The second time I crossed paths with this family of Grizzly bears it was deep into dusk. I spotted the mother in the hill above the Swan Lake Flat about an hour earlier but quickly lost her and the cubs in the rolling slopes as they made their way down.
When they did appear it surprised me how close they got before I saw them. Knowing the size of an adult Grizzly, it showed me how high those hills are. The trio walked and grazed, with he twins play fighting along the way, towards the Grand Loop Road eventually settling about 150 metres away.
The failing light made photographing the bears a fun challenge. The golden halos created by the glow from the western horizon being caught by the hair in their coats was amazing. That alone was more than worth the wait.
They moved parallel to the road for about 20 minutes before heading back into the hills.
The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States. The rings of color which the rock, microbes and water create are amazing and I had hoped to be able to photograph them when I visited in late May. The weather had other plans and the cold, wet air created a heavy mist over the scalding hot water. The wind blew in on gusts from the south creating waves of cloud.
Occasionally, the elements would conspire and rifts would open in the sheets of white lifting off of the spring’s surface. I walked around the boardwalk twice, enthralled by the isolation created amid the fluid transitions blowing by.
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.
Pronghorns are scattered across Yellowstone. They range from the lower grasslands through to high valley meadows. It was a cold morning so I was not surprised this fellow wanted to shake off the cold. When the droplets flew from his position a little higher than me, the effect looked more like there had been an explosion. I thought it was a good start to our respective days.
I watched him approach from Soda Butte Creek at the northeast end of the Lamar Valley. He looked like he had just crossed it but maybe that was just from the rain at daybreak. Shortly after spinning off the water, the sun came out, apparently to help dry his coat. The wet sagebrush began to steam as soon as the sunlight hit it, creating a haze around the Pronghorn.
He passed within 30 yards of me and then crossed the road on his way up the base of Druid Peak’s southern flank.
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.
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.
When I photographed the Burmis tree, a limber pine that was between 600 and 750 years old when it died in the 1970s, I circled it a couple of times. It presented very different looks as I moved around which was great fun to photograph. I wanted to share a few of the ones I liked from this stop on the edge of the Crowsnest Pass.
Please note: those familiar with the Burmis tree will note that in three of images, and the image in the previous post, I have removed the metal pole that supports the long lower branch that extends away perpendicularly from the main trunk. I rarely edit out things in my landscape photographs but I find that pole to be quite distracting. It is necessary given that someone cut the branch in 2004 and nearby residents re-attached the limb and needed the pole to support the weight. I am grateful they did this work but used some artistic license to create the final images as I imagined them.
Clouds from the west slowly advanced as I scrambled around, at first only hiding the stars but then dragging rain into the scene. Sometimes that can make things more interesting photographically but at that late hour and with the wind picking up sharply, I soon packed up and carried on to Fernie. I did have almost as much time as I wanted there so the weather’s turn was a nice push to get moving.
When I was in Shangri-La last September it was still early in their autumn season so wild flowers were still in bloom throughout the countryside. I don’t know the name of this flower I found while traveling the countryside in the Na Xi region of Yunnan Province but it was strikingly beautiful to my eye.
2/19 update: Thank you Vicki and Jo Ann for identifying this flower as a Red Dahlia!
Canon 5DIII camera + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 seconds at f/4 on ISO 3200
I spotted this Snowy owl perched on this oil and gas installation east of Langdon. She was about a kilometre off the road so I parked, grabbed my gear and headed over. She was scanning to the east while I approached from the west side. As I walked she kept an eye on my, swivelling her neck to watch me infrequently. From a hundred metres away, with colour brushing into the sky as the sun set, I stopped to compose this photograph. I love these birds and I love sunsets – these seemed to be interesting juxtapositions to the storage tank she was perched on.
The past year was an interesting one for my wildlife photography. I stayed largely in Alberta for the year and the animals presented in this gallery are almost all from close to my home. Reflecting on that, I’m reminded what an incredible place I live in. Owls were prominent throughout the year with Snowy, Great gray and Great horned owls all sharing time with me. Black and Grizzly bears were less seen for me but what I had were memorable for me. I continue to deeply appreciate the more common animals and enjoyed revisiting some of those images when I was putting together this set. The gallery is made up of 40 images and can be visited by clicking this link or the link above.
Looking back over the year, I pushed myself to create more dynamic images with a goal to show more of the animal’s power, grace and general movement. I wanted to bring more patience to my time in the field and that has paid off with longer encounters and more enjoyment of the beautiful places I am in while I wait for something to fly, walk or run past. I have continued to learn more about the animals that I spend time with and that knowledge benefits me in many ways beyond photography. This year I began connecting on a spiritual level with many of the animals that I encounter. That continues to be an amazing journey whose benefit to my photography is significant but is a distant second to feeling the awareness of these beautiful creatures.
I’m excited for the encounters that will come in the new year, the connections I will seek to establish and the places these intentions will lead me to. Thank you for following my imagery through the year – I am honoured by everyone who chooses to spend time looking at, and hopefully enjoying, my photographs. Let’s see where things go in 2016…
I drove to High River yesterday and spent the morning touring the gravel roads looking for wildlife on the prairies. My hope was to find a Snowy owl as they have begun returning there. An hour after sunrise, east of Frank Lake, I spied a beautiful owl perched on a fence line and I spent the next four hours watching it sit, fly, hunt and then sit. A lot of watching while she dozed or scanned the surroundings but it was time I enjoyed completely. I wanted to share this photograph of the bird from the early afternoon when she landed in a field and was surrounded by sticks left behind after the last harvest. I am excited to share more from the day and will soon.
When I was in Shangri-La last month, I spent one day touring the Pudacuo National Park (also called Potatso; in Chinese it is 普达措国家公园). Not enough time by any stretch of my imagination but I enjoyed the time I had. In the morning I walked along the shoreline of Shudu lake and early on came across this White wagtail (Motacilla alba alboides) hunting for insects.
From this partly submerged perch, he flew down and skimmed the water’s surface. Each dive appeared to be successful and after a few minutes the bird flew into the trees and disappeared.