I had an amazing evening photographing flying Terns out at Frank Lake. The waterfowl was out in full force with Grebes and Redheads playing around by the blind. There was a bunch of White-faced Ibis off in the distance, and I saw my first couple of Black Terns. But the star of the day was most definitely the Common Terns which spent the whole time hovering and diving into the marshy area east of the blind. I think I shot about 800 photos of the Terns alone (a couple hundred of which were complete blurs, or more likely nothing but sky where I had missed the bird completely). One thing I learned for sure is that shooting birds in flight is not an easy thing to do and I could use a whole lot more practice at it. But it sure was a lot of fun..!
I thought I would do some fishing, and headed down to Carburn Park after work. When I got to my fishing spot I found a bunch of Common Terns feeding on insects over the river. Despite the bad light it was a pretty cool shooting session because the I was able to sit right up close on the bank while they worked their way slowly down the river diving and skimming the surface for bugs. Once they were about twenty or thirty yards away they would fly right back up to where I was and start over again.
As I mentioned, the light was pretty crappy, and I hadn’t brought along my tripod, and the birds move pretty erratically, so getting a sharp image was not easy, but it was a lot of fun. Needless to say I didn’t do a whole lot of fishing.
I got a really good deal on a week long stay at a place by the Fairmont Hotsprings and headed out for some R&R. I spent the whole day driving out, through Kananaskis and Banff and Kootenay National Parks, stopping first at Gap lake to watch a variety of small songbirds. The weather was beautiful and I had great time exploring the shorelines at various points along the Bow and Kootenay rivers.
Once I got to Fairmont the weather turned rainy and overcast for the next few days, and I spent a lot of time relaxing around the hotel. That’s not to say I didn’t do much, I did a whole lot of driving all over the area. I explored the forestry roads in search of White Swan Lake. Photographed Colombia Lake at sunset. Drove a dirt track on the south side of the river valley halfway to Golden (and then continued on the rest of the way on the highway). Went hiking down to a old gold miners camp along a small creek. Walked around Canal flats where an old canal had been dug between Columbia Lake and the river which is in a different watershed.
I had really been hopeful that I would see some wildlife, but it was a bit of a letdown. The marshes and ponds were strangely devoid of waterfowl (despite it being the annual bird festival in the area). I did spot a black bear about 2 kilometres from the hotel after driving all the way to Golden and back without seeing anything. I had on my wide lens and after it crossed the road in front of my car I watched it from a stand up and scratch its back on a telephone pole while I was fumbling around with my camera, and of course it was gone by the time I got my long lens on.
I spent a lot of time driving up and down some sketchy forestry roads, but apart from a couple of deer and a huge flock of Coots in one of the mountain lakes it was entirely unproductive.
The highlight was an afternoon spent in the reed beds near Canal Flats, which was full of of Great Blue Herons. The light was pretty crappy so I was excited to go back the next day, but the Heron’s were mostly all gone.
As far as photography goes the way there and back again through Banff and Kananaskis was likely more productive than all the time I spent in BC, but I read an entire book about Coastal Wolves and spent more than a few hours in the jacuzzi tub. So I guess it was a successful trip.
It seems like every year come the end of February or early March I get the fishing bug, and suddenly can’t wait to get out on the river. Which is a shame because it’s usually a few months before the weather and the river conditions make it worthwhile.
Starting out at Carburn Park I headed south along the bank all the way down to where Deerfoot Trail crosses over the river. It’s a bit of a hike, and I had only been that way a couple of times before, but had seen both Pileated Woodpeckers and a porcupine in the past so I headed out with high hopes.
The fishing was not very interesting, all of the fishing holes that I had fished in the past had apparently been washed away in the previous years flood. The flood damage itself was likely the most interesting part of the trip. Massive piles of driftwood were stacked up twenty or thirty feet high in the middle of the forest, huge gravel bars stretching out where they didn’t used to be, and logs hung up way up in the treetops. It was somewhat surreal, and also fairly saddening.
Without any of the old fishing holes I never did find a decent place to fish, but eventually stretched out on a sandbar and threw in a line. I was quickly distracted though by a flock of a couple dozen Franklin’s Gulls that flew down and began feeding on a swarm of bugs just a short ways up the river bank.
Still waiting for spring….
I drove out to Kananaskis Country, taking the long way through Springbank, to exploring some of the backcountry roads to try and photograph waterfowl in the country ponds. It wasn’t very successful and the weather was beginning to turn rather ugly. By the time I got into Kananaskis Country I realised that spring was still a long way off in the mountains and headed back early, deciding not waste anymore time.
Winter seemed a big long this year and by April I was desperate to get out and do something. Despite it not being very warm, and a strong north wind blowing I thought I would give Frank Lake a try to see if the birds were migrating yet.
While the birds were starting to arrive (most notably the Northern Pintails) the lake was still partially ice covered. Most of the shoreline was free of ice, but it was completely flooded and I couldn’t actually get near the lake. At the trail to the viewing blind where I parked my car the water came pretty much right out to the roadway, the walkway was completely submerged, and the actual blind had water halfway up the railings.
I walked around the lake shore for a bit despite it being completely unproductive, but eventually the wind took it’s toll and I gave up and headed home.
Apparently I didn’t get enough of the prairies on the drive down to Waterton a couple weeks back. So I headed out east this time in search of Snowy Owls. After driving around the country for a couple of hours with absolutely no luck until I finally spotted a beautiful male pheasant running around in the ditch. Unfortunately I was on a secondary highway at the time and couldn’t get pulled over until it had headed off across the fields.
I had decided to give up and was pulling into a roadway to turn the car around when I looked up, and sitting right there in front of me on top of a grain silo was a beautiful almost pure white snowy owl. I was only able to get a couple of shots off before it dropped down to the ground and out of sight behind the building.
I hadn’t really planned it, but after contemplating spending the weekend doing chores and cleaning the house I decided a weekend in the mountains was a far more appealing prospect. So I grabbed my gear packed a bag and headed west. My first stop was Bow Valley Provincial Park where I discovered an incredible view of Mount Yamnuska and sat basking in the sun on the shores of the Bow River for a long while, wishing that I had brought my fishing rod along and making a mental note to come back and try my luck on the river someday.
It had been late in the day when I left town and by the time I got to Banff I only had an hour or two of daylight left so I headed up to lake Minnewanka and then Mount Norquay for a look around before settling in to the hotel and a long soak in the hot tub.
Somewhere along the way I decided to give Yoho National Park a try. I think it was actually the hotel brochure that made me realize I had never been to Emerald Lake before, and although I have been to Takakkaw Falls I have never really photographed it.
Dawn’s light would have seen me racing west on the Trans-Canada, had there been any light coming through the heavy layers of overcast clouds that smothered the sunrise. I drove up the winding mountain road to the lake and wandered the shoreline for a little while. It really is a beautiful lake, but I found the effect slightly lessened by the hotel, and it’s residents out jogging around the lakeshore (despite the obscene hour) in bright neon clothes which really frustrated my picture taking. Still it would be worth another stop under better lighting conditions, although I would imagine it gets really crowded in the summer.
Apart from the people staying at the hotel I was the only person out on the road that early and spent a lot of time at the Natural Bridge area on the way back down, as well as chasing a couple of grouse up a tree and stopping in the middle of the road for a couple of wandering Elk.
Eventually I made it to Takakkaw Falls which made me very happy as I’ve been turned backed on a number of other occasions where they close the road for the winter, and I had no idea whether it would be open or not (turns out the road was scheduled to be closed the next day, so I just made it).
I spent a good hour or so crawling around on the rocks at the base of the falls. I had wanted to hike up a little ways, but the spray from the falls had coated all the rocks in a solid sheet of ice. So I had to settle with staying further down on the stream out of range of the spray. Which was probably good because it was plenty cold enough without having to face the falling water.
The weather was getting increasingly worse so I decided to head back a bit early, but couldn’t resist taking the long way up Spray Valley and back down Highway 40 in hopes of finding some wildlife, but apparently all the animals had already gone into hiding, and the drive was pretty uneventful.
This Swainson’s Hawk has been taunting me all summer, I think it nests in a tree beside a road that I drive down for work on a weekly basis. I’ve seen it catching gophers, and flying down the road with me at eye level, and eating roadkill in the ditch, and so on and so on, all within a couple of metres of the road and this tree…
So I finally remembered to bring my camera, and the day turned cold and windy and it just sat right there in the tree and stared at me refusing to put on a show. But I got my picture either way.
We decided to take a weekend trip down to Cranbrook in British Columbia and although I’m not really sure why we decided to go there it seemed like a good idea at the time. I think the original destination was Kimberly, but when we got into town it was basically empty, so we decided to continue on to Cranbrook. The weekend turned out to be pretty uneventful and we didn’t end up doing a whole lot other than getting lost on some crappy forestry roads, and a really short hike that was supposed to go to a waterfall, but since the trail was washed out and neither of us wanted to get our feet wet, we never got within sight of the actual falls.
We also took a walk around a wetland on the edge of town, and photographed some Grebes and other waterfowl. Overall not very exciting, at least until we got back to Alberta, where we found a couple of young Osprey in a nest on top of a bridge at Castle Mountain in Banff. Although still juvenile they were nearly adult size, and we watched for a long time while up on the nest, one of them tested out it’s wings, flapping away on the verge of becoming airborne, but never quite achieving liftoff. Further down the parkway we ran into a pair (mother and yearling or two year old cub I think) of Black Bears feeding on berries in front of a mob of people.
Another evening out at Frank Lake…
I had my first experience with the Common Tern, and they may be one of my new favourite birds, I think I could spend hours watching them hover over the water searching for fish and diving down with a splash to catch them in their beaks.
While the Tern’s didn’t stay around very long there were ample other birds to watch and photograph, including the horrendously ugly baby Coots, and the tiny little Eared Grebe chicks riding around on their mothers backs. For the fist time that I’ve been to Frank Lake the light was better than just mediocre, and by the time the golden hour hit, it was just about the perfect way to spend a summers evening on the prairies.
(Pictures are in reverse orders… and it’s far to much of a hassle to rearrange them)
I took a trip down across the border to Glacier National Park in Montana to go camping for the weekend. My original plan was to stay at Many Glaciers, but after a three hour wait at the border, by the time I got there the only site still available backed onto the parking lot for a hotel or grocery store or something like that, so I decided to continued on to glacier. After driving over Logan’s Pass I ended up at Avalanche Campground which turned out to be a really neat area. The campground is in a area of rainforest right next to a grove of large cedars with a boardwalk hiking trail where I spent my first evening wandering around the river and forest (see map below).
I got up stupidly early the next morning and drove back up to the top of the pass in hopes of shooting some pictures. As beautiful as Going to the Sun road is it’s not very photogenic from the road, especially in the early morning when sun hasn’t made it up above the mountains and half the range is still in shadow. I almost hit a Mountain Goat with my car coming around one of the really tight corners near the top of the pass, and was able to snap a picture of it on the way day but with its winter fur still being shed it wasn’t a very pretty one.
After failing to get any good pictures up on the pass I thought I would try going the other direction. I ended up doing a lot of driving allover the place following the river out of the park and doing my best to get lost on some terrible gravel roads. I had been told by someone that there was a lot of wildlife in the park, which was my main reason for going down there, but other than the goat on the pass and a Snowshoe Hare in a parking lot I didn’t see a single thing.
Eventually I made it back to camp and feeling a bit defeated decided I had enough driving for the day. The campground I was staying at was also the trailhead for a hike to Avalanche Lake so I thought I would give it a try.
The hike up to the lake was a really nice change from all of the time I had spent in the car over the last couple of days.
The hike is a basic forest trail climbing steadily over the 4 kilometres and gaining about 200 metres in elevation to the mountain lake. The lake was quite beautiful and I was really wishing I had my fishing rod with me as the fish were jumping and surface feeding all over the lake. I didn’t get to stay at the lake nearly as long as I would have liked, but it was evening when I started, and completely dark by the time I got back.
On the way back I decided to go through Waterton in hopes of seeing some wildlife. I was not disappointed. Within a kilometre or two of crossing the border back into Canada I spotted a moose but didn’t have time to grab my camera, a couple kilometres after that a grizzly crossed the road in front of me, but was gone by the time I got there.
A bit further on I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye and pulled over to have a look. I spent a good ten minutes sitting in my car catching occasional glimpses of movement before I finally figured out what I was seeing. It was huge funny looking bird out in the tall grass, my first Sandhill Crane. Once I figured out it wasn’t a bear I climbed out of the car and went stalking through the grass and bushes to try and get a picture of it. It turned out there was actually two of them, and they move fast, seaming to disappear completely in one place and popping up in another a few moments later. I only manage to get one or two clear shots, but the sighting was enough to make me feel better about the previous lack of wildlife.
Once in the main part of Waterton I drove the Red Rock Canyon Parkway and spent ten minutes watching a cinnamon coloured black bear at a distance, then checked the flats looking for Elk but didn’t spot any. Leaving Waterton I opted for the slower route home through Glenwood so that I could make a quick stop at the windmill farms.
Hike to Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
- Distance – Return (with some walking along the lakeshore) – 8.1 km
- Elevation Gain – 227 metres
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Rainforest Boardwalk, Glacier National Park, Montana
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Random Driving Tour around Glacier National Park and Home to Calgary
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What a great weekend… Karl and I headed out to Jasper on Friday morning making quick time (especially for us) up Highway 93. We stopped briefly for a Mountain Goat on the side of a cliff overlooking the highway, but other than that it was a pretty uneventful drive with cloudy overcast skies not worth photographing.
We made it to the campground relatively early, we had reserved a spot at Whistlers Campground, and on the way in we passed a bunch of Elk with cute little spotted fawns, but were too lazy to change lenses and decided to come back after setting up camp. Big big mistake, we never saw them again.
Later on we had some great success on the Malign Lake Road spotting a bunch of Black Bears, although with overcast skies the light was lacking and faded quickly, but the road was quite and we were able to spend some time photographing them.
The next morning we drove west to Mount Robson and encountered a grizzly on the side of Highway 16, but couldn’t really get into a decent position, until it crossed over the road in front of us. I managed to grab a couple of shots as we passed by on the busy highway, but it was so deep in the ditch that the angle made it almost impossible.
Back at the campground we met up with the Derkowski’s for lunch while they set up camp. After a bit more evening exploring and a ridiculously close encounter on foot with a black bear, we had spotted it from across the lake then parked and walked down to were it was heading and it popped up right in front of us, closer than we had expected.
After that it was dinner time and we feasted on some of the best ever Campfire Chili, and relaxed around the fire enjoying the all you can burn firewood that the campground offers.
The way back was slow with traffic. A washroom break was made amusing by the Parkway’s resident Ravens, and we spotted a beautiful bull Elk with velvet antlers on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff.
Rule #1… Always have your camera ready…
I headed out to do some fishing at Sibbald meadows Pond, and shortly after turning off the highway I was thinking I should pull over and put my long lens on the camera when I spotted this big beautiful (if somewhat shaggy) moose standing knee deep in a marsh with a mouthful of grass staring straight at me… And my camera was still in the bag. It was easily the most iconic moose scene I’ve ever witnessed, and I totally missed it. I stopped in the middle of the road and tried to gear up as quick as I could and got off a couple shots before it headed off away from the road. But it doesn’t really do justice to the original scene.
I don’t think I caught any fish on this particular evening, but a moose sighting, as well as some bluebirds I had been meaning to photograph (there’s a section of the road to the pond lined with nesting boxes), made for a nice evening out..
There is an Osprey nesting platform just off to the side of Highway #22… or The Marquis De Lorne Trail… or Stoney Trail…. I think it’s now being called…
Anyway… it’s right near the overpass were the highway crosses over Macleod Trail on the south end of Calgary. I’ve been driving past the platform for the past few seasons, but never got around to stopping mostly because I wasn’t sure where to access it from. Turns out there is actually a small gravel road that runs right under the nest. After realizing this, and seeing the Osprey return to the nest this spring I decided I would have to find the time to visit it.
The really great thing about this nest is that it is right beside the overpass and you can climb up the embankment and end up only a couple metres below the level of the nest (instead of looking up at it from ground level). The nest is also located right beside a large pond or slough, so it is very active, and you can sit up on the hillside and watch them catch fish in the pond and then return to the nest to eat them.
The pictures below are just a few of the hundreds I shot on two different visits I made to the nest over the course of the summer. You can’t really tell, but on at least one occasion there was two or three young chicks in the nest, though they never really came far enough out of the nest to get a picture of.
I first read something about the endangered Sage Grouse in Grasslands NP a few years ago… and then I read about the Black Footed Ferrets which had become extinct in the wild, until recently when they were successfully reintroduced into Grasslands NP from captive populations. Then I read about the Golden Eagles that nest in areas of the park, and the Burrowing owls and Prairie Dogs (not to be confused with common ground squirrels) that make their home there. While all of these caught my interest, the truth is I had never been to Saskatchewan and I live too close to have never visited our neighboring province. At about 650 kilometres from Calgary it is a long drive to the park, and I couldn’t really justify the distance until I got a super-telephoto lens, as most of the wildlife in the park are birds or small mammals, and I figured it would pretty much be a waste of time with anything shorter than a 300 or 400mm lens.
Not only is it a long drive, but it’s an extremely uneventful one. I only stopped once on the drive there, and that was 600 km in and I only stopped to get gas and dinner (knowing it was the last place to fill up the tank before the park). Toward the end of the drive I turned east onto a rather rundown and potholed but still somewhat paved farm road with ponds and sloughs along the ditches that where filled with ducks and waterfowl of all different kinds. I’ve never before seen such abundance, everywhere I looked there were birds in the ponds, and the skies, and the fields, on every tree branch and fence post, it was pretty unbelievable.
The motto of Saskatchewan is “The land of living skies” I always thought that was in reference to the clouds and big blue wide open skies. But I was wrong, it’s the birds, and although my experience of the province in very limited, I can say its a very suitable motto.
The village at the edge of the park is tiny (there isn’t even a gas station), with little more than a visitor centre (which was closed) and a ‘hotel’ that was nothing more than a house with rooms to rent, and after a quick glance decided tenting in the park was a better option.
The park itself consists of little more than a gravel road running though the open grasslands with a treeless campground on a hilltop in the middle. There were free roaming bison wandering throughout, and the birds were so active that I was stopping every 10 metres to take pictures. I saw my first burrowing owls, the large prairie dog towns, a lone pronghorn, and young bison butting heads and chasing each other around, as well as more small bird than I could count or identify. kingbirds, and mourning doves, and meadowlarks, sparrows of all different design. I almost hit a harrier hawk with my car but it flew off before I could get a decent photo.
Eventually I made it to the campground just as darkness was setting in, and found it completely empty, to say it was a bit eerie is an understatement, but thankfully there was a box of firewood so at least I was able to have a fire.
I was really hoping to try taking some pictures of the night sky and saw the faint glow of northern lights dancing around overhead, but the stars never came out, thick fog and a light dusting of dry snow began to blanketed the campground so I headed off to bed.
I was woken in the middle of the night by the ear piercing yips and howls of coyotes coming from every direction there must have been at least a dozen of them and I was completely surrounded. They were so close that the volumn of there voices hurt my ears and I could hear their footsteps in the tall grass as they circled around my tent. Coyotes don’t frighten me much but it did occur to me that a large pack could become a serious problem. Then I had an idea, and hit the panic button on my car remote, and literally laughed to myself as I heard them scatter, their yips and noises moving quickly away over the side of the hill, before they joined together in a choirs of howls now at a distance.
I woke at sunrise and packed up camp quickly, not sure what my plan was I figured I shouldn’t leave my tent behind just in case. I drove back and forth all morning taking pictures hoping to spot a Sage Grouse or Ferret or Fox, but wasn’t that lucky.
I did spot what I later learned was an American Bittern feeding on insects in a roadside ditch and spent a half hour or so watching the funny looking bird.
Grasslands NP consists of two different areas and I was hoping to visit the second one as well. So when I found a road heading off in that direction I thought I would see where it led. The gravel road quickly turned to a dirt track, and then left the park behind, after a while I started to get nervous, but there was no where to turn around so I kept going, and going, and going.
Two hours later… yes… two extremely nerve-wrecking hours later I finally popped out onto a real gravel road with no idea were I was. Grabbing my gps out of the trunk I turned it on to find out I was literally in the middle of nowhere (If you look at the gps track at the bottom of the page you can see where I was when I turned it on… and how far I now was from the entrance in the southwest corner of the park and access to the campground). I briefly debated continuing on to the eastern park but it was still a long way and with no campground and no Idea what is actually there I was too tired and frustrated to keep exploring, and headed home instead.
Grasslands National Park is an amazing place. Although in all reality I was only in the park for about 12 or 13 hours much of it spent sleeping, I left with a feeling of awe at the place and can’t wait to go back. Next time I will definitely have to plan things a bit better, and probably go later in the year and not alone. Because frankly having an entire National Park to yourself may sound pretty cool (I didn’t see one single other person the whole time in the park), but in all reality it’s kind of creepy.
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I spent the afternoon fishing and chasing birds around at Sibbald Meadows pond…. (that’s really about all there is to say about that).
Headed out to McKinnon Flats southeast of Calgary to do some fishing on the Bow river. On the way there I made a quick stop off at the lake (which doesn’t appear to have a name so I call it McKinnon Lake) that is a little bit down the road and across Highway 22 from the turnoff to the flats.
Although I didn’t find anything especially exciting, the usual suspects (yellow-headed, and red-winged blackbirds) were out in full force and I was able to get a few worthwhile shots.
There is a pond on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway just before the Jumping-pound exit, that for whatever reason draws a group of Trumpeter Swans every spring. While most of the time I’m speeding by on the highway and just get a glimpse of them, today I thought I should take the time to try and get some photos.
To put it bluntly, it was so cold and windy that I could hardly hold the camera still, the light was terrible, the Swans were filthy, and they swam off to the far side of the pond as soon as I pulled up.
Not my best photo stop, but at least I tried, and well there’s always next year.
I’ve been taking the Spring Birding Course put on by the Friends of Fish Creek Society (http://friendsoffishcreek.org/programs/birding-course/), which is basically a weekly guided tour through Fish Creek and some of the other parks in the city. Despite the fact that it seems to snow or rain every Monday morning, and I’m a good three decades younger than everyone else, it’s been both interesting and educational.
On this particular morning we headed down to Carburn Park, which I was particularly excited about as it’s a place I visit frequently and was curious to see what we would find there with a guide.
To my surprise though we never went into the park, but instead headed downstream, and followed along the river towards Douglasdale, and the Deerfoot Trail bridge.
It was a good morning for a walk, and the birds where out in full force, Osprey and swans and geese passing overhead. I saw my first Red-necked Grebe but only got a quick shot off before it dove under the water and disappeared downstream.
The highlight of the day was a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, that popped up from behind a fallen log and scared me half to death. The Pileated Woodpecker is the one that the character Woody Woodpecker is based on, with it’s bright red crown it’s easily recognizable. I had never before seen one of them, and was really surprised to see them, as I didn’t think they came this far north, but apparently I was wrong. What really impressed me about them is how large of a bird they are, easily the size of a magpie, if not a crow.