are great – just different) from Banff and I always look forward to spending time there.   I plan to share a few stories of time I spent with some of the magnificent wildlife there but will start with a really fun moment.

Black bear shuffle and stare - © Christopher Martin-9121

This black bear was grazing in the ground cover of a stretch of open forest when I found him.  I watched him scratch, sniff and chew on shrubs, flowers and roots for several minutes and then he sauntered over to this small tree.

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9279

Rearing up on his hind legs, he seemed really happy to rub his back up and down against the spiky needles.  I’m not sure how much scratching he felt with his thick coat so maybe it was more for the scent or to shake off some insects.  No matter the reason, it was cool to see a bear dancing for his own reasons.

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9286

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9287

Backscratching bear dancer - © Christopher Martin-9300

 

 

 

 


A few of Jasper’s juvenile bald eagles

The Jasper National Park is an amazing place for wildlife.  That statement is not a great surprise but still I wasn’t expect the encounter Jeff Rhude and I had on the last day of our trip up there.  Walking along the Athabasca River outside of the townsite we were looking for wolf tracks in the snow.  Instead, we found one juvenile bald eagle that was perched above the river.  When it flew out of the tree it went to a lower point and that drew our attention to a second and then a third one in the trees.  There was a fourth that circled nearby as well.  Over the next hour, we hoped they would dive for fish while enjoying watching them fly between one another.  Crazily, a set of five mature eagles over them as the afternoon faded and that stirred these younger birds up.  They attacked each other a couple of times.  Which seemed like play fighting and did not last long enough to be serious.  It was incredible to see this action up close.  They were in trees less than a hundred feet away when the other eagles flew over and we had a great view of the fights.  After these, a couple of them went back to their original perch while the others crossed the river and flew out of sight.  I hope to see them again next time I get back to this incredible place.

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Jasper Rams

In Jasper we revisited the same herd of Bighorn sheep on Edith’s Knoll each day in the hopes of catching the rams smashing their horns together.  There was an element of disappointment as we were early in the rut  and the males did not seem to be ramped up yet.   However, with several hours spent less than twenty yards from these majestic beasts, it proved to be a great experience watching their interactions and their mannerisms.  Spending that kind of time with wildlife on their terms is pretty special.  These are a few of the interesting moments from the time spent up on the hill.

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Jasper’s landscapes in winter

The week I spent in the Jasper National Park at the end of October coincided with a heavy snowstorm which gripped the park area for most of the week and gave winter a firm grasp over it.  I was there to photograph wildlife with a small group but stole a few opportunities to capture the landscape freshly trimmed with its winter coat.

During a scout along the Athabasca River looking for tracks, I stopped to work into this scene for a few minutes.  With a bit of time to find something to work with in the foreground, waterproof(ish) boots so I could set up out in the water a bit and a polarizer all helped to realize what I had in mind.  Namely, a subtle winter landscape in this national park.

The last day had some of the heaviest snow in the morning but also afforded the only sunshine of the week.  This image was along the river’s edge east of Jasper a little while before the clouds started to knit back together.


A snowy Bighorn ram at rest

The wildlife photography workshop in Jasper is drawing to a close and it has been a great opportunity to put in some great time with the camera.  This ram was a subject of our collective attention early in the workshop and on one of the mornings he had led his herd up to one of the hills along the Maligne Lake Road.  The snow caked along his face and down his back was a nice detail to work with.

Now back along the Icefields Parkway back home to my family.  And across the town with the kids for Hallowe’en treating and trickery – I can’t wait.


A raven’s portrait

Stopping at a viewpoint along the Icefields Parkway on Sunday to photograph a pair of friendly ravens during the second day of John Marriott’s Jasper Fall Wildlife Workshop.  This raven lived up to advance billing and was a pleasure to photograph.  This portrait was one of my favourite images from a wonderful wintry day that saw us photographing mountain goats, bighorn sheep rams and bull elks in Jasper National Park.


Mountain goat in Jasper National Park

The white mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) that are sparsely peppered along the Canadian Rockies are a favourite animal of mine.  Yesterday we (okay, John Marriott) spied a large male grazing on an almost vertical cliff a couple hundred feet up from the valley floor west of the Columbia Icefields.  A beautiful scene to photograph one of these most beautiful of creatures.