January 7, 2016
2015: A photographic year to remember. I was fortunate to escape to the outdoors on numerous occasions to develop my field and technical skills in photography more than any other year. Mountains. Prairie. Boreal. And more prairie. I was out and about almost exclusively in Alberta with a short stint in Ontario. I typically tend to feel a sense of wanderlust as time goes on between "vacations" - a trip when I get out of country. However, I managed to see so many new places in Alberta and get out often enough to keep the wanderlust at bay.
After much internal debate I have selected the following 15 photographs as my favorites from a fruitful and productive year. Your feedback and comments would be greatly appreciated. Do you have a favorite? Did I omit a particular image that caught your attention?
Prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus)
Pincher Creek, Alberta
When you stumble across a family cliffside dwelling prairie falcons, you have to stop and take pictures. The one thing you may fail to realize in your excitement is that they live on a cliff. Capturing these magnificent birds on their lichen covered perches required much uncomfortable belly crawling on steep rocky outcrops and a bit of luck. Speaking of lichen covered rocks - a great way to spot commonly used perches is to look for these rocks where the falcons hang out, poop, and deliver the nutrients necessary for lichen growth.
Milk River, Alberta
The number one rule to capturing great pictures is to have a camera handy. That was just the case for this shot where I had 5 hours to kill in the middle-of-nowhere-Alberta and birds and other wildlife were absent. An incoming storm always makes skylines interesting.
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)
I couldn't complete this post without including a Ferruginous Hawk. From April to August I was in southern Alberta conducting research on North America's largest hawk for the first seasons of my Master of Science degree. This allowed me daily opportunities to capture countless images of this regal bird. In the end it was a toss up between this adult being closely pursued by a trio of Brewer's Blackbirds and this fledgling portrait.
American Pine Marten (Martes americana)
Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, Alberta
This summer while hiking around Beauvais Lake I was lucky enough to spend several minutes with this cute member of the weasel family. Immediately before encountering this kit it sibling tore past me and into the forest.
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Red Deer Lake, Alberta
Birds don't like when you get close to their nest or chicks, but sometimes it's inevitable. While out looking for plovers, this avocet treated me with a brilliant "broken wing" display whereby they attempt to distract a potential predator while their chicks run to safety. This photographer was certainly distracted.
Porcupine Hills, Alberta
A drive home through the foothills sometimes leads to unpredictable conditions. In this case, I was driving through a cloud. With my vision obscured and hazardous driving conditions everywhere I looked, pulling over to take a couple pictures while the mist subsided just made sense. I never thought they would turn out like this though.
White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)
St. Albert, Alberta
Sometimes you don't have to venture far to capture something special. Our neighborhood jackrabbit was sitting happily on the snowy driveway and was surprisingly co-operative. The snowy background is key here, emphasizing the camouflage associated with winter pelage.
Elk (Cervus canadensis)
Jasper National Park, Alberta
I may have a been a week or so too early before the elk rut this September, but when I came across this calm, massive bull elk basking in early morning light I was smiling from ear to ear.
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
This years only picture from outside of Alberta. A juvenile green heron and a flash of pink from a flower in bloom. This small heron was at the top of my list of birds to see in Ontario and I lucked out and found a family of three.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
A moody little owl peaks out from its cavity. This cavity was likely formed by a woodpecker in previous season. It was and currently is the only saw-whet owl I've come across in the wild.
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
A deer in a blooming field is one of those pictures I've always dreamed of. However, I envisioned the deer in a canola field. I'll take the pink clover every time though. Mule deer shed their antlers over a period of two to three weeks in the winter months and rapidly regrow them over summer. While growing, antlers are covered in a velvety layer of skin, which provides the nutrients necessary for antler growth. You can see the fuzzy look of the antlers in this photograph.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginanus)
Occasionally you have to look through the trees to find what you're looking for. If you're lucky there will be something staring right back at you!
This photograph perfectly illustrates one of the big dilemmas I came across this summer - is my data worth risking injury or worse (there was a Ferruginous Hawk nest in one of those distant trees)? This storm was moving in rapidly with a funnel cloud forming directly overhead. Oh, I should mention that we take 10+ foot metal poles with cameras attached to look into the hawk nests. Right decision? I think so.
Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus)
Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, Alberta
Birds are predictable (sometimes). This male woodpecker had several very hungry mouths to feed and would go out to forage for a few minutes and then be back at the nest with food. All I had to do was setup my camera and tripod and wait. It's nice when things work out.
Red Fox Kits (Vulpes vulpes)
Fort Macleod, Alberta
Two kits stare longingly into space. They were very playful and didn't seem to mind my presence. It really doesn't get much cuter than this though.
Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)
Water Valley, Alberta
One of my last shoots of the year was arguably the best and choosing a single image was tough. Once I saw this owl lock its big yellow eyes on the ground I knew it was preparing to dive after a vole. Field skills are crucial if you want to a) find wildlife and b) capture interesting action or behaviours.