Another amazing trip out in Kananaskis Country, I took the entire Highwood loop heading south out of calgary. Shortly after going over the pass I spotted a young grizzly bear on the roadside (almost in the same place as on my previous trip), and spent quite a while photographing it before it wandered off into the trees. By the time I finished with the bear the weather which had started out pretty crappy had blown through, and it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful night.
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.
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.
It was a warm sunny Wednesday afternoon, and I was off work early so I figured I’d head out to Kananaskis for one last chance to shoot some pictures before the snow started to pile up. Heading down Highway #40 it was all sunshine and blue skies, but the wind was so strong and cold you couldn’t stand outside for more than a minute before being blinded by watering eyes (which always makes shooting photos a bit difficult). After a short walk around Mount Lorette Ponds, and some roadside shots of Barrier Lake I made my way up Spray Lakes Trail.
A bit of a winter storm blew through and I got snowed on for a while, before it cleared up again just in time for sunset. There was a fair amount of old dirty snow in the ditches along Spray Lakes Trail, so between that, the clouds, and the falling snow I didn’t shoot a whole lot of photos. On the way back I stopped for what turned out to be some pretty decent shots of Spillway Lake, the sky had totally cleared up by now, and the sun was pretty much down, but still shining off the mountain range across the lake, which made for some nice low-key high contrast images.
Bow Valley Provincial Park is a lot bigger than I expected. I’ve driven past the entrance a few hundred times, and did stop in once but only made it as far as the parking lot and information centre before the sun went down. So I think I assumed that was all there was to the park. There is actually a fair bit of road to explore, and a great little picnic area on the shore of the Bow river with a fantastic view of Mount John Laurie (Yamnuska). Which I will most definitely be revisiting with my fly rod come next spring.
I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I could have in Bow Valley because my plan was to drive the Banff Parkway and look for wildlife. Unfortunately once I got into the National Park the weather turned a bit nasty, and after a few hundred kilometres of driving the only animal encounter I had was with a massive bull Elk at the Johnson’s Canyon Parking lot. Which turned out pretty good despite the mob of cell phone tourist chasing the poor thing around.
Other than the Elk there wasn’t much going on for photography, although the sky did clear up a little, and turned into a spectacular sunset. Which I pretty much missed (I had the spot I wanted to photograph, but didn’t make it back there until it was mostly over). I did shoot a few pictures, but wasn’t really happy with the results, I tried to salvage them in post by converting to HDR’s but still couldn’t get the result I wanted.
Elk Island National Park is located 35 KM east of Edmonton on the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy. #16). It is one of Canada’s smaller national parks at only 194 square kilometres, and the only completely enclosed national park.
By the time I got to the park I was pretty sick of driving, so it was really nice to get to the slow and relaxing pace of the Elk Island Parkway.
Like I said, its a pretty small park, only about 20 km from north to south, and about half that from east to west, with the parkway running north/south through the middle of it with only a couple of offshoots from the main road. The first of these offshoots is the Bison Loop Road, a dirt track that travels in a loop through a mostly open field where the bison like to hang out. I spotted a coyote in the under-brush shortly after turning on to the loop, but it was too far of for decent photos. Towards the end of the loop I spotted my first bison of the trip, a mother and calf (but I’ll leave that for the next post).
Further up the parkway I found another coyote on the side of the road, this time I was able to get a couple of photos before it disappeared over the hill. Shortly after that I spotted a Ruffed Grouse in the grass along the roadside (my first ever).
After driving down most of the roads in the park I was in serious need of some time out of the car (and it was the worst possible time of day for wildlife) so I thought I’d go for a quick hike, and ended up at the Beaver Pond Trail.
It was a nice short (3.5km) easy walk through Aspen forests (one of Canada’s most endangered habitats), but not overly exciting, and to my dismay, there was no beaver ponds, and therefore no beavers or waterfowl to photograph, which was the main reason I chose this particular trail (It wasn’t until I got back to the car that I stopped to read the information marker which explained how the ponds had dried up a couple of decades ago, (I guess I should have taken the time to read it at the start)).
One thing that I noticed about the park was that there was bee or wasp hives hanging from trees all over the place (on more than one occasion I stopped the car thinking I’d spotted it an owl or other large bird up in the trees only to realize it was a hive). Despite all the hives, I never actually noticed a problem with bees or wasps, but it could have been because it was so late in the year. There did however seem to be an incredible amount and variety of damselflies (dragonflies) fluttering about the trail, so I stopped to shoot a few shots.
After the hike I was in need of a nap, so I headed in to Fort Saskatchewan (and was awed and disgusted by all the refineries there) to find a hotel and a rest. I made another trip to the park for sunset, and then again for sunrise the next morning before heading home.
I saw a whole lot of bison, as well as three coyotes, a couple of deer, only a few elk from a distance (which was surprising considering they estimate the elk population at over 1,000). Lots of ducks and geese, a couple of Trumpeter Swans from a long way off, and two moose, (one while I was outside the park driving along the fence-line, it was trying to get out of the park, the other from inside the park, it was on the outside of the fence trying to find a way in). One of the definite highlights though was a little black and white skunk running along the roadside (I was about to get a photo but one of the parks trucks came flying over the hill and almost ran over it).
I was actually really impressed with the park, and the amount of wildlife I saw (the bison alone were worth the drive). But the scenery was pretty none-existent which could have been largely to do with the time of year (everything was overgrown and turning brown), it was however a nice change not to have to switch lenses every five minutes, (I think I put on my wide lens once the whole time I was in the park).
I’d really love to go back at a different time of year when the animals are more active, and the migrating birds are coming through, but I would definitely plan to spend more time, although the park is small there’s enough to see and do to keep me busy for at least a few more days.
It had been a few years since the last time I had been down to Waterton National Park, and I thought it was time for another visit. I had also been wanting to shoot some pictures of the windmills down by Pincher Creek so I thought I’d head down to the park for the morning, and maybe stay the night in Pincher Creek. But then I was talking to my father and he mentioned the wind-farms down by Glenwood (which is closer and on the way to the park).
So anyway, I was up early. Like four in the morning early, and was well out of town before the sky started to lighten. I do a lot of shooting in the mountains, and so I sometimes forget just how incredible a sunrise in the prairies can be. The colours in the sky were phenomenal but unfortunately I was on the highway with nothing much to photograph during the most dramatic part of the morning.
I did eventually find my way to Glenwood, and caught the last little bit of colour in the skies over the windmills. There was some really great scenery down there with the farms and the prairies and the windmills, and I would have liked to spend a bit more time shooting down there, but I was still in a hurry to get down to the park before all the wildlife retreated for the day.
I had to go out to Banff for work to do a delivery to a production company that was filming a movie out there, so I figured that I might as well bring my camera and make an afternoon of it.
And…. It was pretty much a waste of time……..!
I headed up the parkway, shot a couple bad photos at all the usual spots, and finally made it up to Moraine Lake (after years of failed attempts). But by the time I got there it was pretty much dark, a storm was rolling in, and the light and clouds were total garbage, so I climbed up the ‘Rock Pile’ took a few bad photos, and headed back.
Note to self (and any other photographers)…..
If you want to take pictures of Moraine Lake you need to go at sunrise in the early spring so that the sun is in position to give the view the light it deserves. Sunset in the fall is pretty much just a waste of time.
The pictures really were garbage, so I did what any self respecting photographer would do… Made them into HDR’s, and edited the $#!% out of them.
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.
We were still a bit excited after seeing the bear near Golden. So we thought we’d take a detour and stop at Moraine Lake by Lake Louise (I’ve been trying to get there for three years now). Unfortunately, like usual the road to the lake was still closed.
Feeling unsatisfied we decided to take the slow route back to Banff down the Bow Valley Parkway. We stopped at all the usual scenic spots to take photos. The light was a bit contrasty (hence the HDRs), but it had turned into a nice day, and it was good to get out of the car.
We spotted a couple of really tame Elk, that wandered right down beside us while we were out having a look at a little pond I’ve never noticed before (the name escapes me).
It turned out to be a really beautiful sunset, but we were already on the way back, and anxious to be home before dark, so we didn’t bother stopping.
I heard from a fellow photographer that there was a Great Horned Owl that had nested and in Fish Creek Park, and had recently had a couple chicks. So I went down to see if I could find them. It didn’t take very long to figure out where they were, as there was already a bunch of photographers down there watching them. It was pretty neat to see them, but with the nest facing east, and the sun setting directly behind it, shooting pictures was a bit of a waste of time. I think that Owl chicks might possible be one of the ugliest creatures on the planet.
I took a nice long walk through the park, and saw a lot of other birds. The highlight (apart form the owls) was a pair of American Kestrels, but they were way to fast to get a decent photo.
It was a particularly warm January afternoon, so I thought I’d take a walk and maybe do some fishing at Carburn Park. The fishing wasn’t really happening, but I did get up close with some of the resident White-tailed Deer, and of course the ducks!
This was the third time I’ve been camping at Loon Lake. Just north of the US border and west of Fernie B.C., it’s one of the nicest lakes I’ve camped at. One of the things I really like about the lake, is that the area is a little warmer and drier and quite different than where I usually camp. The most noticeable thing is that there are turtles and crayfish in the water, as well as wild blueberries growing on the shoreline, and as the name suggests, a healthy population of Common Loons. On this trip the weather was nice and hot, and the morning fog that formed over the lake at sunrise was absolutely amazing to see.
I took a walk half-way around the lake at sunrise, hoping to get some shots of the loons, but the fog was so thick I couldn’t get a decent shot, and they had moved off to the other side of the lake by the time it began to clear up.
I did manage to get a couple of shots of turtles from the shore, but they don’t do them justice (they have a bright red and orange belly). They are pretty skittish on shore hard to get close to without a boat. Unfortunately I wasn’t ready to risk my camera in a small inflatable dingy.
Fish Pond on the side of Spray Lakes Trail somewhere near the trail-head to Buller Pass, I don’t actually think it has a name, but Buller Pond seems like a good one to me and from looking online I’m not the first one to call it that.
I Had an amazing evening fly fishing on this little pond, catching more fish than I could keep track of. I think my record for the night was six casts in a row with a fish on the end. Although I most of them got off the hook before I could land them, which was OK by me because I catch and release anyway so it just meant I didn’t have to get my hands wet (and on more than one occasion was able to hook more than one fish on a single cast). It wasn’t until after they stopped biting that I realized the hook I was using had the tip broken off and I might as well have been using a bent paper clip.
Unfortunately photographing live fish is a two-man job.
Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes
June 1st and it’s still winter at the Upper Lake.
A couple hundred yards downhill it’s springtime and the Lower Lake is ready for some fishing!
Mountain pond on the side of Spray-Lakes Trail near Lower Kananaskis Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.