Tag Archive: Wildlife


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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Backlit Bear

Backlit griz version 4 WMA grizzly bear steps out of the shadows in the Canadian Rockies.

Photographing wildlife in their natural environment can be very frustrating with many hours sitting and waiting with no results to show for it. Often times there may be beautiful light but the animals are not around and other times it’s the reverse. On the rare occasion when both light and wildlife come together, the hours of patience seem worth it.

This red fox had just returned to the den to deliver a freshly killed rodent to the hungry kits and as the kits ran off with their meal, the adult sat down and stared at me. Up until then it had been mainly overcast, but as it overlooked their territory the sun briefly broke through the clouds and created a spotlight of soft light just long enough for me to get this photo. Gotta love it when everything comes together like that!

Foxy Vixen WM

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.

Frisky Grebes

Spring is in full swing in Alberta and the migratory birds have returned to their breeding grounds.  This includes the eared grebes, which are well known for their elaborate courtship dances.  Once paired up, it doesn’t take long to get down to the business at hand.

The first task is for the pair to build a small floating platform of vegetation and mud anchored to underwater plants. This platform needs to be large enough to allow the female to rest on it and sturdy enough to hold the weight of both birds.

Eared grebe female mating platform WM The female then crouches down onto the platform and tries to catch the attention of the male. This particular male seemed to be a bit slow and needed a few hints before he clued in.

Eared Grebe presenting to male WMAfter figuring out the not so subtle clues from the female, he quickly swam over, leaped up onto her back and precariously balanced while copulation happened.

Eared Grebes mating WMNo more than a few seconds later, the male used his large, lobed feet to paddle his way forward over the head of the female and back into the lake. Not the most graceful technique but given that they are the most abundant grebe in the world, it seems they have things figured out!

Eared Grebe pair WM

There are two things that are pretty common in Yellowstone during the spring. Almost everywhere we went we saw herds of bison and large flocks of mountain bluebirds, all of them searching out areas in the park where the snow had either completely disappeared or was just about to. The spring thaw and green-up was in full swing which made for prime feeding grounds. The bison were chomping down on tiny stems of green grass wherever they could find it and when that wasn’t available or was covered over in fresh snow, they resorted to winter-killed, high roughage stalks of grass. Bison have lots of character and this one seemed to want to go for a hillbilly look and I must say, pulled it off better than anyone else I have seen try.

Bison Hillbilly WM

It wasn’t until watching the bluebirds for some time that it became clear they were relying on by-products of bison to help them survive the first few months of spring. In March and early April there aren’t as many insects to feed on. But as it turns out, buried within and under old bison patties are lots of overwintering insect larvae. With their keen eyesight, the bluebirds snatched these insects up as they emerged from the dried-up dung. Other times they would use the piles as perches to get a better vantage point to spot their next meal.

Bluebird on bison patty WM

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is a another person’s treasure!  To some, this might diminish the image of these beautiful birds, but without them we would suffer even more from the torture of biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks and other pesky insects.  So for me it adds another level of appreciation since doing all of this dirty work and still looking good can’t be easy. With that I will end on a high note with one last photo that showcases just how spectacular and stunning these birds really are.

Bluebird flight and perched 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

Rogue Beaver

When you think of the Alaskan Highway what comes to mind? Probably beautiful landscapes, mountains, camper vans and occasional wildlife sightings along the shoulders. How about a feisty beaver walking down the highway?

Beaver walking down road WMWith no water in sight and no easy escape route from would be predators, the last place I expected to find a beaver was on a high elevation portion of the Alaskan highway in Northern BC.

Maybe it was the lure of fresh Aspen trees off in the distance or a predetermined rendezvous with another beaver, whatever the case, this one had decided to set out down the road.

As I came around the bend I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting it. Of course my next reaction was to pull over, grabbed my camera and start taking photos. After all, who would believe me if I said I saw a beaver walking down the Alaskan Highway?

After taking the above photo, I got out and tried to coax it off the road, but the plan didn’t really pan out the way I had drawn it up. Instead of leaving the road the beaver sat down and silently sized me up. It wasn’t budging and if anything it seemed more determined than before to stay put on the tarmac.

Road Beaver WMAfter sizing me up, the beaver stood and slowly stalked towards me. Then, with an unexpected and surprising burst of speed, it lunged forward as it let out menacing hiss. I had to quickly jump back to avoid being chewed on, but a new plan came to mind.

Charging Beaver WM

I used the beaver’s fighting spirit to lure it off the road and into the nearby ditch just as a car came around the corner. I can only imagine what they were thinking when they saw the beaver walking behind me alongside the road!

Raw Wilderness

First a disclaimer. If you are squeamish about seeing footage of nature at its most raw, than the below photos and story may not be for you. However, this is reality. Animals need to hunt to survive and some animals have to die so that others can live.

With that out of the way, below is one of the rarest wildlife moments I have ever seen and captured in photographs. It is an age old battle between predator and prey.  A young wolf honing its hunting skills against a seasoned mule deer.

With each photo, if you would like a closer view please click on it.

How it all started was that I was busy taking pictures of a bald eagle when I heard a big splash just up the river. When I turned to have a look I was shocked to see a black wolf running down the snow bank towards a mule deer that was frantically swimming across the water! I didn’t have much time to react or set up, my own adrenaline was kicking in as I fumbled with camera settings and started taking photos. Undeterred by the frigid water, the wolf bounded into the river in hot pursuit of the deer…

Wolf swimming after deer WM As the wolf made it close to shore, the deer who didn’t want to leave the relative security of the river and was resting along the banks, turned and they eyed each other up for a few seconds… Predator vs Prey WM FBThe pause in action didn’t last long, as the wolf jumped up onto the snow bank and came directly towards the deer. Relatively calmly, the deer turn and jump back into the river and again the wolf followed in close pursuit. By the time the deer reached the other side it had increased the distance between them and I thought it would easily escape. That seemed to be certain when the deer trotted out of the river and started heading for the forest. But then something strange happened. Just as it got to the trees it stopped in its tracks. Whether it sensed other wolves waiting for it in the trees I’m not sure, but for whatever reason it quickly spun around and headed back to the river just as the doggy paddling wolf was getting close to shore. The deer seemed to have made a critical mistake by turning back to the river. As it jumped into the shallows, a split second later the wolf made it to shore. With a burst of speed and water splashing everywhere, it sprinted along the rocky banks and quickly closed in on its prey… Head on off center BW WMWith only a few feet separating them, the deer made one last ditched effort to escape by frantically plunging back into the river. The stamina of both of these animals was incredible. It seemed like they had reserves of energy and any time one needed a surge of adrenaline they got it. It was spectacular to watch this back and forth battle play out in front of me… The Plunge BW WMSurvival in the wild is always a precarious balance. One misstep by the deer on a slippery rock was all that the wolf needed to gain the advantage. With one powerful bite, it leveraged the deer off its feet and the chase was over. Wolf deer water WM For most animals life is a daily struggle with little in the way of certainties. Wolves only have about a 10% success rate during hunts and so the majority of their prey get away to live another day. This particular wolf was just coming into its prime and its possible that the mule deer was an old male that was too weak from winter and the fall rut to outpace the wolf. Whatever the reason, nature took its course.

To have wild places in North America where animals can still play out their age old battles and we are the outsiders that only get rare glimpses into their world is something I hope we can maintain well into the future.

Cheers,

Owen

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Pika WM

May your year be full of awe inspiring landscapes, remarkable wildlife sightings and an even greater appreciation for the natural world!

All the best,
Owen

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

Drunk Bohemians

It’s the weekend and the holiday season is in full swing!  For many that means having a few drinks and while we may think we are unique in the animal world for liking to consume alcoholic products, sometimes overindulging and getting ourselves intoxicated, there are many other species that do the same thing. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident!

Waxwing morning frost WM

Take these Bohemian waxwings for example. Recently we treated several of these birds that came into the wildlife hospital with various injuries related to trauma. In early winter and spring it is common to come across large numbers of these birds on the ground, unable to fly and appearing drunk. They are in fact drunk!  Many berries ferment on trees and in Alberta a good example is mountain ash, a favourite of bohemian waxwings. If they don’t overindulged they are usually fine, but if they get a little carried away, they consume enough alcohol that they start falling out of trees!

Waxwing Frozen Berry WM

Some get picked off my cats and other predators, some recover soon enough to fly away and some try to fly but end up hitting windows, cars, buildings, etc. That’s the most likely reason why we had a handful come into us earlier this fall. We put them through our recovery program, which consisted of fluids, pain killers, rest, and a diet of non-fermented berries. They quickly sobered up and after several days, any lingering sore muscles, aches and pains were gone and they were ready to rejoin their flocks. Not too different from many people during the holiday season I would say!

Waxwings feeding WM