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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.