Spring

American robin in a watercolor

 

Spring has returned the robins the fields and forests around Bragg Creek.  I found this one stirring up the leaves below these trees. She darted between the trunks and then flew up into the branches.  The diffused background from a narrow depth of field reminded me of a watercolor painting.  The monochromatic palette in the bark and dull yellow grass both warmed a little with the morning sun.  Her orange belly was a welcome splash of bright color.


A hunting owl

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7379

I have photographed this Great gray owl in the same area for the past five years.  When I found her hunting for field mice just off the gravel road, I set up and watched her make two successful dives from branches that hung only a couple of metres above the tall grass.   I haven’t seen her or her mate over the winter so it was great to reconnect and watch the action.  I particularly enjoyed watching how she flew through the open forest.

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7383

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7381

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7387


Snowy cattails

Snowy cattails - © Christopher Martin-9421
A storm overnight cooled off the Greater Calgary region considerably on Tuesday morning.  Even then I was still a little surprised to drive into a heavy blizzard on my way into town around 8 AM.  I didn’t want to waste a good snowfall so I pulled into a little pond where a few ducks spend a part of their summers at.  A Blue-winged teal and three Northern shovelers were paddling around the water while the snow fell.

Snow, ducks and cattails - © Christopher Martin-9412-2

 


Spring back into winter

Spring snow in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6776

At some time in the middle of night, clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped.   This morning there was a couple of inches of heavy, wet snow covering Bragg Creek.  I drove and walked along a couple of the country roads in West Bragg to photograph the landscape after what should be a short visit by the winter spirits.

Spring snow in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6784

Spring snow in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6836

 

Snow and a spring Robin in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6828


Spring with Robins in Fernie

Perched amid the tangled branches - 2014 © Christopher Martin(click on the image to open a page with a higher resolution version)

Although Fernie is in the heart of the Rockies, it is deeper into spring than Calgary so the visit there over the Easter weekend was great.  Robins have always been a sure sign of spring for me and I found a few hunting in a field during the rain.  This one was particularly beautiful as it chirped away from its perch in a tree by the Elk River.

Over the shoulder - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Red-winged in spring

Blackbird in catkins - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) rests  between calls in a bramble of willow catkins.


Moose in Bragg Creek (now snow-free)

Mother Nature flipped a switch a week ago and now we are free of snow and the temperatures are t-shirt appropriate.  The moose probably aren’t excited about the warmer weather but I’m sure they are enjoying snacking on the new greenery.  Looking at the photographs of this young bull moose afterwards, it struck me that it has been about nine months since I have had snow-free backgrounds of moose.

A little shy - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Regarding the moose,  expect that they will start retreating for the cooler forest just after dawn pretty soon.  I think it is finally safe to say we are now coming out of the mild, but very long, winter here.

 


Forest owls in flight

(Please click on each picture for high-resolution versions of each image)

My friend Jeff Rhude came out to Bragg Creek to photograph along the back roads with me this morning.  We struck out for West Bragg around 6am with the sun fighting valiantly to burn off the haze.  The resulting soft light was wonderful and stayed with us through our first meeting with one of the owls I have photographed a couple of times recently.

We found this owl a couple of hundred metres down the fence line running at a right angle from the road.  It flew to a couple of posts and we photographed it from the field facing the forest.  It moved back towards the road and we went ahead of the bird to try to guess where it was going to fly next.  Moving off the road, we walked into some open forest and had great views to a couple of the flights in the trees.  The owl went to a stump overlooking another field and we walked up the hill to have a higher point of view.

Flying up to a knot in a tree the owl was looking past me and after a bit of shuffling it launched… straight towards me.  It happened fast but the autofocus was up to the task and I kept the lens on the bird as it flew right over my head.  Having that experience and some great images, we agreed to head back to the road and leave the owl to continue its hunting.

We covered a few more productive spots and we found two separate Great Grays.  The last owl spent most of its time in the trees near the road but then made a great set of dives.  The third attack was successful (for the owl, not as much for the mouse) and completed a good morning.  If you are interested in seeing these and a few others from the day, I invite you to visit this web gallery.


Kootenay Landscape: Along the Vermilion River

Bobbi and I drove with the kids up to Lake Louise for a hike on Sunday.  The walk around the north side of the lake was nice and the kids had a lot of fun. Not much time to photograph, too busy throwing rocks in the water with Kian and Kezia, but there was some interesting light on the mountainsides when I did stop for a minute.

On the drive back we went on a detour along Highway 93 into the Kootenay National Park.  We turned around before Vermilion Crossing at the point where Floe Creek joins the Vermilion River which runs down the spine of the valley.  Kootenay National Park has had several large forest fires in the past 40 years and there are huge stretches of matchstick trees.  Under these ravaged trunks, evergreens have taken hold and bring color into the hillsides.  In the rivers, glacial silt paints the water a lovely blue.  Strong lines in the river’s canyon walls and in the burned out forest.  A lot of great elements to choose from and work with.

 

Here are a few images from this bend in the river.


A Cold Dawn at Elbow Falls

Following Saturday’s snow storm, we had a beautiful day today.  Sunrise came along at 6am sharp this morning and I drove up to Elbow Falls early and met the day there.  The snow was still holding onto the trees and rocks so the landscape along the river had a strong winter tone.  I was hoping for the early, pink light to reflect off of the clouds stacked above the mountains into this scene.  That did not happen, some clouds eastwards blocked the sunlight until the sun was well clear of the horizon.  When the sunlight did reach into the valley, it was beautiful.

On the way up to the falls I even had a minute to take a nice photograph of a moose sitting up in her bedded down spot from the quick ending night.  A pretty great morning in my photographic book.


The morning brought a snowstorm home…

One of our heavy spring snowstorms started early this morning.  When I woke up I went out for a walk in the forest with these huge snowflakes falling eagerly to the ground.

From yesterday’s sunny day where I was out playing at the park late into the afternoon, it was an abrupt change by any measure.

 


Of Chipmunks and Squirrels

With the temperature rocketing up to 23°C on Sunday, everything seemed lively throughout the day.  The animals in my backyard were no exception and they were rather frisky while I photographed around my deck.  The squirrel who has lived near us for five years was chirping away like he’d never seen us before.  That was fun and I like this image of him poling out amongst the branches.

One of the chipmunks came down from the rocks looking for a snack.  The blue jays were slow to arrive for their peanuts on the deck and this fellow wasted no time scooping up one near the edge.

After a short retreat to a scrap pile beside the fire pit, the shell was cracked and the feast was on.  I’m really enjoying photographing the animals around my house at this point in the early spring.  The drives into the mountains and out onto the prairies are fantastic but it’s nice to have the backyard as another great option that is so close at hand.

 


Owlets in their treetop fortress

Yesterday, while driving along the backroads between Bragg Creek and Cochrane, my wife and I noticed two fluffy balls popping up from a huge nest that I thought was still abandoned.  We could see from the edge of the road that they were Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets so we waited a few minutes to get a sense of that stand of trees and whether the parents were nearby.  I walked to the fence dividing the ditch from the forest and with a long lens coupled to an extender was able to get some nice images without getting these adolescents worked up.

Below is the view of the nest from the road

I have watched this nest for a couple of years and this is the first time I have seen chicks being raised in it.   I hope this pair make this a summer home and return every year.  Now, to see about photographs of the family together…


Spring around the Prairie

A few photographs from around the prairie west of Calgary as spring continues to build momentum.

The distortion of the windshield suggested the heat of a summer day.  When this fellow came into view I waited for him to walk into position to balance the telephone poles.

The blue eyes of this horse were a little disconcerting.  I had a quick read about blue eyed horses and although not particularly rare, there is an interesting history about them.  Just looks a bit crazy to me.

There is a lot of standing water on the prairies right now.  With the warmer weather, the snow has all melted so the water is starting to drain out of the minor depressions.  This American Coot chose a true pond which won’t run dry in the middle of the summer – most of the waterfowl are pretty savvy in this regard but occasionally there is a small family that ends up making a trek from a slough that’s become a mud pit to a deeper body of water.  That said, this photograph finds the bird swimming parallel to a rippled reflection of a telephone pole broken up across the water’s surface.


The Spring Storms Come

Now spring seems to have asserted control and with that comes the storm clouds that roll out of the mountains through the summer.  Here then are a couple of image from the start of the storm season from this afternoon.


Snowstorm: the sunshine breaks through

There was a blizzard that flew out of the mountains this evening.  Huge snowflakes swirled around the trees off my deck and it was a really beautiful storm to watch.  As the sun began to set, it fell below the storm clouds and sunlight backlit the trees and the snow.  A surreal dreamscape that was great to photograph.


Harbingers of Spring: the robins have arrived

Over the last couple of weeks the North American Robins have begun to arrive and there are now good numbers flitting about the receding snow and the newly exposed grass.  In this part of the world, they are one of the most promising signs that spring has successfully beaten back winter.  I’m very happy to see them making that case both here in Bragg Creek and in Banff.


Canada Goose Landing Blur

Guy Tal is an excellent photographer whose writing I find to often be inspirational and always thought provoking.  He is currently running a series of weekly photography contests  with the first theme being Natural Abstracts.   This is the image that first came to mind when I was reading the outline for the contest.  I photographed this Canada Goose landing on a small pond in Bragg Creek, Alberta on May 1st, 2008.  Much like this year, the winter had held a tight grip until the middle of April so the brown hues in the image are due to the still dormant greens of spring leaving the trees bare and the dark earth uncovered.  I have photographed many Canada Geese but this panning image is a favourite for the energy in the landing and the color palette matching the bird’s coloring with the environment around it.


Swan floating along the fenceline

There was a storm that burst out of the mountains and settled over the prairies around Calgary in the middle of the week.  With the warmer weather that preceded the blizzard, there are hundreds of shallow depressions currently masquerading as ponds in the fields and meadows.  It serves the waterfowl that are currently migrating to their breeding grounds in the north.  I found this resolute swan paddling in one of these pools in Springbank.  Together with a partner, it was dunking its head looking for food and seemingly oblivious to the angry snow falling.  The Tundra and Trumpeter Swans briefly stop in this part of Alberta, the largest regattas only staying for one or two days.  By the end of this weekend, most will have flown on.  I did not get too close to these birds so I have to guess that this is a Trumpeter as I could not see a yellow spot on the bill which is only found on the Tundra Swan.  However, with the mottled grey plumage, I think it is an adolescent and I’m not certain whether the yellow spot only develops in adults.  Either way, great to see these short-term visitors.


One fast food gull and a mall parking lot

The Ring-billed Gull is sometimes called the fast food gull.   They have earned the name as they will often hang around fast food restaurants scavenging for food.

 This gull was one of two foraging around a mall parking lot.  With the warm, evening light and puddles reflecting the bird and the blue sky, I was happy to spend a few minutes photographing in an unusual wildlife location.