Not much to say, sometimes you just have a good day. I found this beauty on the side of Highway 40 and spent literally a couple of hours sitting back in the car watching. There was very little traffic and all the people that stopped to look were unusually respectful, turning off engines and staying in their cars. He/she never appeared to be even the slightest bit stressed out and had no reason to run off.
It was there on the roadside long enough that I eventually left it at one point, but when I ran into a group of Big-Horned Sheep a kilometre or so down the road, heading at a fast pace straight toward the bear I thought I would go back and see what happened. In the end it wasn’t all that exciting. The herd was trotting along down the middle of the road when suddenly all of them stopped in their tracks and looked up at the direction of the bear. There was a pause and then they all turned and ran back in the direction that they had come from. The bear didn’t even notice. In it’s defence I should point out that it was directly up wind of the sheep.
Of all the Bears I’ve seen this was definitely my best encounter to date, and one of the most beautiful example of an Eastern Slope Grizzly Bear I have ever seen.
For the first camping trip of the year we (Karl, Steve, Melissa, The Derkowskis, and myself) went to Little Elbow Campground (I think thats what it’s called) along the Elbow River on the Bragg Creek side of Kananaskis Country. We had planned to do this trip the previous year, but the whole area was washed out and closed due to the flooding. In order to avoid the May long weekend crowd we decided to go the next week instead so it made for a nice quiet weekend.
We took a hike west along the river for a ways and then turned and headed up hill to explore a canyon (the name of which I cannot think of right now). It was a nice little hike, although we couldn’t go very far up the canyon because of ice and water that was still left over from the winter. The most interesting part of the hike was surveying all of the damage along the river that was still evident from the previous years flood.
After the hike we met up with Rob and the boys and kicked back for some campfire chili which was a bit of a fiasco because the spice level was completely off the chart. But with a few adjustments, and a loaf of fresh made campfire baked sourdough bread to go with it, it turned out pretty darn good.
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.
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.
In the last week or so of June 2013 Calgary had its worst flood in well…. ever… with both rivers spilling over their banks and flowing through much of downtown. But you probably know all this so that’s about all I’m gonna say about it (here’s some more info if you don’t know all about it… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Alberta_floods).
Anyway things were pretty crazy in town, but in all reality it didn’t affect me in the least little bit, in fact I never even saw any of the flood water or river until about a week after it had crested. But as soon as the roads began reopen in Kananaskis country I knew I had to head out to have a look at the damage.
The damage was pretty crazy to see… tiny little streams had cut 20 foot chasms into hillsides and stripped shorelines of trees and plants and soil in huge swaths and ripping roads and bridges right off their foundations. What was really amazing was to see just how much earth the water had moved, roadside ditches that had been 10 feet deep were now filled to road level with dirty or gravel, and whole hillside that used to overlook the iver were simply not there anymore. At one point on the Spray Lakes trail I got out to take a walk along the stream that runs parallel to the road. The first thing I noticed was how wide the stream-bed was, it had probably only been about 10 feet across before the flood, but was now more like 40 or 50 feet across, with the bank on the other side made up of a wall of freshly exposed soil. But what really got me was the smell. The smell of pine coming from the hundreds or thousands of twisted, broken, and downed pine trees that lined the sides of the shore was so strong it literally made my eyes water and burned my sinuses, it was really quite remarkable.
Looking back (yes it’s almost a year later that I’m writing this), whats really crazy to think about is just how long the scars of that flood will be present, the debris and sticks and branches and mud stuck ten feet high in the trees will likely take a good 5 years to be dislodge and washed completely away. The piles of broken and downed trees might be recognizable for a decade or two or three. The changed in the course of the rivers and streams, and the deposits of gravel and dirt and boulders might take a few decades to become healed to the point where they no longer look like a visible scar on the landscape, but in all reality they might be there for a few centuries or longer, or basically forever, at least until the next big flood. Or until we decide to pave over them and put in a new parking lot.
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.
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.
I started out in the prairies, watching swallows (which are almost impossible to photography) working on their nest at one of the roadside birdhouses. After that I headed up through Jumpingpound spotting Buffleheads and Goldeneyes in one of the ponds along the way. Next it was a White-Crowned Sparrow (my first), when I stopped to use the washroom at Mount Lorette Ponds.
When I left town the weather was pretty crappy, windy and cloudy, and not very nice, but the further I got into mountains the nicer it got. By the time I made it to the Shark Mountain turn-off on Spray-Lakes trail it was a beautiful spring evening. While there was still snow higher-up, it was great to see the rivers and streams had already thawed and were flowing high with spring melt.
On the return trip I spotted a pair of Grizzlies (mother and cub), walking down highway 40 from what must have been at least a kilometre or two in the distance. Cutting the engine I coasted down the hill doing my best not to spook them, but a winters worth of gravel on the roadway grinding under my tires was enough to scare them off the road before I could get very close. Thankfully I had my long lens and 1.4X on and was able to get some great shots of them crossing the road and climbing over the guard rail.
After leaving the road they climbed down the embankment, and I spent a half hour or so before it got too dark watching them (from a really bad angle) while they fed on new spring growth.
There was an Elk on the hillside about 20 metres behind them, and neither the bear nor the Elk even blinked at the others presence, they just kept on grazing. I found this very interesting, because everyone knows bears are blood thirsty carnivorous that kill everything they see…
After a mostly uneventful day in Jasper I thought that rather than trying to shoot ugly scenery under grey overcast skies I would spend the day exploring the unknown stretch of Highway 40 between Hinton and Rocky Mountain House (I’ve previously driven the stretch from Highway 1, to Rocky Mountain House, and from Highway 1 all the way south to Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass and the US border).
As expected it was a long day of driving, with more than a few rather sketchy sections with the highway winding around and in a few cases making use of what must have been little more than forestry logging roads.
The weather was such that there was very little opportunity for any kind of landscape photography, and for most of the day you could hardly see the mountains at all.
I did have a couple of run-ins with some large groups of both Big-Horned Sheep and Elk, which is always fun.
What I found really interesting was how much industry is going on up there, with coal mines and logging operations all over the place.
Overall it was another pretty uneventful day, but I could imagine the drive being a lot more interesting and enjoyable on a sunny summer day.
I thought I would go up to Jasper for the weekend and see how spring was progressing in the mountains. It wasn’t really progressing at all, in fact it was still totally winter for most of the drive up Highway 93. Jasper itself was at least mostly snow free, although all the lakes and ponds were still ice covered. The drive up was completely uneventful apart from the terrible driving conditions at the Columbia Icefields. I did catch a glimpse of a Black Bear but it was long gone into the forest before I could get the car stopped and the camera out.
I had completely given up for the night and was heading back from Maligne Lake when I spotted a fox sitting in the ditch on the side of the road by the turn-off to Maligne Canyon. The last bit of light was disappearing quickly and I did what I could to get a couple of shots in while it wandered along the roadside, stopping occasionally to mark its territory or pull large disgusting lumps of grey winter fur from it’s tail and hindquarters. I stayed and watched until it was completely dark, I even shot a few flash photos when it walked right up beside my car. This was the first fox I’ve ever had a chance to photograph, and although the light and scene was horrible and the fox was pretty awful looking because of it’s spring molting, It was a great experience to just watch it going about it’s business.
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.
Frank Lake is a Ducks Unlimited conservation site southeast of Calgary that is an important breeding site for many migratory birds (http://www.ducks.ca/your-province/alberta/wetlands-area/frank-lake/). How I went this long without hearing about this place completely baffles me, so when I was told about it I headed down for a look the first chance I got.
One of the birds on my list to find and photograph this year was the American Avocet. I spotted one the previous spring and thought they were pretty cool looking so I was hoping to get some photos when their migration brought them up north again.
All I can say about Frank Lake is that it’s pretty awesome. On my first visit there I found not only the one Avocet I was looking for, but was greeted by an entire flock of a few dozen of them wading around in a pool right near where I parked my car. There is also a great viewing blind that sits out over the water where you can watch all the ducks and geese out on the lake.
While there I spotted a large unfamiliar bird landing in the reeds off in the distance, and though it was too far away to identify at the time I shot some (really bad) photos, and after getting home was able identify it as a Black Crowned Night Heron. A bird I had never even heard of let alone seen before, so that was pretty exciting.
When I fist arrived at the lake I ran into a lady who asked me about Short-eared owls (at least I think that’s what she was asking, her English was not great, and I was rather confused). But then later when the sun was pretty much down and I was packing up I saw what was obviously some kind of owl flying around way off in the distance. I shot a couple of photos but was pretty much out of light so I put my gear away and headed out. Then as I was driving the gravel road back away from the lake it flew right up to within 10 metres of my passenger window and followed along beside me for a couple of hundred metres. She was right, it was a Short Eared Owl.
Overall my first experience at Frank Lake was pretty awesome, and I’m sure I’ll be heading back again in the near future.
With the weather finally starting to warm up I planned a hiking trip out to Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country with a couple of friends. But unfortunatly I found out a few days before that the trail was closed to prevent erosion and had to come up with another plan. After looking at the trail reports, it was obvious that we were going to have to stick to the lower elevations if we didn’t want to end up waist deep in snow. Most of the trails I’ve been wanting to hike were still reporting 1+ metres of snow, and high avalache risks.
After reading this I figured we should probably stick to something nice and easy. I finally settled on Mount Black Prince Cirque Trail, a nice easy 4.2 km loop (I clocked it at 4.98km) with about 90 metres of elevation gain.
The trailhead is at a parking lot marked Mount Black Prince, on Spray Lakes Trail, about 8km from Kananaskis Lakes Trail.
The trail starts out on a old abandoned logging road, heading easily uphill for about 15 minutes, before leveling out crossing over a bridge and leading into a boulder strew forested area to the shore of Warspite Lake. From what I read before the hike the lake had dried up a few years ago, so I was pleasently surprised when we got there and found a nice little lake.
After following along the side of the lake and through a open boulder covered area, the trail crosses a nice little footbridge over a small stream and enters thick forest before looping back around and reconnecting to the logging road and heading back down the hill.
There was still quite a bit of snow in patches on the trail, and the weather was pretty crappy with a sprinkling of rain. Although the tempurature was almost perfact for hiking (not cold, but cool enough to be comfortable).
The overcast sky was absolutely atrocious for taking photos, and I made the rookie mistake of not realizing I was shooting with my ISO still set to a 1000. So the photos are heavily edited and pretty crappy, but sometimes thats just how it goes.
Total distance: 4.98 km (3.1 mi)
Total time: 1:56:09
Moving time: 1:03:06
Average speed: 2.57 km/h (1.6 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 4.73 km/h (2.9 mi/h)
Max speed: 10.50 km/h (6.5 mi/h)
Average pace: 23.33 min/km (37.5 min/mi)
Average moving pace: 12.67 min/km (20.4 min/mi)
Min pace: 5.72 min/km (9.2 min/mi)
Max elevation: 1826 m (5992 ft)
Min elevation: 1714 m (5622 ft)
Elevation gain: 303 m (993 ft)
Max grade: 0 %
Min grade: 0 %
Recorded: 16-06-2012 14:05
Activity type: –
I took a quick drive out to Kananskis Country and Spray Lakes, mostly just to see how much snow was still out there as I was planing a hiking trip the next weekend. I also wanted to do some fishing, and planned too stop by Buller Pond to see if it had been stocked with trout yet.
It was probably a good thing I went, because as it turned out the planned hiking trail was closed to prevent trail erosion during the spring run-off.
I stopped at the pond, but couldn’t see any fish (it’s really shallow and clear so if they were there I should have been able to see them). It turned out that the pond was actually stocked in May as opposed to June as the hatcheries report said it was scheduled to be. So I guess I was already too late for the good fishing.
I never knew we had Partridges in Calgary until a few months ago, when a fellow photographer posted some photos that she had taken in her back yard. Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out looking for them. I had a delivery to do for work way out in the country by Millerville, so I thought I’d bring my camera along, because on previous trips there I have seen moose, coyotes pheasant, and maybe even a cougar (but it was too far away to be sure). Of course since I had my camera along this time there was nothing to be seen. But later on that day while doing a delivery to an industrial park on the north side of town I spotted this pair (there was actually two of them) of Partridges in the ditch about ten feet from Deerfoot Trail. Thankfully I still had my camera with me.
I don’t think I had ever been to Big Hill Springs before, so when one of my photo groups planned an outing there I though it was a great idea. But when It came time to go I had a couple of friends wanting to come and we were running late. So we just went and did our own thing (I said hello to the group in passing, but that was about it).
The springs make up a nice little set of waterfalls, so we spent some time playing with long exposures. Other than the water there wasn’t really much to photograph, and the light was pretty flat and gloomy, so we ended up doing a bit of a hike (more like a walk) through the park.
There is a nice little trail that passes by all of the falls, and then continues on up through the forest in a big loop that ends up back at the parking lot. It was solid ice in a few spots, which got somewhat tricky on the steep sections, but other than that was a nice walk walk through the forest.
Total Distance: 2.59 km (1.6 mi)
Total Time: 1:03:30
Moving Time: 31:48
Average Speed: 2.45 km/h (1.5 mi/h)
Average Moving Speed: 4.89 km/h (3.0 mi/h)
Max Speed: 11.13 km/h (6.9 mi/h)
Min Elevation: 1178 m (3865 ft)
Max Elevation: 1266 m (4153 ft)
Elevation Gain: 215 m (705 ft)
Max Grade: 0 %
Min Grade: 0 %
Recorded: Sun Feb 05 14:54:56 MST 2012
Activity type: trail hiking