I was in Banff for an early morning sunrise shoot a couple of weeks ago. Following that, I spent the morning hiking and driving around looking for wildlife. The first animal I found was this Great blue heron fishing on the first Vermilion Lake.
Following this short story of the heron in Yellowstone National Park, I thought it would be good to post another with its Canadian cousin. I watched the heron work in the long grass on the lake edge for several minutes before it turned away from the sun and flew eastward and beyond my sight.
The pair of Ospreys I photographed in the Banff National Park a couple of weeks ago spent most of the afternoon with her on the nest and him perched high in trees over the Bow River. I waited a couple of hours for one of them to dive into the water for a fish.
It happened once, and it was fast. I missed the descent and the initial contact with the water. That bugged me but I got locked in once he surfaced.
I hoped to see a fish in his clutches but when his talons were out of the water and visible, there was no such luck – for them or me. It was interesting to watch the lifting into the air so I was not dismayed in any real way.
Flying past me, I waited to see where the next perch would be. I wanted to see if I would continue to be in a good location for the next dive. The Osprey had other ideas, and flew upriver, disappearing around a bend several hundred metres away. I watched that bend for a little while, in case there was a return flight, but ended the day shortly after that and headed home.
I watched this osprey bathe in a shallow stretch of the Bow River in the Banff National Park on the weekend. The splashing around and dunking under water reminded me of my son when he’s having a soak in the bathtub.
After delivering a fish to his mate, he flew off, gliding under the bridge the nest is built on top of.
He took a break to soak for a few minutes and then dry out his feathers for a couple more.
After a long shake, the Osprey flew back to a high point to better survey the water.
A Canada goose poses for a portrait at the Vermilion Lakes early on a misty morning in the Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Two Jack Lake’s surface was pretty calm on a beautiful blue sky morning in the Banff National Park two weeks ago. That meant that Mount Rundle’s reflection was a bit skewed but I liked the look that suggested a fun house mirror.
I preferred the graphic look of black and white in this image. For comparison, I included the original color version.
Wolves are a polarizing animal – many love them and what they represent, others would shoot them on sight, no questions asked. I see them as an integral part of the food chain in the ecosystems where they still exist. In the Banff National Park they are not thriving but the pack of five that I watched take down an elk in late February, are finding their way and I hope they are able to raise pups this spring.
There is one black wolf, one of the younger ones in the pack I have been told, which is a beautiful creature. He seems to be a bit more curious than the others and once the elk was down strode across the bridge deck to the edge of the forest seeming to be momentarily more interested in assessing his surroundings than joining the feast.
I look forward to this wolf and his pack continuing to occupy their rightful place as a carnivore in the Bow Valley’s food web.
The story of the Banff wolf pack’s takedown of the elk last Sunday begins for me where Banff Avenue goes under the Trans-Canada Highway. I had spent some time along the Vermilion Lakes, then the Bow Valley Parkway and was heading for the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. At the stop sign I looked south for oncoming traffic and noticed movement up on the railway overpass. Pulling off the road, I could see an elk from the shoulder up – the body blocked by the solid concrete side of the bridge.
The elk took a couple of paces, doubled back and then repeated that a couple of times. It seemed unusual behaviour so I trained my telephoto lens on her to have a better look. When I did, I couldn’t make out anything unusual – until a wolf’s head came into view when it leaped up and bit the elk’s neck!
At that point, part of me was in amazement but the more important part got to work. I ran up the small hill beside the bridge to get level with the animals. As I did, I could see four wolves (although the pack has five members; I just don’t have one photograph with more than four but all five were likely there) surrounding the elk. I did not see what led to the elk being on the bridge but suspect it was herded there by the wolves.
Over the next seven minutes, the wolves alternated between attacking the animal and walling it in on the bridge. Both the herding and the attacking suggested great intelligence and teamwork.
The large male, likely the alpha, which primarily attacked the face and neck alternated initial lunges with the other wolves at the back. Whoever went first would dodge and parry the increasingly weak counters by the elk while the others would bite viciously while her attention was distracted from them.
When the elk would get closer to one of the ends of the bridge, the wolves would line up along the edge and force her back towards the middle. During the struggle, she was pulled down twice and recovered her legs before being taken down for good by the alpha in a twisting move of immense power.
The cold air, it was about -15°C at 10AM when I came across the attack, condensed the breath and the heat from the open wounds into steam that added to the poignancy of the scene.
When the elk was down, the pack wasted no time in starting their feast. They had about 45 minutes before the carcass was removed which gave the whole pack time to get at least one full meal down.
Parks Canada has said that the elk was removed due to the location beside the tracks in the middle of the bridge and the danger that would pose to the wolves and the other animals the kill would attract. I fully agree with that and hope the carcass is taken to a location where the pack can find it again whenever that decision makes sense. I had hoped they might move the carcass to another location immediately but there are a number of factors involved in making those decisions. I respect the Parks Canada people that follow these wolves on a daily basis and believe they will continue to make those calls with the best outcome for the wildlife. I certainly appreciate their work getting the trains slowed down for a period of time after the attack and giving the wolves a decent amount of time before the elk was moved.
I will post a few more images a little later but wanted to share the story as I saw it now.
On the weekend I was able to watch an amazing encounter in the Banff National Park. A pack of four wolves hunted and took down an elk on the outskirts of the Banff townsite. The wolves had trapped the elk on a train overpass and wore the much larger animal down with continuous lunges and bites. I will detail how the scene unfolded in an upcoming story but I wanted to share this image while I had a few minutes. Watching this was a window into survival in nature and I came away in awe of the victors and their tenacity, intelligence and cooperation. A shadow of sadness for the elk was a part of this story and I gave thanks for what that life lost meant to this pack.
I met this handsome fellow, a bull Elk, in a meadow near Lake Minnewanka. He was grazing along with a few other males earlier in the month, shortly before the snow began to fly in the park.
After hiking along the Boom Lake trail last weekend, I drove into the Kootenay National Park for a little ways. I stopped when I noticed the snow blowing off of the peaks along the Ball Range that is a line of mountains along the Continental Divide. Looking up from the British Columbia – Alberta border on Highway 93, the snow was backlit by the sun which had still not risen above the wall created by Storm Mountain, Beatrice Peak and Stanley Peak.
Wind pushed veils of cloud up the valley obscuring the ridgeline for seconds or minutes. When the view was clear, it presented a constantly changing scene as the snow lifted into the air.