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.
These clouds hung in the sky so they created a soft line blocking some of the rays from the rising sun. That made for an interesting image with the tall prairie grass and weathered fence line to balance.
This small shack is leaning to one side and I suspect it will fall down in a year or two. It served me well as a solitary anchor under the growing dawn on a frigid morning last weekend near Mossleigh. I love the isolation and the constantly changing skies on the prairies in the winter.
I caught a sunrise on the prairies east of Mossleigh on the weekend. Fog had rolled over a large swath of southern Alberta so the morning was spent watching skirmishes between the rising sun burning off the clouds and the walls of fog. Here the early pink light had painted the clouds but not yet reached the fields nor broken through the opaque wall behind this tree.
The sun has taken on a strange appearance each of the last few evenings. The smoke from the wildfires to the west was thick in the foothills west of Calgary last Thursday when I stopped along Highway 8. The pink globe in the sky drew my attention and, once stopped, I enjoyed watching the small clouds drifting past. This one looked like a dancing bull, or maybe a bison in full stride, as it charged across the sun.
I found this Highland bull on a fold west of the Springbank airport. He was scratching an itch along the broken planks in the corral when I stopped. He raised the horns, huffed and stared at me from under his dishevelled mop. Seemed like he was the master of his domain and he wasn’t particularly interested in my intrusion into it. A good character to photograph and then part ways with.
I’m visiting the Palouse for the first time over the weekend. The spring landscape in the early light this morning presented many of the hues in the Easter color palette. As for first impressions, this is truly beautiful country and it is a fantastic place to explore. There is much more to say, but the sun is shining and there are many more Easter eggs to find in these hills.
The prairies around High River are dotted with small stands of trees. These islands on the grasslands are usually home for a good number of birds. Last weekend, I visited a long running favorite stand of mine where a pair of great horned owls have raised chicks for 30+ years I have been told.
The morning I arrived, the female was in the nest – presumably the eggs are incubating now. The male was perched nearby and over the course of an hour he made two sorties to other trees and grabbed one field mouse along the way.
Other than that little bit of action, there was a lot of dozing in the nest and a few very slow blinks by the male too. He kept his eyes on the magpies that came nearby now and then as well as anything else that flew or drove by. But it was generally a fairly quiet morning – I think they were both resting up before the chicks are born. When that happens the activity level necessarily picks up considerably.
A red alert from the Aurora Watch website late on the 27th prompted me to head north in search of the Northern Lights. I traveled around for a while on either side of midnight – the sky was clear but the lights were very soft. Eventually the sky’s glow began to build and I stopped on Jumping Pound Road south of Cochrane to watch the Aurora Borealis as it rose up. There was a great arch that developed and sprites pulled away at different times throughout the show.