Nature

Continuing through dawn at one of the Vermilion Lakes

When I arrived at the second Vermilion Lake and scrambled down to the shoreline I was alone and in darkness.  Once I turned off my headlamp my eyes adjusted and a thin line brightening to the east.  Mount Rundle stood resolutely across the water and I started to make out clouds as they slid toward the horizon.

 

The image above was a 25 second exposure on f/10 and ISO 800 taken at 7:25 AM.  I used that to get a feel for how the scene looked as it was still too dark to make out much of the details and color in the sky with my eyes alone.

I didn’t mind the grass but I chose to focus on the sky and its reflection so a few steps to the right and setting up closer to the waterline was the next step.  The clouds in the image above made a great frame around Rundle and the pre-sunrise colors intensified considerably by the time that I made this photograph at 7:35 AM.

The pre-dawn light’s color faded out before 8 AM.  The lull before the fire came into the sky did not last long and I soon caught the first hints of pink catching in the clouds.  The photograph of Tunnel Mountain, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain above was taken at 8:10 using a 2 second exposure on f/16 at ISO 50.  The light soon caught the clouds hanging low above the mountains in the image below (8:13 AM; 0.8 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).  From there the reds and oranges started to splash across the sky above the Bow Valley.

By 8:16, the pinks had been driven off completely.  Now the trick was to hold the really bright circle of sky left of Mount Rundle (in the centre of the image below – 0.6 seconds; f/16; ISO 50)).  I was exposing off of that circle so that the highlights weren’t completely blown knowing that the RAW file captured by my camera would hold detail in the shadows elsewhere which I could recover in post.

I played with the focal length of several images during the exposure.  This created streaks in the photograph which served as interesting leading lines into the sunrise and Mount Rundle.  I shared my favourite one of these on the weekend (here) and below is another that I really liked as well.  This one has more brightness in the foreground so it has a different feel for me (8:20; 0.5 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).

 

By 8:20, the fire was waning and only golds and oranges outlined the silhouette of the mountains.  The photograph below being one of the last from my shoot (8:22; 0.3 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).

I jumped into a last frame just before the sun came over Rundle’s flank.   I had wanted to catch a sunstar as it crested the mountain but the clouds got in the middle as can happen.  That exposure was taken at 8:50 AM with a 4 second exposure (f/16 and ISO 100) using a heavy neutral density filter to get the extended shutter speed.  A beautiful morning in one of those places I love returning to again and again.  It’s rare that it doesn’t share a new look, or a few of them, with me each time.

 

 


Streaks of sunrise in Banff National Park

 

Sunrise streaked around Mount Rundle over the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada yesterday. I arrived in darkness and had time to find a great spot that I have not photographed from before.  The clouds picked up the earliest light in the pre-dawn and the color in the sky continued to intensify.  For this image, I zoomed the focal length of the lens slightly during the 1/2 second exposure to create the lines of light leading to Rundle.


Flashback Friday – squabbling geese on Two Jack

The ice started to recede on Two Jack Lake in late April this year.  Waterfowl was drawn to the open water as they migrated back to Banff National Park.  Some birds were resting briefly before continuing further north.  For a small gaggle of Canada geese, they seemed to be planning for a longer stay.

At one point, one goose decided to chase another.  The target flew off and was joined by his mate and they landed at another opening.  Perhaps this was a territorial “discussion”.  For me, it yielded a series of images with the aggressor splashing, flying and skimming across the water.  The bird banked around the small cove towards me so I was in a great position to photograph him.




The remaining couple settled down quickly and returned to paddling on the water.  A little while later one laid don near a stand of trees while the other went to the edge of the ice that still covered most of the lake.


Flashback Friday – a loon shakin’ on the Vermilion Lakes

This past summer I spent a lot of time at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park.  I was drawn there by a pair of common loons who nested on the third lake this year.  This photograph was from May 27th at 5:41 am on a morning when I was alone with the loons and their beautiful, haunting calls to one another.  After diving, they preen their feathers and eventually lean back, unfold their wings and vigorously flap them to shed water.  This process always fascinates me and I love the way the still images look.   It starts slowly, with the bird shifting their weight and then stretching out the wings while raising their bodies off the water.  The flapping then starts and builds to a crescendo with the loon’s head pointing straight up, wings blurring furiously and water drops spraying off in all directions.  And then it ends with the bird dropping back into the water and carrying on preening, diving or paddling along.  The whole cycle lasting roughly 3-5 seconds.  The image below is that peak in the cycle where it seems the bird itself might fly apart.

 


A family of moose in Kananaskis Country

This was easily one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen when this bull moose nuzzled with his calf.

The bull is likely mating with the cow again this year which brings him into the same area as the calf. I didn’t expect them to have a bond but when this tender moment happened on the weekend, I was obviously wrong.

 

This calf was born in 2016 and still stays close to his mother. The three moose have been hanging around each other again during this year’s rut. I don’t know how long they will stay together as a little family before the bull returns to the solitary life.

When I started watching them, the calf was laying down while the parents grazed separately nearby.  Over the next hour they all moved slowly around the small meadow and the edge of the forest.  It was a relaxed atmosphere which I think is reflected in the photographs.

Eventually the big fellow laid down and was soon napping.  The cow and calf continued grazing.  And I headed home.


A few vignettes of autumn

Fall has rushed in quickly this year and I wanted to share a few photographs from this season before it has moved on. Above, I was photographing the Northern Lights along the Elbow River and used a flashlight to illuminate one tree’s fall colors.

The golden leaves can blow away at any point so I stopped as often as I could when I found a scene that captured a little of the season’s soul.

The forest, recovering from the controlled burn at Sawback Ridge in Banff National Park, exploded into a riot of fall color in September.  An abandoned farm building in Springbank was similarly surrounded.

The fields in the foothills were ready for the final harvests by the end of September.  The view across the fields and on to the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains is beautiful.

The snow is falling again this morning so who knows how long autumn will linger.  It’s all good, I enjoy each season as they come and go.


Flashback Friday – baby bear bites

Forgive the double alliterations in the title!  I recently came across one of these pictures in my image library.  That recalled the encounter with this grizzly bear and her three cubs in 2012.  It was wet morning in June and my friend Jeff and I were out photographing near the Vermilion Lakes.  We found the bears under the trees.  While mom was sleeping, these two year olds were rough housing with abandon.

Though the bared teeth look fierce no true biting happened.  Even the play lost their interest before long and they alternated sprawling across mom and nursing.  We left then and it seemed they were close to a nap themselves – although they may have powered up again instead.

When they separated, I was able to grab a couple of individual shots.  Truly beautiful animals.  Five years on, I wonder how they have made out.  Their mother, 64, was well known in the Banff area but disappeared at the age of 25 and was assumed to have died in late 2013.  I believe one of these cubs was 148 who was relocated out of Banff earlier this year.  That move was due to her increasing encounters with humans but, tragically, she was shot and killed last Sunday in British Columbia.  A death, legal though it was, which I am having great difficulty accepting.  Particularly when that province will outlaw trophy hunting of grizzly bears starting on November 30th.    I’m a bit teary now so I’ll finish here.

Here is one of the last photographs I took of 64.


Upper Kananaskis Lake – summer mornings

This summer I feel like I have rediscovered the Kananaskis Lakes located in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  In particular, I have spent a lot of time at the upper lake.  The peaks that ring the lake have appealed to me recently in a new way and I have been drawn to visit at different times of the day to photograph them.

The jagged profiles, mirrored reflections and rocky shoreline are all elements I love to work with and the Upper Kananaskis Lake knits these together in a beautiful way.  These are a few of the photographs I like from these visits.

And here are some evening shots from an earlier post this summer as well.  It’s a beautiful place to spend time.

 


#139 in the berries

I found grizzly bear #139 between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes last weekend.  He has a history of being in the news over the past couple of year (not a problem bear just one that people find with relative frequency so there are a fair number of images and articles on him).  This time, he was strolling between the forest and the Kananaskis Lake road, grazing on the buffalo berries that are ripe and delicious (for the bears at least – they are too tart for my taste when they first ripen).

 

I left the bear after alerting one of the rangers to his presence as he was moving closer to a campground.  I went for a walk along the shoreline a few kilometres away and returned past the spot an hour later.  The bear had crossed the road by then and was grazing on the high side of the hill.

He has been referred to as scrawny in the past so it was good to see him looking healthy and devouring berries.  He’s a beautiful bear – especially when he flashes that wonderful smile (please allow for a bit of anthropomorphization.  I truly believe animals have personalities and emotions).  I hope to cross paths with him again for years to come.


Wedge Pond – mist, reflection and alpenglow

Wedge Pond is a favourite location of mine in Kananaskis Country.  She sits below the massive chunk of rock that is Mount Kidd and in calm moments mirrors the entire mountain on her surface.  Several more peaks along the Kananaskis River Valley are prominent from the shoreline as well.  Collectively they provide a lot of visually appealing elements to work with when photographing around this little lake.  I usually head there in late September when the aspen trees around the pond turn a brilliant yellow (previous posts with those images).  A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a friendly Australian photographer who will be coming this way next month and was looking for some local information about Kananaskis and Wedge Pond in particular.  That got me thinking about Wedge a little earlier than usual and I headed up in the wee hours on August 11th..

The mist was swirling early.  Cold, humid air and a gentle breeze combined to push the mist across the water.  On this day, the sky was clear and the alpenglow was visible above the mountains early and then slid down the surrounding peaks.  The morning exceeded all expectations I may have had and I was blessed with an amazing start to the day.  The red that first painted the peaks was soon washed over with golden sunlight and I headed up for a hike at Chester Lake.


A smoked sunrise

The smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta continues to come and go west of the Rockies in southwestern Alberta depending on severity of the fires, the weather and the wind.  One morning last week it was particularly thick and made the rising sun a circle of deep red, orange and yellow.  At one point wispy clouds layered above the sun that was truly beautiful to me.


A grizzly bear in the fireweed

Last weekend I came across this grizzly bear late in the day along the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40).  He first came out of the forest on the high side of the hill and traveled through this patch of fireweed before slipping back into the woods.

He was in the trees briefly before continuing down the hill and coming to the road.

Meeting the pavement, he crossed straightaway – which is always a bit of uncertainty given the wildcard of a speeding vehicle.  However this time the four vehicles nearby were all pulled over and no other traffic came so he had no issues.

Dark clouds rolled in and he disappeared down the bank so that ended the short visit.  I headed up to Highwood Pass and watched the weather scrape over the mountains for a bit. Note: that is a great place to enjoy watching the land – the elevation, jagged peaks, often fast-moving clouds and ever-changing weather combine endlessly.  When I drove back down, I found the bear further up the road in hillside of brambles feasting on buffalo berries.  Failing light and falling rain softened the scene and made finding the bear and getting sharp images a challenge but I was grateful for another short visit with this beautiful bruin.