There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment. Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies. Here is the little story behind this image.
I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road. The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away. Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for. I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl. I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird. After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.
The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day. It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly. None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.
Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens. As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely. That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.
She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.
After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more. Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye? Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.
From a couple of years ago during my last visit to the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast in the Great Bear Rainforest. I reworked this image for a black and white photography contest. I liked how monochrome palette highlighted the textures in the wet fur and the sedge grass. But, for me, it’s those eyes that steal the show and make the image.
Not bad behavior, just one that I don’t pretend to understand. When I was last at Elbow Falls, I photographed two American dippers as they flew, dove and splashed around the fast-moving water. Along the way, one of the birds flew to an overhang beside the edge of the waterfall, and then slid on the ice before finding purchase in the snow.
It paused for a moment and then flew at the waterfall!
The bird flapped its wings to hover for several seconds only a few inches from the water where it fell over the edge. I don’t know if it was looking for insects behind the water – surely not in the water itself! Likely it was something else, maybe even simple curiosity or just because it could do it. It was unusual and really fantastic to watch.
American dippers are year round residents below the Elbow Falls. When I was there before sunrise, I could hear an occasional chitter from one pair as they flew up and downstream. As the day brightened I saw them a couple of times while I was photographing the landscape around the waterfall.
I shifted my attention to them and had two lengthy sessions photographing them. The first began when I was taking the last couple of shots above the falls and noticed one dipper fishing in the small rapids there. The bird splashed here and there, submerged in the flowing water and managed to hunt down a good number of insects in there. After several minutes, breakfast concluded and the bird flew down the river and quickly went out of sight.
An hour’s wait separated me form the second encounter. Eventually one of the dippers flew by and landed at rapids upstream from the falls. That was too far for any reasonably interesting photographs but a second dipper followed only a little while later. This one returned to pools above the waterfall which I have enjoyed watching them at often. When the bird alighted in the water this time, I laid down on the snow to get close to eye level with the little bird. I was well rewarded as it soon chose to ignore me and walked close by.
On this day of remembrance, the 100th anniversary of when the guns at last fell silent and the first world war ended, my family and I say a simple, but deeply heartfelt, thank you. Thank you to those who have served, sacrificed and given so much for the safety, freedom and well-being of so many. It is the remembrance of these people and their legacies, as well as the heavy toll exacted on them and their families, that must not be forgotten.
On a personal aside, for those soldiers in our family who gave their lives and those who returned with memories no one should be burdened with, we love you and we remember.
There is a book project that I’ve been invited to contribute some images for which saw me working through images from the Khutzeymateen and her wonderful grizzly bears this weekend. Towards the end of the 2014 set, I found this one of a pigeon that had landed outside of the day room I rented between docking in Prince Rupert and flying out later that afternoon. I had long forgotten about this image but I was struck by the beauty of this bird on today’s perusal. Pigeon’s can be somewhat funny looking but I find this one to be rather charismatic. The iridescence in the neck feathers grabs my attention first, but the pattern in the wing feathers holds it.
A 25 second exposure and a fast lens (in this case, a Canon 24mm f/1.4 set at f/1.8) revealed wisps of clouds stretching east across the Kananaskis River valley a little after 4 in the morning on October 7th. The soft green glow betrayed the Aurora Borealis pulsing low over the northern horizon.
Red light from my headlamp illuminated Highway 40 in this 10 second exposure that centered on the hazy Northern Lights.
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.
Wood ducks are one of my favorite species of waterfowl (side note: that is a weird word!) I love the plumage of both genders. To me, they are among the most beautiful birds. Beyond that, I like watching them paddling around, chasing one another and most of all splashing during their cleaning routine.
Last weekend I spent a couple of hours watching them carry on about their day. Every now and then, one would separate from the raft of ducks, presumably to get some space, before dunking their head under the water several times, shaking the water off, flapping wings, rising out of the water and then repeating it for as long as they saw fit. I didn’t tire of watching the water drops fly!
I’ve been hunting for images of the autumn that has been hurriedly ushered in. Here is one from the day of the first snowfall last week. I was east of my home in Redwood Meadows and found this wonderfully coloured stand of trees. The snow continued on for much of the day and I looked for more scenes like this.
At the end of July, on the 28th, the moon set very close to the same time as the sun rose. That morning I went to a hill a bit east of Bragg Creek which had a great views of the sunrise to the east and the moon falling towards the Rockies above the western horizon.
Thick haze from the wildfires to the west softened the features of the land. The sun, dimmed by the smoke, was saturated into striking shades of orange, yellow and red.
This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane. The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area. I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.
This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road. She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass. She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.
The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area. I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.