September closed out with several strong Northern Lights displays that reached down to southern Alberta. I was happy to make it out to the Foothills to photograph in the middle of the night for two of them. These images are from the first foray which started around 11:30pm and continued rippling when I finally headed home around 2am on the 26th.
The clouds seemed to move in slow motion and picked up the glow from Cochrane differently as the night progressed. Above, the aurora’s color palette shifted into pastels. A few of the later images reminded me of cotton candy and were fantastic to watch slowly ripple then fade away. I imagined these were tie-dyed waves rolling in both over the pond but also the sky they were reflecting.
Ursa Major and its Big Dipper were constant companions in the sky behind the dancing lights. The stars would run in and out of the clouds, hiding at times and burning brightly at other times. There was good magic to watch throughout.
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.
At one point when I photographed a family of foxes in May, there was a ragged piece of cloth which served for a long-running tug-of-war at one point in the evening.
These three kits were the main players and they alternated between 1 on 1 and 1 on 2 battles.
For a while, a fourth looked interested in joining but they didn’t join in for very long.
The fox pups, properly called kits, were playful and energetic when I spent an evening watching them. In the moments between, and even during, the hectic activity, they flashed some beautiful looks. I was really happy to be able to freeze a few of these.
The sun fell under the clouds late in the evening and provided a warm, buttery light to end the day. That was special for a guy with a camera!
An early morning east of Calgary near Strathmore looking for Snowy owls came up with only one shy one isolated in a field. This allowed time to see the prairie landscape. And, as it has turned out, one of the last days before the warm weather of the past couple of weeks came and melted all of the snow. While I’m not missing the bitter cold, I did enjoy the icy air and snow-covered fields when I was out then.
I spent one morning this weekend on the prairies north of Strathmore around Bruce Lake. This trip along the backroads came in between two chinooks and there was a thin blanket of snow that had fallen the day before to cover the land in white. I had not explored this area previously and when I saw this tree framed by the broken down fence line, I was happy I to have come this way. I can only imagine the vignettes that have played out in front of this gnarled trunk over many years.
Moonset of the latest supermoon coincided with dawn last weekend. I was photographing the prairie landscape and climbed up to a spot where I had a bit of elevation in order to look over the fields and be somewhat on level with the Rockies. The mist laying low over the fields was a lucky bit of happenstance.
A few days ago, the clouds were anchored along the eastern edge of the Rockies all afternoon and I was not sure how the sunset would develop. Well, I guess I was sure that the winter sun would go down early and fast but what the light would do was the question.
I found myself on the edge of Springbank, west of Calgary, at 5:30 and the clouds had stretched east across the prairies and were catching and filtering the rich glow from the sun now hidden behind the mountains.
It was a scene that didn’t require much input from me to create images. I did like the reflections on my car’s glass and hood so that provided an opportunity to play around a bit.
Bobbi and I are off to Sedona, Arizona tomorrow for a week – this landscape session provided a nice warm-up for the spectacular red rock scenery I’m looking forward to photographing down there.
I went out on the prairie a couple of times on the weekend. I was looking for owls. On the “hope to see” list were Great Horned, Snowy and Short-eared. I went to the back roads around Frank Lake. I encountered a couple of Snowies but it was too dark to photograph them. I returned to both locations in better light a couple of times but unsurprisingly they had both moved on. Nice to know they were around though. Short-eared proved elusive and I did not see any ears, short or otherwise.
I did find a great old barn set off in a remote spot with a couple of grain silos on the first evening. That scene was great on its own but the Great Horned Owl I saw perched in a window. The window frame was weathered with peeling red paint so character was not in short supply. The owl was shy once I stopped my car and it hopped inside the barn to perch on a beam. I set up a ways back from a west-facing window at the other end of the barn in the hopes that the owl might fly through it as dusk approached and it went out to start hunting.
A chilly wait through the golden light had no results and when the owl did head out, it flew through the eastern window. While I waited, a long lens and high ISO allowed for a couple of nice shadow dominated images. I left the owl the first night with it perched on a fencepost near the barn. When I returned home and looked at the images, I was surprised to see a second owl buried in the shadows inside the barn. It had been invisible to my eyes but had just barely resolved on the highest ISO images.
I returned two days later before dawn and saw the pair of owls working out of the same eastern window. I set up on the same western window and could see them through main entrance as the sun rose. Their activity wound down as the day wrestled with the night and soon they were perched on the same beams as before.
This time, I took a wide path around the side of the barn and was able to photograph each owl on their respective beams through the eastern window (per the image at the top of this post and directly below).
I returned to my original spot and as I came around the barn saw that one of the owls had flown up to the top of a silo. It was perched there scanning the fields. I guess it wanted one last snack before its nap.
It stayed up there for ten minutes and then flew along the fence-line, dropped on a fence post for a minute and then glided over the patchwork of snow and grass to a mound of earth a few hundred meters away.
I waited a while longer to see if the owl would come back or its mate would head out. Neither happened and I packed up as the owl inside the barn dropped off to sleep.
I’ll head back to see about that window again in a couple of weeks. Maybe they’ll give me an opportunity then. It was great to see these beautiful birds either way. They have amazing faces and I really enjoyed studying them for a couple of hours.
Autumn is a great season for sunrises in the prairies around Calgary. The clouds at dawn can be spectacular. Last week, I was in Springbank and the sky was beautiful. The interesting silhouettes from this wind-broken stand of trees were a good partner to the light playing in the clouds.
A co-operative cloud anchored itself just above the horizon as dawn broke west of Calgary. I set up in the dark on the Jumping Pound overpass with my camera and tripod. When the sunlight started to paint the clouds, I liked how it contrasted with the vehicles and the lines on the road.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105 lens: 6.0 seconds at f/6.3 on ISO 800
(click on any image to open a page with a higher resolution version)
A couple of nights ago, lightning was being thrown around by several large storm clouds as they spread out and rolled over the prairies. After a spectacular sunset in Kananaskis Country earlier (the image below), I had just drove out of the mountains when I saw these strikes lighting up both the fields and the clouds.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40 lens: 1/160th of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 800
I ended up pulling off of the Trans-Canada Highway at Hermitage Road to watch this summer performance. It was just before 11pm when I set up my camera along a fence which was busy splitting up a meadow of wild grass. The moon was out and waxing near full so the land was gently lit up.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105 lens: 2.5 seconds at f/5.6 on ISO 1600
It was warm but the mosquitos compelled me to put on a light jacket. When a breeze came up around midnight, it was a perfect night to be outdoors.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105 lens: 10 seconds at f/8.0 on ISO 1600
Two hours flew by largely unnoticed before the storms had moved out of view and I decided to head home.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105 lens: 6.0 seconds at f/6.3 on ISO 800