Wildlife

Forest flights in a snowstorm

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4970

A snowstorm hit Bragg Creek last weekend quickly draping the area in white and pushing the temperature way down.  I caught sight of this owl along a familiar stretch of open forest divided by a gravel road.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4954

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4968

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4972

It was a steep challenge keeping sharp focus as she flew through the trees and with the heavy snowfall but I had a great hour or so watching her and trying to keep up.  I ended up with many in-focus tree, out-of-focus owl shots but when it worked out the other way around there were some interesting images.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4916

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4914

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5159

When I did return to my car, it did take a few minutes for my fingers to thaw – that’s always painful but quickly forgotten.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5244
She was very successful during the time I watched her.  Three field mice were the first courses for breakfast from five silent descents into the tall grass.  When time allows, I will share a few of those action shots in another photo story here.


A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

Stellar's-jay-in-lake-louise-christopher-martin-3916-2

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.

stellar-jay-in-lake-louise-christopher-martin-3924

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.

stellar-jay-in-lake-louise-christopher-martin-3893

 


Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

barred-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-0908

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.

barred-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-0919


A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1963

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.

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-2015

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1832

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1982

Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1505

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1696

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-1775

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.

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-2131

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.

pileated-woodpecker-christopher-martin-2172

 


An owl on the other side

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2706

On the other side of the road, this Great gray owl continued hunting after it flew across.  She left the open forest for the denser evergreens on the southern approach which provided a completely different look from the images that I shared yesterday.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2695

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2704

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2705

She flew between a couple of posts before gliding between a couple of trees.  I was lucky to be in position for some great opportunities.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2718

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2719

The owl flew into the middle of this large tree, beside the trunk, and I thought she might choose to rest there for a while.  She did for a few minutes, but soon grew restless and began scanning the ground for activity.  She turned around, saw something and then shot out of the tree.  I lost sight of her almost right away but heard a lot of squawking and commotion before things went quiet again.  I assume the owl struck successfully but did not go into the woods to check – either way the cycle of hunter and hunted continued with one coming out successfully.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2729

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2737

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2738

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2741

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2742

 


In the presence of greatness

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2606
A couple of weeks ago snow had fallen overnight and I went into Bragg Creek to see what I might be able to photograph in this prelude to winter.  I was thrilled when I spied this Great gray owl flying along an old fence line.  She looked amazing against the lightly blanketed grass and trees.  Her colouring made her appear as a piece of the forest in motion.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2546

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2541

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2679

This owl has a well-defined hunting ground that I’m familiar with.  That said, I hadn’t seen her in over a month until the week before this encounter.  That time it was dusk and my camera and I both had trouble focusing as she flew past.  She stared at me for several wing beats which looked fantastic.  However the images were soft and I came away disappointed for missing some great shots.  Persistence paid off, as it often does given enough of it, and she was even more engaging this time around.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2604

Keeping an eye on my whereabouts was a minor distraction to her hunting and she made three separate attacks over the half hour that I watched her.  One was successful and a fourth, when she disappeared into the deeper woods, seemed successful given what I could hear.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2572

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2584

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2662

She hunted on the north side of the gravel road for most of the time I was there.  This forest is open with relatively wide spacing between the mostly Aspen trees and tall grass filling in between.  On the south side, the forest is dominated by evergreens and is much denser.  I will share some more images of this owl from the other side tomorrow.

a-great-gray-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-2629


Alces alces in a Kananaskis snowstorm

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9623

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.

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9407-2

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9390

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.

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9477

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.

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9456

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.

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9506

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.

abstracted-kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9470

kananaskis-moose-abstracted-christopher-martin-9531

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.

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9880

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9814

kananaskis-moose-christopher-martin-9791

 


A gallery of Great gray owls

great-gray-owl-christopher-martin-8200

(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

yellowstone-black-bear-chilling-out-christopher-martin-8520

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.

yellowstone-black-bear-chilling-out-christopher-martin-8518

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.

yellowstone-black-bear-chilling-out-christopher-martin-8542

yellowstone-black-bear-chilling-out-christopher-martin-8657


Bear play

jasper-black-bears-at-play-christopher-martin-3307-3
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.

jasper-black-bears-at-play-christopher-martin-3461

 

 

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.

jasper-black-bears-at-play-christopher-martin-3313-2

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.

jasper-black-bears-at-play-christopher-martin-3540

 


A heron fishing in silhouette

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7189

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.

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7118

The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7121

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7125

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.

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7175

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7181

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7194

Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.

inglewood-heron-silhouette-christopher-martin-7221


A Cormorant in motion on the Bow

inglewood-cormorant-blur-christopher-martin-7014

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.