Wildlife

My favourite wildlife photographs from 2017

It took a little longer to find time to complete my review of my wildlife images this year.  Due largely to general busyness and some measure of procrastination.  So I appreciated the irony that one of the areas I have put a lot of thought into, and work to improve, is patience.  Looking back, this focus on waiting is helping me to get closer to the wildlife imagery that I want to be creating.  Waiting for the animals, waiting on their schedule for something to happen, can be a challenge – sometimes, like in the cold, a significant one.  I’m happy that I laid down on the snow, crouched in marshes, hiked into valleys and froze my fingers to find those opportunities and try to do something with them.

The 2017 gallery can be viewed at this link or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.

A comparison with my 2016 wildlife gallery suggests some subtle changes.  I see exploration into some ideas, blurs for one, that is interesting.  I’ve been trying to bring more imagination into my wildlife images.  Lot’s more to work on there.

Comparing years past with the last one, I like the direction and that stirs up the motivation coals.  The latter always being a good thing, I think.


Flashback Friday: Pelicans flying over the Sea of Cortez

It has been a couple of years since I went to Cabo San Lucas.  Thinking about an image for Flashback Friday, one from a spectacular sunrise there came to mind.  The fiery sky had me thinking about where to set up for a landscape shot when I saw a brief of brown pelicans flying low over the water.  I switched to my camera with a telephoto lens attached and watched as they rose off the water.  This let their silhouettes contrast sharply from the background.  That got me excited and I squeezed off a couple of photos before they dropped down again and continued southwards.

If you are interested in seeing a few more images like this one, here is another photo from the same flight which I posted that morning in December 2014.  And, another post where one pelican flew very close to me a couple of days later and I isolated the lone bird against the sky and the rising sun.

A few minutes later, I returned to landscape hunting and was not disappointed in any way with what nature laid out before me.

 


A morning at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

A couple of weeks ago, I walked with a friend down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  Canada geese were massed along the Bow River in and around the cold water. Flights of these birds came in and out all morning.

I dragged the shutter and panned with the birds as they flew past to create blur and lend motion to the images.

A very enjoyable couple of hours went by and then my friend had to leave.  I elected to stay and walked down the iced over path that parallels the Bow along the eastern edge of the bird sanctuary.

A young stag trotted along the rocky beach right in front of me at one point.  He stopped for a few seconds out of mild curiosity before skipping around the corner and quickly going out of sight.

An immature bald eagle alighted in a tree across the water a few hundred meters away.  It was watching the geese that congregated near the water intently.  After half an hour it launched into the air, crossed the river and flew directly overhead.  I love eagles so this was a highlight of the morning for me despite the somewhat harsh lighting.

The day was close to noon by then and I headed towards the ponds.  A couple of magpies were making a terrific racket which drew my attention.  Looking in the dense stand of trees I spied a great horned owl calmly perched a couple of meters off the ground.  She stayed mostly oblivious to the angry birds and they soon moved on.  I returned to check on the owl a couple of times in the afternoon but she was napping for the most part so I didn’t photograph much.  It was unseasonably warm so I enjoyed spending time with the owl with no expectation for more.

 


Flashback Friday – owl to perch flight

A couple of years ago I watched this owl hunting in the snow west of Bragg Creek.  It was a relatively warm day for March and this great gray was active for a long while before launching off of a fence post and flying upwards to this skeletal tree.  I liked how the eyes are locked on the landing spot in this image.  The overcast sky and bare branches suited the gray feathers backlit against the clouds.


Flashback Friday – squabbling geese on Two Jack

The ice started to recede on Two Jack Lake in late April this year.  Waterfowl was drawn to the open water as they migrated back to Banff National Park.  Some birds were resting briefly before continuing further north.  For a small gaggle of Canada geese, they seemed to be planning for a longer stay.

At one point, one goose decided to chase another.  The target flew off and was joined by his mate and they landed at another opening.  Perhaps this was a territorial “discussion”.  For me, it yielded a series of images with the aggressor splashing, flying and skimming across the water.  The bird banked around the small cove towards me so I was in a great position to photograph him.




The remaining couple settled down quickly and returned to paddling on the water.  A little while later one laid don near a stand of trees while the other went to the edge of the ice that still covered most of the lake.


A chickadee surrounded by autumn

 

This black-capped chickadee chirped and sang from the woods beside a small peninsula on Upper Kananaskis Lake.  I sat down and waited for a little while to see if it would come into view.  They are curious little birds and it didn’t take long for this one to perch among the golden leaves nearby.  With a quick check done, it soon flitted off and I continued on towards the windswept side of the lake across the peninsula.

 


Flashback Friday – a loon shakin’ on the Vermilion Lakes

This past summer I spent a lot of time at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park.  I was drawn there by a pair of common loons who nested on the third lake this year.  This photograph was from May 27th at 5:41 am on a morning when I was alone with the loons and their beautiful, haunting calls to one another.  After diving, they preen their feathers and eventually lean back, unfold their wings and vigorously flap them to shed water.  This process always fascinates me and I love the way the still images look.   It starts slowly, with the bird shifting their weight and then stretching out the wings while raising their bodies off the water.  The flapping then starts and builds to a crescendo with the loon’s head pointing straight up, wings blurring furiously and water drops spraying off in all directions.  And then it ends with the bird dropping back into the water and carrying on preening, diving or paddling along.  The whole cycle lasting roughly 3-5 seconds.  The image below is that peak in the cycle where it seems the bird itself might fly apart.

 


A family of moose in Kananaskis Country

This was easily one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen when this bull moose nuzzled with his calf.

The bull is likely mating with the cow again this year which brings him into the same area as the calf. I didn’t expect them to have a bond but when this tender moment happened on the weekend, I was obviously wrong.

 

This calf was born in 2016 and still stays close to his mother. The three moose have been hanging around each other again during this year’s rut. I don’t know how long they will stay together as a little family before the bull returns to the solitary life.

When I started watching them, the calf was laying down while the parents grazed separately nearby.  Over the next hour they all moved slowly around the small meadow and the edge of the forest.  It was a relaxed atmosphere which I think is reflected in the photographs.

Eventually the big fellow laid down and was soon napping.  The cow and calf continued grazing.  And I headed home.


Flashback Friday – baby bear bites

Forgive the double alliterations in the title!  I recently came across one of these pictures in my image library.  That recalled the encounter with this grizzly bear and her three cubs in 2012.  It was wet morning in June and my friend Jeff and I were out photographing near the Vermilion Lakes.  We found the bears under the trees.  While mom was sleeping, these two year olds were rough housing with abandon.

Though the bared teeth look fierce no true biting happened.  Even the play lost their interest before long and they alternated sprawling across mom and nursing.  We left then and it seemed they were close to a nap themselves – although they may have powered up again instead.

When they separated, I was able to grab a couple of individual shots.  Truly beautiful animals.  Five years on, I wonder how they have made out.  Their mother, 64, was well known in the Banff area but disappeared at the age of 25 and was assumed to have died in late 2013.  I believe one of these cubs was 148 who was relocated out of Banff earlier this year.  That move was due to her increasing encounters with humans but, tragically, she was shot and killed last Sunday in British Columbia.  A death, legal though it was, which I am having great difficulty accepting.  Particularly when that province will outlaw trophy hunting of grizzly bears starting on November 30th.    I’m a bit teary now so I’ll finish here.

Here is one of the last photographs I took of 64.


Flashback Friday – a summer owl

There are a lot of photographs from the summer and earlier which I have not found a way to share to date.  I’m going to try using the Flashback Friday theme to publish some of these.  I thought I’d start with a morning in July spent watching one of the great gray owls in Bragg Creek hunting in a field.

Just after 7 o’clock, I spied this owl on the forest edge, perched in a tree overlooking the field.  I set up my tripod and long lens in time to catch her fly low over the grass.

This owl is one of a pair that have raised chicks in the same place for several years.  The other parent was likely minding the chicks in the nest hidden back in the forest.  So, the owl was busy crisscrossing the field, hunting for breakfast.

The summer sun rises early so it was fairly high by this time.  The owl flew in and out of the sunlight and the shadows throughout the morning.  That afforded some good opportunities to photograph that contrast.

After a half an hour, the owl was fairly close to me and I was surprised when she flew in my direction and alighted on the fencepost right in front of me.  She stayed there for almost 15 minutes before resuming the hunt.  A very special moment where I felt some level of connection – maybe an acceptance of my presence – that still makes me smile.

 

Here she flew off, dove into the grass, came up empty and returned to the same perch.  A robin joined the line on this second sitting.  The birds paid little attention to one another and the owl soon flew away.


A dance with Sandhill cranes

Sandhill crane couples dance with each other.  I found this pair in a field west of Bragg Creek and was lucky to be able to watch them.

A few Canada geese watched the dance as well.  They seemed to watch with little interest.  Far less than me.

Sandhill crane dancing - © Christopher Martin-2992


#139 in the berries

I found grizzly bear #139 between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes last weekend.  He has a history of being in the news over the past couple of year (not a problem bear just one that people find with relative frequency so there are a fair number of images and articles on him).  This time, he was strolling between the forest and the Kananaskis Lake road, grazing on the buffalo berries that are ripe and delicious (for the bears at least – they are too tart for my taste when they first ripen).

 

I left the bear after alerting one of the rangers to his presence as he was moving closer to a campground.  I went for a walk along the shoreline a few kilometres away and returned past the spot an hour later.  The bear had crossed the road by then and was grazing on the high side of the hill.

He has been referred to as scrawny in the past so it was good to see him looking healthy and devouring berries.  He’s a beautiful bear – especially when he flashes that wonderful smile (please allow for a bit of anthropomorphization.  I truly believe animals have personalities and emotions).  I hope to cross paths with him again for years to come.