Tag Archive: Parks Canada


This wild, male burrowing owl which was was not baited, called or otherwise enticed to come perched right next to me, gave me several opportunities to get some unique images. The owl decided I was nothing to worry about and picked up one leg as it gazed in my direction. Soon after, it relaxed its head and neck creating a crease of feathers under its beak, giving the otherwise grumpy looking character the appearance of having a smile.

Burrowing owl art WMOften the deciding factor of whether the public and governments give money for wildlife conservation comes down to looks. Charismatic wildlife like bears, rhinos and big cats get a disproportionate amount of resources while birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish and the bottom of the barrel invertebrates struggle to even be noticed.

Here’s hoping that the burrowing owl, with all of its personality and character can get a federal recovery strategy to go along with its listing under the Species At Risk Act (SARA).

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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!

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

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

Fire Chicken

Sharp tailed grouse profile WM

Rarely do wildlife and great lighting come together, but we got lucky over several days in Grasslands National Park. On one of our early morning drives in the park we were rewarded when this female sharp-tailed grouse or fire grouse walked out into the gorgeous morning light and seemed to pose for her photo. If only wildlife photography was always this easy!

Bison Grasslands Fog Panoramic WM

Few places in Canada offer the peaceful solitude, natural beauty and diversity of species as Grasslands National Park. I tried to capture the magic of this place during our visit last week. With the help of a  lone bull bison gazing down into the Frenchman River Valley on a foggy August morning, I got the photo I was looking for. (click on the image for the full size)

If you are ever in Saskatchewan this park is one of the gems of the province and certainly well worth the detour.

Wild Pup

Wolf pup black 2014

Wild wolf sightings are always thrilling, but seeing and photographing wolf pups takes it to a whole new level. Finding them is the first challenge. Getting any decent photos is the next. I positioned myself next to a small clearing and silently waited, hoping one of them would come out into the clearing. Luck was on my side that day and I managed to get a few decent photos of this little black pup, no more than 3 months old before it trotted off to join its siblings as they explored their surroundings.

Grizzly mom and cub mountain landscape wm 960

One could be forgiven for thinking that even the grizzly bears in Banff take a break from their daily routines to appreciate the mountain scenery. While I will never discount the fact that other animals can appreciate their surroundings, what’s more likely is that this bear is smelling the air for any potential threats or food options.

I took this photo last month near one of the most popular places in Canada; Lake Louise.  Bear 138 as she is known to park biologists, was feasting on one of the only spring food sources available to the bears; dandelions. Imagine how many dandelions a 150-200kg lactating grizzly bear would need to eat to produce enough milk to feed her two cubs?  Needless to say, it’s a staggering amount. When they enter their hyperphagic state later this month, they eat about 35,000 calories a day.  To put that in perspective, the average person eats about 2000 calories daily!  Almost all of these calories are from berries, with a single bear eating between 200-300,000 berries per day to put on enough fat to survive the winter. That’s the equivalent of you or I eating 63 hamburgers daily! Yet these bears suffer no heart disease or complications association with high cholesterol.

This only touches the tip of the iceberg of all the interesting adaptations of bears, but I hope you agree that these are amazing animals and deserving of our respect and protection.

 

Fox scratching right there fb wm

An adorable fox kit leans in to get a hard to reach spot. This was one of five kits being raised by their hard working parents in Waterton Lakes National Park earlier this spring

Play Time

Grizzly cub and mom playing WM

A grizzly bear mom takes a break from eating dandelions to play with one of her tiny cubs born earlier this year.  With the grizzly bear population threatened in Alberta, it’s been great to see at least three grizzly sows in the Rockies with new cubs this year.

Happy Canada Day!

Beaver tail slap water splash WM

What better image to highlight this day than one of Canada’s national animal making a splash? Happy Canada Day my fellow Canadians!

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

Grizzly snow WMAn adult male grizzly bear plows through 10 centimeters of snow in minus 10-15 degree Celsius temperatures. While the females and young cubs are already tucked away in their dens, these big males are still out looking for food to pack on the pounds so they can compete against the biggest males for breeding opportunities in the spring.

For the past several years I have tried in vain to get a good photo of a grizzly bear in snow. I have run into them as late as December, always either really early in the morning or late at night. All of that changed when this bear lumbered out of the forest in the middle of the day. He wander back and forth following the tracks of a pack of wolves that had been in the area earlier in the morning. Most likely he was trying to determine if the wolves had made a kill. Being the biggest predators in the Rockies, they will follow wolves and steal away their kills through brute force but on this day the bear came up empty handed. With his nose covered in snow, he plodded along weaving a route back and forth through the forest before giving up and moving on.

Angry Birds

Osprey aerial fighting WM

Well not really, more like hungry birds! These two osprey are siblings that successfully fledged this year. They took to the skies to practice their maneuvers and to compete with one another for the best waiting spot. It takes a few more weeks after fledgling before they are proficient at hunting on their own so the parents would return with fresh fish to give to them. It was always first come, first serve and once one had a fish there was no way they were going to share it!

Heavy Breathing

Elk exhale antler grass WMWith the  annual elk rut in Banff National Park taking place around the town site, many of the elk end up with ropes, plastic bags and other items tangled up in their antlers. Some require sedation to remove the items, while less severe entanglements like this one can be left alone.

The new antler-wear didn’t seem to bother this elk, but he had bigger concerns. Due to his young age and relatively small rack he was relegated to the sidelines and needed to stay out of the way of the larger, much more powerful and battle harden males.  After narrowly skirting around one, he took a few minutes to catch his breath before wisely deciding to move off into the forest.