A quiet moment watching a lone loon between his dives under the water.
A tree swallow on barbed wire south of Cochrane.
I love Canada jays. They go by a couple of names (well I guess we like to call them by a few names) – I like Whiskey Jack and Canada jay more than gray jay but those are just my own preferences. Some people see them as mischievous camp robbers. I don’t. For me, they exemplify companionship as I always flitting around in pairs. I found this one in a tree and waited until it flew off towards the call of its partner.
A small slough west of Calgary is a little gem for birds from spring until fall and one I like to visit now and then. Last August I was surprised to find a few night herons perched among the long grass surrounding the water. I had not seen them frequent this location previously so it was a pleasure to watch them for about a half an hour.
It was early evening, around 6pm, warm with only a rustle of wind – just enough to keep the mosquitoes away. One heron found the conditions favorable and flew overhead at one point.
The herons were more active on the far side of pond. However one bird was stationed closer to me and I kept my long lens trained on that one for the most part. Eventually that paid off when a farm truck rumbled by on the gravel road behind me and set the heron to flight. The launch yielded my favourite photographs – I am a sucker for images that capture motion and power – but I was spoiled across the whole time I was there.
I found this great horned owl on December 20th. She was perched a couple of meters off the ground in a stand of trees along the edge of a farm east of Langdon on Alberta’s prairie. It was just before noon and the day was cool but not frigid. The warm sun was lovely as I walked from the range road to a position with a better view of the owl. I was excited to photograph the bird – especially once I had the sunlight at my back and I could catch the glow of the golden eyes.
She watched the ground intently at times and tracked any ravens that flew overhead. I settled in on a mound and waited for the bird to launch. Despite a couple of shakes and repositions early on, the bird didn’t fly then and soon the eyes were shutting for increasingly long intervals.
For four hours I waited before the owl jumped into the air. I was in a great position but was chagrined when she flew away from me. Hope returned when she alighted on a branch 20 meters away and turned back towards me. A few minutes along and the excitement returned. This time the flight path was towards me and she flew beside me on her way to another line of trees towering over a snow-covered field. This time afforded me a great angle on the owl.
It was a great spring to spend lot of time with these majestic owls. For many years there have been several pairs of great gray owls that I’ve been able to photograph hunting and resting on perches in and around forests near my home. I’ve never taken it for granted. Happily the great spring has continued into summer. Here are a few of my favorites from July so far.
I went to Frank Lake in early May. A short drive east of High River, this is a wetland controlled by Ducks Unlimited Canada and is designated as an Important Bird Area. The migratory and summer populations both have a large variety of bird species. I enjoy photographing there – it’s a beautiful location on the prairies, has abundant wildlife and offers a wide area across three basins to explore.
American avocets are one of my favorite shorebirds. On my last visit, I had great opportunities to photograph them from mid-afternoon through dusk. These are a few of those images. Thank you for having a look.
‘This great gray owl was sheltering in the branch of a leafy tree when I first found him east of Kananaskis. The rain was pouring and he was smart to avoid the brunt of it. I was less so and got soaked. Eventually the sun came out and the forest brightened. The owl began hunting and grabbed two field mice over a half an hour. In this image he had alighted from a fencepost and was heading back into the forest.
Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away. It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays). There was enough light for one more encounter.
The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow. Then heard or saw something and shot upwards. He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.
With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.
Flying to a new perch after several minutes. From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.
The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.
Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next. Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.
A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field. That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.
Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl. This one gliding between branches. These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.
The sun fell quickly. The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge. The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away. His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.
There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field. That was too far away to photograph. And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me. That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.
In one of the canals east of Dalemead I found this snowy owl. It was on the right of way road above the watercourse beside the long grass. I walked down the road a little closer and settled into the snow at an angle I could photograph the bird with the sun lighting her front. I had hopes of the owl flying in my general direction when she chose to continue hunting.
A bit of time passed with her sweeping the landscape and reacting whenever a new sound was heard or bit of motion was seen. The temperature was much warmer than the rest of February had been so it was a rather pleasant wait. Eventually she started to get more active, preening and shaking out her feathers. When she jumped off of the snow, she stayed low for a few wingbeats.
Then she banked and passed in front of me. That was wonderful and on the outer edge of what I was hoping for.
Crows, like ravens, are known as clever birds but I think their beauty is under appreciated. The iridescent purples and blues that can shimmer out of their black feathers are wonderful. A couple of weeks ago, I watched a few crows flush off a fence near Cochrane. I tracked this one and got lucky with this shot. I loved the shape of the silhouette and how a tiny bit of that iridescence can be seen on one wing.
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.
I had a beautiful encounter with a snowy owl on a barren hilltop near Namaka on Family Day. That was preceded by a mutual fascination that this juvenile prairie falcon and I shared for a long-abandoned house on the prairies.
I was driving the backroads after sunrise primarily to look for snowies. I like these drives on the winter prairie as the views are expansive and I always hope to see something unexpected. I had not visited this worn out farmstead before and I stopped to have a look. It was -27°C so I was content to take a couple of pictures out of the rolled down window – until I spied the falcon perched on the peak of the roof. Then I got out and walked slowly closer.
After 15 minutes, I was set up beside one of the sheds a little ways off from the main house. The falcon watched me approach but was more interested in scanning the field to the east. I kept my lens trained on the roof for a few more minutes until the bird launched.
It flew over the field and out of my view. I trudged back – it always seems farther and colder when returning from an encounter than it was getting there. My hands were happy to get out of the wind and I was happy to have some nice images of this beautiful, hardy bird.
I went to the Bragg Creek Provincial Park just before the latest snowfall. Wandering along the Elbow River, exasperated chirping voiced several nearby squirrel alerts accompanied me.
Curiosity took over one’s hesitations and he climbed down from a treetop to watch me from a branch a couple of meters off the ground. I crouched low and stayed still and soon he was digging out a pine cone from the sticks and snow.
With the right one gathered, he raced back to the tree and had breakfast from the low perch. It was interesting to watch how he whittled down the cone. Clever, efficient and dextrous work.
Once done, he let out a few chirps. Conveying either the all clear or the threat’s still here – or something else altogether – before leaping away. A couple more jumps along with some branch runs and he was out of sight. His and a few other chirps spun through the woods now and again as I continued wandering.
From a couple of years ago during my last visit to the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast in the Great Bear Rainforest. I reworked this image for a black and white photography contest. I liked how monochrome palette highlighted the textures in the wet fur and the sedge grass. But, for me, it’s those eyes that steal the show and make the image.
A hawk launches out over the prairies. Photographed in late August last summer.
Not bad behavior, just one that I don’t pretend to understand. When I was last at Elbow Falls, I photographed two American dippers as they flew, dove and splashed around the fast-moving water. Along the way, one of the birds flew to an overhang beside the edge of the waterfall, and then slid on the ice before finding purchase in the snow.
It paused for a moment and then flew at the waterfall!
The bird flapped its wings to hover for several seconds only a few inches from the water where it fell over the edge. I don’t know if it was looking for insects behind the water – surely not in the water itself! Likely it was something else, maybe even simple curiosity or just because it could do it. It was unusual and really fantastic to watch.
There is a book project that I’ve been invited to contribute some images for which saw me working through images from the Khutzeymateen and her wonderful grizzly bears this weekend. Towards the end of the 2014 set, I found this one of a pigeon that had landed outside of the day room I rented between docking in Prince Rupert and flying out later that afternoon. I had long forgotten about this image but I was struck by the beauty of this bird on today’s perusal. Pigeon’s can be somewhat funny looking but I find this one to be rather charismatic. The iridescence in the neck feathers grabs my attention first, but the pattern in the wing feathers holds it.
It seems longer than a month ago when Kian and I went to the Columbia Valley in British Columbia for the Labour Day long weekend.
(please click any image to see a higher resolution version)
We had a great time skateboarding in Invermere, touring around Fairmont and even did a little swimming which was unreasonably cold for the late summer.
Photography wasn’t the focus of our trip but, unsurprisingly, I fit a little in here and there. Easily the best of these was our walk along the narrow channel of the Columbia River where it meets the northern tip of Windermere Lake. We found five kingfishers chattering, flying and occasionally diving along the water.
This juvenile alighted on the pillar near us as we were watching another one flying on the far side of the river. He stayed for several minutes. Drawing a flyby from one kingfisher but mostly left alone to scout for dinner before the sun set.