Tag Archive: outdoors

Dipper whats over there PS SS WM

About a month ago I had a great encounter with an American Dipper. It started off with me getting a shot of it looking off into the distance at something that caught its eye. Notice the ice crystals on the legs!  No big deal for a dipper!

Dipper with stickleback swimming PS SS WM

Seconds later it was diving into the frigid waters and hunting down a fish. With water droplets beading off the feathers, it surfaced and started swimming towards me to the nearest bank. The fish squirmed back and forth but couldn’t break free from the tight grip on the tail. These fish are known as sticklebacks, aptly named for the multiple sharp spines that run along their backs. This didn’t seem to deter the dipper though. It managed to avoid the spines and once to shore the fish was quickly put out of its misery.

Dipper stickleback water splashing PS SS WM

Water droplets fly as the dipper smacks the fish against the ice to kill it. Once dead, the bird took a brief break before it picked the fish up again and repeatedly smacked it against the ice. This continued for several minutes with the dipper slowly moving closer and closer to me. The only explanation I can think of for why it continued to hit the fish against the ice was that it needed to blunt the sharp large spines before it could swallow the fish whole.

Dipper stickleback beak back PS SS WM

At this point the dipper was a mere 5 feet from me.  Almost like a house cat that brings a mouse back to show off its catch! This was the final shot before it gulped the fish down and dove back into the water for another. Such an amazing sequence to see and I continue to marvel at these unique birds!

Jackson's hartebeest WM

If you are a Jackson’s hartebeast there really isn’t any other option! These peculiar looking animals are a common site in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

Rhino Poaching

Stop Killing Rhinos PS SS WM

I came across this sign in Kruger National Park in November 2010. At the time rhino poaching wasn’t that prevalent. Since then, poaching has skyrocketed with almost 700 rhinos poached in Africa in 2012, most coming from Kruger. Rhino horn is valued at up to $50,000/kg in Asian markets and with prices so high sophisticated poaching operations are becoming much more common. Typically these involve helicopters, and people specialized in big game hunting.  Unbelievably, even wildlife veterinarians have crossed the line and are selling ultra potent narcotics to these poachers so that the rhinos can be tranquilized in minutes. Once sedated, the horns are then cut off by chainsaws and the rhinos are left to die. The most frustrating part  is that rhino horn is no different from human fingernails!  It is simply keratin and so people could get the same ‘effect’ by chewing their own nails!

Efforts to cut poaching have ramped up. Some game reserves are safely cutting the horns off before poachers can get to them. If done correctly, this procedure is no different from cutting the tip of a fingernail off. Other efforts include increased patrols, individual guards for animals, and some have even resorted to controversial methods such as impregnating the horns with a toxic substance that will cause harm to anyone that consumes it. Others have advocated for farming rhino for their horn, since it regrows over time. This would allow for a small amount of horn to enter the market on a routine basis that might decrease the amount of poaching. Of course educating those that consume the horn is paramount and NGOs are currently working in these regions to try to curb consumption. With any long standing problem, a multi-pronged approach is required and out of the box thinking and solutions will be needed.

Black Mamba camo WM

Sometimes spotting wildlife or for that matter, not spotting wildlife can be pretty dangerous. I remember floating down the Nile in Uganda minutes before an Egyptian cobra swam past the raft I had just jumped back into. On this occasion, the most venomous land snake in Africa and one of the most feared snakes in the world peers out at me in a tree where it’s was beautifully camouflaged. Black mambas are known to be very aggressive and are not to be taken lightly.  Needless to say, I gave this one all the space it wanted.

Baboon and world WM

A globe of Earth greets visitors as they arrive on a ferry to Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. Also waiting are cunning olive baboons that patiently wait for the right moment to grab any food they can from unsuspecting tourists. This big male took a break in the shade, ironically right below Africa on the globe!


Dipper tongue out reflection log watermarkA funny photo for the day. I will let you decide if the dipper was sticking its tongue out at me, for the photo, or just because it can!

African Buffalo red bull ss PS watermarkNo doubt the true origins of the idea behind the energy drink came centuries ago when our ancestors were chased through the African savannah trying to escape these buffalo! On foot you would have to develop wings from the adrenaline surge to have any chance of escape!  African buffalo are notoriously territorial and will readily stampede if threatened.

This week I was reliving some memories of my last trip to Africa and came across several photos that I overlooked. This is one that I’m glad I rediscovered. A few more to come soon!

Fog and trees watermark

A thick blanket of fog encircles a stand of trees on a cool morning in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Metropolitan Moose

Moose on the loose watermark

The New Year has not resulted in a slow down in my opportunistic backyard wildlife photography and in fact it seems to have picked up a bit!  This time it was the largest cervid in North America to make an appearance and while the photo isn’t great, it is was more to document the sighting than anything!

I was enjoying the beautiful morning sunrise in Calgary while cooking breakfast when I looked out the kitchen window and noticed this cow and calf moose making their way down the path to the backyard pond! I immediately sprang into action, racing around the house throwing on warm clothes and my boots while grabbing my camera and coat hoping they would still be there when I got out the back door. Sure enough, they had stopped where I last saw them to nibble on some shoots. I walked down the small hill to the pond and managed to snap off a few photos before the mother got spooked by something and trotted across the frozen pond with her calf in tow. By this point, several cars and pedestrians had stopped along the road to take in the rare event. As everyone looked on, the moose made their way up the bank and down the sidewalk ignoring the backlog of traffic before disappearing out of sight.

Every year a few moose end up in Calgary. They make their way into the city by travelling along rivers and park systems. Thankfully, these two appeared to know their way around the neighbourhood and successfully navigated all the city traffic, houses and pedestrians on their way to more suitable habitat on the outskirts of town. Those that wander too far into the city require ‘assistance’ from the local Fish and Wildlife officers, who sometimes need to sedate and move the moose if they get stuck in someone’s backyard or wander into the downtown core.

It will be hard to top this latest backyard wildlife sighting but it left me wondering what wildlife will be next to show up at my doorstep?

Wolves sleeping watermark

Fast forward to last week for this image (please click on the photo for the larger version).

For anyone that has had the privilege of seeing wild wolves in their natural environment, you can appreciate how fleeting the glimpses usually are. Often times they are visible for only a few seconds, usually in poor light with something obstructing the view. In these situations I often won’t even bother trying to take pictures. I will just watch them from a distance and enjoy the moment before they vanish into the forest.

Last week I was having a very unproductive morning with no good wildlife sightings to speak of so I decided to start heading back to town.  I rounded a corner and my luck drastically changed. There, basking in the mid-day sun were three wolves! It is very rare to see them during the day and for them to be lying out in the open is exceptionally rare!  I quickly pulled my car over to the side of the road, rolled down the window and turned the engine off in the hopes that I wouldn’t disturb them. Thankfully, within seconds they relaxed and went back to lounging in the sun!

To me nothing is more rewarding when watching wildlife then to have them be seemingly unaffected by my presence. I think this should be the gold standard for anyone that wants to watch or photograph wildlife.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but if an effort is made to make this the first priority then it will occur a lot more often than not. In this case by keeping my distance, staying in the car and making as little movement or noise as possible I was able to watch them undisturbed for several minutes. One walked down the hill right in front of me while these two stayed on the ridge above. The two on the hill would periodically lift their heads to check on the other wolf below. The most amazing moment that illustrated that they weren’t concerned with me in the least was when they laid their heads down and closed their eyes for a few moments.  To me this was the ultimate compliment.

You might be wondering how it all ended? I wish I could tell you that I left the wolves were I found them but unfortunately as is all too common these days a vehicle came around the corner, stopped behind me and the person got out of their car. In a split second the wolves on the hill leaped up, swirled around and vanished into the trees while the one of the road bolted up the hill and out of sight.  Frustrating to say the least but hopefully the wolves were able to find a more secluded sunny spot to rest in for the remainder of the afternoon.

Buzz off!

Predator or Prey wolf mosquito watermark

Let’s continue to ease back into the winter photography. Here is one from my bank of images taken in the summer.

The predator and prey roles are reversed when a ‘pack’ of hungry mosquitoes descends down on a wolf. They are mostly kept at bay by the thick coat, but just like when a wolf goes in for a kill, the mosquitoes hone in on the most vulnerable spots where their prey is less likely to be able to defend itself.

The wolf didn’t seem to be too bothered. I on the other hand was cursing at them under my breath.  The welts that I soon developed and the itching that happened for days afterwards was a small price to pay.

It almost makes me appreciate the long mosquito free winters. Almost!

Pier favourite watermark

Just like people who need a break from living in the snow and cold, I figure my blog needs a break from the same!  Here is a photo from a recent trip down to sunny, warm southern California! The sunset was spectacular that night. From surfers to people combing the beach for hidden treasures, everyone seemed to stop and take in the amazing colours.

Fluffed Up

Dipper yellow water tail matching wood watermark

An American Dipper takes a break from hunting to fluff its feathers. Birds will do this for a variety of reasons. In this case the dipper purposely fluffed the feathers to trap air between the different layers. This serves two main functions. One is to keep the warm air close to the body to maintain its body temperature and the other is to get enough air between the feathers to improve buoyancy when diving for food. By doing so,  it easily floats back to the surface with minimal effort despite being weighed down by whatever food it manages to catch. A sick bird will also appear fluffed but this is accompanied by other signs such as lethargy, decreased alertness such as closing of the eyelids and usually thin body condition. As for the photo, it is one of my favourites because of the soft yellow tinge to the water created by the setting sun and the way the bird’s tail feathers match the angle and pattern of the splintered bark.

Serpentine red mountains, snow watermark

One of my favourite winter mountain shots. I love the light, the shape of the mountains and the iron rock jutting out from under the snow. This would be an extreme skiers paradise, but I’m fine with enjoying the view from a distance.

Bull elk snow fall meadow watermark

A group of  bull elk, having just gone through the rut, gather together in a meadow during a snow storm in Banff National Park. With the long, harsh winter just starting these bulls will have to use their hooves to dig down through the deep snow to find what little food remains for them. Any that become weakened will be tested by wolves and undoubtedly a few won’t make it to spring. Natural selection will favour the strong and the adaptable.