A tree swallow on barbed wire south of Cochrane.
Whitehorse is home to bald eagles among many other birds – large and otherwise. We found them on several occasions during our visit there last summer. This one landed in these twisted branches and I was able to play with her framed by them.
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.
There is a book project that I’ve been invited to contribute some images for which saw me working through images from the Khutzeymateen and her wonderful grizzly bears this weekend. Towards the end of the 2014 set, I found this one of a pigeon that had landed outside of the day room I rented between docking in Prince Rupert and flying out later that afternoon. I had long forgotten about this image but I was struck by the beauty of this bird on today’s perusal. Pigeon’s can be somewhat funny looking but I find this one to be rather charismatic. The iridescence in the neck feathers grabs my attention first, but the pattern in the wing feathers holds it.
Through the winter, there are chickadees that hang out in my backyard. On Sunday afternoon, I found a few of them pecking seeds out of the fresh snow below the feeder.
I took a few minutes to photograph them when the sun had dropped low enough to backlight them and the speckles of snow their pecking threw into the air.
A boreal chickadee came at the last and flitted about for a few seconds before flying off in a spray of glistening snow.
I found a pair of common loons on the third Vermilion Lake in the Banff National Park on the weekend. They were diving and skimming the water surface for food, enjoying the sunshine and paddling close to each other at different points.
The sunlight caught the iridescence in their feathers. It is beautiful when the red eyes glow and the silky greens shimmer along their necks.
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.
When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.
We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near. When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush. The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past. It was cool to share that experience with Kian.
This mother Grizzly bear brought her cubs down to this sage brush meadow on the Swan Lake Flat above Mammoth Hot Springs several times in the four days that I was in Yellowstone National Park. Two of those walkabouts coincided with me being in the area so I was able to watch them for a couple of hours in total. These photographs are from the first encounter in the evening on May 20th.
The twins were playful. Carefree knowing their mother was watchful of the crowds that invariably developed along the Grand Loop Road as well as for any Grizzly males who might cross their path.
The mother had a lot of character in her face, with a bit of a bend in her snout and lighter colouring in the fur in the outer disc.
Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.
For the most part, momma didn’t mind but when they drifted too far away a huff from her would send them scrambling back to her side. She was hungry and spent her time digging up roots but did play with them a little bit.
Occasionally, the little bears would stop and watch the people watching them. I wondered what they made of all of us hugging the edge of the road, lined up facing them.
I watched the trio for an hour that evening. With the shadows lengthening, they moved slowly away from the road into the rolling hills eventually melting into the plateau. Before then, I took the opportunity to frame them in their surroundings.
Great blue herons are a favourite bird of mine. I was very happy when I spotted this one fishing along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park when I was there a few weeks ago. I found a little shoulder off the road where I could park my car and I walked back to the small bridge I had just crossed.
The heron was stalking through the grass in the water, noted my presence with a slight turn of its head, and then continued. A few minutes, three strikes and two fish later, it had moved closer and was now directly across the water from me.
Whether it was momentarily full, spooked by a particular vehicle crossing the bridge or just tired of me watching, it jumped into the air after ducking under the logs in front of it in the picture above.
I was in a great position to watch the strong wingbeats lift the heron. I was already feeling lucky for first finding it along this beautiful river bend and then getting to photograph it fishing. When it took flight and then banked overhead, I was able to get several nice flight shots and I felt my luck had doubled down on its own accord – and won!
A friend and I spied this owl while on a short drive to scout out locations for a photo shoot. This is my tenth year living in the Bragg Creek area and this was the first Barred owl that I have seen here. It was the first time I have seen one in the wild anywhere for that matter. It is an understatement to say I was excited! The dark eyes are so striking compared to my familiarity with the glowing yellow eyes of the Great gray, Great horned and Snowy owls which I photograph throughout the year.
The owl was perched in plain sight – the fast approaching dusk had dimmed the daylight which suited this mostly nocturnal hunter. That made a fast shutter speed a challenge but that was a very minor challenge. She flew from the post to a branch a couple of metres above the long grass edging the road. Her head swivelled and angled as she searched for dinner. Within a couple of minutes, she locked in and made a dive headlong into the greenery. One dive, one strike and one kill.
From down in the grass she shifted the field mouse to her beak and then flew up and in front of us, heading into a stand of trees on a small ridge.
I lost her in the forest and the gloom but look forward to a follow-up encounter whenever it suits her.
At the western edge of the Lamar Canyon at a small trailhead just above the river of the same name this fox was curled up under a sage bush. A small crowd had gathered, and under the watchful eye of a park ranger, had their cameras trained on the small patch of red visible between the gray-green branches and leaves. Watching it from a slightly higher vantage point, I could see the ears pointed forward and hoped she was hunting. Within a few minutes, she belly crawled forward a little and it was plain to see she was readying for a leap.
The grass and sage hid any rodents from my sight but not so for the fox. Or, at least through those large ears, their sound was not hidden. When she did jump it was fast but she came up empty. She dug anxiously around this bush and circled it several times but somehow the little creature made good on its escape.
With the meal gone, the fox looked up and seemed only then to realize the crowd to one side of her. At that point, she lowered her head, ears and tail and sprinted past the people, crossed the road (where happily traffic had long been stopped) and sped up a hill through the underbrush, grabbing a rodent along the way.
I went further up the road in the hopes of the fox reappearing down that way. I guessed wrong but soon found that the fox had backtracked and went to a small hollow downhill from the original trailhead. When I set up 35 yards away, she was laying low against another bush with her eyes, and ears, trained on a spot near a rock and some fallen trees.
The weather in Yellowstone is always changing and while she waited sun gave way to rain pushed in by a strong wind, then snow, sun and clouds followed in quick succession.
A lightning run got her on the spot stared at for the previous fifteen minutes in a flash. This time she struck successfully and “wolfed” it down while her head was still hidden by the grass.
She stalked through the hillside again for a few more minutes.
She rubbed against a bush next. I don’t know if that was to rub off scent or to pick up the sage. Then she headed off through the scrub and grass.