On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water. This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are present across North America.
I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year. That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet. Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.
It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek. I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area. In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country. This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images. Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed. A beautiful creature.
About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek. The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.
Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.
After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust. Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.
Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards. He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.
As dawn broke on a recent morning when I was up in Kananaskis, the skies were leaden and threatening to drop some form of precipitation. It was cold and windy so it seemed an open question whether it would be rain, snow or a frozen mix of the two. The weather foiled my plans for a sunrise shoot of Mount Kidd but made it an easy decision to drive further up the valley into the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. I passed a few White-tailed deer but did not see much else on the way up. Apparently I had an appointment (unbeknownst to me at the time) with this wonderful family of moose. They were standing around this marsh in plain view beside the turn off of the Kananaskis Lakes Trail up to the Upper Lake’s parking lot and trailhead.
The calf stayed close to her mom but was not very shy. Staring at me several times to satisfy her curiosity about what I was and whether I was something of interest or not. The bull was hidden within a few trees at first so it was a great surprise when I saw his antlers first come into sight.
When a snowplow passed by, its scoop loudly grinding against the asphalt, the young one was startled and ran a little ways off from the roadside. Mom followed and they munched along as they slowly headed into the forest.
The bull was a magnificent creature. Healthy and very confident, neither the vehicles nor my presence made any impression on him. He kept his eyes on any activity around him but was focused on grazing. I watched him for the next hour as he moved between trees, bogs and little fields. Their ability to blend in and disappear, despite their size, was observed many times and always surprises me.
The storm’s intensity ebbed and flowed through the morning and the snow followed accordingly. At times falling hard, at times almost stopping completely. Along with adjusting the camera settings to drag the shutter and blur the snow’s motion or freeze the flakes in action, it was a great setting to photograph these moose in.
The bull kept an eye on the family as they went into the trees and eventually followed them away from the marsh. The encounter ended shortly thereafter but I would not ask for anything more. It was a great day in Kananaskis.
(Please click on either image to open the Great gray owl gallery)
It has been a while since I put together a gallery of animal images so I worked on one last night. I chose Great gray owls as they are among my very favourite birds to watch and to photograph. They have a balance of power and intelligence that always impresses me. All of these images are from the Bragg Creek area, either in West Bragg or on the edge of Kananaskis that shares a border with it. I have been photographing some of these owls for six years or more although most of the early images didn’t make this cut for various user operator (me!) issues. For the 35 images that did, it was fun to look at the scenes I’ve been able to see them hunt, perch and fly in.
Looking back over these I feel very fortunate to be able to have spent so much time with these beautiful raptors. At some times of the year, I see them rarely but I enjoy knowing that they are still there. When are paths do cross, it never fails to be a continuation of my education about Great grays. I still have a lot to learn… lucky me!
Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male. I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both! I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).
I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied. The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic. One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area. She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!) She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree. From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often. The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.
With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks. The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point. I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.
On our last day in Jasper, Kian and I went for a walk along Pyramid Lake that morning. It was the first weekend of September so it was cool with a bit of mist on the water and the autumn colors were just starting to come in. We headed back to town around 9am and spotted a Black bear in the open forest above the road.
One bear soon became two when the other stepped out from behind a dense clump of Buffalo berries. The berries were ripe at that time so the bears had been drawn in. At first we thought they were a mother and cub but when they were side by side, and then when they were wrestling, we could see they were both the same size.
To me, they seemed like they were near adults and given their play fighting I think they are siblings that are still hanging out together. Whether related or not, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company and stayed close to each other as they munched through the patches of berries along the hillside.
Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow. The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest. In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.
The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.
Within a couple of minutes, a strike came. The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish. The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.
Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.
I spent an evening on the Bow River at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the weekend. It was a beautiful day, warmly lit in golden light, and I had a great time photographing the birds well into dusk. Among the birds nearby were a few Double-crested cormorants fishing and flying around. I photographed as they flew or swam by. They are exceptionally fast birds and they often fly just above the water at speed which is exciting to watch. After the sunlight had left the river, I caught sight of one of these cormorants moving upriver. Darkness was starting to settle in so I dragged my shutter in order to use the lack of light to pan with the bird as it passed me. I used a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second and it worked out pretty well.