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.
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.
Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.
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.
Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.
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.
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.