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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.