Archive for May, 2011

Close Encounters of the Four-legged Kind

Grey wolf on ridge above Bow Valley Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Grey wolf on ridge above Bow Valley Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Encouraged by my success from this past weekend, I returned to the mountains today hoping that my luck would continue.  I left Calgary at 3:45 am to attempt a sunrise at Morant’s Curve, outside of Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway, with the plan of continuing on afterward to shoot bears and other wildlife.  Morant’s Curve was a bust thanks to low-lying clouds so I took the opportunity to prepare my gear and get an early start on the Icefields Parkway in search of wildlife.

While cruising the Icefields Parkway north of Saskatchewan Crossing, I spotted something cross the road and duck into the trees at the opposite end of a long straight stretch.  I took a landmark of where the animal appeared to enter the trees and slowed my progress until finally pulling even with the location.  Fully expecting the creature to be long gone by this point, I was shocked to find a very light colored wolf with a white radio collar staring back at me through 10 feet of brush.  The wolf began walking through the forest parallel to the road and realizing that I was not about to get any clean shots by pursuing, I carried on down the road a short ways to find a clearing.  I sat quietly hoping that my car would suffice as a blind and that the wolf would continue on its path but it apparently had other plans.  Figuring that the wolf may use the nearby river to avoid my presence, I continued to a nearby access point to the river.  Immediately upon stepping out of my vehicle, I realized that the wind was working against me as I was now upwind of the wolf but I continued to the riverbed nonetheless where I sat quietly in vain before reluctantly pressing on.

I covered many kilometers up and down the Icefields Parkway finding little of interest so I returned to Lake Louise to try my luck on the Bow Valley Parkway.  My plan of exploring mid-week was working out perfectly considering I was able to cruise the Parkway at slow speeds without having to worry about other park users; however, I also wasn’t finding any wildlife, until suddenly I rounded a corner to find myself staring at a large grey wolf.  I snatched my camera off the passenger seat and the wolf began up a nearby ridge.  As soon as the wolf begin its climb two black wolves came into view just up the road.  Since the black wolves were on my passenger side, so I concentrated on the grey wolf, shooting as it traversed the ridge.

As I shot the wolf on the ridge, one black wolf pursued the grey wolf uphill while the third wolf jumped over the guardrail and seemingly disappeared.  Soon I was sitting alone wondering what my next move should be when the black wolf that had disappeared over the guardrail suddenly reappeared and walked up to my open passenger-side window.  As calmly as possible, I raised my camera and managed a burst of five exposures before the wolf thought better of its surroundings and joined the others on the ridge.

I made my way down to a nearby field and positioned myself downwind, hoping that the wolves would continue their last known course and right past my lense but after a stream of vehicles pulling beside my vehicle wondering what I was looking at, I decided that the wolves were unlikely to make an encore appearance.  Unsure of what I had actually captured, if anything; I took a moment to review my shots.  I was pleased to see that what appeared to be several usable shots but that could not be verified until I got home.  I was particularly concerned about the portrait shots of the black wolf that approached my passenger side just feet away.  I had been using my 400mm lense, which is not purposed for such tight quarters, so I was afraid that the photos would be out of focus.

 

Scarred Wolf Portrait

Scarred Wolf Portrait

 

I continued to patrol the Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway into the evening.  I did locate one grizzly bear that was eating roots on a steep downhill bank that had already drawn a large crowd, so I watched from a distance until the bear inevitably moved on and the crowd dispersed.  I had an idea of which direction the bear had departed but never did manage to find the grizzly again.

In all, I covered 1,032 km in 15:19 of exhausting driving and finally arrived home at 8:25 pm but today’s wolf encounter was worth every moment!  I immediately uploaded today’s images and was happy to find that my wolf images were indeed usable and got to work preparing them for this post!  Upon reviewing the wolf portrait photo on my camera, I had noticed what appeared to be an eye injury or infection due to a large amount of matting and scabbing around its right eye.  Once on the large screen of my computer monitor, a very obvious cut can be seen on the upper and lower lid with a jagged scratch through the center of the eye.  I cleaned up the matting prior to posting because no one wants to see that but left the scars to uniquely identify this wolf.

 

1,330 km yields Grizzlies & Wolves

 

 

Boar walking along Icefields Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Boar walking along Icefields Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

 

I recently arrived home from my first extended trip into the field in far too long.  I have managed to pry myself away and retreat into the mountains several times but home and work commitments have largely taken precedence.  As a very long winter slowly released its grip and early reports began to trickle in that bears had begun to emerge from their dens, I began to get the itch.

 

Spring Grizzly Bear, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Spring Grizzly Bear, Banff, Alberta, Canada

 

On Friday evening, I drove into the mountains planning to cover a lot of ground and scout the area to determine where to concentrate my efforts in the coming days.  I crawled through Kananaskis determining what food sources were available for bears but was disappointed that the recent warm weather and rain hadn’t rid the area of snow.  I had covered a lot of area and had explored the areas that had been productive in previous years, turning up nothing other than the usual dozens of deer and elk.  I was backtracking along Highway 40 when I crested a hill to find a parked vehicle and a dog trotting up the shoulder of the road in my direction.  I slowed, all along watching this particularly lanky dog.  Just as I pulled even with the dog it clicked; I wasn’t looking at a dog at all, it was a wolf!  I quickly pulled a U-turn and grabbed my camera off the passenger seat to hopefully get a couple quick shots off, if I managed to pull even with the wolf before it disappeared.  Unfortunately, the wolf ducked into the trees shortly before I caught up with it.  I was disappointed to miss an opportunity to photograph the wolf but left the park satisfied to have simply had the opportunity to see such an elusive creature.

 

Mount Kidd sunrise, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

Mount Kidd sunrise, Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

 

The next morning I was on the road at 4:30 to photograph sunrise in Kananaskis and continue my search for wildlife.  I retraced my route from the previous night and turned up nothing or interest, which was disappointing but I still had a lot more ground to cover in Banff and Kootenay.  Not long into my planned Banff route, I passed a stand of trees to find yet another wolf standing in the center of a meadow hunting mice.  I managed to bring my car to a stop and get a number of shots before the wolf disappeared into the forest.  I continued on my route and found little of interest through the rest of the day.

 

Wolf on the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Wolf on the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

 

Sunday morning I once again hit the road at 4:30 headed for Castle Mountain for what turned out to be a lackluster sunrise.   I packed up quickly and began a slow drive of the route that I had laid out the night before.  The early morning shadows played tricks on me and I found myself braking often for bear shaped rocks and stumps.  Thankfully, not long into the route, I bagged my first grizzly of the season, which tolerated my presence as it dug up and ate roots.  This particular bear was not overly impressive in stature but looked healthy after its long winter and broke the shutout early.  After some time, the bear laid behind a screen of tag alders to soak in the early morning sunshine, which made for an interesting scene to watch but not particularly photogenic so I pressed on.

 

Camouflage Bear

Camouflage Bear

 

Within 10 minutes I came upon a large male grizzly wandering down the side of the Icefields Parkway.  Unfortunately, I had several vehicles piled up behind me and there seems to be no orderly way for several vehicles to stop at a bear sighting, so I continued up the road a short distance to find a safe spot to pull over.  Meanwhile, my pursuers awkwardly parked all over the road in an attempt to catch a fleeting glance of the bear, which was scared off by the commotion.  I patiently sat hoping the other spectators would grow restless and move on, which thankfully they did.  Within minutes of their departure, the bear reemerged to assess the situation and I was ready snapping photos.

 

Grizzly Bear emerging from forest, Icefields Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Grizzly Bear emerging from forest, Icefields Parkway, Banff, Alberta, Canada

 

Over the next two hours the boar would casually walk by my vehicle while I shot frame after frame, at which point I would advance up the road and reposition looking for a suitable, obstruction-free background and wait.  Other vehicles came and went but because they would attempt to keep pace, the bear would inevitably feel pressured and disappear into the forest only to reemerge once they left.  The boar and I leapfrogged each other until the road got busy and the constant caravan of camper vans and tour buses finally drove the grizzly away for good.  In all, I spent a couple hours with an impressive, healthy boar who seemed content to tolerate me and pose for my camera.

 

Grizzly Boar, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Grizzly Boar, Banff, Alberta, Canada

 

Boar portrait.

Boar portrait.

 

I drove back to Calgary very satisfied with my first major outing of the year, having seen a pair of wolves and a pair of grizzlies but it came at a price of 1,330 km with a drive time of 17 hours 34 minutes, according to my car.  I am heading back into the mountains tomorrow morning to hopefully spend some uninterrupted time with the animals before the weekend rush.

 

 

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