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Posts tagged “Canadian Prairie

A sliver of dawn on the prairie

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Yesterday I was on the prairie north of Langdon.  When I left my home it was snowing steadily so I was unsure what an hour’s drive east would find.  As the night slipped away, clouds opened small, uneven windows to the morning’s early light.  It did not take long for the color to deepen while it painted more of sky.  The farm structure’s silhouette served as an anchor in the landscape while dawn pulled the day forward.

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To the west, the full moon fell below the clouds as it slid towards the Rocky Mountains.  I found the alpenglow, the color of the clouds and the golden hue of the moon from the light pushing through a long stretch of the atmosphere to be absolutely beautiful.  A lovely way to start any day by my standards.

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Winter prairie landscapes

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I spent a lot of time on the prairies in December.  These days started early in the morning so I was able to enjoy watching night give way to day.  And several hours later, watch the principles switch as the short daylight hours ran out.

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A Snowy day on the Prairies

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5860
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls.  The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list.  This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies.  I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend.  A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-4705

After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie.  She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me!  I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field.  She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable.  After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open.  The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way.  Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep.  I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5836

I was wrong.  I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake.  About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road.  These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground.  Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long.  She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew.  Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5865

I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road.  She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5919

The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo.  There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole.  Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there.  When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view.  I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6013

After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again.  I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise.  Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6025

Again, I was wrong.  She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another.  Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6048

The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind.  I think both the owl and I enjoyed that.  I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6079

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6161

The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie.  A pretty fantastic experience for me.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6292

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


A wicked lightning storm

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8527

One of my drives home earlier this week was made more exciting by a massive thundercloud just south of Highway 8.  I stopped near the Rockyview Fire Department in Elbow Valley and photographed as it rumbled past.  There were a few lightning strikes that I managed to capture but I was paying more attention to the angry beast.

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8558

It was dark, dark grey in the center, the edges were rolling fast and the temperature plunged by 10°C or more just before the rain began to fall.  I scurried back into my car once the volume raised up to a downpour.  Back on the road, I wondered how the storm would develop as it moved eastward.  The next morning, I learned that it contributed to the flooding and heavy hail that beat up Chestermere.  That was one of the mean summer storms we get in the Calgary area and I am sorry to hear about the damage it caused.

Prairie Storm Lightning - © Christopher Martin-8566


Autumn sunrise on the prairie

 

A fencing sunrise - © Christopher Martin-2141I enjoyed taking a little time earlier in the week to watch a sunrise from a range road on the prairie just west of Calgary.

Tungsten dawn - © Christopher Martin-2168

Autumn brings with it layers of clouds which often stretch across the morning sky and catch wonderful colors before and during the sun’s rise.

Dawn along the fence line  - © Christopher Martin-2098

Autumn sunrise - © Christopher Martin-2089


Prairie Wildlife: Flight of a Snowy Owl

Leaving the south edge of Calgary this morning, the snow was flying and there was fog growing denser as we went further east.  My friend Jeff and I were driving on 22X heading towards the Siksika Nation to see if we could find any snowy owls along the range roads in the prairie outside of Calgary.   We made a straight line to an abandoned barn on the edge of the Siksika land that a local there had told me was a favourite location for a snowy year after year.  I’ve been there a couple of times this year but have yet to see the owl but it’s a great drive down toward the river.  Tracing fresh tracks in the snow-covered gravel roads, we carved a wide rectangle around the outer edges of Namaka Lake searching.  Along the way, the fog lifted, the sky brightened and the snow settled right down.  Just over two hours in and we hadn’t seen any wildlife following the herd with the exception of a couple of magpies and one acrobatic raven.

And then, once pointed west and heading back towards Calgary, we spotted a snowy along the same back road where I photographed one a few weeks ago.  It seems to be the same female but I’m not an owl expert so they may only be similar.  Either way, it was fantastic to find this one.  And she was a wonderful partner to make a few images with.  She watched us for a few minutes and then flew off to another telephone pole.  Dutifully, we followed, parked a little ways away and then stepped closer.  She flew again after a few more minutes.  We followed to a third pole and a fourth.  The last leap into the air carried her across the field to a distant perch where she could continue her day without further interruption.  Along the way, we both rattled off a bunch of images and had a lot of fun.

Just a great morning and I’m really happy Jeff was able to see and photograph a snowy owl in the wild.


Forgotten Vehicles: photographs from around the farm

I grew up in a small valley in southwestern British Columbia.  Our house faced a large meadow bounded by a creek on one side and the treed flanks of a mountain on the other three sides.  The meadow had once been a field with several orchards and the behind the house were the remnants of a farm with barns, corrals and sheds.  The buildings were worn down, leaning at odd angles but all held their own treasure of rusted tools, missing floorboards, broken machinery and weathered vehicles.  It was a paradise for a kid and I loved that place.  We lived there for about eight years and I know there were a few places I still didn’t fully explore.  Living on the prairies now, I get to revisit the same objects as they dot the landscape – abandoned farmhouses, vehicles both hidden and exposed as well as many other iconic farm “things”.  I’m working on a project tying the photographs to the people behind these farms – let’s just say that is a LONG term project.  However, it’s a lot of fun making the photographs in and around the farms – a good escape to the boy I still am.

I will post more on the buildings, tools, etc. from around the farm but for this one, I’ll restrict the images to vehicles.  These images are from places across Alberta and in eastern Saskatchewan, linger over the picture for the particular location.  As always, click on any of the pictures to jump to a full page version.

Alas, this last vehicle, a combine harvester,  is not forgotten but I like it so please allow the exception.