Bison of Northern British Columbia and The Yukon

A recent trip up to Northern, BC revealed that spring had not managed to visit the entire province equally. As we travelled north of Smithers the snow lining the side of the road grew closer to our vehicle with every kilometre eventually swallowing the road and erasing both the middle yellow and shoulder markers.

After some time we reached our temporary home in Iskut, BC, a beautiful small First Nations community surrounded by large lakes, provincial parks and alpine sights.

A weekend expedition arrived with much anticipation as it meant a crossing a new border for Rebecca and I both, north of 60.  The earth here is about half as big around as it is at the equator.

The landscape seems to obey provincial lines as the familiar forest thins and smaller trees are more common, allowing a much greater chance of critter sightings.

The American bison is common in these parts and it seemed they had a common pastime, sunbathing.

 

The roadways are littered with motionless dark blobs. Moving closer reveals a majestic commanding animal lounging in the sun.

Feeling the heat on your own body you can well imagine what the solar radiation must feel like on a thick coat of dark coarse hair and what a pleasure the cold snow must be on the belly.

With this kind of life, its no wonder they don’t pay much attention to us and our camera noises.

I certainly did like the look of this guy with the beard, maybe even a little envious of his man fleece.

When the sun goes down in The Yukon, there is nothing quite like a roll in the dirt to really set that tan.

Just be sure to check your hair.

 

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Eagles of Costal BC – Part 2 – Portraits

Eagles in the Brackendale area are so abundant its possible to get some great results observing different behaviour and capturing some great eagle expressions. I have photographed many eagles over the past few years and I still get a a chill and a grin when one looks at me directly with such piercing yellow eyes.

They probably wonder why I have eyelashes or how I could possibly manage to peck an eyeball from a fish with my flat mouth and smooth nose.

 

The eagle eye is especially interesting for someone who is interested in light and lenses.

Even the monster 500mm Canon lens does not compare to their ability to see fish beneath the water in moving current from 100m soaring around. Fishermen with polarized glasses have trouble seeing the countershaded salmon beneath the water.

I wouldn’t want to be a swimmer or flier around the Brackendale area during this time. How quickly some animals can turn from predator to prey.

There is really no point in hiding from a Bald Eagle. Attempting to sneak up to a spot will flush most birds and this can be a problem for the health of the animal.

It takes a lot of energy to fly and especially in lean times, this flushing can cause harm to an eagle or group. Its not worth the photograph if you are harming the very thing you enjoy photographing.

Its usually better just to wait and let them come to you.

 

Photographing wildlife is an exercise in patience. Sometimes you sit or stand in a uncomfortable position for hours at a time because you are sure that something will happen, not unlike a gambler in Vegas waiting for the next win.

 

Despite their excellent hunting abilities the Bald Eagle will tend to prefer the fruits of a good scavenge. In this case their fruit is a rotting salmon. Strange that I craved some sushi after this day of shooting. Next time I may invite the eagle.

 

 

This one made me think of 3 old men sitting on a snowy log talking about how easy the juveniles have it now. “Back in my day, the salmon in this river were alive.”

 

 

Despite their similarities, seeing so many eagles at once allows you to pick out personality traits such as shyness, boldness and curiosity. The juveniles are especially bold at times and may choose to dive bomb an adult sitting on a salmon carcass.

Sometimes you can even capture an interesting look and imagine a caption underneath.

I can haz fishburger?

 

 

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Eagles of Costal BC – Part 1

2013 has been a busy year and I cannot believe its already the 29th of January.

Blogging irregularly really illustrates how time can escape even the most attentive of people. I am not one of those people.

General diligence aside, I do enjoy spending time away from large urban centres, observing with great diligence, the sounds, sights and smells of natural environments. In the case of Brackendale, BC during the winter I spent some time listening for the call of the Bald Eagle, watching for interesting behaviour, and the smell of rotting salmon from the run was really hard to miss.

<themoreyouknow>In movies, the call of the Bald Eagle is almost always dubbed over with the sound of a Red Tailed Hawk. It turns out that Hollywood thinks that the shrill call of a Bald Eagle sounds like a nag of your mother in law and doesn’t live up to the majesty of the BE.</themoreyouknow>

 

I managed to come away with a couple of really dynamic images I was very happy with.

 

The light was unusually great at this time of year and I was able to capture some great images with excellent lighting. Normally the days are filled with eagles and overcast skies, flat light and early evenings. Certainly a challenging environment.

 

Its hard to believe that these kings of the skies are squabbling over rotting salmon in the river.

 

I like how this one turned out as well. A good example of some panning and probably noise from the camera come together in a nice painted look.

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Prince Rupert, BC, Canada

Prince Rupert is a city of about 12,000 people on British Columbia’s western coast. I would have thought that few Canadians would venture this far north simply for tourism, however once I arrived I was drawn to the charm and beauty of the region.

You may journey to Prince Rupert for the popular sport fishing opportunities and it would certainly be a great place to catch a giant halibut or salmon. Several fishing boats had returned from sea, cleaning their catches on the docks as Chris and I watched with great interest from a pub across the harbour.

Once on the water, commercial fishing boats and tourist charters alike flock to known fishing areas. Given what we had heard about the activity of the fish below, I wouldn’t think many came back disappointed.

 

 

Of course, this coast is not just home to salmon and halibut. There are many creatures that make their home in the surrounding waters of Prince Rupert. We were able to capture a humpback whale breaching just off our bow.

 

These harbour seals were cautious with our arrival as we were informed some fishermen will shoot them on sight. Seals are seen by some as competition for valued resources.

 

 

To my pleasant surprise, bald eagles are also abundant in the area and you can see them perched on rooftops and railings near the water. Eagles tend to follow the salmon run in various areas as it makes for easy meals.

 

 

For someone who lives more inland, the landscapes of a costal area are always revealing surprises and interesting objects. The snow and wind doesn’t weather objects they way that seawater does. These ocean installations must stand the test of time and the elements however they do show their weakness.

 

 

Prince Rupert is the home to a rich first nations culture and sports many museums and interesting art installations. Before the explorers arrived, the Northwest Coast was one of the most populated areas in North America. Now, Prince Rupert is ranked 26th among populated centres in BC alone. Indian Head Rock is a politically incorrect name but powerful reminder of the first people who lived here long before I had visited.

 

 

 

Interesting objects are everywhere and each urban centre holds many treasures for the interested photographer. This colour scheme and decal caught my eye and I do like how the image turned out. The nice thing about being a photographer in a new place is that it encourages you to slow your pace and examine every detail of the environment you are in. Depending on your audience, even a gas meter can be interesting.

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Cirque d’Osprey

Driving up and down highway 95 between Golden and Radium offers a lot in the way of beautiful landscapes and the rich marsh offers much in the way wildlife. Especially abundant are the osprey nests crafted carefully on manmade platforms near power and telephone poles. These were created to prevent Osprey from building nests in some high energy locations. Just what you need when servicing a high-voltage line, an angry Osprey.

The Osprey is unique in a few different ways, I found one very interesting fact among them. It belongs to the genus Pandion, and the family Pandionidae, but it is the only member of both this genus and family.  Although the Osprey is sometimes called the sea-eagle it differs greatly in the shape and function of its talons. Only the Osprey and owl have a reversible toe that allows them to grasp prey with two in front and two behind. Unlike the mullet it seems its business up front and in the back.

I recently came upon two Osprey fishing in a nearby pond. Their behaviour was risky business, diving from a height above the water into a graceful spashdown. After surfacing, they did not look their best with a healthy case of bed head.

 

At this point I was excited for the bird, I thought for sure he managed to get what he so deserved. His wings started to beat furiously in what looked like a hopeless struggle to get airborne. Water splashing resembled a Saturday afternoon at the local public pool. Finally he is making progress and things manage to look more promising.

 

Seeing his empty talons is sad for the Osprey but makes me happy, because I know he is still hungry and will try again.

Of course its not always fun and games for the patient wildlife photographer. Sometimes you find them perched.

Or in some cases these love birds get it on with a panoramic view of the sunset.

 

And sometimes they let you know when they are tired of the giant lens and the endless clicking. This road is much busier then it used to be.

We should start seeing some little Ospreylets sometime soon. You will see me driving looking for little fliers.

 

 

 

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Rocky Mountain Bighorns – Jasper National Park

Birhorn Sheep are a regular fixture on the roads and hills near the townsite of Jasper.

Truckers must be annoyed by the impolite bighorns as they will not move from the highway, even after a few large big rig horn blows in their direction.

Tourists to the area would definitely disagree as all types of cameras are thrust out car windows in search of those epic vacation shots to bring back to wherever home is.

Its unusual to have to go far to find sheep but the weather of my recent visit was certainly not wildlife friendly with blizzards and cold weather dominating the trip. When the weather finally cleared I asked around and the front desk person at the hotel said he had seen some sheep at Old Fort Point. Funny that I was able to turn right around and see the sheep on top of the hill.

A short drive and steep 10 minute hike later I came up to a herd of about 30 or so males and female sheep.

 

Like a lot of wildlife, photographing sheep is a waiting game. Most of the time they are foraging or chewing. I try to move around and capture some interesting angles or patterns in their faces or horns.

 

 

These two reminded me of a couple having a disagreement and have happened upon some uncomfortable silence.

As the sun faded, the light improved coating everything with a warm glow.

A few of the sheep seemed to enjoy the view as much as I was.

 

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Critters of Yellowstone

I was able to take a run by Yellowstone National Park earlier this month on my way back from a mountain bike excursion. I had never been before and I wondered what I could expect from a very popular American national park.  I suppose I had visions of Starbucks jams competing with bear jams and hordes of iPad photographers rubbing elbows for the killer shot of the single resident Bison (reference: http://foxnewsinsider.com/2012/09/10/incredible-video-wild-bison-charges-group-of-kids-in-yellowstone-national-park). Although most people are frightened of the sharper toothed, Bison account for many visitor related fatalities and injuries. Like our parks in Canada, sometimes the least likely candidate is the one to be wary of.

My hopes of a truly natural refuge were looking even more remote when the park uniform worn by the greeting warden made me giggle out loud. It was definitely unexpectedly expected as I immediately had a flashback to Mr. Ranger’s dapper duds. I suspected a “hey boo-boo” may not have been well received at this time.

I am pleased to say that my contempt quickly faded and I was now very excited to be in the park. Only essential services (gas, food, gifts) were provided in the park and were kept out of the way. An impressive roadway system and comprehensive map collection helped us see many areas of the park. A truly beautiful and photogenic locale.

Back to critters…Elk and Bison share another interesting quality, both animals are incredibly boring although I see a slight winner in the elk for this category. Generally speaking you are far more likely to see either animal head down grazing or chewing, then maybe they will look up? No, back to the grass. So delicious.

Getting a bit creative with the profile you do notice a really nice tonality of hair from the bottom of a magnificent beard to eyelashes, and right up to a snazzy Bill Cosby haircut on top.

Sometimes you even get a nice expression…

 

 

 

 

We did manage to spy a few interesting birds, including the Osprey and Great Blue Heron which revealed themselves not 5 minutes into our trip through the park.

Although the day was grey and overcast, I did try to make the most of a landscape with some tight shots of geothermic rivers and geysers. I was enjoying the color contrast between the grey sky and the mineral deposits outlining the water flow.

I can see why Yellowstone is a frequented area by so many photographers as the quick visit we had definitely sparked my imagination.

 

I will definitely be returning to Yellowstone sometime in the near future.

 

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A Few Costa Rican Predators

Besides the gringos on their downward slope of “the hill” there are lots of interesting lesser photographed predators in the tiny but nature packed Costa Rica. I managed to capture a few interesting specimens less food chain challenged then most.

These photographs were taken in a very out of the way place on the Nicoya Peninsula, when you put “out of the way” and Costa Rica together, imagine really out of the way.

I have been visiting this rich Central American country for several years and have always been impressed in every way, the culture, the warm people, the endless forests and wildlife, the adventure opportunities are abundant and I would recommend a visit to anyone. Costa Rica meaning rich coast was named by Columbus on account of the gold that was supposed to exist. The gold was never found but the name holds true to what the country is today, not wealthy in monetary riches but full to the brim in the things that matter.

Spotting an iguana always makes me excited and somewhat proud of myself. They are experts of disguise and hide among like coloured sticks, branches, rocks, etc. Their movements in short bird like stutters help put off motion noticing eyes such as mine. Make no mistake that the iguana can move when it wants to although I would estimate it only has a 70% chance of crossing a road safely. When running they remind me of a speed walking race, swinging their lizard feet in concentric circles to make the locomotion happen. Horizontal or vertical progress doesn’t seem to matter at all as they can climb a tree with the same effort as traversing short grass.  Like the Mona Lisa, no matter which direction you come from they are always looking at you.

 

 

This cranky little guy is a Roadside Hawk which is ironic considering the conditions of the roads in Costa Rica. Aptly but named without inspiration this hawk was found…on the side of one of the many dirt “roads” in Costa Rica’s west coast.

 

I loved the look of the Mangrove Black Hawk in the fading light of the afternoon. The reflection off the black plumage in contrast to the oranges in the beak and feet reminded me of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, grip the sphere tightly in a conical grasp and hit something sold, your sister is exempt.

I hope I continue to find some hidden gems in my Lightroom library from CR.

 

Back at cha bro, back at cha.

 

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Monkeys!

I was going through some past photos from Costa Rica and finally managed to get through all of the monkey shots. There are so many they could have typed a novel.

Shooting in the morning is abnormally quiet, the jungle cricket party winds down in the very early morning. The true party animals of the jungle ramp up again every night with the very same intensity and ominous hum which I seem to want to describe as audible sandpaper.

The little furry humanoids seem to arrive en masse, they travel in groups across the canopy with a very different view of the world. From the bottom, I see only shoots of sunlight reaching  the fine dirt, fallen leaves and fruit carouses. The trees are backlit in the rising sun that is now winning over darkness but only just so from where I am.

More leaves fall as they rub together, branches bend but rarely snap as the social group of the Capuchin approaches. Their movements are surprisingly human like in their mannerisms yet have the grace and poise you’d expect from a wild tree critter. They are as outwardly curious as I am, always relaxed and happy to come down and pose for a quick photo before searching the canopy for unopened Cacao fruit.

The locals call them cappuccinos on account of their colouring but I think a metaphor as well.

Who wouldn’t like to spend their time in the treetops of the Costa Rican jungle, hanging around with friends and be on a strict diet of chocolate fruit?

 

Another prominent species is the howler monkey. I hear many first time visitors to Costa Rica mistake the howler’s calls for a deadly wild animal and run for cover. If I had to put it into words, it sounds like a didgeridoo player learning to play the tuba, a deeply inhaled guttural maneuver used to keep howler males away. Although mostly black blobs especially in low light, you can catch some beautiful colouring from time to time.

 

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Ghosts and Geese

A couple of days ago, I took a trip Northwest of Calgary in search of a Great Grey Owl population that has been reported to hang out in the area.

Normally these guys are very difficult to spot on account of a number of things that keep them at the top of the food chain. First of all, they are a matte grey with brown coloring on the wings and body, this makes them difficult to spot of they are still, and still they can be, outlasting even the most patient photo nerd.

Although they are one of the largest owls in the world, they can fly without even a whisper, moving through dense forest, banking and bobbing in an seductive float around trunks and over foliage. More Iceman then Maverick.

Spending time with a Great Grey Owl is truly a magical and humbling experience while I trod around the snow, albeit clumsy for a wild animal, I cant help but make my presence known. The owl looks at me in disgust with a still yellow stare, and decides that I do not matter either to its safety or hunting and goes back to listening for food.

The Great Grey will locate a speedy mouse in the tall grass by sound and then follows with an intense stare. This concentration can last for a few seconds or a few minutes and its prey cannot know what doom lurks above.

After two quick shuffles and a hop resembling the Time Warp, the phantom dives to the ground talons first in attempt for quick kill. This encounter produced a very low success rate.

If he does catch something, he will then shuffle the prey under his feet until dead, then eat it himself or bring it back to a nest. Either way you can get great bloody beak shots.

I stayed for a few minutes here but eventually left this one to hunt some more. I was grateful for a photogenic owl and an excellent sport.

 

And now for something completely different…Although not an expert hunter, but an expert at deification, I managed to get a cute shot of this Canada Goose.

Anyone who runs along the Bow River knows how hard it is to avoid the goose poop around this time of year.

 

 

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