Tag Archive: Banff


Like many, owls are one of my favourite groups of birds to photograph. Early this summer I had an awesome week with 3 different species ranging in size from tiny to tall, endangered to numerous, with all of them having the common theme of putting on a great display of flight for me.

It started off in Grasslands, with the charismatic, endangered burrowing owl that came to hunt insects right next to where I had set up my gear.

Burrowing owl flight forward WMNext stop was Banff and my good owl luck continued with the first animal I came across being an impressive great grey owl. It was conveniently perched right next to a roadside pullout, and didn’t seem bothered at all by the traffic. Despite being so visible, most people didn’t even see it as they drove past! He’s an image as it hunted for a vole in the grass.

GGO flight motion feathers eye WMLater that same day I got a tip about a northern pygmy owl hanging around the area. Sure enough, after a bit of waiting I spotted this tiny little owl. It flew directly into a tree cavity before I could get a picture, so I waited for its exit. I barely had time to prepare. It seemed to almost shoot out of the cavity, and as I held the shutter release button I wasn’t sure if I was quick enough. It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded the images that I found this one.

Northern Pygmy owl flight cropped WMNeedless to say, it was a great week of owl photography and one I won’t soon forget!

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Yellow Lady Slipper, named after Aphrodite’s slipper was in full bloom in Banff National Park last weekend.

Yellow_Greater_Lady_Slipper_spider_WM[1]I’ve spent countless hours hiking and exploring off trail areas in Banff and this was the first time I have come across this stunning orchid in the park. These orchids are common throughout Canada but are becoming harder to find in certain areas as more people illegally pick the flowers, collect the seeds or try to transplant the entire plant to their backyards. Since this orchid relies on several highly specialized soil fungi to survive, transplants or trying to grow them from seed are rarely if ever successful. Plus few people have the patience to wait over 7 years for the plant to mature enough to produce flowers.

For those that aren’t terrified of spiders, have a closer look and you will see a crab spider, which relies on stealth and potent venom rather than a web to ambush and paralyze their prey. Pollinating insects have to climb into the goddess of love’s slipper to get to the pollen, making these flowers perfect hunting grounds for these spiders. This little spider had just caught lunch when I came across the plant.

Northern Lights photography has been my Achilles heel for the past few years. I either saw great displays but did not have my camera equipment or I stayed up late and waited with my gear but the lights did not materialize. Finally everything came together this week in Banff National Park. It was worth the wait and lack of sleep!

Nothern Lights version 2 WM

Bison Bathing

Bison dust bathWhether scratching an itch, trying to remove flies and ticks, showing off during the rut, or just for fun, bison seem to get lots of enjoyment and satisfaction from rolling around in the dirt. This youngster spent several minutes having a great time getting dusted up before racing off to rejoin the herd.

It will be great to see these beasts back in Banff National Park in the near future.

Spring has sprung in the mountains!  Several of the frozen lakes are starting to thaw and within the past week Canada Geese have returned and the Tundra swans have stopped in on their long migration north.  Tundra swan and Canada goose WM

With only limited options for food and open water, this swan made sure the goose gave way when it came over to investigate the open shoreline.

Tundra swan icebreaker WMAfter gobbling up all the available food the swans went searching for other options. Unable to break through the ice, the smaller of the two birds waited for the other one to lead the way. The larger bird would heave itself up onto the thin ice and use its body weight to break through. Occasionally the smaller of the two would nudge the bigger bird forward until they eventually reached the next feeding area.

Tundra swans take flight WMAfter about 40 minutes of feeding and preening they started nodding their heads and making soft calls to each other.  Their heading nodding increased and the chatter grew louder as they built up their motivation to take flight. Between now and May they will fly 6000km to their breeding and summer feeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska. It’s always great to see them when they pass through Banff.

For those familiar with the Bow Valley Pack of wolves in Banff National Park, it has been a very unusual winter. At this time of year with luck, persistence and knowledge of wolf movements, it’s not uncommon to come across the pack of wolves that frequents the Bow Valley.

BVWPEach winter they travel throughout their territory between Banff and Kootenay National Parks. This winter the pack appears to have splintered with what appears to be only a few juveniles remaining. No concrete information on what has happened to the breeding adults (known locally as ‘Faith’ and ‘Spirit’) has surfaced, but with no sightings of them over the past several months the most likely explanation is that they are no longer alive. Both were getting up in age with each estimated to be around 9 and 11 years old.

FaithIn Spirit’s case, his canine teeth were worn down almost to the jaw line and after most hunts it was not uncommon to see him and Faith limping around for several days or weeks. Only three wolf pups were born in 2014, down from their usual number of 6, which was another indication that their time as the resident pack in the Bow Valley was coming to an end.

SpiritIf indeed they are no longer alive, it will take a while before a new wolf pack moves in and gets established. Time will tell, but for the moment it seems the wolves of the Bow Valley are in a state of flux.

Sunshine

Ramcicle WMIt’s big horn sheep rutting season in Alberta and the big rams are at their most impressive. Covered in snow and ice, this ram was filling up on minerals, with some of them sticking to his lower lip, before heading up the mountain to battle with the other rams for breeding rights.

Rocky Mountain Moose

It’s relatively rare to see moose in the Rockies. I see more wolves and bears than I see moose, but late fall and early winter always seem to be good times to run into them. You would think it wouldn’t be hard to  find them when they weigh around 500kg and stand about 2.5 meters tall at the shoulder, but this bull was only given away by his prominent set of antlers while he bedded down during a snow storm.

Moose antlers snow fall WM

Two other similarly camouflaged bulls were resting nearby, but when they got up and started moving towards the larger bull it didn’t take him long to get their attention. He stood up, flattened his ears and strutted over to them.

3 male moose standing WM

Bull moose will posture before ever sparring and the smaller bulls quickly realized they had no chance, put their heads down and got out of his way.

Moose retreat WM

Satisfied with his work, the big bull turned and had a look at me. I had placed myself next to a large tree just in case I needed to make a quick escape, but I guess he didn’t feel I was even worth trying to scare off since he just turned around and went back to feeding on willows. I was just fine with that!

Bull Moose Antlers WM

Wolf black, snow muzzle wm Powerful, intense, resilient and beautiful. To me the wolf symbolizes nature and wilderness as it’s meant to be.

I took this photo on one of my recent trips into the Canadian Rockies!

Feel free to share and/or comment  and as always, please click on the image for the full size!

Cheers,

Owen

Pine marten hunting grass WMI knew after I took this photo that it was going to be my favourite of him, but initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. The marten was moving behind a small hill out of site and I thought he might just disappear into the bushes. But I got lucky and he came up from behind a snow bank, cocked his head back and forth and intently listened for rodents scurrying under the snow.  I quickly fired off a few frames and smiled to myself knowing that I had the photo I wanted.

Which of the two marten photos do you like best?

(Please click on the image for the full size)

Pine marten looking back WMWhile pine martens are relatively common in coniferous forests in western Canada, they aren’t often seen since they’re primarily arboreal and when they do come down to the ground, they rarely stay in one spot for long.  These weasels are out all year-long, but are generally not as active in winter. They hunt pretty much anything they can sink their teeth into including ground squirrels, snowshoe hare, fish and birds.

This little guy was out bounding through the deep snow looking for breakfast. He stopped a few times to watch and listen for any prey, which gave me just enough time to get a few photographs of him before he disappeared back into the forest.

Bug-eyed bighorn WMI have grown accustom to big horn sheep hanging out roadside licking up minerals and eating grass to the point that I have developed the bad habit of not paying them much attention. However, with company in town the sheep were low hanging fruit and they became an instant hit. We stopped for several minutes so they could watch and photograph them. Initially I didn’t lift my camera up but soon some of them were making pretty entertaining faces that I could not longer ignore! They put on a great show for us and left me with the parting shot below. I guess I need to pay them a bit more attention the next time!

BHS tongue out WM

Pika mouthfull landscape WMOn a 3-4 hour round trip hike into a backcountry area of the Rockies my girlfriend was struggling to stay motivated and it was clear she wasn’t enjoying the steady uphill climb. While she can carry a heavy pack and hike like a machine in the prairies on scorching hot days while I whither under the sun, she detests any uphill hikes in the mountains. Finding a hike that would be enjoyable was out of the question, it was just a matter of finding one that had a big enough reward at the end to make it worth it!  I tried picking one that was not very steep and that had a tea house at the end where we could treat ourselves to drinks and treats in a beautiful wilderness setting. While that helped get her to the trail head, it didn’t guarantee that she would want to do anything like it again. Thankfully, her love of small mammals seems to trump almost anything else and as luck would have it there were lots where we were heading, including pika, a species she had never laid eyes on before!

After visiting the tea house and trying some of homemade treats and teas we went over to a huge rock avalanche area with a nearby meadow full of lush vegetation; about as ideal a spot for pika as you can find. We sat quietly on the rocks and within a few minutes we were rewarded with our first pika, then another and another! We watched as they sun bathed on the rocks, learned their favourite feeding spots and travel routes and saw them unsuccessfully trying to defend their stashes from the raiding chipmunks. It was a rodent biologists dream come true and needless to say the torture of the uphill hike quickly melted away and was replaced by her excitement at seeing and watching these little farmers go about their daily lives.

With the pika and chipmunks providing the entertainment, I focused on photography. I set up my wide angle lens on a rock next to an area that it routinely passed by on the way back to its hay stash. I pre-focused on the spot I guess it would pass through, moved back and waited with my remote in hand. It didn’t take long before it jumped along the rocks with a mouth full of green grass completely unconcerned by the addition a clicking camera.

That little pika really did save the day and plans are in the works for the next mountain wildlife hike!

Grizz dark cub 64 3yold WMWhile her two brothers flight with each other over buffalo berries and appear oblivious to their surroundings, this dark phase grizzly bear stands up to search for her mom.

Many people in Banff National Park know these bears, as their mother is bear 64 who is one of the most commonly seen grizzly bears in Banff. She prefers to make her living in the wilderness areas surrounding the Banff townsite and has successfully navigated this busy landscape for over two decades.

Even now, with her cubs at 3.5 years of age, they are still very reliant on her to keep them safe and to show them all the seasonal food sources in the Rockies. Grizzly bears here have the longest interval between births of any grizzly bears in the world at upwards of 5-6 years. This is thought to be do to the harsh landscape and reduced food supplies compared to other regions where grizzly bears can be found.

This almost adult sized youngster has always stayed very close to her mother and is never far from her side. In a sign of her growing independence she has started to go off and forage on her own but she always tries to keep tabs on where her mom is. On this day, 64 was off doing her own thing and out of her cubs sight, so this youngest stood up on her hind legs and search the area for her. When that didn’t work she started calling out. Within seconds 64 appeared from the bush and came running over to see what she was being called about. Content that her Mom was back in close proximity, this ‘cub’ relaxed and went back to ravenously feeding on berries.  In the next few months their independence from 64 will grow and they will likely head off on their own or be sent packing by Mom soon.

 

Melting away Victoria Glacier WMA large chunk of ice cracked off of Victoria glacier causing a mini avalanche.  The noise of the ice cracking travelled down the mountain giving me just enough time to fire off some photos as the slab crumbled against the rocks.