Tag Archive: outdoors


Grizzly 3 year old balanced on log WMJust like a kid (or a big kid) trying to balance themselves while walking along the railway tracks or a parking rail, this 3 year old grizzly seemed to prefer to move between feeding sites by sauntering along a bunch of dead-fall trees than following his siblings through the grass.

Lightning strike from Storm mountain lookout best WM

With the Bow river discoloured brown and already bursting at the seams  from all the runoff, a new storm built up and rumble over the Rocky Mountains. I had about 10 minutes before I was engulfed in the  thunderstorm, which gave me just enough time to set up my gear and safely get a few photos of the clouds and lightning strikes off in the distance. As luck would have it this strike happened in the perfect spot for my composition. Not wanting to push my luck, I packed up my gear and ran for my car as the clouds opened up above me.

Barn swallow flock flight Waterton landscape WM

I don’t get down to Waterton as much as I would like these days but when I do make the trip it is always special. Having spent lots of time there in the past, I have certain spots I like to revisit to see if the wildlife is still following the same rhythms. Even though much of the park was closed due to the recent flooding I wasn’t disappointed when we came across the huge flock of cliff swallows I have been watching for a few years now. I took this photo with a 12-24mm wide angle lens so that gives you an idea of how close the birds get. It felt like I was in the middle of their flock and they didn’t seem concerned in the least by our presence, often times hovering only a few feet away as the strong winds blew through the mountain passes.

Barn swallow in flight 2 WM

The strong winds were perfect for the swallows to use to hover above the water in search of insects. I used the opportunity to try to get a few close-ups of them in flight. Not an easy feat even when they are close-by and cooperative.

Barn swallow in flight 1 WM

This one is my favourite of the close-ups. It clearly shows the aerodynamic profile of the wings and how the birds use their tail feathers to help stabilize and steer themselves through the air.

Barn swallow in flight 3 WM

I’m in the danger zone taking this picture but thankfully none of the swallows took issue with me and I made it out no worse for wear!

 

Ghost sheep 2 WMTwo big horn sheep emerge from the fog to make their way up the aptly named Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.

 

Black bear sitting and looking at dandelions WMEven when taking a break from eating, thoughts of fresh dandelions never appears to be far from this bear’s mind!

 

Silvery blue butterflies mating aspen sapling WMA female (closer and in focus) and male silvery blue butterfly have an intimate moment as they try to pretend to be aspen leaves! Eggs are laid singly and from this point on their adopted parents and bodyguards are ants!  The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the young tree leaves. The ants protect the larvae from predators and parasitic wasps and as compensation for this protection the larvae feed the ants a sugary concoction known as honeydew.  The honeydew isn’t given up easily by the larvae. It’s only when the ant climbs onto the back of the larvae and uses its antenna to stroke the larvae’s hairs  that the honeydew is secreted! Overwintering occurs in a chrysalis where they transform into a butterfly and emerge in the spring to repeat the whole process.

 

Forget me nots castle mountain WMSpring seems to take a long time in the mountains, but when it does arrive it’s always spectacular. This spring I timed it just right to be in this meadow when the forget me not flowers were in full bloom. It was well worth the year-long wait!

Pelican in flight WM

Hard to beat eating the best locally caught, grilled Mahi Mahi steak I have ever tasted, while sipping on a gin and tonic and watching brown pelicans and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins fishing in the inlet next to our table at the Dolphin View restaurant near New Smyrna, Florida.

Alligator Sky

Alligator and sky WM

On a recent trip down to Florida to attend a wonderful wedding and visit with some great friends, I was treated to being taken around to some local spots for some wildlife photography. This photo was taken near Gainesville about an hour before sunset. A few alligators were resting along the banks until this one slid into the calm water as fish ripple at the surface. With the sky reflecting off the water and the hyacinth appearing to float above the clouds the photo has a surreal look to me.

There are few sounds in nature that signify wilderness and pristine waters than that of the song of a loon.  They are one of my favourite signs of spring in the mountains and it’s always a thrill to see them! I lucked out with this one as it actually approached me when I noticed it along the river’s edge.

Loon PS WM

The loon swam closer and closer before it stopped a short distance away. I’m not sure if it saw its reflection in my lens or if he was displaying for some other reason, but whatever the cause he proceeded to give me a wonderful territorial display by stretching out his neck and legs and lifting his wings. After getting a few photos of this interesting behaviour I packed up my gear and left him be as he resumed his fishing nearby.

Loon territorial display PS WM

Snow Geese Migration

Snow geese massive flock WM

One of the most remarkable wildlife sights I have ever seen happened by chance on the drive back from Yellowstone last month. Initially it started off with a relatively small flock of about 50 snow geese passing overhead.  Soon I noticed another flock and then another, but it wasn’t until I glanced west to take in the Rockies on a clear, beautiful day that I saw almost the entire western horizon dotted with these geese! I had heard about the snow geese migration, but I had never witnessed it before. To see hundreds of thousands of birds in the sky at once was so amazing I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road. As luck would have it, a large majority of them were headed in our direction. No more than a few kilometers up the road, thousands of these birds starting landing in a farmer’s field. This must have been a cue for the rest of the massive flock to land for the night, because within minutes there were thousands upon thousands of snow geese fluttering to the ground while making their distinctive calls along the way. I found a side road to turn off onto and started firing off photos.  In the below photo a small fraction of the goose flock flew overhead. See if you can spot another species of bird in with the geese.

Snow geese and mallards WM

A few minutes later, about a 1 kilometer stretch of the field was covered with these geese. They continued to honk as they gobbled up grain, which prompted the geese still in the sky to circle around and start landing as well. Within 10 minutes there were hundreds of thousands of birds on the ground!

There are a few examples of animals that have adapted to living with the billions of us! Snow geese are one of these. Their population has grown to over 5 million breeding birds, a 300 fold increase since the 1970’s! Much of this has been attributed to the rapid agricultural expansion that has occurred in the west, creating a smorgasbord of food for these birds as they make their way to and from the Arctic every Spring and Fall.  Other possible factors include rising Arctic temperatures. However, that only partly explains their population expansion. A lot of it also has to do with their behavioural adaptation to a changing environment.  Historically they fed in marshes but a few of the smart ones or maybe by chance some stumbled across the fact that people leave tonnes of uneaten food in the fields every year.  With the flat rolling prairies it’s also easier to see predators approaching from a distance or from the sky. This new-found migration strategy must have been passed along to the point that almost all the geese stop over in these fields to fuel up before continuing their journey.

Below is a photo of the organized goose chaos.  Multiply this photo hundreds of times and you will get an idea of what it was like to be next to this massive flock. It’s remarkable that they manage to coordinate their movements enough that they are able to land, take off and feed without colliding into each other and plummet  to the ground. It certainly is an experience I will never forget.

Snow geese standing and flight WM

 

Coyote mousing WMA coyote launches into the air in what appears to be an attempt to catch its shadow. While it wasn’t successful at that, a few split seconds later it was feasting on a vole!

Feather Duster

Northern Hawk Owl Tree watermark

One misstep or mis-perch and this northern hawk owl might become a feather duster as it precariously sits on what looks like a very uncomfortable perch. It was about a year ago that I took this photo up in the Yukon and in the next week I will be passing by this spot on another Alaskan, Yukon and BC adventure. Hopefully I see a few more of these amazing birds along the way.

Grey pup BW PS SF WM

I guess I spoke too soon in my recent post about this wolf helping the pack with puppy chores in the spring. Just a few days ago, on the morning of Friday, April 5th this wolf’s life was cut short by a CP train in Banff National Park.  The young male was just shy of its one year birthday.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it was killed by a train, after all this has been a routine event in Banff for years now. Trains remain the number one killer of Banff grizzly bears and in the past year numerous black bears and several wolves have also met their demise on the tracks. This is not even mentioning the elk, deer, moose and coyotes. Everything from the smallest birds to the largest mammals are commonly hit by the trains as they travel through the park.

The pack that this wolf belonged to has 2 of 6 pups remaining from last years litter.  Only 1 of 7 pups from the previous year has survived. Of the two surviving 1-year-old pups, one was hit by a train in late fall while she and the rest of her family were feeding on a rail killed deer carcass next to the tracks.   Somehow this wolf managed to survive the strike and miraculously has made it through the winter and appears to have almost completely healed from what I suspect was a fractured left hind limb. Of the seven pups born the previous year all but the surviving wolf were either hit by trains or cars.

Efforts continue between Parks Canada and CP Rail to research the factors that influence these train mortalities.  While it’s great that they have committed time, money and staff to this problem, the fact remains that train caused wildlife deaths in the park have occurred on a frequent basis for years and despite some attempts to address the problem, it continues to happen on a very regular basis.The vacuum truck that is supposed to remove the grain spills doesn’t seem to come along the high risk areas of the tracks during the winter and it would seem that grain spills, which as you will see are pretty obvious, go unreported. Wildlife-train collisions are also not always reported and the strikes that are reported are not always appropriately removed from the tracks.  Add in that parks staff have been cut thin to the point that they can’t always adequately respond to all the human wildlife conflict events in a timely manner and several other variables that are a product of chronic underfunding and we have a recipe for more wildlife carnage.

CP train and spilled grain PS SSOne has to see the hypocrisy that signs in Banff state it’s illegal to feed wildlife and yet these trains are doing just that, like a giant cafeteria conveyor belt. Expecting others to act responsible while allowing this to occur is a perfect example of do as I say and not as I do.

While it is simplistic to say that all the train mortalities are caused either directly or indirectly from the grain, one has to accept the fact that even if grain or other food attractants aren’t present at the time of the event, animals will still travel the tracks looking for the free handouts whether they are there or not. After all, this has become a learned behaviour passed down from generation to generation. They have been condition from the time they are old enough to walk or fly that the tracks offer a steady supply of food so one cannot truthfully state that a particular train mortality wasn’t associated with grain or a carcass simply because these attractants weren’t present at the time of death. This is misconstruing the root of the problem. It will take years of continuous negative feedbacks for animals to stop coming to the tracks to look for handouts. The reduction in spillage to current levels is a start but breaking this pattern will require no less than complete prevention of these spills and quick removal of any carcasses from the area.  Only then will researchers be able to tease apart the other minor factors that might be at play.

In the grand scheme of things this is only one more human induced wildlife death in the long record of deaths that have happened in Banff and all along the tracks from Saskatchewan to Vancouver. However, it should serve as a prime example to every stakeholder that sooner than later added actions are required to address this problem and there is no better place to start than in Banff.  Parks and CP rail should not simply state ongoing research will be used to investigate possible solutions. Short term solutions are required now while the longer term options are investigated. However, the buck doesn’t just stop with them. Instead of visitors just complaining about all the most recent deaths and demanding something be done, they too should take actions of their own. If you are a visitor to the park and are walking near the tracks, report any carcasses, grain spills or any other concerns to Parks by calling Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470 (24hrs/day). Even better if you can follow-up to make sure that the problem has been addressed and if it hasn’t, report it again. Every time a call is made a paper record is created that must be reviewed by Parks Canada management to make sure that the problem is taken care of. Other options include photographing what you see and forwarding it along or contacting Parks and CP staff directly with your concerns.

My hope is that this most recent death helps initiate more concerted efforts by everyone to actually solve this decades old problem. One can still hope can’t they?

Rundle reeds ice PS LF WM

These reeds have been encased in ice and snow for much of the winter but over the past several weeks it has slowly started to melt away. The robins, starlings and male red winged blackbirds have returned, the bears are coming out of their dens and we have daylight past 8pm. A great time to be in the Rockies!