We enjoyed a great Christmas day around our home today. Outside, the sun was bright, the sky was blue and the snow draped everything in a blanket of white. Inside, we played games, built toys, laughed a lot and had a really good time.
I showed my family this video embedded above of a dancing elk that I had taken a couple of winters ago up in Jasper. My mom thought that would be a good one to share online today – the kids agreed so I worked on that this evening (and here is the Youtube link as well). It was a fun encounter with a young female elk who separated from her herd for a few minutes. At several points, she broke into a dance, or rodeo bull impersonation, while I watched.
I hope you and yours have enjoyed a merry Christmas and I wish you all the best throughout the holidays.
The snow fell hard enough to allow us to go sledding last weekend has melted away but it feels like winter will be here soon. It has been a good fall and I have looked for a few more intimate scenes to represent the season before it leaves.
A couple of these are from the Jasper National Park in the first few days of September. Banff is 350m higher elevation but, with her higher latitude, fall in Jasper seems to come at least a couple of weeks earlier. Kian was flanked by leaves starting to turn as he watched the water run down Tangle Falls along the Icefields Parkway .
By contrast, the cormorants on the Bow River in Calgary were photographed in an autumn season on the last day of September.
On our last day in Jasper, Kian and I went for a walk along Pyramid Lake that morning. It was the first weekend of September so it was cool with a bit of mist on the water and the autumn colors were just starting to come in. We headed back to town around 9am and spotted a Black bear in the open forest above the road.
One bear soon became two when the other stepped out from behind a dense clump of Buffalo berries. The berries were ripe at that time so the bears had been drawn in. At first we thought they were a mother and cub but when they were side by side, and then when they were wrestling, we could see they were both the same size.
To me, they seemed like they were near adults and given their play fighting I think they are siblings that are still hanging out together. Whether related or not, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company and stayed close to each other as they munched through the patches of berries along the hillside.
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.
A double rainbow arched over Medicine Lake just before sunset in Jasper National Park. Light rain fell on Kian and I as we watched these rainbows develop on the edge of a storm that had rolled up the Maligne Valley. The sun was near setting so the sunlight was pure gold and the colors across the landscape were incredible.
On the Labour Day weekend, my son and I camped in Jasper. I hadn’t been there in over a year and I was shocked to see a vast swath of burnt hillsides in Medicine Lake area of the Malign Valley. Somehow I completely missed the Excelsior Wildfire that burned over a 1000 hectares between July 9th and 22nd, 2015. We were looking for wildlife and enjoying the chaotic weather when the sun broke through to paint select trees amid the skeleton forest left behind as a stark reminder of the wildfire.
After a chilly night photographing and then sleeping at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier, I shook off the cold with a cup of tea before getting out of my sleeping bag and taking a look around. It was about 5:30 am when I was up and the blues and whites in the sky and on the mountains were lovely as they waited for the sun to light them up.
The image above was made at 5:47 am and less than 10 minutes later, the pink sunlight of dawn was splashing the upper reaches of the mountains on either side of the glacier. It was beautiful and I took turns between watching the light move across the slopes and trying to remember to photograph.
I started where the light first reached along Parker Ridge and Hilda Peak on the western side of the Sunwapta Pass, then worked to the right watching as Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda were hit with shafts of light here and there.
I panned across the Athabasca Glacier towards the Dome Glacier and saw the light show unfolding there a couple of minutes behind my location. I ran to my car and drove to a viewpoint where I could see up the valley to the glacier and up to the peak of Mount Kitchener (the first image in this post). It proved to be a good move and I was able to watch the sunlight as it transitioned from pink into gold.
When the golden hue started to drain out of the light, I packed up and headed north towards Jasper. A couple of kilometres down the road, I noticed this peak still basking in beautiful light. I stopped and made this last image of a fine morning in the Rocky Mountains.
When I ventured up to Jasper National Park in May, I spent the first night at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. After laying my sleeping bag across the reclined passenger seat, I set up my tripod and camera along one of the trails that lead up to the edge of the ice.
Looking up the glacier, between the clouds as they slid by, a subtle green-blue glow was visible above the ice, rock and snow. With long exposures, the glow was more pronounced. I first thought it may be the Aurora Borealis but I was facing towards the southwest so I would have expected a show behind me more than where I was looking. It was a new moon that night so I’m not sure was responsible for the glow. Could it be the starlight on a clear night, free from light pollution, reflecting off of the ice? Maybe, but I really can’t explain it. It was hauntingly beautiful and I enjoyed spending a couple of hours in that place within this immeasurably vast universe – a night with the stars will get you thinking such things!
It was a great auditory experience as well, the ice cracks and rock falls echoed off the mountains and down the glacier field irregularly through the night which broke up the steady cries of the racing winds.
Sparkling stars, blurred clouds, glowing skies and jagged peaks – it was a special night.
The Black bear that I photographed doing a bit of a dance while rubbing against a small tree continued on its path through the trees for a while before crossing the highway. It was early in the morning so no traffic interrupted him as he sauntered down the middle of the road for a couple of hundred metres.
Crossing a thin tree line, he grazed on spring flowers amid the tall grass while heading parallel to the road.
A while after that, he wandered close to the Athabasca River and grazed near the shoreline and even laid down for a short nap on a grassy spot.
A few minutes later, he moved into the trees and finding a new scratching post to rub against for a little while.
I found this abstract tree form in the exposed bed of Medicine Lake east of Jasper. I liked how water was running down the branches that led into the dry ground.
I left Jasper early in the morning heading south along the Highway 93, enjoying the empty road given the time of day. I had hopes of finding a bear or two along the forest’s edge during my drive through the park (and did sight a very handsome fellow a little later). I had gone about ten kilometres out of town and then felt compelled to retrace my path, thinking I would drive back to last bridge before town and then head south again. Turning back, I went a couple of kilometres and then saw an animal quite a distance straight ahead.
I pulled off to the shoulder and levelled my long lens quickly. I was happy to have a composition with the wolf in the middle of the road with the surrounding landscape visible. I watched the wolf trot steadily down the middle and shoulders of the highway for several minutes.
She had a route in mind and stayed on it. She paused near an opening to the river, and I had thought she might go down to the water. That wasn’t her path as she carried along the road, passing me on the other side and stopping to give me a stare before moving on. At close range I noticed her tracking collar and it seemed like she had been freshly shaved around the neck so I wonder if she had been fitted with a new collar and was now catching back up with her pack.
Wolves are one of my unicorn animals. That is to say that I don’t see them anywhere near as often as I would like. So it is very special when I do get to spend time with one. Especially one as pretty as this wolf!
I visited Jasper National Park for a couple of days over the Victoria Day long weekend. The park has a different feel (both are great – just different) from Banff and I always look forward to spending time there. I plan to share a few stories of time I spent with some of the magnificent wildlife there but will start with a really fun moment.
This black bear was grazing in the ground cover of a stretch of open forest when I found him. I watched him scratch, sniff and chew on shrubs, flowers and roots for several minutes and then he sauntered over to this small tree.
Rearing up on his hind legs, he seemed really happy to rub his back up and down against the spiky needles. I’m not sure how much scratching he felt with his thick coat so maybe it was more for the scent or to shake off some insects. No matter the reason, it was cool to see a bear dancing for his own reasons.
In Jasper we revisited the same herd of Bighorn sheep on Edith’s Knoll each day in the hopes of catching the rams smashing their horns together. There was an element of disappointment as we were early in the rut and the males did not seem to be ramped up yet. However, with several hours spent less than twenty yards from these majestic beasts, it proved to be a great experience watching their interactions and their mannerisms. Spending that kind of time with wildlife on their terms is pretty special. These are a few of the interesting moments from the time spent up on the hill.
(please click on any image to open a higher resolution version)
The week I spent in the Jasper National Park at the end of October coincided with a heavy snowstorm which gripped the park area for most of the week and gave winter a firm grasp over it. I was there to photograph wildlife with a small group but stole a few opportunities to capture the landscape freshly trimmed with its winter coat.
During a scout along the Athabasca River looking for tracks, I stopped to work into this scene for a few minutes. With a bit of time to find something to work with in the foreground, waterproof(ish) boots so I could set up out in the water a bit and a polarizer all helped to realize what I had in mind. Namely, a subtle winter landscape in this national park.
The last day had some of the heaviest snow in the morning but also afforded the only sunshine of the week. This image was along the river’s edge east of Jasper a little while before the clouds started to knit back together.
When the light is really soft and even, the patterns and subtle colours in their feathers, the scratches that tell stories in their beaks and their intelligent eyes provide great material to work with. These images are from a little shoot with a curious couple who spend their time at one viewpoint pullout along the Icefields Parkway in the Jasper National Park. On this day, the clouds were hanging low in the valley and heavily diffused the sunlight so that even the darkest shadows were only a muted grey. Perfect conditions to photograph these birds around their hangout. I posted one portrait of these birds a couple of days ago and with a little more time now, I enjoyed putting together a few more images for this entry.
The snow fell intermittently and provided another element to work with. What had already fallen to the ground over the past week created clean backgrounds and when coupled with wide apertures allowed the ravens to stand out with a nice dimensionality.
The camera I photographed with here, the Canon 5D Mark III has a slight bluish colour cast at higher ISO settings. These are easily removed in any photo editing software but I really liked the iridescent quality in the image above.
Drawing closer in, the lines drawn by the feathers around the face and neck create really great patterns that go unseen when ravens are usually seen given the dark colours.
The ram resting in the deep snow while still early morning had distracted us away from the herd. While photographing the massive leader, his flock had sidled up to the vehicles and were licking the vehicles in hopes of finding salt. The roads in the park are only sanded as far as I know but there may have been salt still on some the cars that were from further afield. Either way even the ram eventually rose and joined in. He can be seen under the neck of sheep licking the back tire. The body position of the sheep on the left defines this image and provided the name for the photograph and this post.
The wildlife photography workshop in Jasper is drawing to a close and it has been a great opportunity to put in some great time with the camera. This ram was a subject of our collective attention early in the workshop and on one of the mornings he had led his herd up to one of the hills along the Maligne Lake Road. The snow caked along his face and down his back was a nice detail to work with.
Now back along the Icefields Parkway back home to my family. And across the town with the kids for Hallowe’en treating and trickery – I can’t wait.
Stopping at a viewpoint along the Icefields Parkway on Sunday to photograph a pair of friendly ravens during the second day of John Marriott’s Jasper Fall Wildlife Workshop. This raven lived up to advance billing and was a pleasure to photograph. This portrait was one of my favourite images from a wonderful wintry day that saw us photographing mountain goats, bighorn sheep rams and bull elks in Jasper National Park.
The white mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) that are sparsely peppered along the Canadian Rockies are a favourite animal of mine. Yesterday we (okay, John Marriott) spied a large male grazing on an almost vertical cliff a couple hundred feet up from the valley floor west of the Columbia Icefields. A beautiful scene to photograph one of these most beautiful of creatures.
Today was a great first day for the workshop I’m up in Jasper for. The workshop is led by John Marriott and it has been great picking up some of his vast knowledge of animal behaviour, tracking and anticipating a better moment. Over the 11 hours we were hiking, driving and scouting in the Greater Jasper area, we tracked several moose and wolf trails. That was really great – it didn’t deliver us onto either of these animals but such a good opportunity to learn. We did find many (many, many) groups of bighorns scattered around, a couple of elk encounters (one herd and a couple of individuals) as well as a few deer here and there. It was the Bighorn sheep that captured most of our attention and we spent a couple of hours on a slope where roughly twenty rams had assembled as we enter the front side of the rut. We waited for the head butting but they weren’t in the mood. It proved to be a wonderful opportunity to watch their behaviour and photograph subtle behaviours. This male typified the braggadocio of some of the larger rams. It was a really good day.
I was in the Tonquin Valley west of Jasper last year and on the first evening along Amethyst Lake, I had an opportunity to photograph a pair of forest caribou (R. tarandus caribou). I had never seen this distinct species of deer in the wild before. This cow had led her calf down to the wildflower meadows along the shoreline and they grazed with enthusiasm while I hovered around a 100 yards away.
Our guide had said there was a grizzly roaming around the lake under The Ramparts and the caribou were wary as a result. We didn’t see the young boar until the next day when we were photographing landscapes on the far side of the valley. We were universally facing south photographing the mountains closing the southern end of the Tonquin as seen below.
I looked around at one point and my eyes caught sight of a large bear shuffling over the field of boulders a couple of hundred metres behind us. He headed off when he saw us staring his way. We walked parallel for a while before losing sight of him. He had picked up speed and swam across a shallow gap and galloped into the trees there.
Another place that I’m excited to return to sooner than later.
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.
I was in Jasper photographing for a few days with a couple of good friends. We had one day where we were able to get some glass on two separate mothers with their cubs. One family was just the mother and her cub and it was this cub who proved to be an adept tree climber.
The pair was snacking on berries when the little one trotted over to a tall tree and then shot up the trunk. It stopped about 40′ up and looked around for a bit. At that point we weren’t sure whether there would be a descent down the bark or a fall.
It was amazing to watch the bear when it decided to come down. I can only describe it as a vertical slide and a very quick one. The cub went back to mom and they foraged along for a while. Then it climbed another tree, stayed up to enjoy the bird’s-eye view and then slid back down. Very fast, very natural and really a treat to see this rascal go.
On the ground the bear did not appear agitated so I believe it was climbing out of curiosity and, possibly, just for the fun of it.