Alces alces in a Kananaskis snowstorm


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.





A gallery of Great gray owls


(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.

A Great gray owl in evening sunlight near Bragg Creek, Alberta

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!

Bear scratching in Yellowstone


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.



Bear play

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.



A heron fishing in silhouette


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.


A Cormorant in motion on the Bow


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.

Walking through autumn


This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.



She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.


Autumn Grizzly in the park

autumn-grizzly-in-the-banff-national-park-christopher-martin-4206Autumn strode confidently into the Banff National Park at the beginning of September.  While some berries and flowers were still producing their best work of the year, much of the foliage has started to turn with grass yellowing and leaves falling.  It is a beautiful season in the park (but I would have to say that I like them all!).  A couple of weeks ago I found this Grizzly bear in the Bow Valley between Lake Louise and the Castle Junction.  It moved steadily through the palette of fall colors, eating berries as it found them.


It left this hillside meadow after a while and melted into the forest.  I caught sight one more time and could see it watch me for a second before continuing on and easily disappearing again.


A beast in the bushes


When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.


We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near.  When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush.  The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past.  It was cool to share that experience with Kian.



Eagles flying at the Mount Lorette Ponds


This year I have photographed a pair of Bald eagles who nested at the Mount Lorette Ponds.  These small lakes in Kananaskis are stocked with Rainbow trout most years so these eagles have obviously found an excellent location to summer.  On this morning in mid-August the day took a little while to warm up which saw both birds perch in the trees nearby.  I waited for a couple of hours for a fish catching run with no luck.


The luck I did have was watching these two beautiful animals as they surveyed their land below.  One eagle was more active early and flew to different trees a few times before disappearing into the forest above the water.  I hiked around for a bit before returning and finding one over the water again while the other perched on the edge of that forest.


A fight over a fish

The pair of Ospreys who summer on the Castle Junction bridge’s nest raised two chicks through adolescence this year.  When I spent a day watching them in August that meant there were four of these raptors, now all very close to the same size, interacting with one another on and around the bridge area.  Flying, fishing, chasing and fighting over fish dominated the moments of action amid a lot of time spent perching over the river up in the trees that line that stretch of the Bow River.

I spied this Osprey when it alighted on a weathered log with a freshly caught meal.  By the time I walked a few hundred metres so that I was directly across the river from the bird, it was no longer alone.  Ospreys have excellent vision, roughly twice the distance capabilities of humans, so it was no surprise that company arrived quickly.  Another Osprey landed close by, shrilly announcing its arrival and crying out for a share of the sushi.  The successful fisher had no interest in sharing and resisted all advances from the other to do so.








Over the next four hours, I watched this bird defend its prize from sneaky grabs for a scrap, frustrated attacks, a couple of near dive-bombs and outright theft!  Throughout, the Osprey nibbled away on the fish – whether another bird was nearby or not.  The other Osprey never ganged up on their family member but I’m pretty sure two of the three made individual advances.




With the repeated flybys the interloping Ospreys gave me some great opportunities for in flight shots that were interesting and new for my library.  The low to ground shots in particular.



The birds were aware of my presence, I didn’t blend in with the rocks on the shoreline.  I didn’t move around much and, with the river between us, I felt confident that I was not impacting their behaviour and so I enjoyed the opportunity to watch the family dynamics play out.


Several times the Osprey clutched the fish in one talon and looked to be getting ready to fly.  That didn’t happen – the bird didn’t stray more than a couple of metres from the log and stayed on it for most of the time.  That made me suspect this was an adolescent with little experience flying with fish but given the size, and the fact that it had caught the fish in the first place, I’m definitely not sure.





Steadily the Osprey worked away on dinner, despite the numerous distractions, and finally finished all but the smallest scraps.  Shortly after finishing the Osprey flew off down the river.  It flew across my sight line affording me a nice flight series – a fun little reward after four hours crouching among the rocks.  I watched it all the way back to the nest where it few around a couple of times before I lost sight of it.  I hiked back to the bridge and came back to the shoreline a short stone’s throw from the Ospreys new perch.  Again, it took note of me and then continued looking down the river and up at the nest.  Several minutes went by before the bird launched and flew up to the nest.




Tail slapping at Wild Rose


A couple of weeks ago I spent the morning at the Wild Rose ponds in West Bragg.  I watched this beaver swimming on the far side of the pond for several minutes before turning away to watch the sunrise.  I realized she had kept coming my way when I heard the first tail slap on the water.  She was about 15 metres away and had set a course parallel to me and the shoreline.  I took this photograph of her as she raised her tail for another slap.  She wasn’t too happy with my presence so I moved along after one more slap.