Wildlife

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.


Stags in the hazy morning sunshine

There were two mule deer bucks nibbling on roadside grass that I came across last weekend.  They were between the two Kananaskis Lakes and they ran up the hillside to the forest edge when another car passed by.  This brought them into the morning sunshine which illuminated them wonderfully.

One of the stags paused at the top of the hill before disappearing behind the trees.  The other walked along the ridge above the road for a few minutes.

He was enjoying the buffalo berries which are ripe throughout the valleys in Kananaskis now.  I always think of these berries as being food for the bears but this fellow reminded me that they are a delicious snack for many of the animals in the Rockies.

The smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta continues to roll across the west.  That morning the resulting haze was quite heavy which warmed and softened the sunlight.  Beautiful light to work with – a very small and personal silver lining to a massive issue impacting millions of people.  This photo of peaks in the Kananaskis valley gives some indication of the atmosphere on that morning.

The stag kept an eye on me but with little traffic and me staying in my car had little provocation to join his partner in the woods.  I left him still grazing and continued my travels around K-Country.

 


A grizzly bear in the fireweed

Last weekend I came across this grizzly bear late in the day along the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40).  He first came out of the forest on the high side of the hill and traveled through this patch of fireweed before slipping back into the woods.

He was in the trees briefly before continuing down the hill and coming to the road.

Meeting the pavement, he crossed straightaway – which is always a bit of uncertainty given the wildcard of a speeding vehicle.  However this time the four vehicles nearby were all pulled over and no other traffic came so he had no issues.

Dark clouds rolled in and he disappeared down the bank so that ended the short visit.  I headed up to Highwood Pass and watched the weather scrape over the mountains for a bit. Note: that is a great place to enjoy watching the land – the elevation, jagged peaks, often fast-moving clouds and ever-changing weather combine endlessly.  When I drove back down, I found the bear further up the road in hillside of brambles feasting on buffalo berries.  Failing light and falling rain softened the scene and made finding the bear and getting sharp images a challenge but I was grateful for another short visit with this beautiful bruin.

 


Berries and a black bear

Returning from a sunrise shoot atop the rock pile that gives Moraine Lake its name, I found a beautiful black bear grazing on berries.  The patch was close to the road connecting Moraine Lake with the Lake Louise area which meant a bear jam started to build right away.  I didn’t stay for long, just grabbed a couple of shots out the window from the other side of the road.  Great to see the berries coming in, they are a critical source of calories for the bears in the Banff National Park.