Posts tagged “animal

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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Flying low on the prairies

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I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

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The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


Afield with a fox on the hunt

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(Click on the image to open a larger version)

I found this Red fox last weekend in Langdon, Alberta.  She was hunting mice in a farm field. alongside the highway.  A couple of times she came relatively close to the fence.  I really liked this image from one of these nearby encounters.  I’m heading there this afternoon to see if I can find her, or one of the three Snowy owls I saw last Sunday, again.


A phantom hunting in the snow

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5076

The snowstorm and the cold accompanying it were considerable the morning I watched this Great gray owl hunting west of Bragg Creek.  Neither one impeded her focus or her ability to hunt.  She caught three mice as they scurried beneath the snow.  The sharp eyes guiding her to great effect.  The descent above started with her perched in a branch.  Her head cocked at subtly different angles to range in before she flew.

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This strike proved unsuccessful as it appeared she came close but came away with nothing.  She looked at me for a second and then lifted off to alight on a post holding up the fence I was leaning against.

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Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5093

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A short regroup was over after a few minutes when she dove with her back to me, grabbed and returned with a mouse.

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That was swallowed quickly and she then retreated to another branch on the tree line behind the fence.  She flew along the forest’s edge between a couple of spots.  Which gave me a few good opportunities to shoot her in flight.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156

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She snagged another unfortunate creature as we approached noon and I left soon after that.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156


A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

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On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water.  This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are  present across North America.

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I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year.  That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet.  Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.

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Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

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It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek.  I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area.  In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country.  This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images.  Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed.  A beautiful creature.

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A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

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About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek.  The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.

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Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

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After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust.  Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.

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Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards.  He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.

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Alces alces in a Kananaskis snowstorm

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As dawn broke on a recent morning when I was up in Kananaskis, the skies were leaden and threatening to drop some form of precipitation.  It was cold and windy so it seemed an open question whether it would be rain, snow or a frozen mix of the two.  The weather foiled my plans for a sunrise shoot of Mount Kidd but made it an easy decision to drive further up the valley into the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  I passed a few White-tailed deer but did not see much else on the way up.  Apparently I had an appointment (unbeknownst to me at the time) with this wonderful family of moose.  They were standing around this marsh in plain view beside the turn off of the Kananaskis Lakes Trail up to the Upper Lake’s parking lot and trailhead.

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The calf stayed close to her mom but was not very shy.  Staring at me several times to satisfy her curiosity about what I was and whether I was something of interest or not.  The bull was hidden within a few trees at first so it was a great surprise when I saw his antlers first come into sight.

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When a snowplow passed by, its scoop loudly grinding against the asphalt, the young one was startled and ran a little ways off from the roadside.  Mom followed and they munched along as they slowly headed into the forest.

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The bull was a magnificent creature.  Healthy and very confident, neither the vehicles nor my presence made any impression on him.  He kept his eyes on any activity around him but was focused on grazing.  I watched him for the next hour as he moved between trees, bogs and little fields.  Their ability to blend in and disappear, despite their size, was observed many times and always surprises me.

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The storm’s intensity ebbed and flowed through the morning and the snow followed accordingly.  At times falling hard, at times almost stopping completely.  Along with adjusting the camera settings to drag the shutter and blur the snow’s motion or freeze the flakes in action, it was a great setting to photograph these moose in.

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The bull kept an eye on the family as they went into the trees and eventually followed them away from the marsh.  The encounter ended shortly thereafter but I would not ask for anything more.  It was a great day in Kananaskis.

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Bear scratching in Yellowstone

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Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male.  I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both!  I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).

I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied.  The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic.  One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area.  She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!)  She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree.  From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often.  The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.

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With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks.  The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point.  I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.

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A heron fishing in silhouette

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Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow.  The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest.  In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.

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The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.

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Within a couple of minutes, a strike came.  The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish.  The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.

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Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.

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Walking through autumn

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This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.

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She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.

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