Posts tagged “alberta

Swans into the air

I was excited to find tundra swans on a small pond west of Mossleigh last weekend.  The bird migrations north are underway and these are among the most elegant of the travelers.  As sunset approached, small bevies of swans took flight so I had several opportunities to photograph their takeoffs where they run along the water as they gather speed before lifting into the air.  On one of these launches, I dropped the shutter speed to 1/20th of a second and panned with a pair in order to blur the background and their wings.  I find swans in motion to be beautiful and I always think of ballet choreography when I watch them.

 


Signs of spring: mountain bluebirds

Less than a couple of weeks ago, it was close to -30ºC and there was a thick layer of snow across the prairies.  A couple of days ago it was just above 0ºC with only small patches of snow left on the fields near Mossleigh.  I spent the afternoon on the backroads to see what I could find.  Snowy owls were nowhere that I could see so I suspect the majority have now headed north.  Wedges of Canada geese flew overhead steadily as the sun began to sink lower.  These were joined by the occasional small bevy of swans which were great to see and I will share some of those pictures soon.
Early in the afternoon a blur of blue zipped past where I was photographing a stormy cloudscene to the east.  A mountain bluebird landed on a barbed wire fence a few metres away and quickly flitted around the posts and in the tall grass for a few seconds.  This male was joined by two others and two females and they flew off across the road and quickly out of sight across a field.  These birds are usually early spring migrants so I took it a definitive sign that winter’s grip is releasing now.

On the hunt with a great gray owl

A couple of weeks ago I took a break from the snowy owls on the prairie and visited some of my great gray owl haunts near my home.  I had not seen a gray for several weeks so it was a fishing expedition at best with limited expectation.  I was excited when I found this owl perched over the snow.  It wasn’t too long before she dove into the snow and quickly swallowed some kind of mouse or vole. Her back was to me when she landed so I didn’t get a good look at her snack.  She flew up into a bare tree and continued surveying the small meadow.

She decided pretty quickly that wasn’t the spot for her and she flew into the evergreens after only a couple of minutes.

She landed and then dozed for close to half an hour from a good spot in the trees overlooking another small patch of snow.

I put on my snow boots and took an indirect path to a little hill opposite her new perch.  Her eyes watched me a little bit but the lids shut once I sat down on a log.  I was happy to wait and see if she would continue hunting after her rest.

When she did start looking around again, she seemed keen to resume and I was in a great position for her next dive which happened right away.

With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.


Coyotes living on the prairies

On my frequent drives in search of snowy owls this winter, I often see coyotes.  I admire how these creatures thrive during the winter and enjoy being able to watch them hunt mice across the fields.  Here are a couple from the past month or so.

And a few more where individuals were going here and there across the prairies.


A wide-eyed snowy owl

The snowy owls will soon start to head north so I’m trying to get out to photograph them as much as my time will allow before they go.  I found this owl just after sunrise and when she looked backwards at me, her wide eyes caught the sunlight beautifully.  I will miss these gorgeous birds when they return to their summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.


Snowy owl flights

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I started a morning last weekend watching a snowy owl.  When she had a long yawn, that seemed like a good sign to keep moving.  I left the napper and headed along a range road which ran due north.  After a few miles, this owl popped into view as it flew out from behind a small bush.

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Happily, it wasn’t too upset by the disturbance and landed about 100 metres to the east.  I took a few photos from the roof of my car and then pulled out my longest lens (500mm) and the monopod as it felt like I had time before he might start hunting again.

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That started a great 90 minute stretch where I was able to move into good positions (the owl, me and the sun in a line) a couple of times while he hunted across the field.  There was a lot of preening, listening and looking around (and the occasional glance my way) in between the three flights he made while I was there.

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He flew back to the road, and directly past me, on the first flight and landed where a slight rise afforded a view in both directions.  He stayed pretty alert and it did not take very long before a target was found.

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The owl flew a very short distance and then dropped on the far side of the road.  He grabbed a small mouse that was beneath the snow but not safe from this accomplished hunter.

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He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch.  The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.

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More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.

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A sunny snowy morning

Snowy owls have been a focus of mine this winter.  Last Saturday I was east of Calgary again – touring the back roads, looking for owls and, when they were found, working to not spook them.  A few of my earlier visits to the prairies have been frigid experiences.  That day was pleasantly different – the sun cut through the clouds early and they moved on altogether by mid-morning but did so without a heavy wind pushing them.  The relatively mild and calm weather was welcome indeed.

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The day was productive in every sense.  I found two owls just after daybreak near Gleichen.  I spotted the first one as she flew parallel to the road I was traveling down.  The second was perched on this fence line but he took off as the first neared.   The displacer landed and fussed with her feathers while scanning the ground.  The sun lit her up a couple of times which was special.  She eventually glided over the fields behind her and landed on a rise after catching an unlucky creature for breakfast.  I drove below the rise and caught her yawning before she rested and dozed for a bit.

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Note: this snowy is mottled with dark and light feathering and that used to be thought to be exclusively females and the almost pure white owls were males.  Over the last few years, that has been disproven (some females are all white and some males are not).  There is no visible way to confirm the sex that I am aware of so I still refer to a white one as “he” and the others as “she”.  That is a bit of anthropomorphization but I really dislike calling animals “it”.

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I had an encounter with a beautiful almost solid white snowy owl an hour later a little further north of this spot.  I will share that story with him soon!

 

 


Splashing the clouds with color at dawn

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Before photographing down in the fog a week ago, I stopped along the Trans-Canada Highway on the hill overlooking Springbank to watch the sunrise.

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The eastern sky was starting to brighten quickly and I hoped the clouds would catch the early light.  The fog was quite close to the hilltop when I first arrived but it fell back down before dawn came.  The sunlight did bathe the clouds in amazing colors.  It was spectacular!

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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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Clearing fog under a rising sun

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On Monday morning fog rolled up from the rivers around Calgary and covered most of the city and surrounding areas.  I was near the Springbank airport at sunrise and the visibility was not much more than a hundred metres.  I photographed the sunrise from a hill above the fog and then returned to the airport.  This photograph was taken about 20 minutes after daybreak as the line of fog was receding towards Calgary.  I was surprised by the speed that it moved and even more so when it returned again a few minutes later.  This ebb and flow reminded me of the tides and was amazing to be in the middle of.  I will share more soon but wanted to start with this first view of the sun when the fog was rolling eastward.


Bald in eagle in a blue sky

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A couple of days ago I spotted this bald eagle balanced atop a telephone pole.  He was watching a small conspiracy of ravens gathered on a snow pile on the edge of a field in Springbank.

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After a few minutes his curiosity seemed to get the best of him and we launched towards the group.  He spiralled above them for a moment but must not have seen anything too appealing as he landed on another telephone pole instead of amongst the ravens.

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Maybe it was just to have a closer look before deciding.  Either way he decided not to stick around for long and flew a couple of hundred metres away and into a stand of trees isolated in middle of the field.

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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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