Posts tagged “wildlife

Merry Christmas… with a Dancing Elk

We enjoyed a great Christmas day around our home today.  Outside, the sun was bright, the sky was blue and the snow draped everything in a blanket of white.   Inside, we played games, built toys, laughed a lot and had a really good time.

I showed my family this video embedded above of a dancing elk that I had taken a couple of winters ago up in Jasper.  My mom thought that would be a good one to share online today – the kids agreed so I worked on that this evening (and here is the Youtube link as well).  It was a fun encounter with a young female elk who separated from her herd for a few minutes.  At several points, she broke into a dance, or rodeo bull impersonation, while I watched.

I hope you and yours have enjoyed a merry Christmas and I wish you all the best throughout the holidays.


First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


Afield with a fox on the hunt

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(Click on the image to open a larger version)

I found this Red fox last weekend in Langdon, Alberta.  She was hunting mice in a farm field. alongside the highway.  A couple of times she came relatively close to the fence.  I really liked this image from one of these nearby encounters.  I’m heading there this afternoon to see if I can find her, or one of the three Snowy owls I saw last Sunday, again.


A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

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About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek.  The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.

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Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

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After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust.  Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.

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Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards.  He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.

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Bear scratching in Yellowstone

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Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male.  I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both!  I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).

I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied.  The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic.  One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area.  She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!)  She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree.  From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often.  The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.

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With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks.  The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point.  I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.

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Bear play

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On our last day in Jasper, Kian and I went for a walk along Pyramid Lake that morning.  It was the first weekend of September so it was cool with a bit of mist on the water and the autumn colors were just starting to come in.  We headed back to town around 9am and spotted a Black bear in the open forest above the road.

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One bear soon became two when the other stepped out from behind a dense clump of Buffalo berries.  The berries were ripe at that time so the bears had been drawn in.  At first we thought they were a mother and cub but when they were side by side, and then when they were wrestling, we could see they were both the same size.

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To me, they seemed like they were near adults and given their play fighting I think they are siblings that are still hanging out together.  Whether related or not, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company and stayed close to each other as they munched through the patches of berries along the hillside.

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A Cormorant in motion on the Bow

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I spent an evening on the Bow River at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the weekend.  It was a beautiful day, warmly lit in golden light, and I had a great time photographing the birds well into dusk.  Among the birds nearby were a few Double-crested cormorants fishing and flying around.  I photographed as they flew or swam by.  They are exceptionally fast birds and they often fly just above the water at speed which is exciting to watch.  After the sunlight had left the river, I caught sight of one of these cormorants moving upriver.  Darkness was starting to settle in so I dragged my shutter in order to use the lack of light to pan with the bird as it passed me.  I used a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second and it worked out pretty well.


Walking through autumn

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This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.

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She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.

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A fight over a fish

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The pair of Ospreys who summer on the Castle Junction bridge’s nest raised two chicks through adolescence this year.  When I spent a day watching them in August that meant there were four of these raptors, now all very close to the same size, interacting with one another on and around the bridge area.  Flying, fishing, chasing and fighting over fish dominated the moments of action amid a lot of time spent perching over the river up in the trees that line that stretch of the Bow River.

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I spied this Osprey when it alighted on a weathered log with a freshly caught meal.  By the time I walked a few hundred metres so that I was directly across the river from the bird, it was no longer alone.  Ospreys have excellent vision, roughly twice the distance capabilities of humans, so it was no surprise that company arrived quickly.  Another Osprey landed close by, shrilly announcing its arrival and crying out for a share of the sushi.  The successful fisher had no interest in sharing and resisted all advances from the other to do so.

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Over the next four hours, I watched this bird defend its prize from sneaky grabs for a scrap, frustrated attacks, a couple of near dive-bombs and outright theft!  Throughout, the Osprey nibbled away on the fish – whether another bird was nearby or not.  The other Osprey never ganged up on their family member but I’m pretty sure two of the three made individual advances.

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With the repeated flybys the interloping Ospreys gave me some great opportunities for in flight shots that were interesting and new for my library.  The low to ground shots in particular.

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The birds were aware of my presence, I didn’t blend in with the rocks on the shoreline.  I didn’t move around much and, with the river between us, I felt confident that I was not impacting their behaviour and so I enjoyed the opportunity to watch the family dynamics play out.

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Several times the Osprey clutched the fish in one talon and looked to be getting ready to fly.  That didn’t happen – the bird didn’t stray more than a couple of metres from the log and stayed on it for most of the time.  That made me suspect this was an adolescent with little experience flying with fish but given the size, and the fact that it had caught the fish in the first place, I’m definitely not sure.

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Steadily the Osprey worked away on dinner, despite the numerous distractions, and finally finished all but the smallest scraps.  Shortly after finishing the Osprey flew off down the river.  It flew across my sight line affording me a nice flight series – a fun little reward after four hours crouching among the rocks.  I watched it all the way back to the nest where it few around a couple of times before I lost sight of it.  I hiked back to the bridge and came back to the shoreline a short stone’s throw from the Ospreys new perch.  Again, it took note of me and then continued looking down the river and up at the nest.  Several minutes went by before the bird launched and flew up to the nest.

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Tail slapping at Wild Rose

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A couple of weeks ago I spent the morning at the Wild Rose ponds in West Bragg.  I watched this beaver swimming on the far side of the pond for several minutes before turning away to watch the sunrise.  I realized she had kept coming my way when I heard the first tail slap on the water.  She was about 15 metres away and had set a course parallel to me and the shoreline.  I took this photograph of her as she raised her tail for another slap.  She wasn’t too happy with my presence so I moved along after one more slap.


The Banff National Park through my son’s eyes

Banff in the Bow Valley - © Kian Martin-3389

Kian and I spent a great day in the Banff National Park last week.  We met my parents, his grandparents, in Banff and divided the day between the Gondola that runs up Sulphur Mountain and the Lake Minnewanka boat cruise.  It was a lot of fun touring with my son and my parents.  Here is a recap – I have used Kian’s photographs to illustrate the day.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3499

When we got started, Kian asked me if he could use one of my cameras.  The answer was, and always is, yes.  We then spent big chunks of the day photographing away.  This was one of the first times where he has really wanted to spend time doing it and I was happy to join him.

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3445

From the top of the gondola, we walked up to Sanson’s Peak and found Golden-mantled ground squirrels all around plus a couple of Hoary marmots on the rocks.  Kian picked out these creatures and angled for good spots to shoot them (with a camera).

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3485

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on the run- © Kian Martin-3486

Golden-mantled ground squirrel on Sanson's Peak - © Kian Martin-3497

On the water, we covered the length of the lake and Kian made some very nice landscape images along the way.  Coming back, he started experimenting with the reflection of his camera in the window against the scenery beyond.  These were some of my favourites from his set.  When droplets settled on the glass towards the end of the trip, he turned his attention to them framed with the mountains.  Those joined my list of favourites too – great vision and creativity.

Minnewanka's emerald waters - © Kian Martin 2016 -3503

The east end of Lake Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3555

Photographing Lake Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3558

Photographing Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3560

Photographing the mountains from Minnewanka - © Kian Martin-3577

The next day, we spent a couple of hours post processing his work.  It was fantastic!  I love the way he sees things and creates images.  I’m a one trick pony and didn’t do much more than photographing through the day.  Kian however was also the safety model for the flotation device, shared ecological knowledge about the forest along the lake and took a turn piloting the boat.

Kian in the photobooth - © Christopher Martin-3518

Piloting Minnewanka - © Christopher Martin-3569

After the boat ride, my parents headed back to Cochrane and Kian and I waded in the water for a bit – right up until our legs went numb!  We then went down the Johnson Lake road to see if the Buffalo berries were ripe and drawing in any bears.  They were and they did!  We saw a Black bear and a Grizzly.

Johnson Lake Black bear - © Kian Martin-3598

After all of that excitement, we headed for home.  Dusk came quickly and we decided to pull off of the Trans-Canada Highway and drive up the Sibbald Creek Trail to find a spot to photograph the sunset for a few minutes.  We found a small lake close to the road and this was Kian’s final picture from a great day.  An absolutely wonderful landscape image and one we both agreed was among his best (so far).

Sunset from the Sibbald Creek Trail - © Kian Martin-3641

He is a competent young man intent on trying out new things – I am exceptionally happy for him about the person he is choosing to become.  And, I am very proud of him.

 


Early rutting in the mist

Stags in the Bragg Creek mist - © Christopher Martin-4016

I found this pair of White-tailed deer on a misty morning a couple of weeks ago. The stag on the right jabbed the other a couple of times.  It took a bit of prodding, but they eventually jousted for a few short skirmishes before going back to grazing in the dew-soaked field.  The rut will come in a few weeks, it seemed these two were getting in a little practice.

Stags in the Bragg Creek mist - © Christopher Martin-4011

Stags in the Bragg Creek mist - © Christopher Martin-4007

Stags in the Bragg Creek mist - © Christopher Martin-4002

Stags in the Bragg Creek mist - © Christopher Martin-4001