Posts tagged “wildlife

Fight or flight?

On a snowy day in early April these two geese charged each other repeatedly as I watched them on the edge of the ice at Wild Rose Lake.  Here the one Canada goose looks bemused by this emphatic display.


Robins in Tillebrook

A visit east included a short visit to the Tillebrook Provincial Park.  A few American robins were hunting the trees for winter berries.  The branches split up the sunlight and shadows into shafts and streaks that the birds danced through.


An American dipper in the cold mist

The quick stab of wintry weather last weekend reminded me of a visit to the Vermilion Lakes in January.  It was cold, -25°C cold, but this American dipper flitted around the pond with the energy typical of this species.

This was a welcome distraction from my wait for daybreak, still 15 minutes away, so I switched to a telephoto lens and photographed the comings and goings for a little while.  Hot springs seep out of the hillside and run into the pond which keeps sections ice-free throughout the winter and creates the hazy mist that rolls in slow motion waves across the water.  It was a beautiful spot to be on a frigid morning – even when my fingers might argue it was not worth it, I believe it was.


An eagle in the trees

A couple of weeks ago, a raven’s cawing drew my attention to a small line of trees near the Springbank airport.  The raven’s dark shape was fluttering something and when I got a little closer I could see this bald eagle.  It was lunchtime and the eagle was not interested in sharing.  The raven soon took off and left the eagle to finish the prairie dog just caught in the surrounding fields. The eagle gave a few hard stares to the occasional magpie that came by but for the most part lunch went uninterrupted.

 

 


Great horned owls

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.


Signs of spring: mountain bluebirds

Less than a couple of weeks ago, it was close to -30ºC and there was a thick layer of snow across the prairies.  A couple of days ago it was just above 0ºC with only small patches of snow left on the fields near Mossleigh.  I spent the afternoon on the backroads to see what I could find.  Snowy owls were nowhere that I could see so I suspect the majority have now headed north.  Wedges of Canada geese flew overhead steadily as the sun began to sink lower.  These were joined by the occasional small bevy of swans which were great to see and I will share some of those pictures soon.
Early in the afternoon a blur of blue zipped past where I was photographing a stormy cloudscene to the east.  A mountain bluebird landed on a barbed wire fence a few metres away and quickly flitted around the posts and in the tall grass for a few seconds.  This male was joined by two others and two females and they flew off across the road and quickly out of sight across a field.  These birds are usually early spring migrants so I took it a definitive sign that winter’s grip is releasing now.

A wide-eyed snowy owl

The snowy owls will soon start to head north so I’m trying to get out to photograph them as much as my time will allow before they go.  I found this owl just after sunrise and when she looked backwards at me, her wide eyes caught the sunlight beautifully.  I will miss these gorgeous birds when they return to their summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.


Snowy owl flights

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6090

I started a morning last weekend watching a snowy owl.  When she had a long yawn, that seemed like a good sign to keep moving.  I left the napper and headed along a range road which ran due north.  After a few miles, this owl popped into view as it flew out from behind a small bush.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5994

Happily, it wasn’t too upset by the disturbance and landed about 100 metres to the east.  I took a few photos from the roof of my car and then pulled out my longest lens (500mm) and the monopod as it felt like I had time before he might start hunting again.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6011

That started a great 90 minute stretch where I was able to move into good positions (the owl, me and the sun in a line) a couple of times while he hunted across the field.  There was a lot of preening, listening and looking around (and the occasional glance my way) in between the three flights he made while I was there.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6016

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6017

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6024

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6029

He flew back to the road, and directly past me, on the first flight and landed where a slight rise afforded a view in both directions.  He stayed pretty alert and it did not take very long before a target was found.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6083

The owl flew a very short distance and then dropped on the far side of the road.  He grabbed a small mouse that was beneath the snow but not safe from this accomplished hunter.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6084

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6086

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6088

He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch.  The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6152

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6165

More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-6246

 


A sunny snowy morning

Snowy owls have been a focus of mine this winter.  Last Saturday I was east of Calgary again – touring the back roads, looking for owls and, when they were found, working to not spook them.  A few of my earlier visits to the prairies have been frigid experiences.  That day was pleasantly different – the sun cut through the clouds early and they moved on altogether by mid-morning but did so without a heavy wind pushing them.  The relatively mild and calm weather was welcome indeed.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5832

The day was productive in every sense.  I found two owls just after daybreak near Gleichen.  I spotted the first one as she flew parallel to the road I was traveling down.  The second was perched on this fence line but he took off as the first neared.   The displacer landed and fussed with her feathers while scanning the ground.  The sun lit her up a couple of times which was special.  She eventually glided over the fields behind her and landed on a rise after catching an unlucky creature for breakfast.  I drove below the rise and caught her yawning before she rested and dozed for a bit.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5876

Note: this snowy is mottled with dark and light feathering and that used to be thought to be exclusively females and the almost pure white owls were males.  Over the last few years, that has been disproven (some females are all white and some males are not).  There is no visible way to confirm the sex that I am aware of so I still refer to a white one as “he” and the others as “she”.  That is a bit of anthropomorphization but I really dislike calling animals “it”.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5971

I had an encounter with a beautiful almost solid white snowy owl an hour later a little further north of this spot.  I will share that story with him soon!

 

 


Bald in eagle in a blue sky

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3949

A couple of days ago I spotted this bald eagle balanced atop a telephone pole.  He was watching a small conspiracy of ravens gathered on a snow pile on the edge of a field in Springbank.

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3946

 

After a few minutes his curiosity seemed to get the best of him and we launched towards the group.  He spiralled above them for a moment but must not have seen anything too appealing as he landed on another telephone pole instead of amongst the ravens.

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3953

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3954-2

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3965

Maybe it was just to have a closer look before deciding.  Either way he decided not to stick around for long and flew a couple of hundred metres away and into a stand of trees isolated in middle of the field.

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3968

bald-eagle-blue-sky-flight-christopher-martin-3970

 


A long, cold (and worthwhile) wait

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3769

The photograph above of the snowy owl in flight was taken late in the morning on February 11th.  This flight followed a long wait after some good early action.  The wait started with a feather cleaning session on an entrance gate which was interrupted by the approach of this truck which prompted the bird to fly to a more isolated spot.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3375

When the vehicle drew too close for the owl’s liking, she launched and flew along the fence line towards the sun.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3380

She didn’t go too far – landing on a post roughly 100 metres away.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3389

We were separated from the owl by a fence line of our own which ran parallel to hers and they were about 80 metres apart.  That distance was just fine for me and with a 500mm lens made the subject a reasonable size in the frame.  From where I was, the sun angle and the background were both far from ideal.  I walked along the fence line and found a new location which allowed for improvements in both areas.  I kept moving around now and then to change the scene.  The owl did not – she settled in and did not leave the post for a long time.  There was no way to know at that point, but it would be 2 hours and 38 minutes before the snowy would return to the air.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3562

The potential for a special moment – maybe a dive close to our line or a flight with the sunlight catching her eyes – kept eyes glued on her and fingers resting on the shutter buttons.  At a few different points, a drift of snow buntings buzzed past the owl as they flew to different spots around the field to forage.  For her part, the owl watched these comings and goings with minimal interest.  For me, these sorties were welcome bits of action.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3706

Along the way there was more preening, dozing and the occasional stretch.  The one below seemed like a yoga position and was one that she held for several seconds.  Maybe this was all a part of her morning meditation?

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3675-3

Just before noon, the wings opened and she pulled her body down into a crouch.  She paused for a second and then pushed off into the air.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3719

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3721

The snowy flew along her fence line which allowed for a few nice photographs before she passed us, crossed the road and landed in the snow near the top of a small rise that was a couple of hundred metres away.  My fingers were aching from the cold so this was one of the rare times where I was no longer interested in continuing to shoot.  I was happy to get in the truck and get the heat going.

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3742

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3748

a-snowy-owl-perched-christopher-martin-3770


Flying low on the prairies

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-99

I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-78

The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-85-3

Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-98

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-100

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-3307

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-3308

That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-105