A day with an owl encounter is wonderful. In late February some friends and I had a four owl day. Short-eared and snowy owls on the prairie in the morning. Long-eared, short-eared and great gray owls in the foothills later that afternoon. The short-eared were the first owls found. After daybreak this owl flew along a weathered fence line hunting.
In the afternoon, a long-eared owl hunting was preceded by a short-eared flying overhead and hunting in an adjacent field. All of these were at an extended range and in sharp light. Both leaving room for improvements in the end result but it was great to observe these beautiful birds in different landscapes and learn a bit more about them.
There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment. Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies. Here is the little story behind this image.
I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road. The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away. Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for. I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl. I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird. After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.
The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day. It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly. None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.
Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens. As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely. That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.
She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.
After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more. Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye? Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.
From a couple of years ago during my last visit to the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast in the Great Bear Rainforest. I reworked this image for a black and white photography contest. I liked how monochrome palette highlighted the textures in the wet fur and the sedge grass. But, for me, it’s those eyes that steal the show and make the image.
American dippers are year round residents below the Elbow Falls. When I was there before sunrise, I could hear an occasional chitter from one pair as they flew up and downstream. As the day brightened I saw them a couple of times while I was photographing the landscape around the waterfall.
I shifted my attention to them and had two lengthy sessions photographing them. The first began when I was taking the last couple of shots above the falls and noticed one dipper fishing in the small rapids there. The bird splashed here and there, submerged in the flowing water and managed to hunt down a good number of insects in there. After several minutes, breakfast concluded and the bird flew down the river and quickly went out of sight.
An hour’s wait separated me form the second encounter. Eventually one of the dippers flew by and landed at rapids upstream from the falls. That was too far for any reasonably interesting photographs but a second dipper followed only a little while later. This one returned to pools above the waterfall which I have enjoyed watching them at often. When the bird alighted in the water this time, I laid down on the snow to get close to eye level with the little bird. I was well rewarded as it soon chose to ignore me and walked close by.
It seems longer than a month ago when Kian and I went to the Columbia Valley in British Columbia for the Labour Day long weekend.
(please click any image to see a higher resolution version)
We had a great time skateboarding in Invermere, touring around Fairmont and even did a little swimming which was unreasonably cold for the late summer.
Photography wasn’t the focus of our trip but, unsurprisingly, I fit a little in here and there. Easily the best of these was our walk along the narrow channel of the Columbia River where it meets the northern tip of Windermere Lake. We found five kingfishers chattering, flying and occasionally diving along the water.
This juvenile alighted on the pillar near us as we were watching another one flying on the far side of the river. He stayed for several minutes. Drawing a flyby from one kingfisher but mostly left alone to scout for dinner before the sun set.
During the warmer months, there are a number of great blue herons that settle around the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the shore of the second lake watching daybreak over a smoke-filled Bow Valley.
Looking across the lake, I saw ten herons spread out across a marshy spot a couple of hundred meters away. They were a bit too far away to observe them closely but I liked watching them as they hunted, interacted with one another and preened their feathers.
An eagle flew overhead which sent all of the herons into the air. In twos and threes they sped away while the eagle stayed on a straight line towards the first lake. Within 15 minutes a couple of the herons returned. Shortly after that three others alighted in the shallows of another marshy area.
There was a trail that angled towards that spot so I hoisted the big lens and tripod and wandered down. The path died out, overgrown by tall grass, but not before leaving me less than 50 meters from the closest of the three herons there. I set up and then enjoyed an hour watching these birds doing their thing.
Through the winter, there are chickadees that hang out in my backyard. On Sunday afternoon, I found a few of them pecking seeds out of the fresh snow below the feeder.
I took a few minutes to photograph them when the sun had dropped low enough to backlight them and the speckles of snow their pecking threw into the air.
A boreal chickadee came at the last and flitted about for a few seconds before flying off in a spray of glistening snow.
It’s been a couple of years since I last visited the Khutzeymateen Inlet. A situation I hope to correct in the new year. I may even lead a tour there next fall. Thinking about the Khutzeymateen, it’s easy to relive the bear encounters (for me, those can be seen at this link, this one or this one) as they can be intimate in a way that I find unique and mesmerizing. For whatever reason, I’ve been recalling the mists that rarely disappear in the valley. It clings to the trees as the wind and sun push wisps, walls and blankets of fog up and down the steep mountainsides. The continuous motion tears holes in these terrestrial clouds. The view changes endlessly as they drag across the landscape exposing islands of forest here and a rocky shoreline there.
And, it certainly doesn’t hurt having these elements as the backdrop for bear photographs either!
The pair of Ospreys who summer on the Castle Junction bridge’s nest raised two chicks through adolescence this year. When I spent a day watching them in August that meant there were four of these raptors, now all very close to the same size, interacting with one another on and around the bridge area. Flying, fishing, chasing and fighting over fish dominated the moments of action amid a lot of time spent perching over the river up in the trees that line that stretch of the Bow River.
I spied this Osprey when it alighted on a weathered log with a freshly caught meal. By the time I walked a few hundred metres so that I was directly across the river from the bird, it was no longer alone. Ospreys have excellent vision, roughly twice the distance capabilities of humans, so it was no surprise that company arrived quickly. Another Osprey landed close by, shrilly announcing its arrival and crying out for a share of the sushi. The successful fisher had no interest in sharing and resisted all advances from the other to do so.
Over the next four hours, I watched this bird defend its prize from sneaky grabs for a scrap, frustrated attacks, a couple of near dive-bombs and outright theft! Throughout, the Osprey nibbled away on the fish – whether another bird was nearby or not. The other Osprey never ganged up on their family member but I’m pretty sure two of the three made individual advances.
With the repeated flybys the interloping Ospreys gave me some great opportunities for in flight shots that were interesting and new for my library. The low to ground shots in particular.
The birds were aware of my presence, I didn’t blend in with the rocks on the shoreline. I didn’t move around much and, with the river between us, I felt confident that I was not impacting their behaviour and so I enjoyed the opportunity to watch the family dynamics play out.
Several times the Osprey clutched the fish in one talon and looked to be getting ready to fly. That didn’t happen – the bird didn’t stray more than a couple of metres from the log and stayed on it for most of the time. That made me suspect this was an adolescent with little experience flying with fish but given the size, and the fact that it had caught the fish in the first place, I’m definitely not sure.
Steadily the Osprey worked away on dinner, despite the numerous distractions, and finally finished all but the smallest scraps. Shortly after finishing the Osprey flew off down the river. It flew across my sight line affording me a nice flight series – a fun little reward after four hours crouching among the rocks. I watched it all the way back to the nest where it few around a couple of times before I lost sight of it. I hiked back to the bridge and came back to the shoreline a short stone’s throw from the Ospreys new perch. Again, it took note of me and then continued looking down the river and up at the nest. Several minutes went by before the bird launched and flew up to the nest.
The warm February in southern Alberta has melted most of the snow on the Prairies. This has made traveling over the fields much easier for wildlife. Over the past couple of weeks, I have seen deer, elk, moose and coyotes on the grasslands near my home west of Calgary.
This coyote was hunting a little bit as she paralleled the TransCanada Highway near Springbank. I hoped for a pounce but she was more focused on distance than hunger it seemed.
After she crossed an off ramp, she paused to stare in my direction before moving on.
I left at that point, not wanting to spook her and make her hurry across Highway 22. I stopped a kilometre or so down the road and watched her wait for a quiet moment. When that came she ran across the pavement and into another field.
Autumn is nearing its end this year in my part of the world. When I was in Shangri-La, China last month fall colors had just started to appear in the forests. In the Puducao National Park, I found these brilliant leaves among the deep greens dominating the foliage along the southern shoreline of Shudu Lake. If you are interested in seeing other images from my trip, please click this link.
Frank Lake is just east of High River in southern Alberta and is a great location for birding throughout the year. In the summer, ibis, herons, avocets, blackbirds, ducks, pelicans and a menagerie of other avians congregate there for their summer residence.
On a recent visit, I enjoyed watching and photographing a number of these birds. The Black-crowned night heron above was of particular interest to me as it stalked along this fence above a stream where it emptied into the lake.