The Northern Lights have been increasing their activity into the southern Canadian latitudes lately. After what seems like close to a year of quiet night skies, it is wonderful to enjoy them again.
We found these dancing lights on the prairies south of Cochrane near the end of September. It was a calm display but hopefully a harbinger of things to come.
By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls. This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night. The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt. Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields. This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.
A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond. Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.
I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field. She, however, did not miss. He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow. She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances. And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.
From there the owl flew over the field again. This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery. From sign to beam was only six minutes. Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.
This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane. The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area. I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.
This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road. She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass. She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.
The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area. I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.
This fox was trotting down the road on a sunny morning in the Mont-Tremblant National Park in early July. She stayed ahead of me when I pulled over and then crossed into the forest. I watched it through the trees and was able to catch a nice look when she stood in a pool of sunlight. A little further along she came back onto the road again for a minute.
Just before the holidays, and the cold snap that came along at the same time, my daughter and I played in the snow the day after a blizzard had blown through.
Kezia was brushing branches to watch the snow fall. She called them snowbursts and with the bright sunshine lighting them, it felt like a bit of magic.
We had a lot of fun playing and taking pictures, as you can probably tell. And so did our hound Lacey who chased snowballs and dove her head into the snow constantly!
We had been snow-free up to that point in December (the 20th) so the excitement to be returned to a proper winter wonderland was palpable. I love hanging out with this sweet girl and this was a great day doing just that.
I found grizzly bear #139 between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes last weekend. He has a history of being in the news over the past couple of year (not a problem bear just one that people find with relative frequency so there are a fair number of images and articles on him). This time, he was strolling between the forest and the Kananaskis Lake road, grazing on the buffalo berries that are ripe and delicious (for the bears at least – they are too tart for my taste when they first ripen).
I left the bear after alerting one of the rangers to his presence as he was moving closer to a campground. I went for a walk along the shoreline a few kilometres away and returned past the spot an hour later. The bear had crossed the road by then and was grazing on the high side of the hill.
He has been referred to as scrawny in the past so it was good to see him looking healthy and devouring berries. He’s a beautiful bear – especially when he flashes that wonderful smile (please allow for a bit of anthropomorphization. I truly believe animals have personalities and emotions). I hope to cross paths with him again for years to come.
Last weekend I spent two mornings waiting for, and then watching the sunrise, on Moraine Lake. The two days were definitely not alike. On Saturday morning, the clouds hung low obscuring the tips along the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The color palette was decidedly cool. It was reminiscent of the night before after the sun had set at Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The next day welcomed clear skies in all directions. I would have welcomed a few clouds above the mountains to catch the alpenglow but the peaks down the valley soon did. And that was beautiful to enjoy. It had been a couple of years since the valley had shared this particular scene with me.
Watching the peaks glow red is stunning and I love watching that light spread down mountainsides, racing against the golden sunshine’s imminent arrival. The transition is very fast with the alpenglow lasting 4-5 minutes before the sunshine blends in and the red disappears from the rock faces.
On my way up to the mountains this weekend, the sun continued its struggle with the smoke from the wildfires. In the early evening I made my way along Highway 40 and stopped several times to watch the clouds and sun in this unusual scene.
I ended up on the shore of the Upper Kananaskis Lake about an hour before sunset. It was a warm night which I was grateful for – even in summer the wind can blow hard and cold across the lake at anytime. Over the next couple of hours a loon, a few people fishing and one large, extended family came and went. I moved down the shoreline slowly, taking photographs of the sun’s descent towards the jagged silhouette of the mountains the curve around the lake.
The smoke acts like a neutral density filter and drops the intensity of the sun’s light considerably. That allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring how the atmosphere, the sunlight and the landscape could be composed. All three changed in appearance and shape as the sun descended.
When the sun drew close to the mountains, the colors deepened and the silhouettes of the mountains were fantastic against the sky.
The fiery hues disappeared quickly once the sun fell behind the mountains. That left cooler tones to quietly take hold. At that point, I was alone on the shore and the tranquility held me there for a long while.
A family of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) live and fish around a small lake west of Bragg Creek in Alberta, Canada. They are tricky to photograph but a lot of fun to try. Over a couple of hours there were a few close flybys. Some I missed completely, they are very fast and can change direction instantly. But there were a few that got closer to what I have in my head. I’ll be back soon!
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.
My children and I went down to the Calgary Stampede on Friday for a day on the grounds. We ended up staying for 10 hours and they spent most of that riding, sliding, dropping, stopping and flying around, over, through and across the midway.
We rode on the Skyride which takes you over the middle of the fairgrounds and affords a great view and an opportunity to map out the order of rides, games and food.
It was hot, by Calgary standards – around 32°C, so the misting and water stations were important oasis stops for us throughout the day.
One of those water bottle refill spots was in the Agrium building. The cool air and really interesting agricultural kiosks and interactive centres kept the kids interested and allowed us to lose some heat! Kezia loved feeding the chickens in particular while Kian enjoyed watching the day old chicks waddle around their pen.
Ice cream after lunch and slushies in the afternoon were necessary – at least to us!
But, this was a day of rides and we did that with very few other breaks. It was the first time the kids have come down to the Stampede and I am really happy that they loved it. I’ve always had a lot of fun down here – on the midway, at the rodeo, watching the chuckwagons and the grandstand show, etc. I’m excited to share more of the fun that the Stampede has to offer with them.
They hit the Euro Slide early in the day and later in the afternoon. The sun was behind them for the afternoon rides which allowed for a cool look by over-exposing the shots. I definitely had a lot of fun playing while photographing these cool cats!
The Outlaw Roller Coaster was one of Kian’s two favourite rides. He made a couple of runs solo on that after going with his sister the first time. He didn’t mind having the front seat all to himself – and it worked well for the photographs too! My favourite is the riding philosopher as he finished his last ride on this one.
And then there was the Starship 4000! It was the consensus favourite and they both rode it A LOT. Kian went 13 times and Kezia rode 16 times – in a row! Dad was a bystander while they racked up their circular miles inside the spaceship. It spun around pasting the riders against the wall but still allowing them to move around a bit. I didn’t go on this one but I have been told by both kids it was AWESOME!
We didn’t even get into the games that line the midway alongside the rides. Kian definitely liked this pink monkey so he’s looking forward to trying for one of them next year.
We finished the day off with a couple of flights on the hang gliding ride called the Cliff Hanger. I liked flying like Superman – the kids did that and enjoyed making faces and having a blast as they spun around.
A great day at the Stampede – we’ll be back next year!