In late January I spent time on a small pond between two of the Vermillion Lakes watching the day break. The blues of the early morning held on to the landscape as pastels started to be brushed into the clouds above Mount Rundle. The silence in this sheltered spot was wonderful and helped me to enjoy a calm, mindful meditation while I watched and photographed.
I was in Banff for an early morning sunrise shoot a couple of weeks ago. Following that, I spent the morning hiking and driving around looking for wildlife. The first animal I found was this Great blue heron fishing on the first Vermilion Lake.
Following this short story of the heron in Yellowstone National Park, I thought it would be good to post another with its Canadian cousin. I watched the heron work in the long grass on the lake edge for several minutes before it turned away from the sun and flew eastward and beyond my sight.
I love when I can get out early in the morning. When it is pitch black as I get to my destination, I get excited as I wait for the first hint of light on the eastern horizon. As the sky slowly brightens, there is a magical time ahead of any color in the sky where blues of almost every hue color the world. I enjoyed one of these mornings on the shore of the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park a couple of weeks ago.
When I set up my gear on the shore of the first of the Vermilion Lakes, it was cold and dark. I wanted to be there early to catch Jupiter and Venus in the eastern sky before it brightened too much. The pair, with Mars less visible to the left, were directly above Mount Rundle’s peak when I arrived.
As the horizon brightened the stars faded while color started to creep into the clouds. The lake was frozen with a thin cover of ice which gave abstract reflections of the sky and the silhouettes across the water.
(Please click on any image to see a higher resolution version)
Early sunshine brought a cloud to life as it stretched and broke up over Mount Rundle. Before long, bright pink strands hung above the Bow Valley. It was a beautiful morning and I loved watching it build from darkness into light.
The pink softened quickly and pastels held the sky until the sun blew away the soft hues of the early morning.
(Please click any image to open a higher resolution version)
Following an unusually warm Hallowe’en, the temperature dropped below freezing. That low pressure system was accompanied by heavy clouds and snow flew for the first and second days of November in southern Alberta. On Sunday, I left Bragg Creek early in the morning with the snow still falling fast. By the time I was in Banff, the cloud ceiling was much higher and the snow falling much softer. Before noon, the sun was out and the winter wonderland was starting to melt away quickly at the lower elevations. I went down to the Vermilion Lakes to see how things looked and check if any of the wild residents were wandering about. I didn’t find much wildlife, but the landscape looking beautiful with the shoreline’s snow gone but the belt of white starting only twenty or so metres above. When the long chain of freight cars riding the rails on the far side of the second lake came into view I stopped to take a few photographs.
My son and I were in Banff for the weekend and went out for a drive along the Vermilion Lakes just before sunset on Saturday night. We stopped at the first lake to watch the colors deepen on the face of Mount Rundle as the sun was going down. Another photographer, Grace Chen visiting from Calgary, asked me where the moon would be rising. I had to admit that I didn’t know – I hadn’t done any planning as Kian and I were water sliding all afternoon and the drive was a last-minute decision. I was quite surprised when I next looked in the viewfinder and saw a sliver of white rising behind the mountain! It was fun to point at the peak as a response to her question.
The moon climbed quickly, becoming steadily brighter and I finished shooting less than half an hour after first seeing it. The sunlight on the mountain moved from deep yellow to a beautiful red while the sky steadily darkened. It was not quite a full moon, being at 98%, but was still bright and wonderful.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
During the tail-end of the full phase of August’s blue moon I went to the edge of the first of the Vermilion Lakes just west of the Banff townsite and set up for a night of long exposures. I drifted in and out of sleep but my timer remote stayed awake and kept running across the dark hours of the night. The clouds raced across the sky under pretty steady winds. With the longer exposures, they were stretched out and occasionally lent a mystical quality to the images.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 658 seconds at f/11 on ISO 400
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 80 seconds at f/11 on ISO 800
As it drew closer to the morning, the land started to brighten and one of the last images revealed more of the scenery.
Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 17-40mm lens: 238 seconds at f/11 on ISO 1000
I heard a lady walking past me on the Vermilion Lakes road say to her friend that this was the first Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on the lakes this year. It certainly was the first one I’ve seen paddling around the open water near one of the warm springs that run out of the hillsides and hold back the ice through the winter.
The light was diffused by the clouds and the water was calm with no wind to disturb it. This bird swam around in large circles, lapping us several times as my wife and I photographed it and the kids watched it. It honked a few times but was not angry as when something gets too close to a nest. Seemed more like a call for a fellow goose to stop by. It could have been an inquiry to a potential mate but I did not see any other geese in the area.
As it was, we stayed with the bird for about half an hour. I worked with the reflections, the ripples, the edge of the ice and really enjoyed the personality I saw in the goose as it watched us. I may have been projecting this personality but it seemed very curious and even a little bemused as we looked one another over.
Yesterday, I went out for a morning photography tour along the Vermilion Lakes just outside of Banff. I enjoy returning to this area and usually am rewarded by the wildlife, the landscapes or something little thing that draws my eye. I settled into a favourite spot along the second Vermilion Lake where there are some hot springs that seep out of the mountainside, collect into a network of small streams and keep a few pools of water free of the snow-covered sheet of ice that hides the rest of the lake.
Mount Rundle stands directly between the lakes and the point where the sun rises at this time of the year so you need some broken clouds to be in the right place to catch the warm light.
Following my great morning spent photographing the elk, I went down the Vermilion Lake road the next day, Wednesday, with my wife and children to show them the spot where he had been. We stopped there for a few minutes and then carried on to the second lake. At the edge of the lake I was surprised to see the same elk standing in a couple of feet of snow eating leaves. I didn’t bother him for long in case he had reconsidered our encounter but my family enjoyed seeing him.
I didn’t get out photographing again until we checked out on Thursday and we took a quick drive down the lake road just to see if the elk or any other wildlife was hanging around in the middle of the day. After a couple of cloudy days, Thursday was mild and sunny so you never know what might be out warming up. We didn’t see any animals on the drive down the lake but returning I glimpsed the familiar antlers poking up over a bluff near the road.
Driving a little further, I took this last image of the elk who defined the photography on this trip to Banff. He was relaxed, with eyes half closed and sitting down facing the sun. It was an easy decision not to bother him. A bit unusual this elk in his habits and territory but I could not see any signs of ill-health or other impediments. Just an interesting animal. I will certainly be looking for him each time I get back to Banff.
We’re up in Banff for a few days and staying at the Douglas Fir Resort (nice place with an excellent waterslide for the kids) on Tunnel Mountain. We drove past a few elk (wapiti) cows near the lodge yesterday which served as good foreshadowing for this morning.
I went down to the Vermilion Lakes for a sunrise shoot and when I was out on the lake edge I noticed this bull elk laying down on the hill above me along the wildlife fence that runs along the highway corridor to prevent wildlife collisions. I carried on with my landscape shooting for almost an hour and when I returned to my car saw the bull had only moved a few meters along the ridge. I changed to a telephoto lens and climbed up the mountainside a fair distance away from him. I stayed in sight so he knew where I was and headed up the opposite direction from where his grazing was taking him along the ridge. I wasn’t sure if the elk would stick around or trot around the rocks. I was wading through some deep snow so it took a few minutes to get up but he hadn’t wandered away. I set up my tripod and then photographed the beautiful animal for about half an hour before I headed back down. He was eating the whole time and was not bothered by me (a true advantage of longer lenses) so his head was down low most of the time. He did raise his head up a few times, once in response to a train whistle, and I took a couple of those images. Really a great encounter – too bad a little sunlight couldn’t break through the morning cloudbank to bring some warm illumination to that coat – but no complaints.
Elk are members of the deer family which, in North America, includes moose, whitetails and mule deer. In sheer size, they aren’t the largest but as you can see with this buck their antlers can be incredible. This fellow is young and skinny. I think the winter has been hard on many animals this year with the cold and the deep snow burning a lot of calories that are hard to come by. A very good reason to look forward to spring.