Most weekends in the first couple of months of the year I spent driving the country roads east of Calgary in search of snowy owls. I had a number of great encounters this year amid some frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls. The last of these visits was in early March.
I found this owl perched on a fence post in the middle of a field on a beautiful sunny morning east of Delacour. I waited for quite a while before the owl chose to fly. When she did, she caught the wind and rose upwards quickly before she looked my way and banked above me. She crossed the field and dove into the snow by another fence line. She was too far to see clearly what she caught but she finished it quickly and then flew off out of sight.
Some people continued to find snowies into April but I have been drawn to the mountains and the waterways running out of them for the last few weeks so I will look forward to next winter when I hope to find these beautiful birds again. For now, I am enjoying the arrival of spring as I’m sure they are too as they return to their summer range north of the Arctic Circle.
It took a little longer to find time to complete my review of my wildlife images this year. Due largely to general busyness and some measure of procrastination. So I appreciated the irony that one of the areas I have put a lot of thought into, and work to improve, is patience. Looking back, this focus on waiting is helping me to get closer to the wildlife imagery that I want to be creating. Waiting for the animals, waiting on their schedule for something to happen, can be a challenge – sometimes, like in the cold, a significant one. I’m happy that I laid down on the snow, crouched in marshes, hiked into valleys and froze my fingers to find those opportunities and try to do something with them.
The 2017 gallery can be viewed at this link or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.
A comparison with my 2016 wildlife gallery suggests some subtle changes. I see exploration into some ideas, blurs for one, that is interesting. I’ve been trying to bring more imagination into my wildlife images. Lot’s more to work on there.
Comparing years past with the last one, I like the direction and that stirs up the motivation coals. The latter always being a good thing, I think.
There were two mule deer bucks nibbling on roadside grass that I came across last weekend. They were between the two Kananaskis Lakes and they ran up the hillside to the forest edge when another car passed by. This brought them into the morning sunshine which illuminated them wonderfully.
One of the stags paused at the top of the hill before disappearing behind the trees. The other walked along the ridge above the road for a few minutes.
He was enjoying the buffalo berries which are ripe throughout the valleys in Kananaskis now. I always think of these berries as being food for the bears but this fellow reminded me that they are a delicious snack for many of the animals in the Rockies.
The smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta continues to roll across the west. That morning the resulting haze was quite heavy which warmed and softened the sunlight. Beautiful light to work with – a very small and personal silver lining to a massive issue impacting millions of people. This photo of peaks in the Kananaskis valley gives some indication of the atmosphere on that morning.
The stag kept an eye on me but with little traffic and me staying in my car had little provocation to join his partner in the woods. I left him still grazing and continued my travels around K-Country.
Last weekend I came across this grizzly bear late in the day along the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40). He first came out of the forest on the high side of the hill and traveled through this patch of fireweed before slipping back into the woods.
He was in the trees briefly before continuing down the hill and coming to the road.
Meeting the pavement, he crossed straightaway – which is always a bit of uncertainty given the wildcard of a speeding vehicle. However this time the four vehicles nearby were all pulled over and no other traffic came so he had no issues.
Dark clouds rolled in and he disappeared down the bank so that ended the short visit. I headed up to Highwood Pass and watched the weather scrape over the mountains for a bit. Note: that is a great place to enjoy watching the land – the elevation, jagged peaks, often fast-moving clouds and ever-changing weather combine endlessly. When I drove back down, I found the bear further up the road in hillside of brambles feasting on buffalo berries. Failing light and falling rain softened the scene and made finding the bear and getting sharp images a challenge but I was grateful for another short visit with this beautiful bruin.
Returning from a sunrise shoot atop the rock pile that gives Moraine Lake its name, I found a beautiful black bear grazing on berries. The patch was close to the road connecting Moraine Lake with the Lake Louise area which meant a bear jam started to build right away. I didn’t stay for long, just grabbed a couple of shots out the window from the other side of the road. Great to see the berries coming in, they are a critical source of calories for the bears in the Banff National Park.
There is a beautiful stand of aspen trees on the eastern edge of the Hillsdale Meadows which I have photographed for years throughout the seasons. Last weekend I stopped for another visit with them. This time around I was drawn to the contrast of the slender, white trunks and the dark spaces between them.
I worked a few different ideas before I found what an approach that allowed me to illustrate that contrast. Using longer shutter speeds (1/8th of a second – 1/4th of a second) and moving the camera vertically during the exposure, the blurs created illustrated the contrast in a way I really like.
I found this beautiful doe and her fawn in Kananaskis Country – they were kind enough to stay for a minute and let me take a family portrait in the forest.
The first grizzly bear I saw this year was along the Kananaskis River in May. I was watching ground squirrels playing around the field in the Opal picnic area. Then they started standing up alert and chirping to one another.
Looking towards the river, I couldn’t see anything. Then from out of the forest first one, then a second bear arrived.
They hadn’t noticed me, or maybe more likely, they had but did not have any interest in me. Happily, they padded across the parking lot behind my car and continued on to cross Highway 40.
Their interest was in foraging on the hillside and I watched them for a few minutes until they slipped back into the woods.
White-tailed deer are a bit flighty so when I came across this doe munching on some flowers (another dandelion hunter as it turns out), it was no surprise that the tail came up and she took a few quick steps away. She quickly returned to grazing so I wasn’t too much of a threat – or the flowers were too good to walk away from.
Last summer when I was in Berlin I visited the Kreuzberg district several times to enjoy the street art, graffiti and just the vibrant atmosphere in general. At one point, I stopped to look at these wonderful flowers that smelled amazing. This little bee thought they tasted just as good!
The tall grass near the bird blind on Frank Lake is nesting ground for Canada geese, ibis, yellow-headed blackbirds, herons and more. At dusk the cacophony rising up from these residents can be surprisingly loud. There are birds chasing one another, others returning with material for their nest, food for their chicks as well as occasional territorial spats. It’s an incredible spot to set up near the trails and watch life on a marsh. On a visit there in early May the weather was warm and the sunlight before dusk was incredible.
Throughout the evening, the Canada geese were active with a couple being particularly feisty. That presented some new image opportunities that I had not yet photographed which is always exciting for me.
When the sun set, the activity level along the shoreline rose noticeably. All manner of birds flew overhead and low along the water. Some of the geese moved their skirmishing to the small pond directly in front of me. I didn’t move around and they seemed oblivious, or at least undistracted, by me – which was perfect. I stayed until it was dark and loved every minute.