Prairie

Dalemead dawn

West of the hamlet, Desirée and I watched the sunrise over the frozen prairie.  Despite the slightly wicked cold, the beauty of the snowy fields, black tree silhouettes and the deep hues in the sky was overwhelming.  The lens was in my trunk so when I put it on, it frosted up.  That was partially by design and partially due to a lack of planning earlier in the morning.  I loved the haze around the frame that resulted and had a lot of fun shooting with that for a bit.


How lucky I am! Another snowy owl flying on the prairie.

In one of the canals east of Dalemead I found this snowy owl.  It was on the right of way road above the watercourse beside the long grass.  I walked down the road a little closer and settled into the snow at an angle I could photograph the bird with the sun lighting her front.  I had hopes of the owl flying in my general direction when she chose to continue hunting.

A bit of time passed with her sweeping the landscape and reacting whenever a new sound was heard or bit of motion was seen.  The temperature was much warmer than the rest of February had been so it was a rather pleasant wait. Eventually she started to get more active, preening and shaking out her feathers.  When she jumped off of the snow, she stayed low for a few wingbeats.

Then she banked and passed in front of me.  That was wonderful and on the outer edge of what I was hoping for.



 


A snowy glance

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9302

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.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9139

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.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9189

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.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9280

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.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9297

She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.

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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.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9305-2


A raptor perched on an old house.

I had a beautiful encounter with a snowy owl on a barren hilltop near Namaka on Family Day.  That was preceded by a mutual fascination that this juvenile prairie falcon and I shared for a long-abandoned house on the prairies.

I was driving the backroads after sunrise primarily to look for snowies.  I like these drives on the winter prairie as the views are expansive and I always hope to see something unexpected.  I had not visited this worn out farmstead before and I stopped to have a look.  It was -27°C so I was content to take a couple of pictures out of the rolled down window – until I spied the falcon perched on the peak of the roof.  Then I got out and walked slowly closer.

After 15 minutes, I was set up beside one of the sheds a little ways off from the main house.  The falcon watched me approach but was more interested in scanning the field to the east.  I kept my lens trained on the roof for a few more minutes until the bird launched.

It flew over the field and out of my view.  I trudged back – it always seems farther and colder when returning from an encounter than it was getting there.  My hands were happy to get out of the wind and I was happy to have some nice images of this beautiful, hardy bird.


A Black Diamond rainbow

A couple of weeks ago my son spied this rainbow as it arched out of a storm cloud rolling over the prairies east of Black Diamond.  I am very glad he did!


A line in the sky

These clouds hung in the sky so they created a soft line blocking some of the rays from the rising sun.  That made for an interesting image with the tall prairie grass and weathered fence line to balance.


Sunrise over prairie farmland east of High River

I enjoyed another sunrise on the prairies east of High River this weekend.  This time around, I used a couple of farms and their buildings to break up the line of the horizon.  The layers of cloud across the sky caught the sunlight presenting a range of pastels as the morning moved through dawn.

I stepped infront of the camera when I had the tripod facing the beautiful display of pink hues in the clouds to the north.  As the sun rose it went behind a thick band of cloud so I looked down a couple of snow-covered range roads towards the Rocky Mountains before the warm light cooled and disappeared.

 


This small shack is leaning to one side and I suspect it will fall down in a year or two.  It served me well as a solitary anchor under the growing dawn on a frigid morning last weekend near Mossleigh.  I love the isolation and the constantly changing skies on the prairies in the winter.


Smoky sunset on the prairie

 

The sun has taken on a strange appearance each of the last few evenings.  The smoke from the wildfires to the west was thick in the foothills west of Calgary last Thursday when I stopped along Highway 8.  The pink globe in the sky drew my attention and, once stopped, I enjoyed watching the small clouds drifting past.  This one looked like a dancing bull, or maybe a bison in full stride, as it charged across the sun.


A sliver of dawn on the prairie

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Yesterday I was on the prairie north of Langdon.  When I left my home it was snowing steadily so I was unsure what an hour’s drive east would find.  As the night slipped away, clouds opened small, uneven windows to the morning’s early light.  It did not take long for the color to deepen while it painted more of sky.  The farm structure’s silhouette served as an anchor in the landscape while dawn pulled the day forward.

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To the west, the full moon fell below the clouds as it slid towards the Rocky Mountains.  I found the alpenglow, the color of the clouds and the golden hue of the moon from the light pushing through a long stretch of the atmosphere to be absolutely beautiful.  A lovely way to start any day by my standards.

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Winter prairie landscapes

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I spent a lot of time on the prairies in December.  These days started early in the morning so I was able to enjoy watching night give way to day.  And several hours later, watch the principles switch as the short daylight hours ran out.

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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


More from the Canada Day lightning storm

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-390

When my children and I decided to head out from Redwood Meadows to find a good vantage point to watch the lightning storm hanging over the Bow River between Cochrane and Calgary, we stopped when we got past the edge of the forest and could first see the storm itself.

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-184

We found a spot 10 miles from the closest edge of the storm and watched the show which rippled and flashed in the massive clouds rising off the northern horizon.

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-201

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-292

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Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-301

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-431

At one point while we were watching the lightning erupting at 3, 4 or 5 different places at once, my son said, “Baby Thor is having a temper tantrum”.  That seemed about right and apparently he has an enormous amount of energy because the lightning flashed and the bolts flew constantly for the two hours that I was there.

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-357

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-506

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-405

I re-worked the image that I first posted from the storm – cooling the white balance by almost 1000°K.  I really love how the lightning bolts crackle out of the cloud column.

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-388

On the way back, I stopped by a pond where the western edge of the storm, still busy with sheet lightning, was reflected in its surface.  A beautiful final view of the storm before heading home.

Canada Day Lightning Storm - © Christopher Martin-593

 


Prairie sunrise silhouettes

Prairie sunrise silhouettes- © Christopher Martin-7733

Sunday’s sunrise shone through a narrow break on the horizon.  A storm coming out of the mountains darkened most of the sky but with the light rode in from the east and painted the leading edges of the clouds.  I was east of Bragg Creek along Highway 8 as the colour started to build so I pulled in behind a stand of trees that have great lines.

Prairie sunrise silhouettes- © Christopher Martin-7688

The branches silhouetted against the dawn gave me a lot to work with and here are three takes over a fifteen minute window before the colour drained out and the clouds stretched fully across the sky.

Prairie sunrise silhouettes- © Christopher Martin-7701


Snowies east of Langdon

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0324

I drove east of Langdon in the evening a couple of days ago looking for owls.  At this time of the year the odds are decent to see Snowy owls perched on a silo or a fence line so I was looking for them as well as Short-eared owls that have been reported in that area recently.   It was about an hour before sundown when I found a Snowy owl perched a couple of hundred metres away along a fence line.

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0380

This beautiful fellow flew between a few posts and was not interested in having me around so I headed west as the sun fell behind a tall bank of clouds standing over the Rocky Mountains.  I found the second, and final, Snowy of the afternoon on a small oil and gas installation built on a rise that was a bit of a hike from the road.

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0571

She was perched on a storage tank and took only passing interest in me during my 15 minute walk towards her.  As I drew closer I took a few photographs and as color came into the sky with sunset, I took a bunch more :)!

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0602

She kept tabs on me but had her focus on the surrounding fields.  I didn’t see anything of note but it was a different story for the owl.

 

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0722

When she did launch she glided over to another small hill then dived into the field where it seemed she caught something.  It was too far for me to make out and when she flew again after a couple of minutes she went further away and I had no interest in chasing her any further.

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0730


Dawn along the prairie’s horizon

A fiery dragon over the prairie - © Christopher Martin-8907-2

Early morning is my favourite time to be out on the prairies at any time of the year.  There is a tranquility born out of the silence that hangs over the land before dawn whose beauty draws me in.  I love the big sky and where it meets the horizon as the sun approaches there is an evolving magic which shows different faces as the night retreats and slips away.

Prairie dawn - winter morning - © Christopher Martin-8959

This morning southeast of High River in early January this year was beautiful.  The silhouette of the trees and the grain silos provided great anchors in these photographs of the eastern glow and the blazing cloud that suggested a dragon’s nature to me.

Prairie dawn - winter morning - © Christopher Martin-8977

Prairie dawn - winter morning - © Christopher Martin-8857


Photographing through dawn on the prairies

Dawn hoar frost landscape - © Christopher Martin-9565

I spent a morning photographing the sun rising over the prairies west of Calgary on the weekend.  In the image above, the alpen glow to the west heralds the sun’s coming approach.  When the sun came up, the pink quickly washed out of the sky and painted the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains and then these stands of trees that break up this field along Highway 8.  I love watching these transitions as colors deepen, fade and change altogether.

Dawn hoar frost landscape - © Christopher Martin-9614

Facing a low sun, shadows stretched out long across the snow.  I played with those for a bit under the increasingly blue sky before heading home.

Dawn hoar frost landscape - © Christopher Martin-9755


Blue sky, white owl

White owl, blue sky - © Christopher Martin-9212-2

The cold morning cleared out a few early clouds and the afternoon east of High River was bright under a deep blue sky.  I found a couple of Snowy owls across the day with this one’s flight after launching from a telephone pole standing out due to the sunlight catching the yellow eyes brilliantly.  A great day on the prairies with these beautiful animals.


Watching over the prairie

I found this Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) perched on a long abandoned barn’s window sill.  It was a cold day and this spot was out of the wind and facing the sun, which did come out a little later.  Pretty smart place to doze the daylight hours away.

Great Horned Owl barn perch - © Christopher Martin-6822


A Snowy day on the Prairies

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5860
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls.  The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list.  This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies.  I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend.  A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-4705

After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie.  She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me!  I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field.  She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable.  After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open.  The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way.  Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep.  I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5836

I was wrong.  I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake.  About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road.  These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground.  Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long.  She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew.  Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5865

I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road.  She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5919

The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo.  There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole.  Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there.  When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view.  I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6013

After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again.  I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise.  Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6025

Again, I was wrong.  She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another.  Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6048

The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind.  I think both the owl and I enjoyed that.  I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6079

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6161

The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie.  A pretty fantastic experience for me.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6292

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


A prairie dawn

Prairie dawn - © Christopher Martin-4539

A cluster of grain silos sits on the horizon under the brightening dawn sky on the prairies east of High River, Alberta, Canada.  I love big skies and I think the scale provided by these farm buildings helps convey that here.


Reconnecting with the Snowy owls

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5476

I drove to High River yesterday and spent the morning touring the gravel roads looking for wildlife on the prairies.  My hope was to find a Snowy owl as they have begun returning there.  An hour after sunrise, east of Frank Lake, I spied a beautiful owl perched on a fence line and I spent the next four hours watching it sit, fly, hunt and then sit.  A lot of watching while she dozed or scanned the surroundings but it was time I enjoyed completely.  I wanted to share this photograph of the bird from the early afternoon when she landed in a field and was surrounded by sticks left behind after the last harvest.  I am excited to share more from the day and will soon.


Catching early light in the clouds

Prairie dawn over Springbank - © Christopher Martin-8717-2

The perch on the hill I photographed the Aurora Borealis and lightning storm from a couple of weeks ago is now officially one of my favourite prairie viewpoints.  On the weekend, I left my home in the dark and headed northeast towards the growing dawn.  With a short drive I returned back to the same spot and found the view to be beautiful.

Prairie Dawn - © Christopher Martin-8716

A heavy cloud stretched overhead towards the horizon with a break which allowed the first rays of pink sunlight to skip along the underside.  The fast rising sun quickly changed the light from pink to gold as it pushed through less of the atmosphere.

Prairie Dawn - © Christopher Martin-8747

 

 


A wicked lightning storm

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8527

One of my drives home earlier this week was made more exciting by a massive thundercloud just south of Highway 8.  I stopped near the Rockyview Fire Department in Elbow Valley and photographed as it rumbled past.  There were a few lightning strikes that I managed to capture but I was paying more attention to the angry beast.

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8558

It was dark, dark grey in the center, the edges were rolling fast and the temperature plunged by 10°C or more just before the rain began to fall.  I scurried back into my car once the volume raised up to a downpour.  Back on the road, I wondered how the storm would develop as it moved eastward.  The next morning, I learned that it contributed to the flooding and heavy hail that beat up Chestermere.  That was one of the mean summer storms we get in the Calgary area and I am sorry to hear about the damage it caused.

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8566