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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.