Birds

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 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


Kingfishing on the water

A family of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) live and fish around a small lake west of Bragg Creek in Alberta, Canada.  They are tricky to photograph but a lot of fun to try.  Over a couple of hours there were a few close flybys.  Some I missed completely, they are very fast and can change direction instantly.  But there were a few that got closer to what I have in my head.  I’ll be back soon!


Incoming

I found a small marsh as the day moved towards evening.  There were a few blackbirds, shovelers and other ducks swimming around the pools between the tall grass.  This mallard circled overhead twice and then surprised me by landing in the middle of the grass.  I expected the water would be preferred but I don’t know enough about these birds to pretend to know anything at all.  I was very happy to be surprised and she looked amazing as she flared her wings to land.


Canada geese skirmishing on Frank Lake

The tall grass near the bird blind on Frank Lake is nesting ground for Canada geese, ibis, yellow-headed blackbirds, herons and more.  At dusk the cacophony rising up from these residents can be surprisingly loud.  There are birds chasing one another, others returning with material for their nest, food for their chicks as well as occasional territorial spats.  It’s an incredible spot to set up near the trails and watch life on a marsh.  On a visit there in early May the weather was warm and the sunlight before dusk was incredible.

Throughout the evening, the Canada geese were active with a couple being particularly feisty.  That presented some new image opportunities that I had not yet photographed which is always exciting for me.

When the sun set, the activity level along the shoreline rose noticeably.  All manner of birds flew overhead and low along the water.  Some of the geese moved their skirmishing to the small pond directly in front of me.  I didn’t move around and they seemed oblivious, or at least undistracted, by me – which was perfect.  I stayed until it was dark and loved every minute.




 


Around the edge with a red-winged blackbird

I took advantage of a Red-winged blackbird’s interest in me and photographed it among the reeds on the edge of the third of the Vermilion Lakes.  There were several blackbirds calling one another and flying between perches.  They would flit between the little islands of long grass on the lake, the trees hanging over the water and the bushes that filled in the shoreline.

This one came closer and stayed longer than the others which gave me a few good moments to photograph.