Nature

Mallards in motion

As spring takes hold, you can find ducks busy wherever there is water.  Whether it is at a lake still mostly covered with ice or a pond that is not much more than a puddle in a field, a male and female pair are often there paddling, wading, fishing or cleaning.  I found this couple in a shallow depression where snow melt had collected.  The light was warm gold and I thought they looked absolutely beautiful.

As I slowed down, I flushed them into the air.  I was disappointed in myself as I’d prefer to wait until they chose to fly on their own accord.  Still, it was a transitory location for them and one that was close to the roadside so I didn’t carry too much concern away with me after watching them launch and head away.


Coyotes living on the prairies

On my frequent drives in search of snowy owls this winter, I often see coyotes.  I admire how these creatures thrive during the winter and enjoy being able to watch them hunt mice across the fields.  Here are a couple from the past month or so.

And a few more where individuals were going here and there across the prairies.


Listen to the young

Mother and cub traveling along the Khutzeymateen Inlet towards the estuary

The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is listen to the young.  I love this celebration of animals in their natural environments and a focus on the voices that will guide our future.  Thinking about this day and this theme, my mind went to the Grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen and the mothers who raise their cubs in this bear paradise.

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These images are from a couple of different mother cub pairs.  When I was lucky enough to spend time with these bears, I loved hearing their voices.  I hope my children are able to say the same when they are my age.

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I hope to give both my children and the bears the opportunity to share their voice.  I will always listen.


Snowy owl flights

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I started a morning last weekend watching a snowy owl.  When she had a long yawn, that seemed like a good sign to keep moving.  I left the napper and headed along a range road which ran due north.  After a few miles, this owl popped into view as it flew out from behind a small bush.

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Happily, it wasn’t too upset by the disturbance and landed about 100 metres to the east.  I took a few photos from the roof of my car and then pulled out my longest lens (500mm) and the monopod as it felt like I had time before he might start hunting again.

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That started a great 90 minute stretch where I was able to move into good positions (the owl, me and the sun in a line) a couple of times while he hunted across the field.  There was a lot of preening, listening and looking around (and the occasional glance my way) in between the three flights he made while I was there.

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He flew back to the road, and directly past me, on the first flight and landed where a slight rise afforded a view in both directions.  He stayed pretty alert and it did not take very long before a target was found.

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The owl flew a very short distance and then dropped on the far side of the road.  He grabbed a small mouse that was beneath the snow but not safe from this accomplished hunter.

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He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch.  The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.

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More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.

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A sunny snowy morning

Snowy owls have been a focus of mine this winter.  Last Saturday I was east of Calgary again – touring the back roads, looking for owls and, when they were found, working to not spook them.  A few of my earlier visits to the prairies have been frigid experiences.  That day was pleasantly different – the sun cut through the clouds early and they moved on altogether by mid-morning but did so without a heavy wind pushing them.  The relatively mild and calm weather was welcome indeed.

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The day was productive in every sense.  I found two owls just after daybreak near Gleichen.  I spotted the first one as she flew parallel to the road I was traveling down.  The second was perched on this fence line but he took off as the first neared.   The displacer landed and fussed with her feathers while scanning the ground.  The sun lit her up a couple of times which was special.  She eventually glided over the fields behind her and landed on a rise after catching an unlucky creature for breakfast.  I drove below the rise and caught her yawning before she rested and dozed for a bit.

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Note: this snowy is mottled with dark and light feathering and that used to be thought to be exclusively females and the almost pure white owls were males.  Over the last few years, that has been disproven (some females are all white and some males are not).  There is no visible way to confirm the sex that I am aware of so I still refer to a white one as “he” and the others as “she”.  That is a bit of anthropomorphization but I really dislike calling animals “it”.

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I had an encounter with a beautiful almost solid white snowy owl an hour later a little further north of this spot.  I will share that story with him soon!

 

 


Splashing the clouds with color at dawn

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Before photographing down in the fog a week ago, I stopped along the Trans-Canada Highway on the hill overlooking Springbank to watch the sunrise.

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The eastern sky was starting to brighten quickly and I hoped the clouds would catch the early light.  The fog was quite close to the hilltop when I first arrived but it fell back down before dawn came.  The sunlight did bathe the clouds in amazing colors.  It was spectacular!

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Bald in eagle in a blue sky

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A couple of days ago I spotted this bald eagle balanced atop a telephone pole.  He was watching a small conspiracy of ravens gathered on a snow pile on the edge of a field in Springbank.

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After a few minutes his curiosity seemed to get the best of him and we launched towards the group.  He spiralled above them for a moment but must not have seen anything too appealing as he landed on another telephone pole instead of amongst the ravens.

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Maybe it was just to have a closer look before deciding.  Either way he decided not to stick around for long and flew a couple of hundred metres away and into a stand of trees isolated in middle of the field.

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A long, cold (and worthwhile) wait

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The photograph above of the snowy owl in flight was taken late in the morning on February 11th.  This flight followed a long wait after some good early action.  The wait started with a feather cleaning session on an entrance gate which was interrupted by the approach of this truck which prompted the bird to fly to a more isolated spot.

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When the vehicle drew too close for the owl’s liking, she launched and flew along the fence line towards the sun.

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She didn’t go too far – landing on a post roughly 100 metres away.

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We were separated from the owl by a fence line of our own which ran parallel to hers and they were about 80 metres apart.  That distance was just fine for me and with a 500mm lens made the subject a reasonable size in the frame.  From where I was, the sun angle and the background were both far from ideal.  I walked along the fence line and found a new location which allowed for improvements in both areas.  I kept moving around now and then to change the scene.  The owl did not – she settled in and did not leave the post for a long time.  There was no way to know at that point, but it would be 2 hours and 38 minutes before the snowy would return to the air.

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The potential for a special moment – maybe a dive close to our line or a flight with the sunlight catching her eyes – kept eyes glued on her and fingers resting on the shutter buttons.  At a few different points, a drift of snow buntings buzzed past the owl as they flew to different spots around the field to forage.  For her part, the owl watched these comings and goings with minimal interest.  For me, these sorties were welcome bits of action.

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Along the way there was more preening, dozing and the occasional stretch.  The one below seemed like a yoga position and was one that she held for several seconds.  Maybe this was all a part of her morning meditation?

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Just before noon, the wings opened and she pulled her body down into a crouch.  She paused for a second and then pushed off into the air.

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The snowy flew along her fence line which allowed for a few nice photographs before she passed us, crossed the road and landed in the snow near the top of a small rise that was a couple of hundred metres away.  My fingers were aching from the cold so this was one of the rare times where I was no longer interested in continuing to shoot.  I was happy to get in the truck and get the heat going.

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Flying low on the prairies

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I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

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The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

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Wildlife during a winter blizzard

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The snow started to fly on Friday and has kept falling through the weekend.  And, it’s cold!  I went touring west of Bragg Creek yesterday but saw very little – even when the sun came out for a couple of hours.  Today was a different story and I saw a couple of moose, some white-tailed deer and a small banditry of chickadees.

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Moose love the cold so I hoped to see them in one of their regular haunts.  I found this young bull grazing in the bushes.

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These chickadees, mostly black-capped with a couple of boreals, flitted around a fence line that’s long been fighting to hold back the bushes behind.  I’ve always liked watching these little birds – they move very quickly so it’s a nice challenge to photograph them.

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2016 wildlife images – some of my favourites from the past year

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I love photographing wildlife, whether it’s a frigid morning, a warm afternoon, blizzards, or whatever, you will usually find me with a smile on my face.  I put this gallery together of my favourite images from those times over the past year.

The 2016 highlights started with snowy owls on the prairie, in March was a wolf pack’s takedown of an elk in Banff and eagles migrating through the high meadows east of Crowsnest Pass, my first visit to Yellowstone National Park in May was wonderful, summer saw the bears in buffalo berry patches throughout Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper, birds migrating along the Bow River in early fall provided some great opportunities and the year wound down, as it started, with snowy owls east of Calgary.

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Throughout the year I spend an enormous amount of time hanging out with the great gray owls who have allowed me to photograph them for several years.  Owls, any species, are absolute favourite birds for me.  I feel exceptionally lucky that I continue to be able to watch them, learn more about them and just simply enjoy being in their presence.

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You can click on any of these three images to open the 2016 wildlife gallery in a new window.


A landscape image gallery worth visiting

Paul Zizka’s Top 16 of 2016 is a beautiful gallery of wild, natural landscape imagery.  His images are creative in their composition, surprising in their subjects and timing and technically precise.  He lives in Banff and is a mountain landscape and adventure photographer.  I have enjoyed Paul’s work for a few years, his 2016 top 16 set are among his best.  You can find this gallery at this link.