Winter

Happy New Year’s Day

January 1st has been a good, and wonderfully relaxed, start to 2020 for us.  The fireworks at the Redwood Meadows community sports field last night did a great job of ushering in the new year.  All the best to you and yours in this new year.

The fireworks were great.  Thank you to the people involved in the evening’s light show.

 


Dalemead dawn

West of the hamlet, Desirée and I watched the sunrise over the frozen prairie.  Despite the slightly wicked cold, the beauty of the snowy fields, black tree silhouettes and the deep hues in the sky was overwhelming.  The lens was in my trunk so when I put it on, it frosted up.  That was partially by design and partially due to a lack of planning earlier in the morning.  I loved the haze around the frame that resulted and had a lot of fun shooting with that for a bit.


A pair on the prairie

 

I enjoy the backroads on the prairies.  This afternoon I found a pair of ravens perched on the peak of this weathered homestead east of Dalemead.  When they flew I tried to compose their flight against the field and the house.


Photography in silhouette

A photographer's silhouette - © Christopher Martin-8554

I spend a lot of time photographing on the edges of the day.  On this morning, as the winter sun cleared the horizon, I found my shadow watching me from the side of a hay bale.


A snowstorm’s abstract

Greedily, Old Man Winter has snuck past Spring once more and released another day-long blizzard across southern Alberta.  The snow fell in thick flakes, speckling the sky then blurring the forest as it neared the ground.  I’m looking forward to greenery, especially given how lovely Seattle was when I was there last week, but this was a storm which cast a beautiful spell over the landscape west of Bragg Creek.


Short-eared owls: morning and midday

A day with an owl encounter is wonderful.  In late February some friends and I had a four owl day.  Short-eared and snowy owls on the prairie in the morning.  Long-eared, short-eared and great gray owls in the foothills later that afternoon.  The short-eared were the first owls found.  After daybreak this owl flew along a weathered fence line hunting.

In the afternoon, a long-eared owl hunting was preceded by a short-eared flying overhead and hunting in an adjacent field.  All of these were at an extended range and in sharp light.  Both leaving room for improvements in the end result but it was great to observe these beautiful birds in different landscapes and learn a bit more about them.

 


A snowy glance

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9302

There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment.  Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies.  Here is the little story behind this image.

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I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road.  The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away.  Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for.  I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl.  I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird.  After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.

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The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day.  It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly.  None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9280

Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens.  As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely.  That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.

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She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.

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After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more.  Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye?  Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.

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A raptor perched on an old house.

I had a beautiful encounter with a snowy owl on a barren hilltop near Namaka on Family Day.  That was preceded by a mutual fascination that this juvenile prairie falcon and I shared for a long-abandoned house on the prairies.

I was driving the backroads after sunrise primarily to look for snowies.  I like these drives on the winter prairie as the views are expansive and I always hope to see something unexpected.  I had not visited this worn out farmstead before and I stopped to have a look.  It was -27°C so I was content to take a couple of pictures out of the rolled down window – until I spied the falcon perched on the peak of the roof.  Then I got out and walked slowly closer.

After 15 minutes, I was set up beside one of the sheds a little ways off from the main house.  The falcon watched me approach but was more interested in scanning the field to the east.  I kept my lens trained on the roof for a few more minutes until the bird launched.

It flew over the field and out of my view.  I trudged back – it always seems farther and colder when returning from an encounter than it was getting there.  My hands were happy to get out of the wind and I was happy to have some nice images of this beautiful, hardy bird.


Frozen along the Kananaskis River

I spent the day skiing at Nakiska yesterday.  On the way home I stopped at Canoe Meadows and walked down to the edge of the Kananaskis River.  The failing light of early evening created deep shadows and cast deepening blue tones across the scene.  Chunks of ice floated downstream while the snow fell lightly.  There was a line of ice marking a recent water level, higher than it is now.  It had been a few years since I wandered along this part of the river.  It was not a disappointing end to a great day.


A wintry landscape in West Bragg

The cold which the east has been laboring under reached us this weekend.  Yesterday I was out photographing and this scene illustrated the frigid turn winter has now taken once more.

 

 


Ice fog nightscapes

 

During a cold night in November where ice fog spread low around the Springbank Airport west of Calgary, I photographed around the area for a couple of hours.  I started capturing light trails from traffic going through the intersection where the Springbank United Church stands.  Most of these exposures were close to 20 seconds to allow the vehicles to pull their lights through the scene.  Later I moved towards farm fields nearby and caught the moon as it rose out of clouds and shone over the mist.  The intensity of the nearly full moon allowed for shorter exposure times which suited me well – my hands were chilly by then and I was ready to pack it in soon after.


A snowy morning downtown

It was a surprise, to me at least, that a snowstorm blew across Calgary this morning.  I thought that weather wasn’t coming until Friday.  I took a few photographs near City Hall as the snow fell.  It cleared off quickly but provided a wintry reminder that spring has not taken hold quite yet.

Snowstorm in downtown Calgary- © Christopher Martin-5262


Gulls in flight at Carburn Park

I like photographing birds – no surprise to those who follow this blog.  I’m not a birder with a long list of life birds but I really enjoy watching almost every bird I see, particularly when they are in motion.  Several days ago at Carburn Park the sky was overcast, snow fell and wind out of the north had a bit of a bite to it.  A great day to watch and photograph along the Bow River.

At one bend there was a small colony of California gulls.  A few flew off in the time I watched them.  Although these gulls are common around Calgary’s rivers through the winter, and can be easily found at any time, I had fun watching these ones fly by.

 


Sunshine over Spillway

In December while my son was in snowboarding lessons at Nakiska, I drove further into Kananaskis Country.  At Spillway Lake, along the Smith-Dorrien Trail, I found the sun laying low above the silhouettes of the forest and the mountain ridge lines.


Snowbursts

Just before the holidays, and the cold snap that came along at the same time, my daughter and I played in the snow the day after a blizzard had blown through.

Kezia was brushing branches to watch the snow fall.  She called them snowbursts and with the bright sunshine lighting them, it felt like a bit of magic.

We had a lot of fun playing and taking pictures, as you can probably tell.  And so did our hound Lacey who chased snowballs and dove her head into the snow constantly!

We had been snow-free up to that point in December (the 20th) so the excitement to be returned to a proper winter wonderland was palpable.  I love hanging out with this sweet girl and this was a great day doing just that.


Happy New Year!

I wish you and yours a great 2018.  I hope the snakes are short and the ladders are long.

I created this image after the fireworks display in my small community (which was great!).  The full moon made the whole winter landscape gleam.  The lights from the skating rink to the right created interesting shadow layers in a covered trail across the sports field.  An abstract start to the new year.

For me, I’m eager for a new year and all of the experiences that will hold.  Looking back over 2017, I hope to crisply remember the many wonderful memories from the past year, and let those that were not soften.


Tobogganing in Kananaskis Country

 

My children, one of their good friends and I went to a hill along Highway 66 west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis last week.  It was at the front end of the latest warm spell in southern Alberta so it was great to be outside and there was still a lot of snow. In between runs we all made together, the kids made a few runs where I photographed them flying down, catching air and spraying snow with little regard for its well-being.  A fantastic afternoon with my two very favorite people in the world.

Kian went full punk off of one jump.  Later Kezia plowed through it!


Photographs from a foggy landscape

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Last weekend when fog stretched out across Calgary, I spent the morning photographing along the western edge near Springbank and east of the city around Delacour.  The density of the fog changed constantly which was great fun to play with in the images I made.

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At times the sun would break through the haze.  Some of those moments were incredible just to watch as shafts of sunlight pierced the fog and were then quickly absorbed.

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I returned to a weathered old truck that I’ve shot over the years.  The fog’s isolation allowed for some new images of this charismatic vehicle.

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Much like the train tracks above, I loved how the road disappeared – there is an ethereal quality that is lent to these images by the fog.

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The trees that dot the prairies individually and in small stands drew my eye throughout the morning.  Sometimes the fog hid them and sometimes it isolated them as with the truck above.  Often they were just beautiful scenes to enjoy and shoot before they changed into something new.

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A long, cold (and worthwhile) wait

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The photograph above of the snowy owl in flight was taken late in the morning on February 11th.  This flight followed a long wait after some good early action.  The wait started with a feather cleaning session on an entrance gate which was interrupted by the approach of this truck which prompted the bird to fly to a more isolated spot.

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When the vehicle drew too close for the owl’s liking, she launched and flew along the fence line towards the sun.

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She didn’t go too far – landing on a post roughly 100 metres away.

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We were separated from the owl by a fence line of our own which ran parallel to hers and they were about 80 metres apart.  That distance was just fine for me and with a 500mm lens made the subject a reasonable size in the frame.  From where I was, the sun angle and the background were both far from ideal.  I walked along the fence line and found a new location which allowed for improvements in both areas.  I kept moving around now and then to change the scene.  The owl did not – she settled in and did not leave the post for a long time.  There was no way to know at that point, but it would be 2 hours and 38 minutes before the snowy would return to the air.

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The potential for a special moment – maybe a dive close to our line or a flight with the sunlight catching her eyes – kept eyes glued on her and fingers resting on the shutter buttons.  At a few different points, a drift of snow buntings buzzed past the owl as they flew to different spots around the field to forage.  For her part, the owl watched these comings and goings with minimal interest.  For me, these sorties were welcome bits of action.

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Along the way there was more preening, dozing and the occasional stretch.  The one below seemed like a yoga position and was one that she held for several seconds.  Maybe this was all a part of her morning meditation?

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Just before noon, the wings opened and she pulled her body down into a crouch.  She paused for a second and then pushed off into the air.

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The snowy flew along her fence line which allowed for a few nice photographs before she passed us, crossed the road and landed in the snow near the top of a small rise that was a couple of hundred metres away.  My fingers were aching from the cold so this was one of the rare times where I was no longer interested in continuing to shoot.  I was happy to get in the truck and get the heat going.

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A frozen dawn in the Bow Valley

Frozen dawn over the Vermilion Lakes © Christopher Martin-1599-3

In late January I spent time on a small pond between two of the Vermillion Lakes watching the day break.  The blues of the early morning held on to the landscape as pastels started to be brushed into the clouds above Mount Rundle.  The silence in this sheltered spot was wonderful and helped me to enjoy a calm, mindful meditation while I watched and photographed.


Horses, rider and sleigh

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The blizzard tailed off this afternoon and I went out to see how the fresh blanket of snow looked laid over the prairie. With the clouds wrapping up the sun, I headed home and passed by this moment in the wintry outdoors.  The mother and child appeared to be engaged in a good conversation but a wave seemed to earn me a quick smile.  They were traveling along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22X) so this slightly unusual scene seemed rather appropriate.

 

 


A beautiful afternoon with a Snowy

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After a blustery start to the day on December 27th, by 2pm the wind had settled down and the sun then came out making for a much more comfortable time while I watched this Snowy owl.  She seemed to enjoy the change in the weather too as she was very active.  Her hunting ability is exceptional and she caught a mouse on almost every glide low over the snow.

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The two series, above and below, were both successful hunting runs where she caught a field mouse or something similar.

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I have become a regular observer of this bird in particular as she has a large farm field staked as her territory and I’ve been lucky to find her there consistently.   In previous years, I have occasionally been able to repeat time with the same owl but this regularity is really special to me.

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Earlier she flew to a few different parts of the field before settling on the area where she flew over in the photographs above.

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Happy New Year’s Eve Deer

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This White-tailed stag was found during a short drive into Bragg Creek on Christmas day this year.

We are slowly warming up to New Year’s Eve and looking forward to the fireworks that our local community of Redwood Meadows puts on.  Always a great show – and they go early so the children get to enjoy them too!

I hope everyone has enjoyed, or is enjoying the last day of 2016.  It has been a winding year for our family, as it often goes, but still filled with a lot of laughs and the continued wonders of rearing my two children.


Holiday sledding at night

Holiday sledding at night © Christopher Martin-7072

With the Christmas holiday in full swing around our house now, the kids and I went out night sledding on the 23rd.  The snow had started falling early that morning and kept going all day.  We went out earlier but had the most fun in the evening.

Holiday sledding at night © Christopher Martin-7076

Kian had the idea to take some photos and I was onboard.  A drag of the shutter (1/10th – 1/6th of a second) with a flash of 1/200th of a second to create some motion blur while freezing the kids in action.

Holiday sledding at night © Christopher Martin-7043

Holiday sledding at night © Christopher Martin-7104

I played around as they sped down the great little hill just off our back yard.  They eagerly collaborated with the images – looking at the screen after each run to see what worked and what didn’t.

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We had a blast – a great way for a daddy to spend Christmas Eve’s eve with his daughter and son 🙂