Outdoors

A Stag Off Lake Windermere

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I wandered away from the Lake Windermere shoreline and up a trail to this marshy field. There were two young mule deer stags lounging away the early evening in the tall grass. They showed a little interest for a minute and then went back to relaxing.

This buck stood up to walk over to a fresh set of grass. There was a bit of a glow off the velvet of the growing antlers in the soft light. With the buttercup wildflowers providing a little color and detail to the scene it was pretty easy photography. The osprey and the river otter proved to be more challenging when I finally headed back to the water’s edge.


Bald Eagle: roadside over Highway 8

Leaving Calgary on my way home to Bragg Creek, I came across a bald eagle perched on a fence post.  I love to photograph birds of prey, so I pulled off the road and jumped out of the car, camera and long lens in hand.  Some eagles stay year round here but they are not common so I’m always excited to see one.  I was curious to figure out why it was so low to the ground and close to the highway.  Usually they are up in trees and closer to rivers than roads.  As I moved a bit closer to the bird, his choice of location became obvious – there was a deer, victim of an encounter with a vehicle, crumpled in the ditch.  The eagle was in the right spot to swoop down and feed while being able to keep an eye on his prize in between.  There were magpies and a couple of crows nearby but none on the deer, they seemed to be keeping their distance.

I waited for a while to see if the eagle would go back to the deer but I must have come along right after it finished one sitting because it showed no interest in going back at that time.  Eventually it took flight and circled over the road and up to a large tree a bit further up the hill.  I left it there but probably should have set up my field stool and waited for the inevitable return.  Really nice to see one of these impressive birds in our area.


Spending the morning with moose

On Sunday morning I went into West Bragg to look or wildlife along the backroads and a few trails.  When I got to Wild Rose, there was a moose cow halfway up a driveway.  I didn’t have a good angle but it was nice to watch it eating branches for a few minutes.  While I was waiting to see if she would walk into a better position, another moose walked into another stand of branches that was much closer to me.  About 20 meters away!  She didn’t seem bothered by me so I set about photographing my new friend.

After about half an hour, her curiosity got the best of her as she walked out of the bushes, onto the driveway and walked towards me.  I stepped back towards the rear of my car and she walked around the front.

She snacked on a small group of brambles right beside where I had parked my car for a couple of minutes and then retraced her path back up the driveway.

She stopped at a few branches as she walked up the rise and then laid down on the lawn in the snow. 

I took this last picture before I left her to relax.  I hope spring comes soon so that all of the wildlife get to forage on some greenery.  I think this winter’s early start, cold spells and deep snow have taken a toll on their reserves.


Sunrise behind Mount Peechee

Mount Peechee stands a few kilometers east of Banff.  From the First Vermilion Lake, the mountain’s ridges dominate the skyline.  Standing out on the ice just before 8am, I really enjoyed this sunrise over the mountain.

Mount Peechee is 9,630 feet making it the third highest of the eight mountains in the Fairholme Range that runs northwest up to Lake Minnewanka.  First climbed in 1929, it is now off-limits for hiking which allows it flanks to serves as important pathways for wildlife.  A fantastic subject for landscape photography.

As the early morning pink colors faded, I switched subjects and focused on Mount Rundle and the storm that was moving in from the west.  I used a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to get a long exposure which stretched the clouds and made the most of the last bit of color from the morning.


Nightscapes on the Prairie

A snowstorm obliterated the opportunity to photograph the “supermoon” on March 18th but I was out in a field the night before to see how the moon looked.  The moon was impressive and it was really great to be out in the moonlight for a few hours.  In the image above, the pink sky is the result of the city glow and the light from the moon.  With two of the three deer walking slowly during the long exposure, they have a ghostly appearance.

As the last couple of deer trotted past, I panned with them.  Under the moonlight they were dimly illuminated so I raised the ISO, opened the aperture and underexposed a bit to try to capture enough light to show the landscape with the deer moving through it.  Even with the noise in this image I like the motion.

Below, a simple landscape image with the moon as it rises clear of a band of haze laying just above the horizon.

A long exposure looking west towards the mountains was one of the last images from the evening.  The layers in this photograph from the lights, to the hill, the mountains and into the stretched sky are interesting.

As for the moon itself, I didn’t take an image that really showed the scale of it during this close pass unlike some of the incredible photographs I have seen around the web.  This image was taken with a telephoto lens and then cropped in slightly.  It doesn’t convey how close the moon came but it is nice to photograph our lone satellite.


Storm through the Bow Valley

Following a very pretty sunrise and a great walk with an elk, this storm started to build as it moved through the Bow Valley corridor in the Banff National Park.  This great chunk of rock is Mount Rundle which looms above the towns of Banff and Canmore.  It is a favourite subject for hikers and artists.  I am certainly not immune to its siren call – I really enjoy photographing this mountain – year round it always presents an interesting face and is usually reaching into the clouds to create dynamic compositions.


The Bull Elk – The Next Day

Following my great morning spent photographing the elk, I went down the Vermilion Lake road the next day, Wednesday, with my wife and children to show them the spot where he had been.  We stopped there for a few minutes and then carried on to the second lake.  At the edge of the lake I was surprised to see the same elk standing in a couple of feet of snow eating leaves.  I didn’t bother him for long in case he had reconsidered our encounter but my family enjoyed seeing him.

I didn’t get out photographing again until we checked out on Thursday and we took a quick drive down the lake road just to see if the elk or any other wildlife was hanging around in the middle of the day.  After a couple of cloudy days, Thursday was mild and sunny so you never know what might be out warming up.   We didn’t see any animals on the drive down the lake but returning I glimpsed the familiar antlers poking up over a bluff near the road.

Driving a little further, I took this last image of the elk who defined the photography on this trip to Banff.  He was relaxed, with eyes half closed and sitting down facing the sun.  It was an easy decision not to bother him.  A bit unusual this elk in his habits and territory but I could not see any signs of ill-health or other impediments.  Just an interesting animal.  I will certainly be looking for him each time I get back to Banff.


Wild Elk in the Banff National Park

We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain.  We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.

I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions.  I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge.  I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him.  I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge.  I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks.  I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away.  I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down.  He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time.   He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images.  Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.

Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer.  In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible.  This fellow is young and skinny.  I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by.  A very good reason to look forward to spring.


Lensbaby on the Farm

I was out at the Folk Tree Lodge yesterday and had time to wander around the farm buildings and visit the horses.  It was a beautiful afternoon, a warm day after a long spell of cold weather.  I was photographing with a Lensbaby Muse which is tricky to focus at the wide open aperture but is really fun for the slices of focus and blur you can work with in camera.  I really enjoy using this lens in strong midday light when I might otherwise be tempted to put away the camera and wait for softer, directional light.

Alvise and Paola were making use of the day and working around the farm.  Alvise was up and down the road hauling with his machinery. The colors of the hard hat and the tractor drew my attention and made good subject matter for a few photographs before I ended up talking to the horses.  They were not as inquisitive as a few weeks ago but still fun to work with.

 


Walking with moose

The deck off of our bedroom looks over the path that runs the length of Redwood Meadows towards the Elbow River.  A couple of days ago, I was looking out of the windows towards the water and I saw a large bump in a clearing in the trees just across the trail.  I ran out of the house with my 300mm lens to grab my tripod from my car and then walked up the rise.  I thought it was a moose and I was really excited to see a young cow laying down in the snow.  She seemed to be relaxing in the last sunshine of the afternoon.  With the long lens, I was able to stay a good distance from the moose and she was not upset having me nearby.  When their ears lay back and they keep their eyes pinned on you then you need to back away and possibly leave.  I try to keep that from happening so that they stay comfortable and I can spend some time with them.

After a few images, she stopped nuzzling in the snow and got up to nibble on the twigs and branches.  With her slowly walking westwards, I headed further down the path to the trail that leads down to the river.  My thought being that if the moose kept moving west, she would come to this path which would allow for unobstructed photographs with the opening in the forest.

Leaving the moose behind, I lost track of her for a few minutes.  I thought she might have headed through the forest north directly to the river but then I heard some rustling and soon saw her among the trees near the path.  Here she was munching on foliage and watching me.  I had set up in the middle of the path as I wanted her to see me and then choose whether to come closer or remain in the forest.  With moose, I prefer to make sure they know where I am as they can become stressed if you disappear then suddenly appear or create noise nearby (per the shutter on a camera).  She moved parallel to me and then crossed the small clearing and dined on the branches skirting the edge of the path.

Heading down the path, I thought she was going to the river but then she headed east, backtracking into the forest.  At that point, I thought she was gone for the day.  Evening was coming in quickly so I headed on to the river to see what the sunset might look like.  The last one I shot there in December was beautiful so it is always worth checking.  There wasn’t too much color to the west so I headed up one of the dried up channels of the river and was very happy to see my new friend once more.  She had toured through the woods and then headed to this arm of the river to continue grazing.

I didn’t follow her this time as she trekked through the snow, heading up another path to my house.  At the top of the trail, I looked for her and this is the last image I made with her heading north into a stand of trees towards the main part of the river.  Possibly to cross into the undeveloped forest there or to continue her eastward trek between the Elbow and our small community.

Moose are not a rarity around Bragg Creek, but this was the first time that I have seen a moose directly in Redwood Meadows.  A very special encounter with a beautiful animal.


The Chief of Elbow Falls

(Click the image above to open a larger and more detailed version)

The flow of water above, over and below the layers of rock that create Elbow Falls is a beautiful photographic subject at any time of the year.  In winter, with the ice and snow draped around the waterfall, I find the magic a little easier to work with and creating some compelling images a bit less elusive.

For as long as I have been photographing this spot, I have always seen the face of a chief in the rock outcropping that sits just below the waterfall.  Not only a face in the rock, the lines that draw the lips, the cheeks, chin and nose outline a sketch of the man who watches over this stretch of the river west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis Country.


Sunrise at Horse Thief Canyon

We were in the town of Drumheller on the weekend to explore the badlands and visit the Royal Tyrrell MuseumDrumheller is in the heart of one of the world’s most productive sites for recovering fossils and the museum is singularly focused on the science of paleontology.  The kids (and the parents and grandparents) had a great time touring the displays, large and small, and I will post an entry from that chaos soon.  The exploration will have to wait until the next trip as it was too cold to head out hiking on the trails with the wee’uns.  I did sneak out (well I actually woke up my daughter before I got out of the room and my son was awake shortly after) on Monday for an early morning photo session along the Dinosaur Trail which rises out of the valley and then winds along the edge of the badlands providing a number of great viewing spots as it loops back to town.

I had two places in mind, one on the west side of the canyon valley and one on the east.  I thought that if there were good clouds visible towards the east in the predawn, I would go to the west spot and face towards the sun to hopefully catch the colors bouncing down off of the clouds into the hoodoos and other formations.  When I got outside, there were no clouds building out towards the sunrise so I went to the eastern spot so that the sun would be behind me and I could catch the “almost” full moon over the Dinosaur Valley (the name given to this stretch of the Red Deer River Valley) first and then the first light cresting the plains and hitting the peaks in the canyon.  The eastern spot was Horse Thief Canyon.  I had a memory of it from when my parents took me there about 25 years ago and thought it would be good raw material to make some photographs out of regardless of what came into the sky.  Plus, it has a great history behind it and it was fun to imagine the original brigands ferrying their stolen horses into the winding canyon to hideout before taking them to sellers waiting.

Once the sun came up, I really liked the detail in the faces of the rock walls and cliff faces in the canyon.  That absorbed the rest of the morning before I noticed that my fingers were numb and it was probably time to get back, warm up and rejoin the family (the irony that it was family day here in Alberta and I had spent the morning away on my own was not lost on me out on the ridge).

In the summer, bright yellow canola fields surround this valley adding another dimension to the scene.  I’m looking forward to getting back in the summer to hike and to see another side to this special place.