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.
This moose was grazing in a marsh west of Bragg Creek when I drove by. She stared at me for a minute, trotted through brambles a bit and then stared back to me again.
April 24th update: Thank you to The Mysterious Blogger for suggesting the title of this post – now updated. And, to P.grover for improving my/our understanding of moose and threats to their health.
Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away. It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays). There was enough light for one more encounter.
The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow. Then heard or saw something and shot upwards. He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.
With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.
Flying to a new perch after several minutes. From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.
The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.
Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next. Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.
A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field. That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.
Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl. This one gliding between branches. These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.
The sun fell quickly. The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge. The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away. His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.
There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field. That was too far away to photograph. And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me. That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.
By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls. This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night. The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt. Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields. This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.
A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond. Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.
I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field. She, however, did not miss. He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow. She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances. And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.
From there the owl flew over the field again. This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery. From sign to beam was only six minutes. Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.
I was happy to miss the moonrise on March 19th. My daughter was performing one of her dance routines – where she sings too so I was in no rush to leave that. Quick shout out to the Moto Café in Bragg Creek – thanks for hosting the recital – wonderful coffee, scones and atmosphere!
When the performers had all finished, I headed east towards the prairie and found the full moon still fairly low with the alpen glow hanging in the sky above it. I knew this stand of trees and thought it’s silhouette, along with the color in the sky, would frame the golden supermoon well. It felt like a great start to spring!
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.
I went to the Bragg Creek Provincial Park just before the latest snowfall. Wandering along the Elbow River, exasperated chirping voiced several nearby squirrel alerts accompanied me.
Curiosity took over one’s hesitations and he climbed down from a treetop to watch me from a branch a couple of meters off the ground. I crouched low and stayed still and soon he was digging out a pine cone from the sticks and snow.
With the right one gathered, he raced back to the tree and had breakfast from the low perch. It was interesting to watch how he whittled down the cone. Clever, efficient and dextrous work.
Once done, he let out a few chirps. Conveying either the all clear or the threat’s still here – or something else altogether – before leaping away. A couple more jumps along with some branch runs and he was out of sight. His and a few other chirps spun through the woods now and again as I continued wandering.
On Saturday I watched the morning arrive on the shore of the Bow River. I was across the water from Calgary’s downtown and used the Center Street Bridge as a focal point between the sky and the buildings. I parked along Memorial Drive and checked the sky in a couple of test photographs. Traffic came by and made for a good start.
On the other side of the road, the rocks, snow and ice along the river bank presented an interesting foreground. It was a bit hectic teasing out compositions as the light was changing rapidly. But that’s pretty fun chaos by any measure.
The eastern sky had bundles of pink cotton candy for a few minutes. To the west the pink was a pastel that looked very pretty reflected in the Bow where it passed Prince’s Island Park.
Mallard ducks and Canada geese milled about flying up and down the river. The cackling and quacking across the water along with the occasional group of vehicles passing behind me on Memorial Drive joined the river to perform the morning’s soundtrack.
I walked down to the Elbow from my home this evening as the sun neared the western horizon. Dusk brought some lovely color the clouds stretching eastward. I found this sliver of open water and the interesting ice around it which anchored the scene nicely.
I’ve been wanting to put together a couple of posts with common themes using photographs which I have not published. These aren’t the best of the year series, I’ll look to have those out soon though. They are simply photographs that I would like to share.
So, I’ll start with a few images taken at night and see what follows after. Thank you for indulging me in a bit of reverie!
I’m often out at night to chase the Northern Lights, watch the stars or waiting for dawn to come. The moon always draws my attention when she’s up and I’m out.
Calgary’s downtown lights also have a definite charm. Here I stood over the Elbow at River Park just before Christmas.
Seagulls fly over the Bow River during a blizzard in Calgary’s downtown.
A reflection pooled in the cobblestone of Montreal’s old port district caught my attention during a night spent in the grand city.
One of the very best nights was watching the fireworks on Canada Day with my son at Mont-Tremblant.
I spent New Year’s Eve at home with my children and one of their close friends. We all had fun and enjoyed the evening. The Redwood Meadows community once more put on a fireworks show.
They always do a great job and this year was outstanding. Kian found friends to watch and hang out with. The other two enjoyed the show from the picture window of a neighbor’s home which provided a good, and warm, view. It wasn’t frigid cold but it was -12ºC and the windchill made it feel like several degrees cooler again.
Some people watched with their kids from their vehicles, some people bundled up and were happy to stand outside. No matter how people watched them, everyone seemed to enjoy the performance. I certainly did.
I set up across the road from the field where the fireworks were set up. I wanted to have the option to silhouette people against the explosions. I used two cameras to have some options. I set one up with a remote control and kept those all at a 10 second shutter speed, lens at f/10 and an ISO of 800. The other one I shot with directly during the show and played with the settings and the composition.
As we have just left 2018 here in Alberta, I wanted to wish you the very best in 2019. Happy New Year!
I hope you are enjoying time doing what you enjoy with those you love. We had an energetic start to the day with a dog’s temporary escape to visit the neighborhood, cleaning up from Santa’s whirlwind visit and enjoying the general madness. That’s given way to a relaxed afternoon with a gentle snowfall helping to set a calmer tone.
This white-winged crossbill was one of a mixed flock of finches, chickadees and nuthatches that I found hunting for seeds in a stretch of forest west of Bragg Creek yesterday. It was another energetic group and, looking back, seemed to be a little foreshadowing for this morning’s chaos. Looking forward, their community, cooperation and tolerance are some positive things to bring forward.
Vehicle lights stretch across the scene during a two second long exposure. I set up across the road from this farmstead and the sign. I took a few photographs of the passing traffic. I liked this one as I thought it had beautiful tone and good luck with the interesting light trails. A photograph an hour after sunset from west of Calgary near the Springbank Airport taken on December 15th.
Highway lights and morning sky – 20 seconds at f/11 on ISO 400
Having stayed out late to photograph the Geminid meteor shower, it was dawn much sooner than I expected. I frequently (always) lose track of time when I have a camera in hand – this was no exception. The last place I watched for the meteor streaks was near the Jumping Pound Road’s overpass of the Trans-Canada about 15km west of Calgary.
Mailbox sunrise – 30 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
When I caught the first hint of dawn along the eastern horizon, which was preceded by an unplanned, but much-needed, cat nap, I made my way to the bridge. The wind was howling as I set up. I was glad it was blowing out of the mountains and across the Prairies. If it had been in my face, I would have had a lovely collection of blurry images! I had a few when a strong gust would come up but I was able to shield against most of them.
A view from the Jumping Pound overpass – 20 seconds at f/11 on ISO 200
As the sky lightened the clouds started to separate from the night sky. I got excited as I saw the first hints of color catch in the edges and folds. They were drifting into and out of beautiful shapes as Helios and his chariot approached the horizon. The image below, with Venus glowing through the pink tinged clouds, is probably my favorite from the shoot.
Venus above – 30 seconds at f/8 on ISO 400
In the longer exposures, the traffic below was rendered indistinct by the longer exposures but the trails carved out by their lights gave me strong, dynamic elements to work with.
Eastern fire – 1.8 seconds at f/22 on ISO 50
While the clouds were ablaze to the east just before sunrise, the west was a different scene altogether. My last photograph of the morning was of the farm north of the bridge under a sky sketched in pastels.
Alpen glow and morning calm – 4.6 seconds at f/22 on ISO 400
Early Friday morning was the peak of Geminid meteor shower. My camera braved the wind and the cold at the separate locations south of Cochrane near the Trans-Canada Highway. Apart from setting up at each new spot and checking the gear occasionally, I stayed in my car wrapped up in a heavy blanket. The shower lived up to expectations and I saw a lot of streaks across the sky. A few of those were in the camera’s field of view.
I used 30 second exposures and then stacked each location’s set to create the star trails. I used the program StarStaX to stack the individual photographs (great program – fast, clean and free – donate if you try it and find that you like it).
To be honest, I was hoping for a few more big streaks across the scene so I’m looking forward to trying it again (next year!) Two separate flights carved through the second scene that I photographed. That looked cool though not what I was planning for. The sunrise which followed was exceptional and I will share a few of those photos soon.
A hawk launches out over the prairies. Photographed in late August last summer.
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.