Posts tagged “antlers

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In a sea of prairie green


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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Rutting Elk in the Bow Valley

Bull Elk Rutting in Banff National Park - © Christopher Martin-1946

A small herd of bull elk were gathered near Moose Meadows on the Bow Valley Parkway when I was there on the weekend.  The frost bleached the grass and the cold air made the breath visible.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1945

These were mature adults with massive antlers and they were putting them to use.  The rut is on and these elk were challenging each other repeatedly.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1896

They would be eating grass and then stare at another one.  Soon after, they would stalk slowly towards each other and lock antlers. Once entwined, a push and a pull fight would take place.  Unlike Bighorn sheep battles where they smash into each other, these were shoving matches.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-1929

It was a cold morning which made for a particularly appealing scene to watch these giants battle.  The elk below was noticeably larger than the others and only one bull challenged him in the half hour that I watched.  That contest seemed like more of a measuring stick for the smaller one as it was short and there was no real challenge.

Bull Elk Rutting - © Christopher Martin-2063

He wandered off after a while heading for the trees and leaving the others to graze and continue the odd skirmish.

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Bull Elk in the Jasper National Park

During the trip through the Jasper National Park last month, we found an elk feasting in a vibrant meadow on one of the evenings.  This bull’s antlers were one of the most impressive I have seen on a young elk.  The summer seemed to be moving along well for this beautiful creature judging by the growing rack and the shiny coat.

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Kananaskis Wildlife: Two Bull Moose

Hiking west of Bragg Creek last weekend I ended up in a meadow that was a mix of evergreen trees and waist-high wild grasses.  Navigating this open field is much easier in the winter with the frozen ground and there are all manner of animals trails to follow.  It was one of these that led me to this incredible bull moose who was grazing beside a large stand of trees.  I noticed him from a distance and then slowly moved closer under his occasional glance.

I was quite surprised when, as I moved around the trees to get a better view of the whole animal, I saw a second bull.  I often see female moose and calves in groups of 2-10 but I can’t think of a time outside of the rut when I’ve seen two bulls together.

As I watched them, they seemed very comfortable and were not intimidating one another.  I was fascinated and really enjoyed studying them interacting.  I stayed with them for about half an hour and I came away with the impression that they acted like brothers.  One, the first one I saw, had the larger rack and acted like the big brother.  Both were beautiful creatures.  I’m always happy to see healthy bulls as it means good things for the local population in general.

This encounter came about an hour after photographing a mother and baby moose a few miles away so it was a great morning in K-Country.  Much more for me to learn about these beautiful animals.  I love the opportunities I have to do that with them in their natural surroundings.  I rarely forget how lucky I am.

 


Kananaskis Wildlife: Winter Stags

A chilly morning in West Bragg Creek gilded all the tall grass and tree boughs with hoar frost emphasizing the hold winter now has on Kananaskis Country.  I wandered around a few trails before finding this muscular stag walking steadily through a field.

He watched me closely for  a minute, pausing to check me over, before carrying on through the snow parallel to the path before crossing and bounding up the hill into the forest.

I encountered a second buck as I was heading back to Bragg Creek.  I was driving on Township Road 232 and he was near the fenceline, partially obscured by a stand of reed-like branches.  I was running a bit late and he seemed anxious so I only stayed for a minute to get this image before heading on my way.


A Stag Off Lake Windermere

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I wandered away from the Lake Windermere shoreline and up a trail to this marshy field. There were two young mule deer stags lounging away the early evening in the tall grass. They showed a little interest for a minute and then went back to relaxing.

This buck stood up to walk over to a fresh set of grass. There was a bit of a glow off the velvet of the growing antlers in the soft light. With the buttercup wildflowers providing a little color and detail to the scene it was pretty easy photography. The osprey and the river otter proved to be more challenging when I finally headed back to the water’s edge.


The Bull Elk – The Next Day

Following my great morning spent photographing the elk, I went down the Vermilion Lake road the next day, Wednesday, with my wife and children to show them the spot where he had been.  We stopped there for a few minutes and then carried on to the second lake.  At the edge of the lake I was surprised to see the same elk standing in a couple of feet of snow eating leaves.  I didn’t bother him for long in case he had reconsidered our encounter but my family enjoyed seeing him.

I didn’t get out photographing again until we checked out on Thursday and we took a quick drive down the lake road just to see if the elk or any other wildlife was hanging around in the middle of the day.  After a couple of cloudy days, Thursday was mild and sunny so you never know what might be out warming up.   We didn’t see any animals on the drive down the lake but returning I glimpsed the familiar antlers poking up over a bluff near the road.

Driving a little further, I took this last image of the elk who defined the photography on this trip to Banff.  He was relaxed, with eyes half closed and sitting down facing the sun.  It was an easy decision not to bother him.  A bit unusual this elk in his habits and territory but I could not see any signs of ill-health or other impediments.  Just an interesting animal.  I will certainly be looking for him each time I get back to Banff.


Wild Elk in the Banff National Park

We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain.  We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.

I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions.  I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge.  I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him.  I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge.  I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks.  I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away.  I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down.  He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time.   He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images.  Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.

Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer.  In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible.  This fellow is young and skinny.  I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by.  A very good reason to look forward to spring.


West Bragg Creek Moose

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Good friends of ours told us about a small group of moose that settled in a field in West Bragg Creek a couple of days ago.  This morning, I was out there early and quickly saw the young bull.

I made sure he saw me from a long ways off so that there were no surprises.

I moved slowly and watched his ears for signs of distress – if they get laid back then it is a sign that the moose is agitated.  He is a young fellow maybe 4 or 5 years old judging by the immature rack.  Nonetheless, still a very large animal and very impressive watching him track easily through the scrub brush and boggy grassland.

The cow was in the middle of a stand of trees to the side of the marsh where the bull was grazing.

She poked her head out to see what I was about.  She quickly concluded that I wasn’t anything to be concerned with as she laid down in the grass presumably near her yearling.  I didn’t see the young moose and had no interest in stressing the mother or getting into a dangerous position so I didn’t move any closer to the trees.

Great to see these young moose out.  We have pretty decent numbers in the Bragg Creek area but I always worry about the impact of hunting so it is wonderful to see babies, yearlings and young bucks when they return to these parts of their range.