When I started this website and my Facebook/Instagram pages earlier this year I had no idea what to expect. Now, a year later, I am completely blown away by all the support and encouragement that I’ve received. It’s been incredible to be able to share my passion for wildlife with such a great group of like-minded people.This year has been an exciting one and I’ve been lucky to have had many amazing wildlife encounters. I’ve put together a list of my top 12 wildlife photos from the year and have included a bit more of the story behind each encounter. I hope you enjoy the photos and I wish you all a happy 2016 filled with adventure and wildlife stories of your own! (*Note: If viewing this Blog on your phone please click on each photo for clearer resolution*)
#12. Mountain Goat and Kid
I had been in Jasper National Park with friends for a few days. On our way home we spotted a group of Mountain Goats high up on the snowy peaks. We pulled over, grabbed our gear, and trudged through the snow up the mountainside. As we watched, the Nanny led her Kid across the steep snow-covered slope. Mountain Goats are known for their sure-footedness as they have cloven hooves and rough foot pads that help them to grip and balance on the rocks. Suddenly, halfway across the cliff-face, the Kid lost his footing. As he slid through the snow head-first all we could imagine was this cute little guy slipping off the mountain side and plummeting to the ground below. Luckily he managed to recover and made it safely across. Despite the dangers that come with living on the side of a mountain, Mountain Goats are actually safer on these cliffs than they are on flatter terrain. Predators like cougars and wolves are less likely to attack them on these steep rock faces.
#11. Moose on the Run
A good friend of mine had asked to tag along as I headed out to Banff National Park one morning. We were driving along when we noticed some movement in the bushes alongside the road. We pulled over and watched as two Bull Moose appeared through the brush. The larger of the two Bulls suddenly started crossing the road. My friend and I quickly swapped seats so that I could continue to photograph him (not the easiest thing to do while wearing four layers of clothes and being in a small SUV). We watched the Bull for quite awhile as he fed on twigs in the snowy meadow. Then all at once, the Bull decided he had better places to be. Passing through a narrow opening in the trees, his pace quickened to a full gallop. He dashed through the deep snow, up a small hill, and disappeared into the trees. Observing his speed reminded me how agile and powerful Moose really are – they are known to run up to speeds of 56 kilometers an hour over short distances. Pretty amazing!
#10. White-Tailed Buck
One thing I love about wildlife photography is that you never know what animals you’re going to see (if any!). This photo of a White-tailed Buck in Kananaskis Country is one of my favourites because it reminds me of two things. One – simple is better. The composition and background of the image are very uncomplicated. There aren’t too many distractions and so the focus remains on the Deer. Two – don’t spend all your time and effort on finding the “elite” animals (like bears and wolves). Sometimes it’s the more common animals that can make a beautiful photograph. This photo reminds me that all wild animals are special and beautiful in their own way.
#9. Red Fox Relaxing
I was completely surprised one day when I spotted a Red Fox in Banff National Park. They aren’t often seen in the park. She was making her way through the grass and looked to be hunting. I’ve always dreamed of getting a shot of a fox mid-air in its characteristic high pounce so I sat and waited for her to spring into action. But one of the most frustrating (and rewarding) things about wildlife photography is that wild animals don’t always do what you would like them to do 😉 So instead of pouncing and hunting voles for the next hour as I’d dreamed about, she simply sat and rested. And after sitting for quite some time she…lay down and dozed off. All joking aside, it’s always a wonderful feeling to know that a wild animal is comfortable in your presence and will choose to rest knowing you are nearby. I love this image because to me she looks so calm and peaceful and seems to be enjoying the Spring sunshine.
#8. A Grizzly…finally!
I didn’t have the best of luck with bears this year. I went all Spring and Summer without seeing a Grizzly. It was in October when I finally lucked out and spotted this beautiful female Grizzly Bear. She was making her way across a hillside digging up roots to eat, preparing for the long winter ahead in her den. At first she was hard to spot because her fur blended so well with the fall colors of the hillside. It was her movement that eventually caught my eye. As I sat and watched her continue to forage, using her gigantic claws to unearth the roots, I was reminded of how strong and powerful these bears really are. I took a lot of shots of her that day but this was my favourite as I think it illustrates her strength and sheer size. The photo also serves as a good reminder to always carry bear spray when in the mountains 😉
#7. Grumpy Owl
This Spring, I decided to make my dream of seeing a Burrowing Owl in the wild come true. So I packed up my car with some supplies and headed out to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. I didn’t really know what to expect as it had been a long time since I’d driven through the Canadian Prairies. It was incredible – the vast openness of the prairies was stunning and the feeling of being alone was welcoming after leaving the bustling city of Calgary behind.
I spent four nights camping in the back of my car (my back definitely didn’t love me by the end of the fourth night) but it was an amazing adventure. I spent a couple of days exploring the park and photographing Bison and Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs. I was starting to lose hope of finding my little feathered friend when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. I had been staring all morning at the Prairie Dogs, knowing that Burrowing Owls will often use their burrows as their own. It was then that I noticed a rather thin, rather tall, Prairie Dog. I yanked out my binoculars and sure enough, it wasn’t a Prairie Dog at all but a tiny Burrowing Owl. I had found him! Spending four nights in a sleeping bag in the back of my car with no shower had paid off!These little Owls have such personality and character. And if looks could kill…I would never have made it home! Ha-ha.
#6. Raven Love
I had headed out on the Icefields Parkway early one morning when I spotted a pair of Ravens on a snowbank. I pulled over and headed out to see if I could get a shot of them together. I was happy to see they didn’t fly away as I approached them. I sunk down into the snow and tried to stay as still as possible. I sat and observed the pair for quite awhile as the sun rose. They would hop around in the snow and then would stop to preen each other. It was just after one of these grooming sessions that I witnessed this intimate moment between them. Ravens are remarkable, beautiful birds. They are very intelligent and are believed to mate for life. I felt really fortunate to capture this tender moment between the pair and I like to think it shows the affection they have for one another.
#5. Playful Swift Fox Pups
As I mentioned above, I originally set out for Grasslands National Park this Spring to photograph Burrowing Owls. Car camping for four nights can be a pretty interesting experience but it was well worth it. I saw a wide variety of wildlife on my trip: pronghorn, black-tailed prairie dogs, great horned owl and owlets, burrowing owls, bison, hares, coyotes, hawks and wild turkeys. Seeing and photographing a Burrowing Owl was definitely a highlight but the best part of my trip happened on my way home.
I was driving along the dusty road, dreaming of my next shower, when some movement to my right caught my eye. I screeched to a stop, dropped the car in reverse and backed up the road. Glancing around, my eyes came to rest on a tiny fur ball…a Swift Fox Pup. I couldn’t believe it! Swift Fox are endangered in Canada and disappeared entirely from the wild in the 20th century, mostly due to habitat destruction. Later in the 1980s, various organizations and governments came together and worked to reintroduce the Swift Fox to the Canadian Prairies. Although the foxes are having some success, their numbers remain low and they continue to be classified as endangered. To come across a Swift Fox den was pretty incredible.
I spent the morning watching the Pups (5 in total) and their mother. The pups played and practiced their hunting skills while their mother lay nearby seeming to enjoy some much needed relaxation. As the morning progressed, the mother pushed the pups back into the den and disappeared behind a slight hill. I was supposed to be back in Calgary that evening but I quickly dialed up my husband and told him I would be delayed one more night. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up! To this day, these Swift Fox Pups are the cutest animals I’ve ever seen.
#4. Sharing Secrets and #3. Mama Swift Fox
I spent the next morning with the Swift Fox family. They seemed to behave quite naturally, only glancing in my direction a couple of times. I sat in my mobile blind (aka my car) in the sweltering heat for hours trying to stay as still as possible. I watched as the five Pups played and wrestled. They chased rocks and each other, practicing their hunting skills. They would jump on their mother and tug at her ears and she would reciprocate by grooming their bellies. I witnessed many moments of affection and tenderness between this mother and her five Pups but the image below was one was my favourites.
Another of my favourite images was one of the mother fox returning to the den with a mouthful of food. She seemed to be an excellent hunter as I saw her come back at least twice with prey for her little ones. This is an image I took that second morning after waiting for her to appear for close to two hours. I’m not sure exactly what she has in her mouth (some type of bird) but I’m sure her Pups thought it was delicious! Spending time with this Swift Fox family is something I will never forget and definitely one of the highlights of my year.
#2. The Alpha
I was lucky to have a couple encounters with wild Wolves this year in the Canadian Rockies (see my #1 image below for my top encounter). This photo is of an alpha male wild Wolf. Of all the Wolves I’ve seen, he is by far the most beautiful. His face is so expressive and his colouring is gorgeous. This photo was taken as he waited for his Pups to catch up to him. Wolves are highly social animals, living in packs of varying sizes and they travel and hunt in a group. They will perform almost all of their activities in the company of their pack members.
#1. Wild Wolf Pup
I was out hiking in the Canadian Rockies a few months ago when I had my top wildlife encounter of the year. I had heard some noise up ahead on the trail and instinctively reached for my bear spray. I took a few more steps forward and spotted an object laying in the middle of the path up ahead. I grabbed my binoculars and was shocked to see that the object was a deer leg. My heart started to pound as I slowly backed up the way I came. The last thing I needed was to stumble upon a fresh Grizzly kill. As I backtracked, off to my left I suddenly heard a bark. Right then I knew I had come across a Wolf kill.
I continued to slowly make my way back up the trail when some movement caught my eye. I turned and there, amongst the brush, a good distance away, were two wild Wolf Pups. Wolves are my absolute favourite animals to photograph so I was thrilled to see them. I wasn’t so thrilled about the idea that a large Grizzly could also be close by. I continued to make my way slowly back up the path keeping my eyes and ears open for any other sounds or movements. When I was a safer distance away and had a better vantage point I continued to watch the Pups. When their meal was over, one Pup stood up, stretched, and disappeared into the trees. The other Pup was more curious and playful and I sat and watched as she lunged at twigs buried in the grass. I took this shot after she had finished one of these pounces. It’s my favorite image of the year.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my favourite wildlife encounters of 2015. If you’d like to follow along with my adventures please feel free to ‘Like’ my Facebook Page and also follow me on Instagram. Also please feel free to leave a comment below.
Happy New Year everyone!!