Rick Andrews Photography: Blog https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog en-us (C) 2010-2019 Rick Andrews Photography (Rick Andrews Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u365077850-o422823401-50.jpg Rick Andrews Photography: Blog https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog 120 80 Wildlife Photography for the Greater Good https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2019/1/wildlife-photography-for-the-greater-good In my last blog post I suggested that some wildlife photographers often appear to be more motivated by the number of “likes” they receive on social media, than they do about the welfare of their wildlife subjects. Some readers took exception to this and wrote me saying that they are motivated by a love of wildlife and that they enjoy sharing this love (along with their photographs) with others through social media. In fairness I believe that as wildlife photographers we are all motivated by a love of wildlife, why else would we endure all the challenges associated with this type of photography?  But does adding photos to social media benefit wildlife in any way? Surely there has to be a greater good.

This was a dilemma I found myself in several years ago. I derive a lot of enjoyment from watching and photographing animals, but what, if anything, do I give them in return? The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to give back. The question was - how?

Female Coastal Wolf Coastal wolves (Canis lupus columbianus) are a genetically distinct sub-species of grey wolf that are found only on the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. One day while taking my camera for a walk in our local wetlands, I met Ken Moore, who at that time was President of the “Friends of Helen Schular Nature Centre Society.” He told me that he donated his time each week helping out at the Nature Centre. While I thought this was a noble cause, I was not sure this was a good fit for me. But then he mentioned that some people also “volunteer” by donating their photographs to be used by the Nature Centre for educational use.  

The light came on.   

He invited me to stop in and take a look at some of the programs and interesting items on display, so I took him up on on his offer and soon got to know some of the friendly staff and selfless volunteers who put in countless hours helping to educate the public about the local flora and fauna. Then a few weeks later the Nature Centre contacted me and asked if I would consider donating a few images for use in a display about American Beavers. Over the next several months this grew to include donated images for streetlight banners as well as additional galleries at the Nature Centre. All of which I was very happy to do.

Sandhill CraneSandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) prefer to nest in areas with standing water such as marshes, bogs and wet meadows. OK, you may be thinking, this is all great but how does any of this actually help wildlife?

While doing research for the documentary film “Country Club Marmots,” I was shocked to learn that according to the Living Planet Report of 2018 published by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians continue to decline at unprecedented rates. In fact according to them, since 1970 they estimate we have lost over 60% of these worldwide populations.

Let that sink in for a moment, over 60%!

Again, according to them, one of the most serious threats, and a contributing factor to declining wildlife populations is the degradation and loss of wildlife habitat.  

As of November 2018, human global populations were estimated to have reached 7.7 billion people. To put that growth into perspective, it took over 200,000 years for the global population to reach 1 billion, but only another 200 years to reach 7 billion. As our human population continues to grow exponentially, we need more land for agriculture, for housing and for transportation, and all of that comes at the expense of wildlife habitat.

Here in North America, particularly in western Canada, we are largely sheltered from what is happening in the rest of the world. And as we go about our busy lives raising children and earning a living, these things are often lost on us. But the reality is that habitat loss is very real, even in this part of the world.

 

So what can we as wildlife photographers do to help?

Through my wildlife photography and film making it is my hope that audiences will not only be exposed to our diversity of wildlife, but also learn more about them by seeing animal behaviour they may not have experienced before. If people begin to care about wildlife, then ultimately they should also care about the protection of wildlife habitat.  The two are not mutually exclusive. Premiere screening.An enthusiastic audience enjoyed the premier screening of my wildlife documentary "Wildlife of the Oldman River." Photo: Curtis Goodman

Not sure how to do this? Well there are many worthwhile causes including NGO’s that are working hard to restore and preserve wildlife habitat. If there are any in your area, then perhaps you may want to consider volunteering some of your time, or perhaps donating a few images to help illustrate their cause.

Alternately perhaps you could put together a wildlife slideshow to present at your local photography club or naturalist society meeting where you could also share your knowledge and experiences about the species you are presenting. Who knows, perhaps you may even learn something from your audience that you did not know. It really does work both ways.

OK you say, this may be alright for you, but there are a lot of us who lead very busy lives and simply do not have enough time left in a day to volunteer. I get that, I really do, but at the very least, when posting to social media, I encourage you to do a little research and include some additional information about the subject that your friends and followers may not know. Who knows, perhaps they will find this so interesting, they may even begin to conduct a little research of their own.  

I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but if scientists are right, we may be very close to the tipping point where animal populations as they exist on this planet today may soon become unsustainable. If this is true, then we had better ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren? Will the only animals they see be the one in our photographs? I certainly hope not, and encourage you, for their sake, to become involved in any way you can. 

Thank you!

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Canada disappearing wildlife habitat responsible wildlife photography Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography using wildlife photography for the greater good Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2019/1/wildlife-photography-for-the-greater-good Wed, 30 Jan 2019 22:43:33 GMT
Responsible Wildlife Photography https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2019/1/responsible-wildlife-photography In the past couple of weeks, a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) appeared in the woodland of our local river valley. In the days that followed, both “birders” and “wildlife photographers” alike, from far and wide, excitedly began scouring the woods hoping to spot this diminutive little owl, and hopefully, get a few quick shots of it. I was one of the hopeful. Although I had seen a saw-whet owl a couple of years ago in British Columbia, its location in a conifer tree unfortunately did not lead to the best photo opportunities. So I welcomed the chance for a "do-over."

When alarmed, these owls make a “skiew” call that apparently sounds like the whetting of a saw blade. Although I have to admit I do not whet too many saw blades, I understand this is how they first got their name. At only 20 cm tall, it is one of the smallest owls that inhabit parkland, foothill and Rocky Mountain natural regions within our Province. Lethbridge is probably situated on the very eastern edge of this range.

Like many owls, the saw-whet is strictly nocturnal and hunts only at night, therefore if spotted during daylight hours, there is a very good chance it will be sleeping. This is exactly as I found it, along with a small group of photographers who had gathered below the tree in which it was roosting.

Responsible Wildlife PhotographySleepy saw-whet owl

While most “birders” I have met appear to be knowledgeable about, and respectful of the birds they encounter, unfortunately I can’t always say the same for “wildlife photographers.” While there are many that do practice ethical and responsible wildlife photography, there are also unfortunately those for whom an image posted on social media, appears to be far more important than the welfare of their wildlife subject.

As I stood with this small group of photographers, they told me of others who had considered using a mirror to reflect available light into the tree cavity to artificially illuminate the owl as it slept. There were also stories of people using cell phones to play recorded calls or tapping on the tree to presumably rouse the owl from its sleep so they could photograph it with open eyes.

I also heard from a “birder” who was one of the first people to spot this owl, as well as from a staff member at our local Nature Centre, who both told me that when the owl was first spotted it was roosting in dense vegetation just above eye-level. While this vegetation provided protection as it slept, it created a similar problem to that which I had encountered earlier in British Columbia. It was just too difficult to photograph clearly. However instead of accepting this and perhaps waiting for a better opportunity, someone decided to remove all the cross twigs to presumably provide a clearer shot of the owl. Unfortunately what they did not understand is that once the cross twigs had been removed, there was no further protection, and therefore little chance the owl would ever return to that spot again.    

Responsible wildlife photography is about so much more than simply generating social media “likes” and “shares.” In my opinion, what separates a good “wildlife photographer” from a hobbyist, is that they learn as much as possible about any species they are fortunate to encounter. They learn about its habits, where it can be found and in what season. They understand the impact that their presence may have on its feeding or sleeping habits, and when they encounter sensitive species, they talk in hushed voices and do not make any sudden movements. They also understand that winter is often a critical time for wildlife, and that in some cases, winter may very well determine if they live to see another Spring. But most importantly, they also understand that, without exception, the welfare of wildlife is always far more important than any image, no matter how good that image may be.

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Aegolius acadicus) Alberta Canada Oldman River Valley Responsible Wildlife Photography Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Saw-whet owl Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2019/1/responsible-wildlife-photography Wed, 16 Jan 2019 20:13:43 GMT
2018 - Year in Review https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/12/2018---year-in-review 2018 has been an exceptional year that kicked off with the premiere screening of my first wildlife documentary film, “Wildlife of the Oldman River Valley” at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre in Lethbridge.

Although the event was well publicized, that evening turned out to be cold and snowy, providing people with a lot of reasons to stay home and keep warm. But Lethbridge audiences are an intrepid bunch, and with a half hour still to go before show time, the Nature Centre was packed with a standing room only audience, prompting staff to head out into the parking lot to begin turning people away.

"Wildlife of the Oldman River Valley" premiered to a capacity audience at the Helen Schular Nature Centre in January 2018.

After another three screenings there, the film was then shown to a capacity audience at the Lethbridge International Film Festival, which in turn was followed by a screening at the Kainai Ecosystems Protection Association fifth annual summit. Over the summer and early fall, I was invited to show the film at 12 other venues including a final screening for the “Friends of Helen Schular Nature Centre” at which DVD’s of the film were first released. These DVD's are still available for a purchase price of only $25 with all proceeds going to help fund a new outdoor learning classroom at the Nature Centre.

During the spring and summer months I spent a great deal of time filming birds that either migrate into, or through, southern Alberta. This year we had a very late spring with lots of snow and ice that later led to flooding in many areas. Although I was able to document some avian species, there were many I could not, so this will now likely become a two-year project with a release date targeted for early 2020.   

CoastalWolf-7741LThis young coastal wolf was both curious and timid and wanted to take a closer look at the camera. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia.

In August I traveled to one of the outer islands in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, led by guides Marven Robinson and Tim Irvin I spent a week filming coastal wolves. Look for this short film, along with a short “behind the scenes” documentary to be premiered at the Helen Schular Nature Centre, March 8, 2019, followed by a second screening at the Lethbridge International Film Festival on March 9, 2019.

Country Club Marmots was one of several short films shot in 2018.

In early spring, I began filming a short documentary about a colony of yellow-yellow-bellied marmots that have lived on the grounds of our local country club for the past several decades. “Country Club Marmots” follows these marmots as they emerge from winter hibernation and show off their new kits. This is a fun documentary that shows how we can easily and peacefully co-exist with wildlife if we put our minds to it.  

In early November a rafter of wild turkey’s suddenly appeared in one of Lethbridge’s river valley parks. “Lethbridge Wild Turkey’s” is another short film that documents these turkey’s and speculates where they may have come from and how they got there.  

Wild Meriam Turkeys in Lethbridge's Indian Battle Park.

Next year should be an equally exciting year as I resume filming the bird migration documentary begun earlier this year. I am also trying to find a way to return to the Great Bear Forest to make a short film about the “Spirit Bears,” so say tuned, there will be lots more to come.  

But for now, as yet another year draws to a close, I want to thank you all for your visits to my image gallery, for reading my ramblings, and taking the time to post your very kind comments.

I hope each of you has a safe and happy holiday season, and wish you and your loved ones, good health and much happiness in 2019.
All the best,
Rick

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta British Columbia Canada Coastal Wolves Country Club Marmots Great Bear Rainforest Lethbridge Wild Turkeys Marven Robinson Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Tim Irvin Wildlife Wildlife of the Oldman River Valley https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/12/2018---year-in-review Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:07:20 GMT
Coastal Wolves https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/8/coastal-wolves It feels good to be back in coastal British Columbia. It was two years ago that I first joined up with wildlife guides Marven Robinson and Tim Irvin, as we photographed the shy and elusive Spirit Bear in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

This year we’re back, and along with fellow wildlife photographer Lance Gilliland, and former journalist Simran Gill, I’m hoping to film coastal wolves and learn a little more about them firsthand.

CoastalWolfCoastal wolves (Canis lupus columbianus) are genetically distinct from their inland cousins (Canis lupus) and have evolved to live in the coastal areas of north and west central British Columbia.

In North America, gray wolves (canis lupus) were once widespread, but during human settlement their populations were decimated, and in many areas they have now been completely extirpated. But on British Columbia’s west central coast and remote islands, there still lives a population of genetically distinct coastal wolves (Canis lupus columbianus), that remain almost entirely untouched by human interaction.

In reaching these islands, the wolves swim as far as 13 kilometres, defying strong ocean currents and blustery coastal winds. Yet they are not new arrivals, they have lived here for millennia and are inextricably linked to this unique ecosystem where the land meets the sea.

Here, in addition to Sitka black-tailed deer, the wolves diet consists of clams, crabs and marine carrion such as squid, seals and perhaps the odd whale. In the fall they also catch and eat migrating salmon that swim up the coastal rivers and creeks to spawn. Although these salmon are eaten by bears, eagles and ravens, some scientists believe they may carry a parasite that could be harmful to wolves. So instead of eating the whole fish, the wolves eat only the heads, which contain no parasites, yet are very rich in omega 3 fatty acids.   

On the flight up, I couldn't help wondering how successful we would be. In the past 10 years or so, I have seen only four wild wolves, and each of those sightings was very brief. The difficulty of photographing wolves is echoed by Ian McAllister who has spent at least 25 years following these wolves, who wrote in his book The Last Wild Wolves, "Just seeing a wolf in the rainforest is a gift, never mind photographing one." Still I can't help hoping that we will have a wonderful encounter, one that will give me an opportunity to get a few clear shots, instead of the fuzzy distant shots I currently have tucked away somewhere. And while I'm imagining this, why not include the hauntingly beautiful sound of wolves howling?, as I lay comfortably tucked away in my sleeping bag. Marvens BoatelMarven's BoatelTo minimize our human imprint on the coastal wolves (Canis lupus columbianus) we camped on two herring skiffs anchored in the bay of a remote west coast island. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia.

To improve our chances of success, instead of heading back into the heart of the rainforest, Marven feels we’ll have better luck on the remote coastal islands that make up the west coast archipelago. Because these islands are so remote, it's important to minimize our human footprint, so we will utilize three boats (dubbed "Marven's Boatel by Simran Gill) to establish our camp. Then, instead of trying to track the wolves, Marven suggested that we let the wolves come to us, which turned out to be a very successful strategy.

On the second day, Simran, Lance and myself were waiting for Marven and Tim to finish getting ready, the tide was out and we were standing behind the boat. Simran casually strolled alongside it, then turned and said "there's a dog standing in front of the boat, does Marven have a dog?" Lance and I glanced quickly at each other, and as we joined Simran, we saw our first wolf standing just a short distance away.

Coastal Wolf Coastal wolves (Canis lupus columbianus) move effortlessly through the rocky intertidal zone, and their colouring allows them to blend seamlessly into their surroundings. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia.

As the week progressed our luck held and we had several other successful sightings, including one morning when Tim spotted three wolves on the far side of the estuary. Looking through the binoculars I could see them trotting along in single-file. Their gait was very relaxed as they glided effortlessly along, yet within a few seconds they had passed completely out of sight.  

In our later encounters with this pack, it was easy to see that they are very intelligent and highly social in nature. Some were curious and came closer to check us out, some were playful and frolicked on the sand flat in the middle of the estuary, as if we weren’t even there. Some came right into our camp, biting and licking the boat anchors, and tugging on the anchor ropes with their teeth. Still others remained indifferent and continued to set their own comfort zone by remaining a safe distance away.

Coastal WolfThis coastal wolf (Canis lupus columbianus) was both curious and playful, and enjoyed licking the boat anchor and tugging on the anchor rope. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia.

On our fifth day, about 1:30 in the morning we were awakened by the sound of howling wolves. The tide was out and the pack was running around on the sand flat just beyond our camp. Marven and a few of the others got up to watch them as they chased each other around in the moonlight. Still half asleep in my sleeping bag, I listened to the sound of their howling, and realized that sometimes, dreams really do come true.   

More images & video here.   

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) British Columbia Canada canis lupus canis lupus columbianus carnivore Coastal wolves Giga'at First Nation Great Bear Rainforest mammal Marven Robinson Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Tim Irvin Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/8/coastal-wolves Fri, 24 Aug 2018 16:48:27 GMT
KEPA Summit 2018 https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/6/kepa-summit-2018 Last week I was very happy to screen my documentary film “Wildlife of the Oldman River Valley” at the fifth annual KEPA (Kainai Ecosystems Protection Association) Summit held that day at the University of Lethbridge. The following day, as a registrant of the Summit, I was honoured to visit the Belly Buttes, and watch a Niitoy-yiss (tipi) raising and transfer ceremony at the “Aakokaa’tsin” (Sun Dance) site on the Blood Reserve.

BellyButte_Pano_1The Belly Buttes

The Belly Buttes are sacred sites that the Blackfoot First Nation have traditionally visited for thousands of years. On a clear day from the top of the Buttes one can see the Porcupine Hills to the north, the Cypress Hills to the east, and Chief Mountain and the Sweetgrass Hills to the south in Montana. While there, we were told by one of the elders that when Treaty Seven was first conceived, the Canadian Government wanted to move the Kainai to an area around Gleichen, Alberta. But the Kainai wanted to remain in the very southern part of the Province, insisting that the Belly Buttes must be included in their Reserve. Today it lies at its centre.

Stretching out below the Belly Buttes is the land where the Kainai traditionally camp for their annual aakokaa’tsin. The aakokaa'tsin is a great cultural celebration held in midsummer during which the dancers honour the sun. Because it once included self torture, it was banned by the Indian Act of 1885, but in 1951 the ban was dropped.

It was on this traditional site where a new niitoy-yiss was to be raised. After lashing the four main poles together, the niitoy-yiss frame was raised and supplemented with additional poles to create a sturdy round structure. Since the niitoy-yiss was traditionally the property of the women, they were now the only ones allowed to touch its cover.  

Not all niitoy-yiss covers are painted, but those that are, are done with purpose, and the right to paint a niitoy-yiss cover is considered a great honour that is transferred from one person to another by way of formal ceremony.

TipiRaising-6661-2KEPA 2018 Niitoy-yiss The design of this cover was conceived by Kainai elder Charlie Crow Chief and painted by fellow band member William Singer III. The bottom design symbolizes the earth and pays a spiritual tribute to the importance of mother earth as the source of all physical life. The top symbolizes the father sky as the upper limit of the physical world and includes a cross representing the morning star or a butterfly, and the 7 stars of the big dipper, representing children who have gone back to the stars, who are now away from danger and are there to teach the importance of caring for the children of future generations.

All human events therefore occurred between mother earth below and father sky above, and the space between the two is traditionally used to depict human events and interaction. On this cover, each of the four Kainai clans are represented - the buffalo, wolf, eagle and beaver.  

Once the niitoy-yiss had been erected, we were then invited inside to witness the transfer ceremony in which its construction and design were then passed along to others.

TipiRaising-6669Kainai singers and drummers, (l - r) Travis Plaited Hair, Leroy Little Bear, Alex Shade, Peter Weasel Moccasin and Mike Bruised Head.

It is not everyone who is invited to visit these sacred sites, observe the ceremonies or hear the stories told by Kainai elders. I feel extremely privileged therefore to have been included and remain ever grateful for having witnessed these very special events.

I would also like to offer my special thanks to Blackfoot consultant Api’ soomaahka, for his input and guidance in the writing of this blog post.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) aakokaa'tsin alberta blackfoot blood reserve canada kainai niitoy-yiss rick andrews wildlife photography sun dance tipi https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2018/6/kepa-summit-2018 Mon, 11 Jun 2018 17:27:15 GMT
Wildlife of the Oldman River Documentary Film Update https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/11/wildlife-of-the-oldman-river-documentary-film-update Wow what a year! With the exception of a week spent in Alaska photographing coastal brown bears, the remainder of the year (and three months of last year), were all dedicated to filming my first documentary film - “Wildlife of the Oldman River Valley.”

Set in Lethbridge’s beautiful Oldman River valley, the documentary follows a variety of wildlife and highlights the challenges they face throughout each of the four seasons. Species such as Mule and White-tailed Deer, American Beavers, Coyotes, American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, nesting Great Horned Owls and reptiles such as Prairie Rattlesnakes and Bull Snakes are all included, along with underwater sequences featuring Wandering Garter Snakes fishing and Western Painted Turtles swimming.

RattleSnake-5255.MP4Prairie rattlesnakes enjoying the warmth of the spring sun at the entrance of their hibernaculum. Looking back I have to say that this was a very ambitious undertaking for my first documentary. Although to be honest, I don’t think I began with the idea of making a documentary, instead what began as taking a few random video clips to supplement my still shots, slowly evolved into something very much larger.

As a wildlife photographer, I much prefer being outside, photographing, watching wildlife and learning as much as I can about any species I'm fortunate to be working with at the time. So I often look upon my time spent in post-processing as a necessary evil in order to share my love of wildlife with others. But I have to say, post-processing single images is nothing compared to editing video and audio tracks. Compiling video into usable sequences, adding background audio, writing scripts and performing voice-over narration is all very challenging, especially for the first time.    

Rick-Voice-OverRecording the voice-over audio track Originally I had flirted with the idea of making four, twenty minute documentaries, one for each season, and while I certainly had enough footage to do that, I eventually decided on a single 40+ minute film. In many ways, I think this was the better choice as it forced me to take a long hard look at the footage I was including, and while this was often a bit of a “Sophie’s Choice,” I believe it definitely strengthened the film, and is now something I’m becoming quite happy with.

Pelicans-5906.MP4An American White Pelican fishing in the Oldman River. So when can you see this documentary? Well it is almost complete. A good friend of mine, Dirk Stoltenberg, is currently in the process of finishing some original music for the film, and while this documentary is definitely not on par with those awesome BBC Wildlife documentaries we all love to watch, Dirk’s soundtrack will add immeasurably to the overall enjoyment of this film. For that reason it will likely not be released until early in the New Year as I prefer to release a finished product, as opposed to a rough cut.

So where can you see it? Well if you are in the Lethbridge area on January 10, 2018 The Helen Schuler Nature Centre will be presenting a joint screening to the Lethbridge Naturalists Society and the Friends of Helen Schuler Nature Centre Society at 7pm.

In the meantime I would like to thank you all for your ongoing visits to my image gallery and for reading these ramblings, and while its perhaps still a tad early, I hope each of you has a safe and happy holiday season, and wish you and your loved ones, good health and much happiness in 2018.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) alberta american beaver american white pelican bull snake canada coyote documentary film great blue heron great horned owl lethbridge mule deer painted turtles praire rattlesnake rick andrews wildlife photography wandering garter snake white-tailed deer wildlife wildlife of the oldman river valley https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/11/wildlife-of-the-oldman-river-documentary-film-update Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:46:34 GMT
Kenow Fire - More Questions than Answers https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/9/kenow-fire---more-questions-than-answers In the early mornings hours of September 13, 2017, an intense wildlfire raged through the Akamina and Red Rock valleys of Waterton Lakes National Park. Fuelled by dry trees and grasslands parched by a long hot summer, the fire raced through the park before leaping the highway and entering private land on the north and east sides of the park.

Tweet@WatertonLakesNP-Sep13-2017Image Tweeted by @WatertonLakesNP-Sep13-2017Tweet from @WatertonLakesNP Sep13-2017

The Kenow (Mountain) Fire as it has become known, was sparked by lightening, but could hardly be described as a surprise to Parks Canada (PC) as they were aware of it as early as August 30. At that time the fire was located in the Kishina Creek area of British Columbia’s Flathead Valley, and was a mere 5 hectares in size. It is my understanding that at that time, the Province of British Columbia was not actively engaged in fighting the fire as they perceived no imminent threat to human life, and given that this was their worst wildfire season on record, determined that their limited firefighting resources could be better utilized elsewhere.  

So what happened exactly and how did this fire grow so large and so quickly?

By September 3rd, the fire first seen three days before had now grown to 4,000 hectares, prompting PC to close several areas of the park “down valley” of Sage and Kootenay Passes, including the Red Rock Parkway and all campgrounds and trails in that area of the park. According to PC’s website, by then a national incident management team had arrived on site along with three initial attack crews and three helicopters. The following day, two of those helicopters were used to bucket water on spot fires that had ignited in a northwest area of the park around the Sage Pass area.

On the 5th two more helicopters arrived although the fire within the park was only estimated to be about 0.5 hectare in size. At that time John Stoesser, the fire information officer for Waterton Lakes, was quoted by CBC News as saying "It's been a very hot and dry summer so there's been some significant movement of this fire over the past couple of days.”

Perhaps in anticipation of this, an evacuation alert for the Waterton townsite was issued. On its website, PC advised that “the Kenow Fire has not advanced further into the park but it continues to expand (on the BC side). There is no immediate threat, but this pre-emptive action allows us to be ready for a forecasted change in weather in a couple days.”

Having lived in Southern Alberta for over 40 years I am very familiar with the winds in this area, and how quickly they can pick up, especially during the spring and fall seasons. Given this, I’m wondering why water bombers were not deployed at this time, especially since PC officials knew an imminent change in the weather was expected.

Did the national incident management team (NIMT) still believe that helicopters were adequate for this task?

By Wednesday (the 6th), crews working on facility protection had installed pumps and sprinkler systems around the townsite as a preemptive measure, and on the 7th, helicopters were again deployed to reduce the chances of the fire spreading at Sage and Kootenay passes. In the event the fire did progress beyond these passes, fire crews identified and strengthened landscape features in the Akimina and Red Rock valleys that could hopefully act as containment lines. Again the PC website stated that the fire had not yet advanced into the park but was continuing to expand (now 7800 hectares) on the British Columbia (BC) side. Despite the growth in the size of the fire, PC did not consider it to be an imminent threat.  

KenowFireSept 9-10-2017Image by: Parks Canada - KenowFireSept 9-10-2017

As a further preemptive measure, on the 8th fire trucks and crews from Taber, Coaldale, Lethbridge, Willow Creek, Calgary and Cardston began arriving to protect as much of the townsite as possible. A mandatory evacuation order for the Waterton townsite was then issued on Friday the 9th.

There were now six fire crews and seven helicopters on site to help fight the fire that the Province of Alberta finally confirmed had entered the park. Agriculture and Forestry Information Officer, Matthew Anderson, stated that there were 840 fire fighters at the ready, as well as land equipment and aircraft to move-in if needed. 

Perhaps that was because PC spokesperson John Stoesser had been quoted as saying “We have seen this fire move within one burning period approximately seven to eight kilometres in one day. Our fire behaviour models show this fire is capable of moving very quickly.”

If this was the case, where were the water bombers?

By the 9th the fire had grown to approximately 8,500 hectares. Although much of it remained in BC, the fire within the park continued to move south along the Akamina Valley, approximately 15 to 20 kilometres from the Waterton townsite. Three helicopters continued bucketing water to the South Kootenay Pass until the afternoon when they were grounded due to high winds.

On Saturday (the 9th) with intense fire behaviour and smoke hampering visibility and fire suppression, the fire grew to 9400 hectares in size and advanced a further 5km down the Akamina Valley. With weather conditions causing intense fire behaviour also predicted for Sunday (10th) through Tuesday (12th), it wasn't looking as though conditions were going to get much better. 

Meanwhile, on the 10th, two Canadian CL-415 aircraft continued fighting the Sprague Creek fire in Glacier National Park, Montana, less than 50 kilometres away.  

On Monday the 11th, the fire had grown to approximately 11,000 hectares, and was firmly established in the Cameron Valley along the Akamina Parkway. There was also a fire in the Tamarack Basin that was expected to grow and move into the Blakiston Valley, towards the Red Rock Parkway.

As precautionary measures, highways 5 and 6 were closed at the boundaries of the park.

Image tweeted by: @WatertonLakesNP Sep 10, 2017

A tweet from Waterton Lakes NP on Sept 10 advised that the parks bison herd was now "safe and sound" in Grasslands National Park, more than 500 km away in southwestern Saskatchewan. Presumably they had been rounded up and shipped there the previous day, yet it appears that landowners just across the highway from the parks bison compound, had still not been issued with an evacuation alert.  

The first of the evacuation orders was issued without warning for parts of the Municipal District (MD) of Pincher Creek just after 10 p.m. Monday where an estimated 150 residences were affected. Cardston County with a population of nearly 4,500 then declared a state of emergency shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday. Then around 4 a.m. approximately 400 residents of the Blood Reserve were awoken from their beds and ordered to evacuate.

 

 

Due to high winds and critically dry fuels, on Tuesday the 12th, burning intensified as the fire moved northeast through the Cameron Valley along the Akamina Parkway. Once it reached the grasslands the fire then began to move north at a high rate of speed. During the day, four water bombers were finally seen simultaneously filling up at the Waterton Reservoir before returning to dump water on the fire. Despite these efforts however, the fire moved northeast out of the park.

On Tuesday night (12th) the Alberta government said firefighters had now been relieved by a second team and would continue to work (likely to protect the town) with 17 fire trucks on site. As of that time, they also advised there were now about 135 firefighters, nine Alberta air tankers and 14 helicopters within the park, with an additional 125 Alberta Forestry firefighters and 23 helicopters on standby, waiting for direction from the command team.

Despite this now impressive resource inventory, by Wednesday the 13th, the fire had encompassed approximately 35,000 hectares and at a news conference, wildfire information officer Leslie Lozinski admitted that “the fire is out of control, it is classified as 'out of control' and it will probably remain out of control for sometime until we see a significant change in the fire behaviour.” As if that weren't enough, an offshoot fire about 800 hectares in size was threatening the Castle area to the north, which was fought with helicopters, air tankers and heavy equipment.

KenowFireSept12-2017Image by: Parks Canada - Kenow Fire Sept 12, 2017

Although it will take time to assess the full extent of the damage, I have no doubt that much of the park will eventually grow back to its former spectacular self, so that is the least of my concern. The media however have recently reported that the park Information Centre along with the Alpine Riding Stables have both been lost to the fire. Outside the park, the Garner family, owners of the Rocking Heart Ranch have reportedly lost their house, barn and riding arena to the fire.

As I try to understand the sequence of events pertaining to this fire, there are several questions that come to mind.

When it became clear that the Province of British Columbia was not fighting the Kenow fire, why did PC allow the fire to continue to grow? Why weren't helicopters called in to bucket this fire when it was first discovered (and only 5 hectares in size) on August 30th? Does a fire have to be a certain size in order for this to happen?

If the 800 hectare fire in the Castle area was fought with helicopters and air tankers, why wasn’t the Kenow fire when it was a similar size?

While I think answers to these questions are important, let me also say that I believe the personnel engaged in actively fighting this fire, did and continue to do, an excellent job with the resources made available to them. My questions are therefore not aimed at them, nor are they intended to be accusatory, I ask them simply to gain an understanding of why this fire was allowed to progress as it did. 

It's my hope therefore that once this fire has been brought under control and fully extinguished, that there will be a number of debriefing sessions, followed by media press conferences and releases that will answer these questions so that we all may have a better understanding of what happened and why.

Until then, I would again like to thank the firefighters, pilots and everyone else involved in fighting this fire, and remain thankful that despite all of the damage to the park and surrounding area, there has been no loss of human life.

 

UPDATE: Sept 15, 2017

Following a helicopter flyover of Waterton Lakes National Park to assess the damage caused by the Kenow fire, Foothills MP John Barlow said in a Facebook video that "The damage to Waterton is devastating," and that it is "Hard to fathom the damage until you see it."

In the video he states that 30 per cent of Waterton Lakes National Park has been severely damaged, and that 70 per cent of the forested area has been lost. Outside the park he also confirmed that "four or five homes" in the MD of Pincher Creek have also been lost.

Despite losses to the forested area and homes outside the park Barlow said the townsite is "completely unscathed", "the Prince of Wales hotel is fine," "the businesses are all fine, all the cottages are fine" and attributed much of that to the firefighters and the Firesmart protocol that PC had in place prior to the fire. 

The PC website added that the "East Gate Warden Station sustained a total loss of the structure, equipment, and vehicles" and that the "Crandell Campground was significantly impacted by fire." The site went on to add that "Distribution lines from the park boundary to the townsite sustained significant damage" and that "Parks Canada and Fortis are currently working together to restore power." The site also advised that while "the fire did not demonstrate any further growth over night," it "still remains active and is classified as out of control."

UPDATE: September 18, 2017

According to PC, the Kenow Fire is still active and although classified as out of control, the fire activity is mostly located on the fire perimeter and at localized hotspots within it. Using GPS and satellite imagery PC now estimate the wildfire covers an area of approximately 38,100 hectares.

Highways 5 & 6 were reopened by Alberta Transportation and PC is planning a phased re-entry of the Waterton townsite for residents, leaseholders, and business owners beginning September 19, 2017.

UPDATE: Sept 19, 2017

Although the Kenow Fire remains active and covers an area of approximately 38,100 hectares, PC updated the fire classification to “being held.”  

UPDATE: Sept 20, 2017

The Evacuation Order was lifted and the townsite re-opened for public access.

 

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) alberta canada kenow fire rick andrews wildlife photography waterton lakes national park https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/9/kenow-fire---more-questions-than-answers Fri, 15 Sep 2017 02:43:25 GMT
BC Government to end Trophy Hunting - Sort of https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/8/bc-government-to-end-trophy-hunting---sort-of “People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile.”  ~ David Attenborough


Since 80% of Canadians now live in urban areas, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the remaining 20% living in remote and rural areas, still rely on hunting as a major source of food for themselves and their families. Moose, elk, caribou, deer, seal, goose and ducks often make up a substantial part of the diet of indigenous people, as well as other non-indigenous people living in these rural and sometimes remote areas including Canada’s north. I recognize and understand this, and have no problem with sustenance hunting providing it is done legally.

Trophy hunting however, is quite another story.

Earlier this week, my curiosity was piqued as news stories began circulating, claiming that the new British Columbia (BC) NDP government would be implementing a ban on Grizzly bear trophy hunting. This is something that environment groups and First Nations have been asking the provincial government to do for years.

GrizzlyBear-5742GrizzlyBear-5742A grizzly sow (Ursus arctos) feeds on dandelions in a mountain valley north of Radium, British Columbia, Canada.
Because the practice of trophy hunting failed to align with their cultural values, Coastal First Nations prohibited the hunting of grizzly bears throughout much of their territories back in 2012, and formed the Coastal Guardian Watchmen group to enforce their ban. A ban which the former B.C. Liberal government (under then Premier Christie Clark) refused to recognize despite an independent marketing research poll showing that 91% of British Columbian’s opposed hunting solely for "sport." 

They justified this by citing their own government statistics that placed the number of grizzles in the province at around 15,000, which they claimed was a sustainable number. This number has however often been disputed by environmental groups who cite statistics complied by independent scientists that put the number closer to somewhere between 6,000 - 8,000.

GrizzlyBear-6208GrizzlyBear-6208A male Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) crosses the Orford River, Butte Inlet, British Columbia, Canada.


Yet according to a Globe and Mail online story, new NDP Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson, says this is not a question of sustainability, "People in the province have come to their understanding, their point of view that the trophy hunting of grizzly bears is not a socially acceptable practice in B.C. in 2017,” and so it would appear that the new NDP government are now about to act on their campaign promise of putting an end to trophy hunting in the province.  

Although their plan is to prohibit trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest following this years fall hunt, it will still be legal in many parts of the province, providing the bears are killed for their meat. However according to a statement by Raincoast Executive Director Chris Genovali, “virtually no one legitimately hunts grizzlies for food, killing these bears is strictly a trophy hunt.” A sentiment that is echoed in a recently published article by David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, who add that “the meat (is) often infected with the microscopic parasite, Trichinella, which can make one seriously ill.” 

 

GrizzlyBear-1632GrizzlyBear-1632A grizzly sow (Ursus arctos) gnaws on a discarded chum salmon carcass in the Orford River, Butte Inlet, British Columbia, Canada.

Yet one is still left to wonder if this will be used as a loophole, and if so, how it would be regulated and enforced. For instance could I still legally hunt a BC grizzly purporting that the hunt is strictly for sustenance purposes, and then sign over the carcass (meat) to my licensed guide or outfitter to dispose of? 

This "hunting" ban also states that hunters will no longer be able to keep the head, paws or hide of a grizzly - but will that be enough to discourage hunters from killing one of North America's largest land based predators?

Green Party Leader Dr. Andrew Weaver, who helped BC Liberals form the current government in June, doesn't think so, pointing out in his statement that “by allowing the hunting of grizzlies to go on, but not allowing for the taking of traditional trophies (heads, paws, and pelts), little has been done to stop the “sport” hunting of bears.

He goes on to say that “Foreign hunters will still be able to shoot grizzlies in British Columbia, take a picture of themselves standing over the dead beast, and head back home without harvesting any of the animal .... I’m not sure how this will appease the concerns of anyone.” Instead he suggests that “the government should take a more science-based approach to species management” and calls for the introduction of endangered species legislation, which British Columbia (and incidentally Alberta) currently lack.

 

This however doesn't appear to be on the governments agenda, as in his statement, Donaldson said that the government “will consult with First Nations and stakeholder groups to determine next steps and mechanisms as B.C. moves toward ending the trophy hunt.”

While I believe that banning the hunting of grizzlies for sport is a good first step, we should remember that the greatest threat to grizzlies comes not from hunting, but from habitat loss and defragmentation. Grizzlies wander through vast territories to find enough food to sustain themselves. They are huge animals, and although sows may have successfully mated in June, due to delayed implantation, the fertilized eggs will not implant themselves if she does not have sufficient fat reserves to sustain herself and produce enough milk to suckle her cubs throughout the winter months. For these reasons, grizzlies are amongst the slowest North American mammals to reproduce. So in reality, this so called "end to Trophy Hunting in BC" could be little more than a red herring if the BC government is unwilling to address the larger problem of habitat loss. 

GrizzlyBear-1792GrizzlyBear-1792 A grizzly sow and cub (Ursos actos) forage for food along the banks of the Orford River, Butte Inlet, British Columbia, Canada.

 

Donaldson also stated in Monday’s announcement, that his government is prepared to begin developing a renewed wildlife management strategy that will include "dedicated funding for wildlife and habitat conservation,” adding that the BC government will develop both long-term and short-term plans for managing wildlife resources.

For the sake of future generations (including my own grandchildren) I hope the government not only make good on this promise, but I also hope that they get it right. Because I don't think its overly dramatic to say, that the very future of British Columbia's grizzly bears, may very well depend on it.

UPDATE: December 18, 2017. B.C.'s minister of forest, lands, and natural resources, Doug Donaldson, today announced a province wide ban on the hunting grizzly bears.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) bears british columbia canada grizzly bears mammals rick andrews wildlife photography trophy hunt wildife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/8/bc-government-to-end-trophy-hunting---sort-of Thu, 17 Aug 2017 02:08:57 GMT
Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/7/alaskan-coastal-brown-bears I normally don't look forward to flying in small aircraft because the passenger cabin is often cramped and seldom has room for my camera gear. But earlier this month I experienced the exception when I flew from Anchorage, Alaska, to Lake Clark National Park in a de Havilland Beaver.

The DHC-Beaver was a workhorse that was used extensively as both a passenger and utility aircraft to open up much of northern Canada and Alaska. So having the opportunity to fly in one of these historically significant aircraft (powered by a 9 cylinder radial engine) was a very thrilling experience indeed.

Our flight southwest from Anchorage treated us to spectacular views. On one side we saw the sparkling waters of Cooke Inlet; and on the other, the snow-capped mountains and glaciers of the Alaska Range; while below us, the rivers connected both, carrying glacial silt into the ocean in a variety of stunning shapes and coloured patterns.

IMG_0016deHavillandBeaver-0016 After landing on the beach a short distance from the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, we were met by our bear guide Dave Rasmus, who promptly transported us and all our gear back to the lodge via ATV and buggy. We would work out of the lodge for the next week and with over 19 hours of daylight each day, we put in some pretty long days. But no one complained, we all understood that to come away with the best images, we would have to put in the time, be patient and willing to wait for the right opportunities to come along.

I also understood that a very important part of our success would depend upon having a good bear guide, and from my experience, Dave is one of the best. He has worked at the lodge for the last seven or eight seasons and has known many of these bears since they were cubs. Knowing where and when to find them is key, as is knowing their temperament. This was especially true for the males, as well as mothers with cubs, and that week we photographed them all.

After leaving the lodge early one morning we found a couple of two-year old's perched high in a conifer with Mom using guttural sounds and lip smacking calls to encourage them to come down. Coastal Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) cubs will usually only “tree” to escape danger, and in so doing they had tipped us off to the presence of a male in the area. The cubs were very tentative when they finally reached the ground, and it took a reassuring nip on the neck from Mom before the smaller and more timid of the two was willing to follow her into the open.

That week we also watched the tides very closely, especially the negative tides which occur when the ocean is below mean sea level. It is during these negative tides that the bears venture out onto the tidal flats to supplement their spring diet of grass and sedge with shellfish.

CoastBrownBear-8881CoastBrownBear-8881A mother Coastal Brown Bear shows two of her cubs how to find and eat clams on the beach of Lake Clark NP, Alaska. A Mom with the 3 one-year old cubs (whom we called "Mom and Three") were often the first ones out there. Yet while she was busy sniffing out and locating clam beds, the cubs often burned off steam by chasing each other around and play fighting. Then once they had tired each other out, they returned to Mom and watched her closely as she showed them how to find clam beds, and just as importantly, how to dig them up and open them.  

After snacking on the beach, they would often return to the open meadow situated between the mountain forests and the beach. This not only provided them with an abundance of fresh nutritious grass, but also generous sight lines from which to keep a wary eye out for male bears.  

CoastBrownBear-3291CoastBrownBear-3291"Mom and Three" stand to scan the horizon for male bears.

June is mating season for most North America bears and earlier that week we watched as a young male and female began courting each other. It was clear she was interested in him, but the male seemed a little unsure of himself, and the playful mating game gradually deteriorated into nothing more than a friendly wrestling match.

But one evening while we were photographing the "Mom and Two," we noticed a large male bear slowly making his way towards them. The sun was still a little above the trees, so we had to shade our eyes to see him, yet it was clear by the way the mother kept eating that she hadn’t seen him yet. As the male got closer she finally caught wind of him and began running. Immediately her cubs were off and running too, one running beside her while the other crossed the creek and ran along the far bank. After a short distance the male gave up the chase, with his message delivered, he returned to a young female we had seen him with earlier that day.

CoastBrownBear-2278CoastBrownBear-2278A large male Coastal Brown Bear wanders across the grasslands of Lake Clark NP, Alaska. If given half a chance, males will kill young cubs. While this may seem cruel to us, this behaviour is common practice amongst most bear species, and is thought to perhaps drive the female back into estrus. It was also perhaps due to this aggression that we didn't see any mothers with Spring cubs this year, as they were reluctant to bring new cubs out into the open with so many aggressive males around.

On several occasions however, we were fortunate to watch the “Mom and Three” as she laid down to nurse her cubs right in front of us, although the first few times she turned her back which didn't lead to the most advantageous camera angles. But later in the week, she was so comfortable with our presence, that she laid down in the grass and faced us just a few meters away. I was so captivated by this, that after taking a few quick shots, I put down my camera to watch this special event, and appreciate this phenomenal trust she had placed in us.

CoastBrownBear-3210CoastBrownBear-3210A sow Coastal Brown Bear nurses two of her cubs. Our week in Lake Clark National Park was awesome and I’d like to thank Dave Rasmus of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for his friendship and expertise in guiding us, and keeping us, as well as the bears, safe. A very special thanks also to Marc Latremouille, for his camaraderie and dedicated effort in organizing and conducting this very successful workshop. It was a memorable week for all the right reasons, and one I will never forget.

For more images please check out my Coastal Brown Bear gallery and to see a short video of the week, please check out my You Tube channel.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) alaska coastal brown bears lake clark national park rick andrews wildlife photography ursus arctos https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/7/alaskan-coastal-brown-bears Mon, 03 Jul 2017 14:48:56 GMT
Wildlife of the Oldman River Documentary Film https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/2/wildlife-of-the-oldman-river-documentary-film I love being immersed in nature, whether it's trudging through woodlands with my camera and tripod slung across my shoulder, or sitting concealed in a blind during a “wildlife stakeout,” it doesn't really matter. It's being out there that counts, and if I'm lucky enough to get one or two good shots, then that's the icing on the cake.

Over the past few years I have been very fortunate to photograph wildlife in many parts of North America and even Japan. But I think it may be a little misleading to imply that you have to go "somewhere" to do that.

Perhaps I'm fortunate to live in Lethbridge, a southern Alberta city bisected by the Oldman River Valley, where I have spent many happy hours watching and photographing wildlife, literally within fifteen minutes of my home. True, there are no "Spirit Bears" or snow monkey's here, but the diversity of wildlife may surprise you.

MuleDeer-0111MuleDeer-0111A mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) buck looks out over the snow covered frosting of the Oldman River Valley.

Yet as convenient as this location is, I appreciate that not everyone is able to enjoy the river valley in quite the same way, or with the same frequency that I do, and although it is a very enjoyable experience, I am also aware that for the most part this is pretty one-sided. I seem to take so much from it, but what's in it for the wildlife?

It was for these reasons that last fall I decided to undertake a challenging project, to create a documentary film about wildlife in the Oldman River Valley, and to film it throughout each of the four seasons. By doing so, I hope to help raise awareness about our local wildlife and the ongoing challenges they face living in an urban environment. Since I believe that we will only protect the things we care about, it is my hope that this film may inspire us to work together to help protect our remaining wild spaces and to better understand our dependency on nature. 

RiverOtter-8687RiverOtter-8687North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) are uncommon in the river valley, yet still put in the occasional, albeit rare appearance.

Another important goal I want to achieve in this documentary, is to not only showcase the areas wildlife, but to present it in ways that even frequent visitors to this river valley may have never seen before, and to accomplish this I realize I may need to take a slightly different approach than that I have been using for still photography. My DSLR cameras have served me very well for this purpose, and because of their superior image quality, they will likely continue to do most of the heavy lifting. But since they are not always the best choice for shooting video, I decided to supplement my existing equipment with a few new acquisitions.

TrkyVultr-3677TrkyVultr-3677A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) roosts in a cottonwood tree in the Oldman River Valley.

The first was a GoPro camera that I have already used to create a time lapse sequence of the night sky, as well as low-angle shots of beavers swimming in the river. Since it also came with a waterproof housing, I have a few ideas for some underwater shots that I want to attempt in the upcoming summer months.

My second acquisition was the addition of two 20 megapixel trail cams that also shoot video. Because they are also equipped with infrared LED’s, they have already captured some interesting nocturnal footage of white-tailed deer, coyotes, raccoons, porcupines and beavers.

My latest acquisition is a palm-sized High Definition camcorder with a built-in zoom lens that far outreaches my longest (500mm) wildlife lens. While the image quality may not be as good as my "big glass," the compact size and versatility of this camcorder will allow me to collect footage that otherwise may be unattainable.

Finally, in recent weeks I have also been in touch with an old friend who is an accomplished musician, and I'm very happy to say has graciously consented to write and record some original music that I can then add as a soundtrack to the film.

As you may have now gathered, I'm very excited about this project and have high expectations for what could be accomplished. When completed, I plan to post each seasonal video to my You Tube channel where they can be easily accessed for viewing, so you may want to subscribe to my channel so that you can be notified whenever new segments have been added. In the meantime however, I will also be posting some behind the scenes footage (e.g. Night Sky Time Lapse sequence) to demonstrate how some of the more technical segments were filmed. 

So stay tuned, I think the next year is going to be challenging, exciting and very interesting!

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Canada Lethbridge Oldman River Valley Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Wildlife Documentary Film https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2017/2/wildlife-of-the-oldman-river-documentary-film Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:02:24 GMT
2016 - A Year in Review https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/12/2016---a-year-in-review Following an enjoyable yet arguably hectic year last year, I managed to take a little time away from wildlife photography during the winter months to recharge the creative batteries. But I didn't let the dust settle for too long on the camera as I still managed a couple of outings to photograph mule deer bucks in the coulees of southern Alberta.  

MuleDeer-0111MuleDeer-0111A mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) buck looks out over the snow covered frosting of the Oldman River Valley.

In February, I was invited by the local  Friends of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre Society to make a presentation to their membership and guests as part of their Travel Adventures series. It was a difficult decision, but in the end I decided to make one on the winter wildlife of Japan.

After a long winter I’m always excited when the trumpeter swans and snow geese begin returning. This usually marks the beginning of spring migration, as once the swans and geese arrive, I know it wont be long until the waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds also return to southern Alberta to begin nesting and raising their young.

TrumpSwan-5292TrumpSwan-5292Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinators) wing their way above a frozen Alberta lake during early spring migration. In early May I traveled to southern Saskatchewan to visit one of Canada’s newest National Parks - Grasslands. Looking at a map, the park looks a bit like a patchwork quilt with the two largest pieces being the east and west block. Of the two I found most of the wildlife in the west block which is located just east of the village of Val Marie. There I saw badgers, coyotes, black-tailed prairie dogs and burrowing owls, which really don’t burrow but simply occupy empty burrows vacated by the prairie dogs. Grasslands is also home to plains bison, and with the vast flat prairie spreading out for miles before them, it makes it a little easier to imagine what this land must have looked like before European settlers arrived.  

AmBadger-1856AmBadger-1856I found this American Badger (Taxidea taxus) in a Prairie Dog town where it was hoping to invite one of the residents over for dinner. Image taken in Grasslands NP, Saskatchewan, Canada. After visiting family and friends in Ontario and Nova Scotia in May, I resumed my wildlife photography quest by photographing American White Pelicans and Turkey Vultures both of which are summer residents here. I also spent more time in the foothills this year photographing a pair of Red-necked Grebes and two pairs of nesting Osprey.

RedNeckGrebe-0777RedNeckGrebe-0777A Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) swims across a southern Alberta Lake at sunset. As summer began drawing to a close I traveled to one of the most beautiful ecosystems I have ever had the opportunity to visit - the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. It's a truly magical place where the temperate rainforest meets the pacific ocean. It is home to Orcas and Humpback whales, coastal wolves, grizzlies and black bears, and the elusive and very rare "Spirit Bear."  

SpiritBear-4733SpiritBear-4733A Spirit or Komode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) patrols a creek in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. After my return I was asked by the Helen Schuler Nature Centre here in Lethbridge, to submit any images I may have of American Beaver for possible inclusion in their fall exhibit. I have always felt that my wildlife photography has been a bit one sided, they give me so much yet I always struggle to find a way of giving something back. This exhibit was a perfect opportunity for me to do just that as visitors to the Nature Centre are able to learn about wildlife and hopefully connect with it. Its my belief that we will only make the effort to protect something that we understand and value, so perhaps in some small way, my images may help to establish that connection.

Next year my focus (pun intended) will turn to video, an entirely new field to me. My goal will be to create a documentary that follows wildlife right here in southern Alberta through each of the seasons for an entire year. It will be a lengthy and challenging project but one that will hopefully not only showcase the wildlife of the Oldman River Valley, but also present it in unique ways that even frequent visitors may never have seen before.   

But now as yet another year draws to a close, I want to thank you all for your visits to my image gallery, for reading my ramblings, and taking the time to post your very kind comments. I hope each of you has a safe and happy holiday season, and wish you and your loved ones, good health and much happiness in 2017.

Cheers

Rick

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(Rick Andrews Photography) 2016 A Year in Review Avian Wildlife Badgers British Columbia Burrowing Owls Canada Coyotes Friends of Helen Schuler Nature Centre Great Bear Rainforest Helen Schuler Nature Centre Oldman River Valley Plains Bison Red-necked Grebes Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Southern Alberta Spirit Bear Trumpeter Swans Turkey Vultures Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/12/2016---a-year-in-review Fri, 23 Dec 2016 16:39:45 GMT
The Spirit Bear - Animal of Legend https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/9/the-spirit-bear-animal-of-legend “Come with me” says Marven Robinson, our Gitga’at bear guide, gesturing to our small group of wildlife photographers to follow him. He leads us to another location just a little further upstream, but as we approach, we discover that it is already occupied by a black bear eating a very large pink salmon.

Although I live in western Canada, it has taken three flights, a ferry, and a two and a half hour water taxi ride to reach the Gitga’at First Nations village of Hartley Bay. From there we traveled another hour or so by boat, before hiking the final leg to reach this location on a remote island off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada.

 

GreatBearRainforest-3757GreatBearRainforest-3757Canada's Great Bear Rainforest

 

This is the Great Bear Rainforest, an area where the Pacific Ocean meets the coastal mountains of North America, and because more than 3 metres of rain fall here every year, it is home to the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest on the planet. It is also home to a very rare creature, an animal of legend - the Spirit Bear.

Gitga’at legend recounts a time when the earth was covered with ice and snow, and the people found it hard to survive. Raven (the Creator) said he would make things easier for them and melted the ice so that plants and trees could grow. He told them to take care of the land, and to remind them of this time when the earth was pristine, he flew amongst the black bears making every tenth one white, a bear the Gitga’at call - moksgm’ol.

But this bear is not an albino, biologists tell us that the Spirit Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) or Kermode Bear as it is also known, is a very rare subspecies of American black bear that receives its white coat from a double recessive gene. Current estimates put its numbers at somewhere between 200 and 400, making it one of the rarest subspecies of bear on earth. In fact it is so rare that many Gitga’at elders have never seen one.

Working closely with Marven, our personal wildlife guide and field biologist Tim Irvin has been staying current with the movement of bears in this area to hopefully improve our chances of finding this shy and elusive animal. Yesterday we went to another creek on the other side of the island, but although we saw several black bears, the Spirit Bear eluded us. So today we have come to this creek where we are told there has been a recent sighting.  

The black bear eating the salmon directly in front of us seems content and not alarmed in any way. Perhaps he recognizes Marven who has known many of these bears since they were cubs. Marven gestures for us to take our positions beside the creek directly in front of the bear, and as we begin to move forward, between the overhanging trees I catch my first glimpse of what I think may be a Spirit Bear.

Today is a very special day in this rainforest for more reasons than one. In an area that often experiences thick cloud and heavy autumn rains, today dawned bright and sunny, and as I look again through the trees I am still not sure what I am seeing. I have never seen anything like this before. Backlit by the sun, the bear looks as though it could be a ghostly apparition, as if it is somehow illuminated and glowing from within. It is a very moving, spiritual moment, and I think I may understand how the first Gitga’at people to see a Spirit Bear may have felt.  

 

SpiritBear-4595The Spirit Bear searches the creek for salmon.  

 

At this time of year, bears are attracted to these creeks by salmon returning from the ocean to spawn. Because the shallow waters of the creek make it difficult for salmon to swim upstream, it also makes them easy prey for bears. Gaining as much body weight as possible before winter hibernation is essential to bear survival, as well as the continued survival of their cubs. Salmon are also consumed by other wildlife such as coastal wolves, bald eagles and ravens, and since salmon carcasses are often discarded on the rainforest floor, nitrogen from their decaying bodies helps fertilize the soil. Salmon are therefore an integral and essential part of this entire ecosystem.

As I look around however, I am disappointed there is no longer any old growth forest on this creek. In decades past, this area of the Great Bear Rainforest was known as the “mid-coast timber supply area,” and was logged so extensively that today most trees on this creek are young Red Alders and mixed conifers. But earlier this year the British Columbia government announced that it was going to protect 85% of the Great Bear Rainforest from further logging, which given this provincial governments previous environmental protection record, is a significant step.

 

GreatBearRainforest-6872Due to previous decades of logging on this creek, many of the remaining trees are now Alder and mixed conifers.

 

With the exception of the Spirit Bear however, this forest protection does not extend to its wildlife. While Coastal First Nations are opposed to trophy hunting on their lands, the BC government allows wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and even black bears carrying the recessive gene to be legally hunted here. The future of this modern day Shangri-La may also be further threatened by the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would see heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands transported to this coast, then loaded onto supertankers for shipment to Asian markets.

 

Ten years ago, the BC flagship ferry “Queen of the North” crashed into Gill Island and sank with two passengers still aboard after failing to make a simple course correction at the mouth of Grenville Channel. In a similar incident in 1989, the Exxon Valdez also failed to make a simple course correction, hitting a shoal and breaking apart before spilling over 200,000 barrels of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. By comparison, the supertankers that would sail these waters are designed to carry 2 million barrels of oil, and would be required to negotiate 5 right angle turns in a distance of less than twenty miles. For this reason many local area residents are fearful that the same thing will happen here, with equally catastrophic results.  

 

SpiritBear-6039The Spirit Bear has likely roamed the Great Bear Rainforest for thousands of years.

 

Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was recently quoted as saying "the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a crude oil pipeline", yet while some may find this comment encouraging, this week the Canadian Government approved the proposal to construct a $7 billion Pacific Northwest natural gas pipeline to transport natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to the coast. The proposal also includes a new $11.4 billion export terminal to be built on Lelu Island in the Skeena River, where the natural gas would be then liguified before shipping it to Asian markets.

The approval comes amid concerns about the export terminals greenhouse gas emissions (estimated to be 5.28 million tonnes per year) as well as those created by the collection and transportation of the natural gas (estimated at another 6.5 - 8.7 million tonnes) as they both pose a significant ecological threat. With the proposed tanker traffic also comes increasing concern for its impact on the Skeena River salmon habitat, as well as those of whales and other marine wildlife. Since everything in this ecosystem is interconnected, I am concerned about these impacts on the future of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as the wildlife that inhabit it.

After taking its fill of the pink salmon, the black bear literally brushes by us as it hurriedly re-enters the creek. As I look up I see that the male Spirit Bear is now making his way downstream towards us, and may be the reason for the black bears hasty retreat. But I am still beguiled by this legendary creature, and as it passes by, a mere 15 metres away, the staccato clicking of camera shutters all around me reminds me that I too should be photographing this amazing animal.

On each of the following two days we were extremely fortunate to see this Spirit Bear again as it silently appeared and began fishing in the creek. Each day it would typically catch and eat two or three salmon before disappearing back into the forest, presumably for a nap. After another hour or so, it would then reappear and resume its fishing. On the third day however, perhaps living up to its name, it slipped silently back into the forest, and we never saw it again.  

 

SpiritBear-4809The shy and elusive Spirit Bear remains an endearing icon of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest.

 

I feel profoundly privileged to have seen and photographed such an amazingly rare and spiritual animal in such magnificent habitat, and can not thank Marven Robinson and Tim Irvin enough for providing me with such an amazing experience. But now that I have seen it for myself, I can not imagine this fantastic place any other way and want it be around so that future generations can see what I have seen and experienced too. Yet the environmental threats to the future of the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as the future of many First Nations people who have lived here for thousands of years, remain very real.

Fortunately, along with Coastal First Nations there are non-profit organizations who are fighting to protect this ancient and stunningly beautiful place. If you would like to become involved in its ongoing preservation, then I encourage you to contact any of these worthy organizations to learn how you can help.

 

                                   Coastal First Nations                      Raincoast Conservation Foundation                           Pacific Wild
                            http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/                         www.raincoast.org                                          www.pacificwild.org

 

UPDATE:

Nov 29, 2016

The Liberal Government of Canada announced today that it is rejecting the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, in favour of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline that will transport crude oil from Edmonton to Vancouver.

The government is also scheduled to table legislation shortly that will permanently ban oil tankers from the northern B.C. coast.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Black Bear British Columbia Canada Coastal First Nations Gitga'at Great Bear Rainforest Hartley Bay Marven Robinson Moksgm'ol Pacific Wild Raincoast Conservation Foundation Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Spirit Bear Tim Irivin Ursus americanus kermodei https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/9/the-spirit-bear-animal-of-legend Mon, 26 Sep 2016 18:56:48 GMT
Osprey https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/8/osprey As a large brown wing falls lazily over the edge of this gigantic nest it marks the first movement I have seen in over an hour. It is a signal that at least one of the young nestlings is beginning to stir. A few moments later it is followed by the appearance of two heads bobbing from side-to-side with such smoothness they would be the envy of any Bollywood dancer. Now looking directly at me with those big orange eyes, they are no doubt trying to figure out what I am and what I am up to.

I have been watching this nest on and off for several weeks now. In this part of the world, osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are migratory, yet often return to the same nest year after year. The male arrived first and staked his claim to the nest by adding new twigs and grasses that the female re-arranged to her liking once she returned in early May. Then after about three weeks of courtship, she laid her eggs which hatched a few days apart following a month or so of incubation. 

 

Osprey-0281Osprey-0281A female osprey (Pandion haliaetus) brings nesting material to line her nest.

 

For the first few weeks, I found it difficult to catch even a fleeting glimpse of the nestlings, as the depth of the nest is designed to help keep them safe and hidden from view. I also observed that on those occasions when Dad returned to the nest without a fish, he always seemed to bring a new twig that Mom would use to continue building up the sides. So when I eventually caught my first glimpse of the nestlings, they were already a few weeks old. At first I saw just two, but as they continued to grow, I was pleasantly surprised one day to see three little heads pop up at feeding time. 

The nestlings grow quickly, and now at about four or five weeks of age, they are almost full grown and nest space is becoming a premium. To help out, Mom is sitting on the branch of a dead tree about 100 metres away, this way everyone has a little more room and she can still keep a watchful eye on them.

 

Osprey-5000Osprey-5000A sequence of combined shots that show the fishing technique of a male osprey.

 

Dad meanwhile has been doing a stellar job in keeping the family fed. Last week I watched as he hovered stationary in the sky, waiting for exactly the right moment before plummeting like a stone into the lake below. A pretty gutsy move for a bird unable to swim. As I watched him totally submerged, it occurred to me that osprey have a unique way of fishing that is unlike any other raptor I have seen. Bald eagles and white-tailed eagles for instance can pluck a fish from the water without so much as getting their talons wet. But while osprey may lack this finesse, they are no less effective as fishers. I continued watching as he fought his way to the surface before more flapping eventually got him airborne again. Then placing one foot in front of the other, he used his reversible outer toe (a trait shared only by owls) to carry the fish with two toes in front and two behind. This allowed him to reposition the fish so it was more aerodynamic and easier to carry.

Back on his favourite dead tree perch, Dad ate his fill, then after an exchange of calls with Mom to ensure she and the nestlings were ready, he again took to the air. In three or four wing beats he cleared the trees and streaked towards the nest, and skillfully landed the freshly caught fish.

 

Osprey-7643Osprey-7643A male osprey delivers his partially eaten fish to the nest where it will feed his nestlings.

 

This was his fourth catch of the day and he was visibly tired, so while Mom fed the youngsters he took the opportunity to close his eyes for a few seconds. But his afternoon nap was short lived as he suddenly flew off again to settle in a tall spruce tree on the far side of the lake.

 

Osprey-5145Osprey-5145A female osprey feeds freshly caught fish to one of her triplettes.

 

As the days wear on, and Mom spends more time away from the nest, she too will join Dad in catching fish to keep the family fed. The youngsters are quickly becoming juveniles and are taking more of an interest in the outside world. Now sitting atop the nest, they are flapping and stretching their wings and spend more time than ever preening themselves as their flight feathers grow in. These feathers are surrounded by a sheath of keratin that the juveniles gently preen off to allow the feather to grow in properly. During this growth, the feather is still supplied with blood and is therefore sensitive to the touch, but once it is fully grown in, the blood supply recedes to the base and the sensitivity is reduced.    

 

Osprey-5694Osprey-5694The three juvenile osprey sit atop the nest to get a better view of the world that awaits them.

 

Then one day, at about 7 or 8 weeks old, perhaps during a sudden gust of wind, the most dominant of the three will spread its wings and take to the air for the very first time. It likely will be a short flight, perhaps only to another close by tree. A day or two later, the remaining juveniles will also make their first solo flights and for the first time in weeks, the nest will be empty again.

 

Osprey-5630Osprey-5630First flight of a juvenile osprey.

 

Although the fledglings will now begin spending more time away from the nest, they will not venture too far yet because they still want to be fed. But their future will soon change, and for the next few weeks they will begin accompanying their parents on fishing trips where they will learn to catch fish for themselves. An essential skill if they are to survive their first year.

As fall arrives, the family disperses, and now alone for the first time, each fledgling will follow the coastline south on their solo flight to central and northern South America where they will spend the next year and a half. At two years of age they will make the return trip north to their home territory, where they will build their own nest and seek a mate. Their first attempt may not be successful however as most osprey pairs do not successfully breed until the age of three. But by then, they will possess not only the necessary skills to survive, but also the skills necessary to successfully begin raising and supporting families of their own.

As I pack up and return to my camp, I wonder if I will see these juvenile osprey again someday. That would be nice. In nests of their own, perhaps just over that ridge.    
 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Avian Wildlife Canada Osprey Pandion haliaetus Raptors Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/8/osprey Sun, 21 Aug 2016 20:58:37 GMT
A Tough Year for Grebes https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/8/a-tough-year-for-grebes The sun is still a few minutes away from rising on this mid July morning, but already I lay awake in my sleeping bag listening to the sound of red-necked grebes (Podiceps grisegena) calling each other from the bay beside my camp. They would have returned to the lake several weeks ago from their wintering grounds in the sheltered bays and inlets of Canada’s west coast. Their trip would have been challenging, and while they typically nest as isolated pairs, during migration they congregate together at favoured staging sites where groups of over 2000 birds, flying mainly at night, commence their spring migration to our inland lakes and marshes.

Red-necked grebes are monogamous so this pair would have either joined up as migration began, or perhaps sometime after arriving here at the lake. Either way they would have cemented their bond with gifts of aquatic plants which are an important part of their courtship ritual.  

 

RedNeckGrebe-8716RedNeckGrebe-8716Red-necked grebes collect and present aquatic vegetation to their mates during courting rituals.

 

For several days now, I’ve been watching and photographing a nesting pair at the other end of this lake. Its difficult to tell the male from the female as during mating season they both have identical colouring. White cheeks contrast sharply with their black heads, while their neck feathers turn to the trademark rufous colour for which they are named. But the male is slightly larger than the female, and so it is only when they are both together that I can really tell them apart.   

Last year I watched a pair that had built a nest in the reeds at the edge of the lake, but this years pair have built a more traditional raft nest. Located about 10 metres from the shoreline to protect it from land-based predators, the nest is about 3 metres long and 1 metre wide, it also has a depression in the middle where the eggs are laid and kept. I think it must also be anchored to the bottom somehow to prevent it from being swept away on the whitecaps that are often created here by our Southern Alberta Chinook winds.

When not feeding, the male is kept busy maintaining the nest, adding aquatic vegetation and mud, some of which the female sometimes uses to create a seal between her body and the nest to help maintain the correct temperature for incubation.

Over the next few days I watch them periodically and note that they take turns incubating their eggs. Sometimes however, they are both gone together to feed on small fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects, and I wonder if this has any impact on incubation.

 

RedNeckGrebe-8406RedNeckGrebe-8406A female red-necked grebe carefully turns her eggs.

 

As the female returns, I notice how difficult it is for her to walk on land. Like a loon, her legs are positioned well back on her body, and rather than webbed feet, I see she has lobed toes like those of a Coot. I continue watching as she carefully turns her eggs with her long beak, then inch by inch, as she awkwardly straddles the eggs before resuming her brooding position.

I was still not sure how many eggs were in the nest, but the following day when the parent left to feed I was in a better position to view its contents, and noted there were only two eggs, (clutch size is usually between 1-9). But when I returned again the following day, I noted there was now only one.

It was a few more days before I returned to the nest site again where I found it empty and unkept, and as I looked out onto the lake I could see both grebes swimming there together. Eggs are normally laid from mid-May to June and take between 21–33 days to hatch, but since I do not know when they were laid, it was anyone’s guess as to when they would hatch. But as I watched them both diving for food, it soon became apparent there was no little one on either of their backs. Still I wondered if perhaps it may be hiding in the reeds at the waters edge, but after an hour when they still had not returned, I began to realize this was not likely the case.

 

RedNeckGrebe-9569RedNeckGrebe-9569A male red-necked grebe brings a small fish to feed its chicks.

 

In previous years I had photographed the striped chicks riding on their parents backs or swimming behind them in the shallow water at the edge of the lake. So it was disappointing and sad not to see any little ones this year, especially after watching the dedicated efforts of the parents in a variety of weather conditions. I obviously do not know what grebes feel or think, but I cannot help wondering if they share my disappointment and sadness. One thing I do know however, is that they will very likely be back again next year, to give it another try, hopefully with a better outcome. 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Podiceps grisegena) Alberta Avian Wildlife Canada Red-necked Grebe Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/8/a-tough-year-for-grebes Tue, 02 Aug 2016 12:39:05 GMT
The Coulee Clean-up Crew https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/7/the-coulee-clean-up-crew It’s shortly after nine in the morning and the Oldman River valley coulee clean-up crew are making signs they are about to begin their workday. Many consider them ugly, yet as I watch them sitting in a dead tree a few feet in front of me, I see neither beauty nor ugliness, just a species perfectly evolved to fulfill one of natures vital functions. Its latin name is Cathartes aura - cleansing breeze* - a somewhat poetic yet apt description of the role of this magnificent bird.  

With no feathers on its head, it may look unattractive to some, in fact it is this exposed red skin together with its dark brown feathers that reminded others of a wild turkey, hence its common name - turkey vulture.

TrkyVultr-3677TrkyVultr-3677A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) roosts in a cottonwood tree in the Oldman River Valley. Categorized as a New World vulture, the turkey vulture held great significance to many Native American tribes. Both the Cherokee and Pueblo Indians believed in the healing powers of its feathers. A Lenapé legend also recalls how the turkey vulture saved the world by pushing the sun back into the sky after it came too close to the earth and caused a severe drought. In so doing, the turkey vulture burned all the feathers from its head and charred its once beautiful plumage.  

European white settlers and their descendants however didn’t see the turkey vulture in quite the same way. Despite a lack of scientific evidence to back their claims, they insisted that vultures contaminated drinking water and carried anthrax or hog cholera to livestock, and so often shot them on sight. Now protected in Canada (The Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds), the U.S. (Migratory Protection Act of 1919), and in Mexico (Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals), their range has since increased to become the most widespread of all New World vultures which now extends from southern Canada to the southernmost tip of South America.

TrkyVultr-3246TrkyVultr-3246 Turkey vultures are unlike many other raptors in that they don’t hunt prey. In part this may be due to possessing what some describe as “weak feet,” the inability to grip or carry prey. Yet this is the way the turkey vulture has evolved, they are consumers of carrion, and have made a very good living at it for millennia.

TrkyVultr-3544-2TrkyVultr-3544-2

Their evolution also allows them to soar almost non-stop without ever flapping their wings, a significant attribute that no doubt helps them immensely during migration. Our western subspecies, C. a. meridionalis is the most migratory of all turkey vultures which are believed to winter as far south as South America.

From where I’m standing I can see about a dozen or so roosting in the dead tree just ahead of me. At night, they lower their body temperature by about 6 degrees celsius to 34C (93F), and as I look at them now, they are beginning to warm up by turning their backs to the sun and spreading their wings like huge solar panels.

On the hillside across the river I watch another dozen or so as they begin flapping their wings and awkwardly hopping about until they catch enough air to become airborne. A few moments later they are joined by the coulee clean-up crew who I note had a much easier time taking off from the tree.

Almost immediately they begin soaring, helped by an almost 2 metre (6 foot) wingspan they circle somewhat erratically, all the while climbing higher and higher on the rising thermals. From such an altitude it could be imagined that they must posses excellent eyesight, which they do, but they also possess an acute sense of smell that allows them to locate carrion that may be hidden beneath the tree canopy. But with the exception of the river valley, there are few trees in southern Alberta, it's a wide open expanse of farmland, a perfect habitat for the turkey vulture to thrive.   


* Cathartes - from the Greek meaning to purify or cleanse, and Aura - from the Greek meaning breeze.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) alberta avian wildlife canada cathartes aura oldman river valley rick andrews wildlife photography turkey vulture https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/7/the-coulee-clean-up-crew Sun, 17 Jul 2016 20:49:06 GMT
Grasslands https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/5/grasslands I stand watching a herd of plains bison grazing the prairie, behind them the coulees across the valley are bathed in the soft light of early evening. The scene could be right out of the movie “Dances with Wolves,”  but this is not Wyoming, it’s Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan, Canada.

For thousands of years this land was important to First Nations people. This was a place they hunted bison, an animal that not only provided them with food, clothing, shelter, and tools, but was, and still remains, culturally and spiritually significant to many Great Plains tribes.  Today their “Buffalo jumps” and “driving lanes” are still clearly visible, and as many as 12,000 tipi rings have been found throughout the park.   PlainsBison-9256APlainsBison-9256AIn a scene that could be right out of the movie "Dances with Wolves," a Plains Bison bull (Bison bison bison) stands on the edge of the mixed-grass prairie in Grasslands NP, Saskatchewan, Canada. Grasslands is one of Canada’s newest National Parks, established in 1981, it is divided roughly between the East and West blocks. (see map) Like a patchwork quilt with more than a few pieces missing, it stretches out over 907 square kilometres (350 square miles) of southern Saskatchewan, and is so remote that most of it is only accessible on foot or on horseback.  

Yet it is this remoteness that makes Grasslands such a truly remarkable place. It is officially designated “a quiet place,” where only the sounds of nature are present without any human intrusion for at least 15 minutes during daylight hours. At night, it also has the distinction of being one of the darkest Dark Sky Preserves in Canada, and is therefore one of the best places for star gazing.   

This remoteness is also very likely why the park is still home to endangered species (facing imminent extinction) such as burrowing owls, greater sage-grouse and the greater short-horned lizard. The park and surrounding area are also home to pronghorn, sharp-tailed grouse, badgers, coyotes, ferruginous hawks, swift foxes, moose, elk, deer, wolverines, and reptiles such as prairie rattlesnakes, eastern yellow-bellied racers, and western painted turtles. It is also the only place in Canada where you can still find black-tailed prairie dogs living in their natural habitat.  

BurrOwl-1093BurrOwl-1093Despite their name, Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) don't actually burrow. Instead they occupy the abandoned burrows of ground squirrels and prairie dogs. In Canada today, less than a quarter of the original mixed-grass prairie remains in its original state, much of it falling victim to ranching and homesteading attempts during the early part of the 20th century. Under the Dominion Lands Act, homesteaders were required to break 10 acres of land each year as part of their land deed agreement. Yet as they would soon discover, once the protective ground cover of grasses, moss and lichens was removed, the soil was quickly eroded by the hot dry prairie winds. This not only proved disastrous for many of these early settlers, but also for wildlife habitat and entire ecosystems that were ultimately destroyed too.

Grasslands NP-0196Grasslands NP-0196

Today’s flora includes blue grama grass, needlegrass, plains cottonwood and silver sagebrush, and while the park is still one of the largest and least disturbed areas of native prairie in North America, the reintroduction of native prairie grasses is also helping to restore many of its damaged areas.    

The park is also geologically significant. In the Frenchman River Valley, Seventy Mile Butte, and the badlands around Rock Creek, erosion from glacial meltwater formed many of the park's characteristic features. A thin, white, chalky layer of soil clearly seen on the exposed coulee sides marks the important Cretaceous-Palaogene boundary - a line above which all fossils are from mammals, and below it, from dinosaurs. It was during the International Boundary Survey of 1874 that Sir George Mercer Dawson discovered western Canada's first dinosaur remains in the Killdeer Badlands. More recently, a new species of prehistoric bird known as the Brodavis americanus was also discovered in the East Block.

Grasslands NP-0231Grasslands NP-0231

My week in Grasslands was thoroughly enjoyable and full of new experiences. Falling asleep to a chorus of coyotes and waking to the song of the Western Meadowlark is something I don't get to enjoy everyday. Nor is watching bison roam freely across the landscape, or watching the antics of black-tailed prairie dogs, catching a glimpse of a sleeping burrowing owl, or watching a badger hunt in partnership with a coyote.

I am grateful for these experiences that can only be enjoyed in our natural spaces. Nature can teach us much if we are prepared to take time out of our busy daily lives and remain open to receiving its lessons. There is a balance in nature that must be maintained, a balance that can only be achieved through coexistence, yet in our eagerness to settle and industrialize the west it seems we sometimes forget this.

I’m grateful for all the hard work that Parks Canada has put into restoring and maintaining this park for the continued benefit and enjoyment of all people. I value our wild places, and understand that without them, our world would be a much poorer place.

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Bison Black-tailed Prairie Dog Burrowing Owls Canada Grasslands NP Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Saskatchewan https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/5/grasslands Wed, 11 May 2016 16:44:14 GMT
Chasing Swans https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/4/chasing-swans Its about 20 minutes before sunrise, a crescent moon still shines brightly in the southern sky as the stars all around it begin to fade in the early morning light.

I’m sitting beside a prairie pothole, a pond in the southwest corner of Alberta where two days ago I saw between 80 to 90 trumpeter swans. This morning there are none, and I wonder if they have resumed their journey to the nesting grounds in Canada’s arctic.

TrumpSwan-5703TrumpSwan-5703

I decide to drive around to see if I can find any others. Yesterday I found a flock feeding in a stubble field, carefully picking out the kernels that had fallen between the neatly spaced rows of grain during last years harvest. But I see only a small handful that are too far away to photograph. It’s turning out to be a disappointing morning and I wonder what to do next. I decide to drive by the pothole one more time.

TrumpSwan-6318TrumpSwan-6318Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinators) feed in a southwest Alberta, stubble field. When I get back I see there are now about 30 trumpeters there and I wonder if they are just messing with me or if these are new swans that have just flown in. Some of the adults eye me warily as I set up my gear while others continue their search for aquatic food on the bottom of this shallow pond. Most of the juveniles, identifiable by their greyish coloured feathers, are still sleeping.

After a few minutes, a small group of four swans, two adults and two juveniles begin swimming slowly to the far end of the pond. They are soon joined by two other adult couples. Since swans mate for life it is important that they remain together during migration. Perhaps this is what they are ensuring now as they trumpet to each other while repeatedly extending and contracting their necks. It’s their signal that they are about to leave.

TrumpSwan-6529TrumpSwan-6529Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinators) take off from a a prairie pothole in southwestern Alberta, Canada. In a sudden flurry of flapping wings, one of the adults starts running across the surface of the pond. It is joined immediately by the others in this small group, and soon there are eight swans running in single file, all frantically flapping their wings. Averaging 10-12 kilo’s (24-28 lbs) in weight, trumpeter swans are the heaviest of the native North America birds, and it takes a lot of effort for them to become airborne. And with a wingspan that may exceed 3 metres (10 ft), I notice they are unable to fully extend their wings on the downstroke until they are well clear of the water.    

TrumpSwan-6336TrumpSwan-6336A pair of Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinators) wing their way through southwestern Alberta, Canada on their way to the arctic nesting grounds. Finally this small flock is airborne and quickly begin to climb. Then, like an airplane banking sharply to the right after take off, the swans make a sharp turn to the north and fly directly over me. All is quiet now except the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound of their wings. It’s a magical moment that signals spring has arrived, which for me, is the most enjoyable season for wildlife photography.     

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Cygnus buccinators) Alberta Avian Wildlife Canada Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Trumpeter Swans https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/4/chasing-swans Tue, 05 Apr 2016 17:18:03 GMT
Science Shows Why Trapping of Canids in Alberta Should be Banned https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/1/science-shows-why-trapping-of-canids-in-alberta-should-be-banned I have to admit that I was extremely disappointed when the Alberta Government recently released the Alberta Guide to Trapping Regulations (AGTR) 2015-16. I have long thought that wildlife trapping is both cruel and inhumane, and therefore have a hard time getting my head around why it's still legal here in Alberta in the 21st century. 

But in an attempt to be fair and objective, I decided to research what the Alberta Government had to say in its AGTR (2015-16) and compare that to what the scientific community has discovered.   

One of the first things I found in the AGTR 2015-16 (10) was a statement saying that the Alberta government subscribes to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) that came into effect in Canada in 1999 and defer the responsibility for trap testing to the Fur Institute of Canada, - Killing and restraining traps that have undergone testing and have met the AIHTS requirements and the certification status of these traps are outlined below and are also listed on the FIC web site" (AGTR, 10).

It is interesting to note however that I was unable to find any certified killing traps listed in either the AGTR or on the fur.ca website for large canids such as fox, coyote or wolves.

Perhaps this is a moot point anyway.

While the trapping performance specifications set out in the AIHTS standards state that killing devices used for the capture of canids should render animals unconscious within 300 seconds (Official Journal of the European Communities, 1998), Proulx et al point out that killing neck snares “are not subject to trap performance specifications as set out in the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)” (Proulx et al, 2015, 55).

Coyote-6407Coyote-6407 To be fair however, the 2015-16 AGTR does state that “fur bearing animals must be trapped using methods that are proven to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering,” and in their defense, perhaps the Alberta government (along with many trappers) mistakenly believe that existing traps and trapping methods are effective at killing animals humanely.   

In the 2015 Pyramid Productions documentary film “Unnatural Enemies - The War on Wolves”, Bill Abercrombie, director of the Alberta Trappers Association is shown pointing to a neck snare and saying “this is a typical wolf set  - so when the wolf hits that, the snare tightens on his neck, the compression spring releases and it actually doesn’t choke the wolf, it cuts off the blood supply to his brain and he’s just unconscious in seconds. Very humane. Very, very effective.”

In the same documentary film however, wildlife biologist and researcher Gilbert Proulx states that “some people, maybe days after they set it, they find the wolf dead and they conclude that he died humanely. But that is not necessarily the truth.”

Retired provincial wildlife official Dwight Rodtka concurs. “How long does it take the snare to kill a wolf?” That can vary from if they’re extremely lucky, 15 or 20 minutes, one might die from strangulation and constriction of the carotid arteries, but that’s unusual. Its not unusual for them to live a day, or to live two days, I know of cases where they have lived a week.”

In addition to “Killing Neck Snares” not being subject to AIHTS trap performance specifications, Proulx et al point out that “a footnote to Article 7 in the AIHTS stipulates that the standards do not prevent individuals from constructing and using traps (which may not pass the 300 sec test), provided that such traps comply with designs approved by the relevant competent authority.” They go on to say that “in Canada these snares are considered “non-commercial” devices and therefore do not have to comply to AIHTS specifications.” (Proulx et al, 2105. 56)


RedFox-0755RedFox-0755

 

So if these snares aren’t subject to AIHTS performance specifications, how effective are they?

Killing neck snares are designed to contact the area of the canids neck where the carotid arteries and trachea are maximally exposed, and several sketches are used to demonstrate the setting of snares and the ideal stricking area to target in the AGTR (22). However in several independent tests, researchers (FPCHT 1981; Proulx and Barrett, 1990; Proulx and Barrett 1994) all found it difficult to consistently capture canids in this manner.

In independent snare tests, FPCHT (1981) tested the King Power Snare using 2 red foxes in enclosures and found that one fox was still conscious after 5 minutes, while the other was euthanized after 5 minutes when it experienced a weak corneal reflex.

Another evaluation of power killing neck snares was conducted by Proulx and Barrett (1990) who evaluated three different models and found that non of them met the 5 minute target.

Subsequent tests conducted by Proulx and Barrett (1994) on non-anaesthetized animals in semi-natural environments, found it difficult to consistently capture foxes behind the jaw with the power killing neck snares, and therefore did not recommend them as humane trapping devices.

So OK, lets give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that improved killing neck snares have been developed in the years since these tests were performed. Wouldn’t that be better?

Well even if canids are caught correctly in a killing neck snare, according to Proulx et al, it is difficult to constrict the trachea of a fox because of its rigid cartilaginous rings and adjacent musculature. (Proulx et al 2015). This is apparently because like many other mammals, foxes gasp reflexively when carbon-dioxide levels in their blood rise and oxygen levels fall (Loufbourrow et al. 1957; Barrett et al. 2009). In other words gasping is a normal physiological response to try to stimulate a return to regular breathing (Guntheroth and Kawabori 1975; Coleridge and Coleridge 1994) and even a very small passage left open in the trachea was found sufficient to allow air to reach the lungs. (FPCHT 1981).

Likewise the physiology of a wolf is very similar. “Wolves have a muscular structure and trachea and blood system that doesn’t allow them to die quickly with a snare” says Proulx. “The snare cannot strangle it to death, because through the gasping behaviour the wolves will maintain some air exchange with their brain.” (Proulx, Interview, "Unnatural Enemies - The War on Wolves.”)  

Indeed, laboratory tests conducted on dogs confirm that canids have the ability to circulate blood to their brain after ligation of the carotid arteries through other arteries such as vertebral arteries that are located deep within their neck. (Moss 1974; Clendenin and Conrad 1979a, b) and the returning blood flow from the brain was also found to continue even when the internal jugular veins are occluded. (Andeweg 1996; Daoust and Nicholson 2004).

An example of this was cited by Daoust and Nicholson (2004) who recalled the case of a 2-year-old male coyote found a month after trapping season had closed on Prince Edward Island. The coyote was found with a steel snare embedded deeply in the ventral portion of its neck. The killing neck snare had presumably malfunctioned and in a desperate attempt to escape, the coyote had chewed through the steel cable anchor in order to release itself. The snare was found to have cut through the soft tissues of the neck, transecting the full diameter of the trachea, and was embedded in scar tissue between the trachea and the esophagus. The snare had also completely obstructed both jugular veins and both common carotid arteries, yet the coyote was still alive.

So how common is it for canids to escape from killing neck snares?

GreyWolf-9896GreyWolf-9896 Repanshek (2008) reported the case of 2 wolves that had been snared outside Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and had subsequently escaped with the tightened snares embedded deeply in their necks. After the wolves were spotted by park staff, one was immobilized with a tranquilizer dart while the other was never relocated, suggesting perhaps, that it, along with other animals that have escaped from killing neck snares, simply go undetected and likely die from their injuries, starvation or dehydration.

But even where these killing neck snares do not meet AIHTS standards for humaneness, surely there is a time requirement in which trappers must check their snares?   

While the AGTR (13) outlines the requirements for checking non-killing devices, there appears to be no time requirement for neck killing snares. Perhaps this is due in part to the mistaken belief that these snares kill animals quickly. Yet as shown here, they may instead die slowly from their injuries, or from exposure, exhaustion, dehydration, starvation or perhaps even predation by other animals.

In addition to the damage inflicted upon “target” animals, snares are indiscriminate. Knopff et al. (2010) reported that 11% of the cougar population in west-central Alberta was removed annually as a result of accidental snaring. Although this is acknowledged in the AGTR, they seem more concerned with the impact this may have on hunting, than the welfare of this particular cougar population.

“In recent years, the number of cougars accidentally killed by trappers in Alberta has increased. Cougars are carefully managed as a hunted game animal in Alberta, and no trapping season exists. In areas where incidental mortality of cougars is high, hunting quotas for cougars may need to be reduced.” (AGTR 2015-2016, 21).

Science has clearly demonstrated that the use of killing neck snares are largely ineffective in humanely killing large canids, and perhaps this is why killing neck snares with one-way locking tabs were banned 35 years ago in the United Kingdom under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. Likewise killing snares are not used to catch any of the 11 AIHTS species found in the European Union (Talling and Inglis 2009).

Here in Alberta however, they remain legal.

If you feel as I do, that the current practice of employing killing neck snares on Alberta's wildlife is cruel and inhumane, then I encourage you to contact your Alberta MLA; the Honourable Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks; and Alberta Premier, Rachel Notley (contact info below) to let your views be heard.  

For that I thank you, and so I'm sure will Alberta's canids.


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley
Legislature Office
307 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
T5K 2B6

Phone: 780.427.2251
twitter: @RachelNotley


Honourable Shannon Phillips
Minister of Environment and Parks
Legislature Office
208 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6

Phone: 780.427.2391
email: lethbridge.west@assembly.ab.ca
Twitter @SPhillipsAB

 

References:

Alberta Guide to Trapping Regulations 2015-16 http://albertaregulations.ca/Trapping-Regs-2014-15.pdf

Andeweg, J. 1996. The anatomy of collateral venous flow from the brain and its value in aetiological interpretation of intracranial pathology. Neuroradiology 38: 621-628.

Barrett, K. E., S. M. Barman, S. Boitano, and H. L. Brooks. 2009. Ganong’s review of medical physiology, 24th edition. McGraw-Hill Medical, New York, New York, USA.

Canadian Wildlife Biology & Management, 2015, Vol 4, Number 1.   Humaneness and Selectivity of Killing Neck Snares Used to Capture Canids in Canada: A Review. Proulx et al.

Clendenin, M. A., and M. C. Conrad. 1979b. Collateral vessel development after chronic bilateral common carotid artery occlusion in the dog. 40: 124-1248.

Coleridge, H. M., and G. C. J. Coleridge 1994. Pulmonary reflexes: neural mechanisms of pulmonary defense. Annual Review of Physiology 56: 69-91.

Daoust, P.-Y., and P. H. Nicholson. 2004. Severe chronic injury caused by a snare in a coyote, Canis latrans. Canadian Field-Naturalist 118: 243-246.

Federal Provincial Committee for Humane Trapping (FPCHT). 1981. Report of the Federal Provincial Committee for Humane Trapping. Federal-Provincial Wildlife Conference,
Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Guntheroth, W. G., and I. K. Kawabori. 1975. Hypoxic apnea and gasping. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 56: 1371-1377.
Loofbourrow, G. N.., W. B. Wood, and I. L. Baird. 1957. Tracheal constriction in the dog. American Journal of Physiology 191: 411- 415.

Knopff, K. H., A. A. Knopff, and M. S. Boyce. 2010. Scavenging makes cougars susceptible to snaring at wolf bait stations. Journal of Wildlife Management 74: 644-653.

Moss, G. 1974. The adequacy of the cerebral collateral circulation: tolerance of awake, experimental animals to acute bilateral common carotid artery occlusion. Journal Surgery Research 16: 337-338.

Official Journal of the European Communities. 1998. Agreement on international humane trapping standards between the European Community, Canada and the Russian Federation. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/downloadFile.do?

Proulx, G., and M. W. Barrett. 1990. Assessment of power snares to effectively kill red fox. Wildlife Society Bulletin 18: 27-30.

Proulx, G., and M. W. Barrett. 1994. Ethical considerations in the selection of traps to harvest martens and fishers. Pages 192-196 in S. W. Buskirk, A. S. Harestad, M. G. Raphael, and R. A. Powell, editors, Martens, sables, and fishers: biology and conservation. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Proulx, G., D Rodtka, M.W. Barrett, M. Cattet, D. Decker, E Moffat, and R.A. Powell.  2015. Humans and Selectivity of Killing Neck Snares Used to Capture Canids in Canada: A Review. Published in Canadian Wildlife Biology & Management 2015: Volume 4, Number1. 55-65

Repanshek, K. 2008. Vet removes snare from neck of wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2008/05/vet-removes-snare-neck-Wolf-denali-national-park-and-preserve. Accessed 15 August 2014.

Talling, J. C., and I. R. Inglis. 2009. Improvements to trapping standards. DG Env, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/biodiversity/animal_welfare/hts/pdf/final_report.pdf.

Unnatural Enemies - The War on Wolves. Pyramid Productions documentary film. 2015

Wildlife and Countryside Act. 1986. Wildlife and countryside act 1981, Chapter 69. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Alberta Wildlife Canada Canis latrans Canis lupis Coyote Killing Neck Snares Red Fox Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Trapping Vulpes vulpes Wolves https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2016/1/science-shows-why-trapping-of-canids-in-alberta-should-be-banned Sat, 16 Jan 2016 00:13:34 GMT
2015 A Year in Review https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/12/2015-a-year-in-review I say it every year, but this year really will be hard to beat.

It all began in late January when I travelled to Japan to meet up with some Facebook friends in Fukushima Prefecture. Although we had never met in person before, their warmth, generosity and willingness to provide me with a glimpse into Japanese culture is something I very much appreciate and will cherish for ever.

IMG_0439IMG_0439Visitors to the Main Hall bathe their hands and faces in smoke at the bronze incense burner as a charm to ward off illness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there I took the bullet train back to Tokyo Prefecture to join a winter wildlife tour led by Martin Bailey, a very talented and knowledgable photographer based in Tokyo. In the Japanese Alps outside of Nagano, we spent a few days photographing the adorable Japanese macaques or snow monkeys as they are perhaps more commonly known. Then it was off to catch our flight to the northern island of Hokkaido where we spent the rest of the tour photographing whooper swans, white-tailed and Steller’s sea eagles, along with the revered Japanese Red-crowned cranes.

Back home in Canada, once I’d gone through my shots, I was invited by Martin to participate in one of his weekly podcasts in which we discussed some of the images I’d taken during the tour. This was the first time I'd participated in a podcast, which was a lot of fun, so my thanks to Martin for the invitation to do that.

Podcast-1Podcast-1Martin Bailey Podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late April I drove to Wainwright in east-central Alberta to photograph Sharp-tailed grouse. While they can be found throughout much of Alberta, I decided my chances of photographing their mating dance would be greatly improved by participating in one of the Wainwright Wildlife Society tours which they have been hosting for the past 25 years.  Although each day began promptly at 4:30 am, it was well worth the early start as each morning provided great opportunities to photograph the males at very close range, and in beautiful warm light.   

As spring arrived, I was kept busy photographing the northern migration of thousands of snow geese, swans, shore birds and waterfowl, many of which nest in southern Alberta’s lakes and wetlands. Then as spring began to draw to a close, I travelled to the mountain parks to photograph bears that had recently emerged from winter hibernation. Most were black bears, yet despite their name, I found them in just about every shade from cinnamon to pure black. Although I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen any grizzlies, my patience eventually paid off and on my very last day I found a sow and her two year old cub in a remote alpine area of Jasper.   

Badger-9380Badger-9380American Badgers (Taxidea taxus) are normally nocturnal, but in spring, mothers will often hunt during the day so she can spend her nights with her young. Image taken in Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As summer arrived in the mountains, I discovered two fox dens along with a badger den, both of which provided great opportunities to photograph the adults with their young. Then as the mountain parks began to fill with tour buses and motorhomes, I stayed closer to home, photographing songbirds, owls, pelicans, rattlesnakes and garter snakes all of which made interesting subjects and kept me busy throughout the hot summer months.

At the invitation of the Oldman Watershed Council, I also did some “behind the scenes” photography for a feature film they are currently producing to draw attention to watershed use and the impact that has on people living downstream. The first part of this assignment was photographing interviews of Niitsitapi people living on the Kainai Reserve, while the second involved shooting aerial video footage of the Oldman River, from Lethbridge all the way to its headwaters at Dutch Creek on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Both of these were great experiences, and I'd like to give a special shout out to the Oldman Watershed Council for providing me with these great opportunities.  

As the days began to cool and leaves began changing colour, I headed to central Saskatchewan in the hopes of photographing sandhill cranes as they migrated from the arctic to spend their winter in warmer climes. Although I did find several hundred, they remained very aloof and challenging to photograph, with the only real opportunities coming as they flew by overhead.

SandHillCrane-4525SandHillCrane-4525Early morning sunlight reflects off the feathers of this Sandhill Crane (Grus Canadensis) flying across the sky of southwestern Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early November, together with my buddy Tom we took the train to Churchill, Manitoba to photograph polar bears. At this time of year, the bears congregate along the shoreline while waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze before heading out onto the sea ice to spend the winter hunting ringed seals. 

PolarBear-9899PolarBear-9899A juvenile polar bear (Ursus maritimus) crosses the frozen tundra near Churchill, Manitoba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with the polar bears we also saw red foxes (including a dark-morph red fox known as a "silver fox") as well as spruce grouse and willow ptarmigan. It was a productive trip and a great way to round out the year, which as I said at the outset, will be really difficult to beat!

So now as the daylight hours begin to decrease with each passing day, and another year draws to a close, I want to thank you all for your visits to view my images, read my ramblings, and post your very kind comments. I hope each of you have a safe and happy holiday season, and wish you and your loved ones, good health and much happiness in 2016.

Cheers

Rick

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Avian Wildlife Birds Black Bear Canada Churchill Grizzly Bear Hokkaido Japan Kainai Mammals Manitoba Martin Bailey Photography Niitsitapi Oldman Watershed Council Polar Bears Red Fox Red-crowned cranes Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Sandhill Cranes Saskatchewan Sharp-tailed grouse Silver Fox Snow Monkeys Spruce Grouse Steller's sea eagle Wainwright Wainwright Wildlife Society White-tailed eagle Willow Ptarmigan https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/12/2015-a-year-in-review Thu, 10 Dec 2015 16:51:45 GMT
Trail of the Ice Bear https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/11/trail-of-the-ice-bear It's been quite an adventure, and the train ride from Churchill back to Winnipeg is a welcome change of pace. My adventure began 11 days ago when my buddy Tom Williams and I drove out from Alberta in his vintage 1985 Saab 900 turbo. Although it now has over 300,000 miles on it, it's a bit like like the energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going and going.

After arriving in Winnipeg, we boarded the train that took two days and two nights to cover the 1600 km (1000 miles) distance between Winnipeg and the town of Churchill which is situated on the sub-arctic western shores of Hudson Bay. To say it's remote is an understatement as it can only be reached by air or rail. But it's also geographically unique too as it's located at the transition between the boreal forest, the tundra and the ocean.

As remote as it is, Churchill is perhaps the most southern region in the world to see polar bears. Since their population here is estimated to be less than 1000, they are classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

On our arrival we were happy too see that Hudson Bay was still ice free. During the winter months, polar bears hunt ringed seals out on the frozen sea ice, but in the weeks leading up to it, they can often be found sleeping, or patrolling the shores of the Bay. This is exactly what we’ve travelled so far to see and photograph.

PolarBear-9009PolarBear-9009Portrait of a female polar bear (Ursus maritimus).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sows with young cubs have to be especially careful at this time of year, as given the opportunity, male polar bears will not hesitate to kill a cub. Unfortunately the first bear we encountered was a large male guarding the carcass of a recently killed cub. Perhaps this was the cub of a first-time mother, or perhaps it was simply a surprise encounter. Either way, predation is hard to witness, and serves as a stark reminder that these are not cuddly teddy bears, but the largest terrestrial predators on the planet.

Over the next few days we had several more sightings of sows with cubs, all of whom remained dutifully close to mamma. Staying close not only improves the cubs odds of survival now, but also provides them with the opportunity to learn everything they can from her in the 2 or 3 years they will remain together. This in turn will improve the cubs long term chances of survival too.

PolarBear-9649PolarBear-9649A mother polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and cub search for food near Churchill, Manitoba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having rented a 4 x 4 truck, we were able to travel roads paralleling the shoreline to gain access to many more bears. But we also travelled other roads where we found several red foxes, along with a silver fox, which was an exciting “first” for me. A little further out of Churchill, we ventured down yet another road that led into the Boreal Forest. There we found willow ptarmigan and spruce grouse, along with several relatively fresh wolf tracks. The wolves themselves however, remained elusive.

SilverFox-8471SilverFox-8471This silver fox (Vulpes vulpes) seen near Churchill, Manitoba, is a dark morph (melanistic) red fox, that comprises only about 8% of the total red fox population in North America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truck was great, but to gain off-road access to the bears, we decided to spend a day on a Tundra Buggy that took us into areas that are otherwise inaccessible. There we saw several male bears, and several mothers with cubs. We also saw one very large male looking very comfortable as he lay in a kelp bed on the frozen shoreline. With a missing ear and many scars clearly visible on his head and nose, he had no doubt seen his fair share of fights. So we watched with interest as two younger males approached him, to see if perhaps there would be a challenge, but once they saw him they both gave him a wide berth, perhaps deciding that discretion is still the better part of valour.

The Old WarriorThe Old WarriorSitting in a bed of kelp near Churchill, Manitoba, the head and nose of this male polar bear (Ursus maritimus) were covered in battle scars, and since he was also missing an ear, I dubbed him the Old Warrior. Although there were other males in the area, all of them gave him a very wide berth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time in Churchill went by very quickly, and on our last day we noticed the tide was bringing in chunks of sea ice and depositing them along the shoreline. A little further out beyond the breaking waves, the presence of grease ice was also clearly visible on the surface of the Bay. Both of these natural occurrences are indicators that it won't be long now before the Bay freezes completely, and the bears will leave to spend their winter hunting on the ice.

But sadly we're leaving too, and with our gear safely stored, we settle in for the two day train ride back to Winnipeg. It’s been a great week, but an exhausting one. Tonight as I climb into bed, well fed and toasty warm, it feels wonderful just to let the gentle rocking of the train lull me into a deep and welcome sleep.

Click to see more polar bear images.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Ursus maritimus) Canada Churchill Ice Bear Manitoba Polar Bear Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/11/trail-of-the-ice-bear Sat, 14 Nov 2015 05:07:11 GMT
American Dipper https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/9/american-dipper It's the perfect day. The afternoon sun is warm, and the aspen and larch trees are glowing gold. While others are enjoying this beautiful fall day by hiking alpine trails or kayaking pristine mountain lakes, I'm sitting beside a creek doing what I enjoy best - photographing wildlife. Today my subject is the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), or water ouzel as it's sometimes known. Although dippers are usually solitary creatures, from where I'm sitting I can count three. 

AmDipper-7583AmDipper-7583The American Dipper can be found in most fast flowing streams from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the pacific coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing immediately appealing about the appearance of the dipper, mostly gray/blue in color with a hint of brown on its head and shoulders, it looks a bit like a larger and more rounded version of the wren. Perhaps its only interesting visual features are the white feathers on its eyelids that cause its eyes to flash white as it blinks. Yet if its appearance is rather mundane, the same can’t be said for its behaviour.

AmDipper-7516AmDipper-7516The eyelid feathers flash pure white on the American Dipper as it blinks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dippers are seldom still, and I watch as one nods and bobs its body up and down while standing on a rock in the middle of the swirling creek. Its gaze is focused on something in the water and as I continue to watch, it suddenly plunges headlong in. For a few moments it is completely submerged, then as if pushed up by some unseen force from below, it emerges effortlessly onto another rock with a minnow in its beak. Looking at its feathers they are almost completely dry, and as I look more closely, I see what little water does remain has beaded up like that on a ducks back. (Isn’t there a saying about that?)

Dippers forage in fast moving streams and creeks, where they often walk along the bottom flipping small stones and decaying leaves in search of aquatic insects, larvae, fish eggs and even small fish. But this habit sometimes makes it vulnerable to large salmonids such as Bull (aka Dolly Varden) Trout that have occasionally been known to prey upon them.

Other ominous threats to dippers include dam construction which floods existing habitat; and land use such as logging, mining and agriculture that not only impacts water quality, but also reduces the availability of the dippers aquatic prey. In some of these affected areas, the dipper has vanished completely, so its presence is considered an indicator of good water quality in any streams and creeks where it's still found.

Another interesting thing about the dipper is that it is North America's only truly aquatic songbird, a fact that wasn’t lost on John Muir, who after encountering the dipper wrote:

“While water sings, so must he …. nearly all of his music is sweet and tender, lapsing from his round breast like water over the smooth lip of a pool, then breaking farther on into a sparkling foam of melodious notes, which glow with subdued enthusiasm.”

Unlike many songbirds however, the dipper doesn’t migrate south for the winter, instead it simply flies to lower elevations in search of fast running water. Protected by its low metabolic rate, an extra oxygen-carrying capacity in its blood, and a thick coat of feathers, dippers are well equipped to endure frequent dips into ice cold water. In fact it was under these exact conditions that I first encountered a dipper several years ago, as we both stood on the frozen ice beside Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone NP.

AmDipper-5928AmDipper-5928An American Dipper stands on the icy edge of Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone NP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there is no ice today and I watch as one of the dippers enters the water again. This time however it's carried downstream by the current before popping up onto another rock about 30 ft away. Again it jumps into the water and again it’s carried away. I wonder if it’s so focused on catching food that it doesn’t realize it’s being swept downstream, but then again I wonder if it really cares. Then as if to answer my thoughts, it suddenly takes flight, and with a noisy flutter of wing-beats, flies right passed me to land on a twig sticking out of the creek a short distance away. For the first time I’m able to observe just how short its wings are and how much effort it has to expend in order to propel itself just a short distance upstream. But its wings have evolved this way for a reason, its feet are not webbed and so it uses its wings to help it swim to the bottom of lakes and ponds.

AmDipper-7196AmDipper-7196An American Dipper (aka Water Ouzel) lands on a twig in a creek in the Canadian Rockies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I continue to watch and photograph the dippers who now seems oblivious to my presence. This is ideal, it means that my subjects are so comfortable they can completely ignore me and get on with making a living. As a wildlife photographer, this is always what I hope for. As I say, it's a perfect day. 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta American Dipper Avian Wildlife Canada Canadian Rockies Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Water Ouzel https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/9/american-dipper Tue, 29 Sep 2015 13:02:00 GMT
Pelicans and Garter Snakes https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/8/pelicans-and-garter-snakes The sound of a wing slap on the water startles me and I look up from my camera’s lcd screen just in time to get splashed in the face. The guilty culprits, about a dozen American White Pelicans are quickly swimming away while glancing back over their shoulders like mischievous children wanting to be chased. While I usually allow wildlife to establish their own comfort zone by approaching me, I wonder if they’re telling me I’m perhaps a bit too close, so I back up and give them a little more room.

I’m spending the morning down at the weir photographing some of my favorite wildlife subjects. People often assume that to photograph wildlife you need to go “somewhere,” but here in Lethbridge we’re fortunate, we don’t have to go anywhere, wildlife is all around us.

The weir is a small dam built by the city to create a deeper body of water, making it easier to divert river water into the water treatment plant. But like a lot of dams that have no fish ladders to aid fish swimming upstream, it traps thousands of minnows that are now easy pickings for hungry predators.

I watch the pelicans as they swim back to the edge of the weir driving the minnows into deeper water where they readily scoop them up. Yesterday I watched from the other side of the river as a group of pelicans drove minnows into shallow water. Then turning their heads and bills sideways, they scooped up the minnows with their bill pouches. Clever birds these pelicans.

AmWhtPelican-0886AmWhtPelican-0886American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) have learned how to feed on minnows in shallow water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But pelicans are not the only hunters here today - there are others that are neither bird nor mammal. Reptiles have come to feed on the minnows too, and the pelicans are unwittingly helping them by driving some of the minnows into the shallows.

Wandering garter snakes, a subspecies of the western terrestrial garter snake, are very skilled swimmers and hunters, and I watch as they slip silently into the water. In the shallows I can see them darting about, and it doesn’t take long before they return with a fish in their mouths. 

 

WandGartSnake-2575WandGartSnake-2575Snakes are completely at home in the water, even when fully submerged like this wandering garter snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans) seen here in Southern Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given their numbers today, I wonder if I’m not sitting on top of their hibernaculum, especially when I see them climb back up the river bank before disappearing into its numerous cracks and crevices all around me.

A few days later I return, this time bringing local naturalist and snake expert Ken Moore with me. Ken tells me that wandering garter snakes can be found throughout the Oldman River valley, and though they are the least common of Alberta’s three species of garter snakes, in Lethbridge they are the most common. But its a very hot day, perhaps too hot for reptiles, and so we see only one. But that could also have something do with the red-tailed hawk we just saw sitting in a nearby tree as we approached. Along with other raptors such as osprey and owls, herons, weasels, raccoons, foxes and coyotes are all known to prey upon garter snakes too, but today its the garter snake that is the predator.

 

WandGartSnake-1815WandGartSnake-1815

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also learn that on land it finds its prey by smell together with a chemical sensory system known as the Jacobson's organ. During this process garter snakes flick their tongues, sweeping the air for scent molecules, before inserting their now scent enriched tongue tip into two tiny pits in the roof of its mouth. Once their prey species has been located, the actual attack happens very quickly.

Ken also tells me it’s doubtful this is their hibernaculum as its most likely located at least halfway up the coulee - well above the waterline. Besides, their hibernaculum is where they typically den during the winter months, then after mating in the spring, they head out, sometimes traveling as far as 25 km to spend their summers alone. Adults can grow to about a meter in length, but the one we see today is much smaller, so its perhaps a juvenile or maybe a young adult male.

Out on the water, the pelicans continue to feed and are soon joined by others that have been spending their day fishing elsewhere up river. But its getting really hot now and after making its way back up the riverbank, our garter snake disappears into one of the many crevices to cool off. Taking a cue from this little wanderer, we too wander back up the coulee before heading over to Tim’s for a little air-conditioned comfort and a nice cool Iced Capp.

Ya gotta love summer in Lethbridge.

 

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (Thamnophis elegans vagrans) Alberta American White Pelicans Avian Wildlife Canada Oldman River Valley Reptiles Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Wandering Garter Snake https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/8/pelicans-and-garter-snakes Wed, 26 Aug 2015 14:01:10 GMT
Na'pi's River https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/7/napi-s-river The sun is just beginning to peak over the treetops as I arrive at a toppled cottonwood on the banks of the Oldman River. After scouting out this location a couple of days ago, I'm hoping to photograph Cedar Waxwings, and if I’m lucky, perhaps even a few woodland birds too.

After last evenings thunderstorm, the skies cleared overnight, and this morning is unseasonably cool. But the sun feels good on my back and I welcome its warmth. A mist has formed on the surface of the river, and rising above it, the coulees look stunning in this early morning light.

AmGoldFinch-0341-2LAmGoldFinch-0341-2LAmerican Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) are found in a variety of habitat including riparian woodlands like these along the Oldman River Valley in southern Alberta. Across the river, bank swallows are showing off their spectacular aerobatic skills, and below my feet I hear the peep-peep of spotted sandpipers as they scurry to and fro along the river bank. Overhead, American White Pelicans are circling as they climb ever higher in search of that one thermal that will carry them to fishing spots further up river. Its already shaping up to be a great morning.

When I first visited this country I wondered why this river was called Oldman, and assumed wrongly that it must have something to do with the Jerome Kern song. But then I learned that Old Man is a translation of the Niitsítapi (known to settlers as Blackfoot or Blackfeet) word for Na’pi, who was sometimes known as a trickster, but while working in the service of the Creator, made this land for them, then taught them how to take care of it, and if they did that, how in return it would take care of them, forever.

Down river four turkey vultures are circling above the coulees, then as I watch, one by one they land on a grassy slope near the top. Two of them stretch their wings to dry while the other two begin squabbling for no apparent reason.

I get the feeling I’m being watched but in looking around I don't see anything, then through a nearby bush I catch a glimpse of a mule deer doe standing about 30 feet away. I turn to watch the vultures again and when I look back she is gone. Across the river I hear another mule deer calling. Perhaps this one has a fawn stashed somewhere in the underbrush and is now calling for it to come. I look but I can’t see them either.

CdrWaxWing-0354CdrWaxWing-0354Cedar waxwing's (Bombycilla cedrorum) are medium-sized birds, with mostly brown, gray, and yellow colouring. Native to North and Central America, they are named for what look like tiny drops of red wax on their wing tips.

On the highest branch of the fallen cottonwood an American Goldfinch has just landed. Its yellow and black colors contrast sharply and are well lit by the morning light. I manage only a few quick shots before it flies off.

Up river a female mallard swims with 8 ducklings that are now almost as big as she is, while across the other side, a female merganser is leading her six chicks out for their morning swim.  

I look back at the tree again and there between the branches I catch my first glimpse of a waxwing. It doesn’t stay long before flying off to the riverbank below me. I assume it must have a nest there as sometimes birds will land in a nearby tree or bush to assess the scene so as not to accidentally reveal the location of the nest to any lurking predators. Apparently I’m classified as low risk.


Over the next hour there is almost a non stop flurry of activity with sometimes as many as six or eight waxwings in the tree at the same time. Although there have been times when I've seen many more waxwings in a single tree, they usually don't congregate in such numbers while nesting. I think that today must be my lucky day, but then as quickly as it begun, it ends. After 15 minutes of inactivity a yellow warbler lands in the tree. I manage a couple of quick shots before it too flies away. It will be the last small bird I photograph today.

YellowWarbler-0539YellowWarbler-0539

After packing up I begin the half hour walk back to my car, but along the way I decide to make a short detour to check out some American White Pelicans that roost and fish a little further down stream. Over the past few years I’ve spent many hours photographing these birds, they are irresistible. At times they number well over a hundred, but right now there are just six.

AmWhtPelican-0570AmWhtPelican-0570

Upstream there are farms and ranches, highways, railways and a dam that have all significantly fragmented this land and impacted the water in ways the Niitsítapi could never have imagined. The place I visited today has been set aside as parkland, a place where nature has been left to manage itself. Wilderness areas offer sanctuary not only for birds and animals, but for us too. It is a gift that provides us with a unique experience that we can’t replicate anywhere else.

It occurs to me that nature doesn’t love or hate, it is simply indifferent. It doesn’t need us but we certainly need it. River valleys not only provide wildlife habitat and sanctuary, but are also indicators of how well our ecosystems are doing. Whether we realize it or not, like the Niitsítapi, we too are dependent upon rivers for our continued survival because all living things in nature are interconnected. We can’t replace or improve upon nature, so we must protect and safeguard it, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. For as the ancient First Nations proverb states - "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

I don't think Na’pi would have it any other way.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Bombycilla cedrorum) (Carduelis tristis) (Dendroica petechia) (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) Alberta American Goldfinch American White Pelican Blackfeet Blackfoot Canada. Cedar Waxwing Na'pi Niitsítapi Oldman River Oldman River Valley Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Yellow Warbler https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/7/napi-s-river Sat, 11 Jul 2015 18:50:39 GMT
Wildlife First https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/6/wildlife-first “Don’t feed the bear!” I yell.

The sound of my own voice surprises me. I mean - who died and made me sheriff?

“Not even apple?” asks a voice from inside the car.

“No!”

By throwing food from their car, they are obviously ignoring the signs posted all over the park advising visitors that its illegal to feed wildlife. Perhaps they don’t understand the problems that habituating wildlife to people creates.

They take another I-Pad photo of the black bear sitting a short distance away, and drive off.

I’m sitting in the pullout at Vermillion Pass where it straddles the continental divide and marks the boundary between Banff and Kootenay National Parks. The black bear is enjoying its “all you can eat” dandelion salad in the late day sun. It’s been raining steadily for the last two days and I’m enjoying the sun too, but a quick glance at the clouds tells me it wont last long.

BlackBear-8121BlackBear-8121A soggy looking Black Bear (Ursus americanus) exits the bush. Image taken in Banff NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next morning the rain is back and the clouds are now so low they’re touching the tree tops in the valley. Banff feels more like a temperate rainforest than a mountain setting. It’s very early morning and I’m photographing a soggy looking male black bear. Like a huge dog emerging from a swim in the lake, he pauses to give himself a good shake, then resumes browsing through the soddened vegetation. Then his demeanour changes, and out of the corner of my eye I see another black bear about 30 meters away, staring intently. Suddenly it charges the first bear and I’m awed by its acceleration and shear speed. I try to capture a burst of frames as it flashes by, but I know that even with a wide open aperture, the ISO is too high and the shutter speed too slow to capture anything worthwhile in this light. But I have to try. When I look up again the first bear is gone.

This is now the 15th black bear I’ve seen in the past 48 hours. All of them have been black, tomorrow I’ll see two more, a sow and yearling cub, both of which will be brown phase black bears.

They are feeding in a tree, but after deciding the ones on the other side of the road look more inviting, they climb down and cross the road. Within minutes the road is completely blocked by cars, RV’s and tour buses as people scramble to take pictures with their cell phones, tablets and cameras. It’s time to go. As I push my way through the crowd I’m happy to see two rangers arrive to begin dispersing the crowd. I understand the excitement that seeing bears creates, I feel it too, but wildlife need their space.   

BlackBear-8446BlackBear-8446A brown-phase Black Bear (Ursus americanus) cub looks down from its perch in a tree where it is has been feeding. Image taken in Jasper NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I’ve seen more black bears than I expected, I also came to the mountains hoping to see grizzlies too, but so far I haven’t seen any. Many places have now been closed temporarily by Parks Canada, including the popular Vermillion Lakes road in Banff. In the adjoining Kootenay National Park, a “no stopping zone” has been imposed on highway 93 for 11 km north of Radium Hot Springs. Parks Canada are trying their best to give them that space.

Two years ago, together with my son Scott, we saw 7 grizzlies in the same day. I remember telling him that was very unusual, I had never seen 7 grizzlies in one day before, or since. Today I would settle for just one, and wonder if my "grizzly luck" is running out, or if perhaps Scott is really my good luck charm. Time to don my lucky cap and try again.

Two more days go by and still no sign of a grizzly. I’m now in Jasper where the roads are already crawling with RV’s and tour buses even before the town’s motels have their hanging baskets out. It’s getting claustrophobic.

I put out some feelers and hear that during the last week, grizzlies have been spotted in a number of locations in both Banff and Jasper. I’ve already checked out some of the locations but as I look at the list again, I realize that many are at higher elevations. It appears the grizzlies are already heading to the high country, and who can blame them?

On the afternoon of my last day I head for a site that I think may offer the best opportunity, but just to be sure, I wear my lucky cap - backwards.

It works.

There peaking out of the bushes is the huge head of a female grizzly, she is wearing a radio collar and as I began to reposition myself to take my first shot of her, I notice another grizzly standing just behind her. Its a three year old cub almost as big as the mother. Both look to be in great shape.

GrizzlyBear-8957-1GrizzlyBear-8957-1A sow Grizzly Bear (Ursos arctos) waits patiently for her cub to catch up. Image taken in Jasper NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mother looks at me from her position in the bushes, then after deciding I don't pose much of a threat, leads her cub out onto the road. For the next hour I watch and photograph them as they casually browse along the roadside. This is exactly the kind of encounter I had hoped for, an opportunity to watch these massive bears being themselves, in the high country, far from the craziness below.

GrizzlyBear-8928-33GrizzlyBear-8928-33A sow and cub Grizzly Bear (Ursos arctos) wander down a mountain road in Jasper, Alberta.

The rain has now ended and the sun is shining. The stars of the show always know exactly the right moment to make their entrance, and just as importantly, how to exit leaving me wanting more.
 
As I watch them walking down the road before re-entering the forest, I realize that this will likely be the last summer this cub will spend with its mother. At some point this year she will run him off, and he will then have to use all the skills she's taught him to survive. But he’s obviously doing well, and since he’s now almost full grown, I think his chances look pretty good. 

 

 

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Ursus americanus) (Ursus arctos horribilis) Alberta Banff NP Black bear British Columbia Canada Grizzly Bear Jasper NP Kootenay NP Mammal Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/6/wildlife-first Wed, 10 Jun 2015 14:57:57 GMT
Latchkey Kits https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/5/latchkey-kits The reynard is sitting about 20 meters from me growling softly. He is just beginning to shed his thick winter coat and looks a bit dishevelled. Although the rangefinder on my telephoto lens puts me at about 30 meters away from his den, I wondered if my presence may still be bothering him. Then as if to answer my question, he gets to his feet and begins trotting towards me.

I arrived at the den site earlier that morning and was already set up before noticing any activity. Although it’s almost mid May, this morning in Waterton Lakes National Park is cool and my car’s outside temperature reads only 4C. There is a thick dew on the grassland, and across the lake Vimmy Peak is obscured in low cloud. A cool breeze is blowing and although I’ve only been here a few minutes, I’m already wishing I was wearing my winter pants. I don’t blame the foxes for wanting to stay inside where they’re probably much warmer than I.

About a half hour later, I notice some activity as one of the kits pops its head out to take a quick look around, then just as suddenly, it retreats back inside again. A few minutes more and it emerges again, sitting at the entrance of the den, looking directly at me. Once comfortable with my presence, it emerges slowly and begins chewing on a long blade of dried grass. Then finding a twig on the ground, tosses it high into the air and gives chase as its carried a short distance on the morning breeze.

RedFox-3440RedFox-3440Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) kits stop their play outside the den site to watch a flock of bighorn sheep pass by. Image taken in Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few more minutes and another head pops up out of the den, then another, and another, until there are four of them. Three begin to play together, jumping and biting at each other in a rough and tumble game of tag, while the fourth sits by itself, seemingly content to watch the antics of its rambunctious siblings. After giving its ears a good scratch, it once more resumes its sitting position, and for the first time I sense some awkwardness in its movements. It appears to have a slight limp in one of its hind legs.

RedFox-3466RedFox-3466

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few more minutes however, one of its siblings comes bounding across the grass and immediately engages it in a game of tag. Now all four kits are biting, jumping and falling all over each other, and I can no longer tell them apart. Pausing briefly to watch a flock of magpies feeding noisily in the grass a short distance away, one of the kits jumps on the back of another and their games resume again. For the last hour they have remained close to the den, but now suddenly they break from that and begin running off to my left. I turn around to see that dad has just arrived with breakfast.

My lens is now way too long to fit them all into the frame, and it seems like its taking me forever to adjust to this new situation. The reynard is being mobbed as he drops his catch at the entrance of the den. Clearly the kits are happy to see him and content to let breakfast wait a while longer. Yet one appears to want to suckle, perhaps not fully understanding that this is its father, and that its mother will not be returning.

RedFox-3550RedFox-3550

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About two weeks ago, the vixen was found dead a short distance from the den, and since there were originally six kits, Parks Canada became concerned for their ongoing welfare. They tried live trapping them so they could be relocated to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation until they were old enough to fend for themselves. But I was told that after a few days, as it became clear the capture attempt was failing, the parks biologist decided the traps should be removed as the reynard now appeared to be bringing enough food to sustain his family. If this mornings hunt is any indication, he appears to be doing a stellar job.

The reynard now trots a short distance from the den accompanied at close quarters by three kits running closely alongside. Then realizing their sibling has now begun breakfast without them, they abandon him and quickly return to the den.

Sitting by himself about 20 meters away, the reynard looks at me, and still growling softly, gets to his feet and begins trotting towards me. Then without so much as a second glance, he trots right passed and disappears over the crest of a hill.

After watching him go, I look back towards the den. The kits have now finished eating and retired to its warmth to sleep off breakfast. Overhead, a bald eagle soars, and to my left a small flock of bighorn sheep casually walk by in single file. Once more all is quiet, and a light rain begins to fall.

At one point in my life I was a single parent too, so I fully understand the level of responsibility and the sustained effort this reynard will need to make to continue to support his family. Although these times were sometimes challenging for my sons and I, we succeeded, and today they are both doing well and helping raise families of their own. I wish no less for the reynard and his latchkey kits.

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Canada Mammals Red Fox Red Fox Kits Reynard Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Vixen Waterton Lakes National Park Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/5/latchkey-kits Thu, 14 May 2015 16:33:55 GMT
Sharp-tailed Grouse https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/5/sharp-tailed-grouse “Sorry I can’t let you through” said the soldier in his distinctive French accent. “My orders are to let only red or green card holders through.” I look at ours - they’re purple. Laurence shows him the “Out of Area Pass” we were also given at range control a few minutes ago. The soldier is now clearly confused.

Following our early morning briefing in which the dangers of encountering live ammunition and unexploded artillery shells were explained to us, we were further advised that British, French and US troops, who were also present at CFB Wainwright, would be participating in exercises "designed to confuse them." Although we aren’t part of the exercise, it appears we have accomplished that anyway.

“OK you can go through” he said at length. “The other two vehicles behind are with us too” Laurence reminded him, the soldier nodded and walked ahead to raise the arm of the barricade.

Laurence, a member of the Wainwright Wildlife Society picked me up at my hotel at 4:30 am that morning, and along the way we met up with several other wildlife photographers until we now numbered ten. Although CFB Wainwright is located right on the edge of town, it was now already 5:35 a.m. and the eastern horizon was beginning to brighten significantly. Luckily the wildlife blinds from previous visits were left standing, and we were able to slip quietly into them just as the sun began peaking over the horizon.

I had driven to Wainwright in east central Alberta hoping for an opportunity to photograph sharp-tailed grouse. Although this particular species can be found throughout most of the prairie provinces, they require a piece of flat undisturbed ground (called a lek) on which to perform their annual mating dance. Since many of the leks throughout the province are located on private land, I decided to travel to Wainwright where the local Wildlife Society has been conducting these guided photo tours for more than 25 years.

As the sun rose quickly behind us, five or six male grouse suddenly flew in and landed on the frost covered ground in front of us. This was all quite new to me as the only times I’d seen sharp-tailed grouse before was after almost stepping on them, and they suddenly burst into the air in a flurry of heart stopping wing beats. Their speckled plumage of white, beige, tan, brown and black helps them blend invisibly into their secretive hiding places, but this morning they were about to become much more colorful.

  ShrpTailGrouse-2614ShrpTailGrouse-2614

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Males select hilltops and ridges for their leks in order to gain an unobstructed view of the other males, as well as any females or predators they may also attract. Flaring their bright yellow eye combs and inflating their purple neck sacks, their drab appearance was quickly transformed. With their heads tilted down and wings held out to the side, they stamped their feet rapidly while rattling their raised tail feathers. Then turning in tight circles like a child’s wind-up toy, they danced towards each other, before laying down beak-to-beak in what appeared to be some sort of “stare down.”

ShrpTailGrouse-2286ShrpTailGrouse-2286

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally one of the males would attempt to peck the other causing it to reel back or jump up flapping its stubby wings. The contest continued until one of the males appeared to lose interest, then waddled off before beginning the ritual all over again.

ShrpTailGrouse-2295ShrpTailGrouse-2295Establishing the pecking order is an important part of seasonal mating dances for these sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) as it not only establishes their dominance, but their right to mate as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back I drove to Blackfoot Crossing to watch native dancers compete in the annual World Chicken Dance competition. Not to be confused with the chicken dance sometimes performed at hockey games during “TV time outs,” the Kitokipaaskaan dance is performed by Blackfoot First Nations competitors. Dressed in colorful and intricately detailed clothing, their dance is based upon the mating dances of the prairie chicken known to them as the “Fire Bird” because of its reliance on fire to maintain its open habitat. Since prairie chickens are now only found in the US mid-west, it wasn't clear to me if it really were prairie chicken's or perhaps sharp-tailed grouse that the Blackfoot dancers were emulating. But either way, watching these grouse now, I am amazed at how well the Blackfoot dancers were able to capture and replicate their movements.

Like all wildlife, sharp-tail grouse numbers fluctuate, but here at CFB Wainwright they are down to less than half of what they were only a few short years ago. “I don’t know why their numbers are down” said Laurence, “it may have something to do with the armies activities here, or hunting, or predators perhaps.” I suspect it could be a combination of all three.

The following morning our numbers are down too as now there were only four of us, so rather than returning to the military base, we drove an hour south of town to a lek located on community reserve land. It took Laurence two years to obtain permission for us to use it, but it pays off almost immediately as shortly after entering our portable pop-up blinds, we were joined by 12-15 male grouse.

This lek was situated on a small knoll of undisturbed short grass prairie, and since it lacked the stubby plants and taller grasses we encountered at the military base, we had an almost totally unobstructed view of the males as they began to dance.

ShrpTailGrouse-2601ShrpTailGrouse-2601A male sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) inflates it yellow eye combs and purple air sacks while performing its annual mating dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This flock was more active than the one we saw the day before, and I wondered if that was because there were more of them, and they needed to establish their "pecking order" quickly before the females arrived. With being a larger flock they also occupied more of the lek,  and some males came so close to the blind that I was even able to take a few full frame shots with my cell phone. A few minutes later, one landed on the roof of my blind, and I experienced first hand how loud their clucking and cooing calls are while sitting only a few inches away.

The Wainwright Wildlife Society charges only $15 per visit, which is a real bargain considering they also buy you breakfast too. I offer Laurence more money but he refuses it saying the society is doing OK. On the way home I think how lucky they are to have members like Laurence. Someone who volunteers his time to build, transport and store the blinds used at the base, and someone who’s determination and persistence in obtaining permission for us to access the community reserve lek is something I very much appreciated. I’ve always said I get to meet the nicest people through photography, and the past two days have been no exception.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Tympanuchus phasianellus) Alberta Avian Wildlife Canada Galliformes Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Sharp-tailed grouse Wainwright Wainwright Wildlife Society https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/5/sharp-tailed-grouse Thu, 07 May 2015 13:56:55 GMT
A Very Good Year for Owls https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/4/a-good-year-for-owls It’s late evening and I’m watching a pair of Great Horned owls sitting on the roof of an abandoned building in southern Alberta. The larger of the two is likely the female, slightly lighter in colour than her mate, she is looking around intently for any sign of prey.

To assist with her incredible eyesight, she also relies heavily on her hearing, which is aided in no small part by the shape of her round face. The concave facial feathers form a parabolic shaped disc that picks up sound in much the same way that a satellite dish captures and focuses signals. The sound waves are then directed towards her ears to help her pinpoint exactly where the sound is coming from. At certain frequencies, her hearing is ten times more sensitive than ours.

GrtHornedOwl-8561GrtHornedOwl-8561

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another hunting advantage that owls have over other raptors is that their wings are very broad and generate more lift per wing beat, and since their flight feathers also have noise reducing fringes on both the leading and trailing edges, owls fly in absolute silence. They really are truly unique. “Raptors with character” as I sometimes like to think of them. Perhaps that’s why I find them so intriguing.

I saw my first owl of the year close to my home in southwestern Alberta in mid January. It was a female Snowy Owl that although well suited to the summer arctic environment, had migrated south to spend her winter hunting on the prairies. Like most raptors, “Snowies” are opportunistic hunters, and given the lack of trees here, we often see them perched atop power poles where they have a commanding view of the countryside below. With their bright yellow eyes and pure white feathers, they form a striking contrast against our clear blue winter skies.

SnowyOwl-2915SnowyOwl-2915

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I saw my next owls during a wildlife photography workshop in Japan. We were on the northern island of Hokkaido, and after being held captive in our hotel for two days during one of the worst winter snowstorms in Hokkaido’s history, we ventured out to a location where our workshop guide Martin Bailey had heard a pair of Ural owls had recently been spotted.

UralOwl-9097UralOwl-9097Ural Owls (Strix uralensis) are nocturnal raptors that during the day, can sometimes be found sleeping in hollow trees. Hokkaido, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ural owl nests in lowland deciduous forests, and though they seldom venture further south than the taiga, they can be found anywhere from Scandinavia to Japan. In appearance they resemble Tawny owls, although with a height of 50-60 cm (20-24 in) and a wingspan of 110-134 cm (43 - 53 in) they are much larger. Ural’s are nocturnal and prefer to nest in hollow tree trunks, which is exactly where we found this sleeping pair. As it turned out though, we saw not one, but two pairs of Ural’s that day, which created further excitement, along with additional photographic opportunities.

NrthrnPygmyOwl-1928NrthrnPygmyOwl-1928The Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) is one of the smallest (about the size of a beer can) North American raptors, yet still plays an important role in maintaining rodent population size. After returning from Japan my next owl encounter occurred on the southwest edge of Calgary where Pygmy owls had recently been spotted in nearby a Provincial park. As their name suggests, Pygmy owls are quite small, about the size of a beer can, yet despite their diminutive size, they are still very skilled hunters. I was fortunate to see this first hand when a Pygmy owl spotted a vole in the grass below, then dived from its perch to claim it. Completely enveloped by the grass, it quickly dispatched the vole, then struggled to fly the rodent, which probably weighed about as much as the owl, to the safety of a nearby, low hanging branch.  

This looked like exhausting work for this little raptor, and even when fully rested there appeared little chance that it would be able to fly off with it. No the owl somehow needed to lighten the load. But raptors don’t excrete much in the way of solid waste, instead solids are collected in their stomach where they are transformed into pellets. I’ve never seen an owl regurgitate a pellet before, but this was something the Pygmy owl had to do in order to make room for its new meal. The vole however was still too much for the owl to consume in a single sitting, so after taking its fill, the vole now significantly reduced in size, was flown to a nearby tree and stashed for later snacking.

The fourth species of owl I spotted this year was the Great Grey, which is a non-migratory owl that lives in Canada’s boreal forest. I had never seen a Great Grey in its natural habitat before, but with general directions from some fellow wildlife photographers, I began my search in an area west of Calgary, where Canada’s boreal forest reaches its southernmost point.

 


GreatGreyOwl-5451GreatGreyOwl-5451A great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) looks for prey from its perch in an aspen tree in Alberta's boreal forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While other owls may be heavier, the Great Grey is one of the largest owls in the world, averaging 72 cm (28 in) for females and 67 cm (26 in) for males. In winter it uses a technique known as "snow-plunging," where it combines its weight and speed to capture voles and mice moving about in tunnels at depths of up to 60 cm (2.0 ft) beneath the snow. Wow! How cool is that?

I really wanted to see one of these owls but, this was a pretty big area, and not knowing exactly where to look, or where to find them, I wasn’t sure how successful I would be. But as it turned out, it didn’t take long until I saw my first Great Grey, sitting on a fence post right beside the road. What an awesome bird they are! Once I understood the type of habitat they prefer for hunting, it became easier to spot them. The next morning, in my enthusiasm I was up and gone before sunrise, and over the next few days I was fortunate to see and photograph many more Great Greys.

Back at the abandoned building, the female Great Horned owl has spotted something and has flown off to investigate, the male however seems content to remain behind, perched comfortably on the roof. The sun has now set, painting the clouds to the west in beautiful shades of red and orange against which he is now perfectly silhouetted. Although its still only April, I can’t help thinking as I pack up and head for home, that it’s already been a very good year for owls.

 

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Bubo scandiacus) (Bubo virginianus) (Glaucidium gnoma) (Strix nebulosa), Alberta Avian Wildlife Canada Great Grey Owl Great Horned Owl Hokkaido Japan Martin Bailey Photography Northern pygmy owl Owl Raptor Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography Snowy Owl Strix uralensis Ural Owl https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/4/a-good-year-for-owls Thu, 23 Apr 2015 00:25:18 GMT
The Grey Wolf: The Usual Suspect and Convenient Scapegoat. https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/3/the-grey-wolf-the-usual-suspect-a-convenient-scapegoat It was about two hundred years ago that European’s first began settling the western United States. Believing this to be their divine manifest destiny, they used their rifles to clear the land of bears, wolves and bison, and military intervention and starvation to clear the land of its indigenous people. Cities, factories and transcontinental railways quickly sprung up and the land was ravaged for its natural resources without any consideration for the long term impact. It was theirs for the taking and nothing was going to stand in their way.

Although wolves were essentially extirpated through much of the lower 49 states during this process, in the mid nineties, amidst strong and at times vehement opposition from local area ranchers, wolves were successfully reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Ranchers in both Montana and Wyoming were outraged and the fairy tale fear mongering that first originated with their European ancestors now resumed again in earnest. “Wolves will kill all our livestock” cried the ranchers, “Wolves will kill all the elk” cried the hunters. Nothing, science would prove, could be further from the truth.

GreyWolf-9892GreyWolf-9892

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Dutcher & Dutcher (Hidden Life of Wolves, 152, 157) weather, disease, lambing complications and old age all combine for a greater percentage of sheep loss (48.4%) than predation by coyotes, bear, cougars, wolves, dogs and other predators combined (37.1%). In fact even amongst predators, wolves account for only 1% of sheep losses compared to coyotes with 25.3%. In 2011 they also cite US Department of Agriculture statistics that show that wolves killed 180 head of cattle in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, or one cow in every 33,666.    

Statistics also show that elk populations rose and fell in the years immediately prior to the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone. In fact in 1977 the parks elk population was just below 9,000 animals, that number grew to almost 19,000 by 1988 before falling again to just over 9,000 in 1992. (Smith, Decade of the Wolf. 198) But according to Doug Smith who's been part of the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction team since its inception, wolves have a far greater impact on elk behaviour than they do on population. And the recent scientific findings now commonly referred to as “trophic cascade”, support how valuable wolves are in restoring and maintaining the balance of nature. (see You Tube video)

Still through it all, the grey wolf has remained the usual suspect and a convenient scapegoat. Although our household dogs are directly descended from wolves and share much of its DNA, its an animal that a lot of people still love to hate.

In 2011, after several previous failed attempts, the US Congress was successful in removing the grey wolf from the Endangered Species Act. This was an unprecedented move, the first time any animal had been removed from the list by anyone other than scientists. It was done without any voting, quietly hidden away inside a federal budget bill, which also stated it was not subject to any judicial review. (Hidden Lives of Wolves. Dutcher & Dutcher. 161)

In transferring this federal jurisdiction back to the individual states, Idaho Fish and Game wasted no time in issuing over 43,000 wolf tags. A year later, Idaho’s original wolf population of 1000 was cut by half. In Montana it was pretty much the same story where the wolf population was cut from 566 to 336, and by 2013, Wyoming was poised to allow hunting of wolves in over 80% of the state, with no seasonal limits and no license required. (Hidden Lives of Wolves. Dutcher & Dutcher. 161)

As much as I would like to think otherwise, things are really not much different here in Canada. The Vancouver Sun reported in November of 2012 that a realtor in Fort St. John had initiated an annual wolf killing contest in which cash prizes between $150 and $1000 were handed out for the largest and smallest (no doubt a pup) wolves killed.

Then in January 2015, The Province newspaper reported that the BC Government had contracted hunters in helicopters to begin culling wolves in an attempt to save endangered caribou in the South Peace region of northern B.C., and the South Selkirk region along the Washington state and Idaho borders. These areas are home to dwindling caribou herds which the BC government insists can be protected and restored simply by culling the areas wolf population. The four year program will start this year by killing 184 wolves.

While its perhaps easy to get down on our US and BC neighbours, we are facing an identical situation right here in Alberta as our provincial government continues to use our hard earned tax dollars to fund the killing of wolves that it claims are responsible for the decline in the Little Smoky caribou herd.   

The Little Smoky is a 2500-square kilometre area north of Hinton, Alberta, that is home to about 70 boreal woodland caribou. But like most other caribou in BC and Alberta, the Little Smoky herd has seen a marked decline in their numbers during the last few decades, and the Alberta government has concluded this is largely due to wolf predation, which according to a CBC news report has to date now funded the poisoning or shooting (from helicopters) of over 800 wolves.

A recent University of Alberta research study however points the finger elsewhere.

"The underlying issue is one of habitat loss which affects caribou... Wolf-control programs...do not provide a long-term solution to counter caribou declines. Studies in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Colombia have shown that this method resulted in only short-term increases in ungulate populations because wolf populations increased shortly after culling was ceased (e.g. Boertje et al. 1996, NRC 1997, Bergerud and Elliot 1998, Hayes et al. 2003). The management strategies currently in place have the potential to increase caribou survival if applied continuously but they do not address the main issue of habitat loss, habit degradation, and habitat fragmentation.” The extent of this problem becomes abundantly clear when one reads the Federal Government's own recovery strategy for boreal caribou, where its noted that a mere 5% of intact habitat is all that remains of the Little Smoky range.

The real cause of this habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation should more accurately be attributed to government approved industrial expansion within the Little Smoky. The removal of old-growth forest together with new growth in the cut-blocks has resulted in more ungulates such as moose, elk and deer frequenting this area which in turn has also led to the presence of more predators. So while no one is saying that wolves are the innocent victims in all this, the roads and seismic lines built within the last few decades for oil & gas exploration, well site construction, and logging, have all made it much easier for predators, including wolves, to access, live and successfully hunt in the Little Smoky caribou range.

Two hundred years ago, caribou could survive by simply moving to more remote, inaccessible areas, but today wildlife habitat everywhere has been so significantly reduced and destroyed, that they simply have nowhere else to go. Perhaps the same can now be said of the wolf.

Unfortunately there is no short term solution to this problem as CBC News recently reported that many of the province's top caribou scientists found that while the wolf cull has so far allowed the Little Smoky caribou herd to hang on, due to the significant extent of habitat destruction they estimate it will take another 30 years to recover, by which time both the caribou and wolves will all presumably be dead.

As a wildlife lover and photographer, as an Albertan and proud Canadian, it saddens me greatly to think of the loss of these animals, yet government everywhere appears only concerned with economic growth and jobs. While I agree that a flourishing economy is something we all want to see, I for one don't want that to come at the expense of this country's wildlife. It is simply not acceptable to me for our provincial government to continue to submit to the imposed pressures of major energy corporations, who in the end, will surely not only strip this land of its natural resources much more effectively and efficiently than our European ancestors every did, but in the process will also leave the people of this province and country, very much the poorer for it.

Related story: B.C. Caribou Herds Face Extinction Despite Government Protection.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Wolf Cull BC Wold Cull Boreal Woodland Caribou Grey Wolves Little Smoky Caribou Range Rick Andrews Wildlife Photography https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/3/the-grey-wolf-the-usual-suspect-a-convenient-scapegoat Sun, 29 Mar 2015 22:27:04 GMT
Red-crowned Cranes https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/2/red-crowned-cranes It’s shortly after 5 a.m. and I’m standing on the Otawa Bridge (Sound of Wings Bridge) above the Setsuri River where it flows through the village of Tsurui on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Within a few minutes there will be as many as 40 or 50 other wildlife photographer’s here, some of whom staked out their spot by leaving their tripods set out all night. We are here to see one of the rarest sites in the world. To the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, it is known as Sarurun Kamuy, "the god of the marsh,” and to today’s Japanese people as the tanch┼Źzuru, “red head.” To the rest of the world it is known as the Red-crowned crane, Grus Japonensis, one of rarest cranes in the world today.

RedCrwnCrane-6824RedCrwnCrane-6824Appearing in literature, poetry, art and folklore, the Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) is a national symbol woven into the very fabric of Japanese culture. Cranes are monogamous and are said to live for a 1000 years. They are revered as symbols of fidelity and longevity and are therefore often featured on the back of traditional Japanese wedding kimonos. Their likeness also appears on the 1984 1000 yen note and on the tail of every Japan Airlines aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appearing in Japanese literature, poetry, art and folklore, the Red-crowned crane is a national symbol that is woven into the fabric of Japanese culture. Cranes are monogamous and are said to live for 1000 years and therefore revered as symbols of fidelity and longevity. Its likeness appears on the 1984 1000 yen note, on the tail of every Japan Airlines aircraft, and it's often featured on the back of traditional Japanese wedding kimonos.

The ancient legend of Tsuru no Ongaeshi ("crane's return of a favor") promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami paper cranes (senbazuru) will be granted a wish by a crane. A traditional senbazuru wedding gift is given by a father wishing a thousand years of happiness and prosperity upon the wedding couple. They can also be given to a new baby for long life and good luck, or to people who are injured or sick. Hanging them in one's home is believed to be a powerfully lucky and benevolent charm. It’s ironic therefore that there are so few Red-crowned cranes left in the world today, that most Japanese people have likely never actually seen one.

From the Edo period (1603-1868) to the Meiji period (1868-1912) there were no restrictions on hunting in Japan which together with the destruction of its habitat left many believing the cranes had become extinct. But in 1924, a few mating pairs were discovered in eastern Hokkaido and the Government of Japan moved quickly to designate both the crane and its habitat as special natural treasures.

As dawn begins to break, I set my camera to a long exposure and on its LCD screen I see cranes roosting on the river long before I can see them with the naked eye. This morning we were hoping for clear skies and cold temperatures to add mist to the river and hoar frost to the trees on either side, but this night was too warm, and the effect is seen only fleetingly along one side. But as the light improves, I still manage a few shots as a handful of cranes begin foraging in the shallows below me.

RedCrwnCrane-7429RedCrwnCrane-7429Red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis) feed on the Setsuri River in Hokkaido, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the Tancho Observation Center, there are perhaps two hundred cranes assembled in the open field awaiting their 2pm feeding. The feeding began here in 1950 when Sadajiro Yamazaki, the farmer who owned this land, saw a solitary crane searching for food around a pile of dried corn plant. He began leaving corn grain out for the wary bird, which eventually began feeding on it. There were then perhaps only a few dozen mating pairs left in Japan, today their numbers are still small, but now estimated to be closer to 1500 birds.

Given their largely carnivorous diet, together with their tiny remaining wetland habitat, some artificial feeding is still needed to sustain them in natural winter conditions. But the daily feeding also attracts other birds and mammals. Overhead I watch a Black Kite circling, while across the field I can see white-tailed eagles perched in the trees. There are also dozens of crows and whooper swans that are moved on periodically by staff driving a snowmobile around the perimeter of the field. Crane numbers are still so small that it’s feared they could be wiped should they contract a disease such as avian flu.

On this day a few of us also spot an Ezo fox as its steals across the field, looking for a free handout it slinks right through the middle of the cranes. In the spring when they are incubating their eggs, they will be much less tolerant and drive it away with multiple jabs from their beaks, but today the cranes seem indifferent to its presence.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's here I discover the cranes derive their name from a little patch of red that stretches from their forehead to the back of their heads. But a closer look reveals that this isn’t a patch of red feathers, but actually exposed skin that turns red when the birds become agitated or excited. Standing on average 1.5 meters (5 ft) tall and with a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters (8 ft), these birds are also amongst the largest cranes in the world.

We are here in early February at the beginning of mating season, and we watch as pairs begin their mating rituals by throwing back their heads while calling and strutting around together. This is sometimes followed by a mating dance, that consistent with Japanese culture, begins with the cranes bowing to each other. They then spread their wings and leap 2 meters or more into the air. Sometimes this sets off more dancing by other mating pairs, and on more than one occasion I saw a juvenile that after picking up a feather or piece of snow in its beak, began leaping high into the air while performing its own solitary dance.  

RedCrwnCrane-8658-2RedCrwnCrane-8658-2At times the mating dance of the red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis) can appear quite comical. Kushiro, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our final day at the Crane Center the wind is howling and it's snowing heavily. While this covers the field in a fresh blanket of snow it also creates additional challenges for photography as camera gear quickly begins icing up and snow accumulates inside the lens hood. But this also creates a new magical photographic canvas, one that can be used to great advantage in capturing a few creative images, so I'm reluctant to pack up and go just yet.  

RedCrwnCrane-8007RedCrwnCrane-8007A pair of Red-crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) glide in to take shelter from a winter blizzard in Kushiro, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we’ll wait out the winter storm that will last for three days and dump a record 1.8 meters (6ft) of snow on Rausu, closing all roads in and out of the town. The snowstorm also serves to remind us of the harsh climate these birds face, since they are now resident, and no longer migrate to warmer winter climates. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to have learned a little about these magnificent birds and for the opportunity of spending a few days observing and photographing them. And as the roads are cleared and reopened allowing us to head off to Rausu, I wish these iconic birds well and hope that with a little more help, they will endure and their numbers will continue to increase.  

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Grus Japonensis Hokkaido Japan Kushiro Red-crowned crane Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Tsuru https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/2/red-crowned-cranes Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:25:48 GMT
Japanese Snow Monkeys https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/2/japanese-snow-monkeys Thousands of years ago, a tribe of macaques (Macaca fuscata) made an incredible journey, crossing mountain ranges and snow filled valleys they eventually settled in Jigokudani (Hell Valley), and other than humankind, became the northernmost primates on earth. Today their descendants still roam the mountains of central Japan.

About 50 years ago, or so the story goes, a group of young rambunctious macaques began stealing quick dips in the outdoor hot springs at the Korokan Inn. To prevent them from becoming a nuisance, the inn eventually built them their own hot springs pool a little further up the valley, where they were often seen bathing while freshly falling snow accumulated on their heads. Known locally as Nihonzaru, these Japanese "Snow Monkeys" quickly became a novelty, then international celebrities, and today they are amongst the most photographed animals in the world.     

SnowMonkey-5000SnowMonkey-5000Grooming for these Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) is not only important for good hygiene but its also used for bonding and socializing within the troupe. Jigokudani, Honshu, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In spring and summer, the “Hot Springs Troupe” as they have become known, feed on fresh plants and leaves and add protein to their diets by eating insects and larva found hidden beneath the bark of the valleys cedar trees. Spring is also the time that females give birth to a single infant. Their gestation period is about 180 days, and while females only give birth every second year, each female will have about ten babies during her lifetime.

The macaque society is a matriarchal one with the dominant females deciding who the alpha male will be each year. Females remain with their original troupe throughout their lives, so it is not uncommon for a troupe to contain several families each comprised of grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters and offspring. Each family remains close-knit, often eating and sleeping together, grooming each other, and protecting each other during troupe spats and conflict. Grooming is an important and ongoing social activity that is performed by family members, which in addition to providing free snacks and good hygiene, also helps promote family bonding.

While Mothers develop a strong bond with their babies (who inherit their mother’s social standing in the troupe) Father’s have no relationship with their offspring at all. Unlike the females, most males usually leave their home troupe before reaching sexual maturity, some however will remain to help safeguard and protect it from rival troupes and predators.

Males that do leave their home troupe, roam alone until mating season when they will try approaching females from another troupe. This is always a risky business, because while it may be good for the troupes gene pool, they are not received well by the resident males. On occasion however, if they are persistent they may be accepted by the troupe and eventually become resident males too. But this may be short lived as most males will join and leave several troupes throughout their lifetime.

Winter is the true test of most mammals, and as I experienced during my recent visit to Japan, storms can last several days, in fact more snow falls on the Japanese Alps than almost anywhere else on earth. Macaques therefore rely heavily on each other for survival, clinging closely together in the trees overhead, or huddling together over geothermal steam vents to stay warm.

SnowMonkey-5451SnowMonkey-5451Japanese macaque's (Macaca fuscata) or Snow Monkey's as they are sometimes known, huddle for warmth in Jigokudani, Honshu, Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winter diet of the Hot Springs troupe consists of young branches, buds and tree bark supplemented with grain that is scattered widely on top of the snow on each side of the river. Not having to spend as much time foraging, these macaques lead a more comfortable life and have a lower mortality rate than other troupes further down the valley.  

Dr Takayo Soma of Kyoto University is a primatologist who has studied primates for over 10 years. In the Kamikochi Valley in the heart of Japan’s Chubu Sangaku National Park, she discovered that primate life revolves around the Azusa River, and that macaques there lead a more hand to mouth existence. In fact one of the first striking discoveries made by Dr. Soma, was that the “Mountain Troupe” macaques were on average only half the size of the Hot Springs Troupe. This she thought is likely due to the troupe's need to spend a large part of its day foraging for food, while covering many kilometres in the process. Also largely attributable to the challenging life this troupe leads, these females only give birth every two to three years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty years ago, it was unusual to see macaques outside of the valley, but today, a third troupe known as the “Urban Troupe” have begun regular excursions beyond it. But what used to be forest is now farmland and orchards, both of which provide easier food sources for hungry macaques.  In winter they content themselves by eating discarded corn cobs and raiding bags of rice husks, but during the growing season they openly raid food crops and orchards. Its perhaps ironic therefore that while the Hot Springs troupe are adored by their human visitors, raiding Urban Troupe macaques are leaving farmers frustrated and angry. Conflict between humans and animals typically never ends well for the animals, and in this instance farmers have begun building huge traps baited with fruit, and according to a BBC TV documentary [Natural World – Snow Monkeys of Japan (2009)] in this one small area of Japan, as many as 1500 macaques are killed each year as pests.

Back at the Hot Springs, I’m still fascinated by these primates. Although it’s unlikely we’ll ever know with certainty what these Snow Monkeys are actually thinking or feeling, it was difficult not to try to imagine. They are so engaging to watch, the exuberant antics of juveniles chasing and wrestling with each other, sedate mothers nursing their infants, and the seemingly blissful and sublime facial expressions of the closed-eyed bathing adults, all left me guessing.

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Honshu Japan Japanese Macaques Jigokudani Nihonzaru Primate Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Snow Monkeys Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2015/2/japanese-snow-monkeys Sat, 14 Feb 2015 22:18:26 GMT
2014 In Review https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/12/2014-in-review The weather for the past week has been unseasonably warm, I’m sitting in my backyard blind waiting for a skittish woodpecker to show. He's been a frequent visitor of late, but the Chinook cloud is now starting to build and I’m quickly losing the light, if he doesn’t show up soon I’ll have to call it a day.  

GreyWolf-9908GreyWolf-9908A grey wolf in the Canadian Rockies.

 

Its late afternoon in mid-December, and I realize that weather-wise we're living on borrowed time, it wont be long before the snows return. My thoughts wander back to mid-February when I made a trip to Jasper to spend a few days photographing elk and bighorn sheep. There are many challenges to winter nature photography but there are many advantages too. With shortened daylight hours, sunrise and sunset shots can be taken after breakfast and before supper, so despite the shortened day, its more relaxed than during the summer months. Deep snow also makes it easier to spot wildlife. Winter is especially tough on them and their very survival may depend upon how well they conserve their energy. One of the ways they do that is by travelling on roads and frozen rivers. It was on one of those frozen rivers that I spotted a solitary grey wolf, and while it was some distance away, it was a rare sighting, and one of the year’s highlights for me.

As winter drew to a close, I remained closer to home, photographing migrating tundra and trumpeter swans, and thousands of snow geese that stopped to feed in the stubble fields and rest up in the potholes of southern Alberta. As the snow melt continued, they were followed by avocets, black-necked stilts and marbled godwits, many of which nested along the shores of our lakes and ponds.

TundraSwan-2118TundraSwan-2118The Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus) is the smallest of swans found in North America and is identifiable by the yellow "teardrop" on its lores. It nests on tundra ponds and during migration can be seen feeding in agricultural grain fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In June I travelled to Alaska, but unlike most nature photographers who head to Denali or Katmai, I opted instead for the remoteness of western Alaska. A few minutes outside Nome, there are no fences, power lines, windmills or cell towers, and other than a few widely scattered Iñupiat communities and abandoned gold mines, there is no human footprint whatsoever. It’s here that many migratory birds come to nest, among them swans, loons, jaegers, ptarmigan, plovers, warblers and wagtails. But there are mammals on this windswept tundra too and sightings of caribou and musk ox were lifetime “firsts” for me.     

MuskOx-3937MuskOx-3937Musk Oxen (Ovibos moschatus) like this herd in Alaska, instinctively form a protective circle around their young whenever they sense or detect danger. Image taken on Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent most of the summer months in the mountain parks – Kootenay, Banff, Jasper and Waterton-Glacier. There I was fortunate to find both black and grizzly bears, both species recently emerged from hibernation, some with new cubs, all feasting on fresh crops of dandelions and wildflowers they seem to enjoy so much.

GrizzlyBear-4800GrizzlyBear-4800Grizzly Bear cubs (Ursus arctos) are only the size of a squirrel when they are born in May or June, but during the first year they grow quickly while remaining close to their mothers so they can learn all they can. Image taken near Babb, Montana, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the mountain parks briefly I travelled to Elk Island National Park to photograph the rare wood bison, then as summer wore on I returned to photograph blue birds, eagles, hawks, owls and mountain goats, and complete a few day hikes into the back country.

As fall approached I was hoping the bears would have a good berry season that would bring them down from their summer in the high country. But that wasn’t to be the case this year. But it was a good year for photographing Bull Moose that I encountered in Kananaskis Country, Glacier NP in Montana and Grand Teton NP in Wyoming. Fall is also a great time of year for landscape photography, and I spent many early mornings and late evenings photographing tranquil alpine lakes amid spectacular mountain scenery.  

GrandTetons-5322GrandTetons-5322Brand Teton National Park, Wyoming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s really starting to cool off now and that skittish woodpecker is looking more and more like a no-show, it’s time to pack up my gear and take down the blind. It’s been an incredible year and I feel so very fortunate to have seen so much in so many wonderful places. Along with the wildlife and spectacular scenery I encountered, I also met some amazing people, many of whom also appreciate and enjoy spending quality time in our natural world. It was a pleasure to meet you all.

As this year draws to a close, I want to thank you all for visiting my website, and for the kind comments you post here. I also want to wish each of you a wonderful holiday season along with good health and much happiness in 2015. 

Cheers

Rick

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Avian Banff NP British Columbia Canada Elk Island NP Grand Teton NP Jasper NP Kootenay NP Landscape Mammal Montana Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Waterton NP Wildlife Wyoming https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/12/2014-in-review Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:41:51 GMT
North American Beaver https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/10/north-american-beaver Beavers are industrious and efficient mammals that I had an opportunity to watch and photograph on a recent trip to Grand Teton NP in northwest Wyoming. According to the 2014 documentary “Wild Canada,” when the first European fur traders appeared in North America there were over 400 million beavers living on the continent. Trapped and hunted almost to the point of extinction, it wasn’t until beaver pelts fell out of vogue with European fashion that their numbers began to increase, which again according to the documentary, are now estimated to be around 12 million.   

Beaver-0611Beaver-0611Its supper time for this North American Beaver (Castor canadensis). Image taken in Grand Teton NP, Wyoming, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A keystone species able to positively impact eco systems, their dams and lodges are engineering marvels built with twigs, sticks and branches, woven together layer upon layer, and finished off with mud, moss and stones. Their dams filter rainfall and snow melt, allowing silt and sediment to settle, and clear water to flow. The dams also reduce flooding by creating wetlands that are used by numerous species of birds and waterfowl, as well as amphibians such as toads and frogs. Their ponds also support vegetation rich in sodium which is sought by ungulates such as deer and moose, and the trees they cut down open the forest to sunlight, thereby encouraging new plant life to grow.

Beavers are nocturnal mammals that normally don’t appear until after sunset, although on cloudy days I sometimes saw them a little earlier. Each evening would typically begin the same way as the heads of one or two adults would suddenly pop up close to their lodge. After a quick look around they would take a short effortless swim to assess their surroundings before disappearing again beneath the surface. Beavers are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes at a time. While submerged both their nose and ears have valves that close off so water doesn’t get in, and since their lips are located behind their teeth, they can also close of their throats while chewing on branches underwater. It wasn’t clear to me during this time whether they were actually still submerged or had perhaps returned via the underwater entrance to their lodge, though I suspect this was likely the case. Regardless, after a few minutes they reappeared again, this time with their young kits, until at times I counted at least six beavers.

Beaver-9406Beaver-9406Female North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) and kit feeding in Grand Teton NP, Wyoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kits are born in late spring and emerge from the lodge sometime in July. Although beavers usually give birth to 8 or 9 kits at a time, a videographer shooting footage for a documentary on the greater Yellowstone area, told me they have been known to produce as many as 16 in a single litter. Kits stay with the family until they are 2 years old during which time they remain vulnerable to predator species such as wolves, coyotes and bears.

Although they are excellent swimmers, on land they appear less agile as they waddle ponderously along their well beaten paths. But this can be quite deceptive as on more than one occasion I observed them moving surprisingly fast after sensing danger in the area. Their activities changed nightly, yet whether that was repairing the lodge or dam with mud, moss or new sticks and branches, or cutting new branches for winter storage, it appeared they were all involved in the same activity, even the kits.

Beaver-9417Beaver-9417When not feeding, North American Beaver's (Castor Canadensis) spend much of their time maintaining their lodges and dams. Image taken in Grand Teton NP, Wyoming, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beavers are vegetarian and feed primarily on twigs and branches, and since this food is low in calories, they must spend a lot of their time eating. Their front teeth have a very hard orange surface with a softer surface on the back that wears down at a quicker rate than the front. This keeps them razor sharp and listening to them gnawing on a fallen cottonwood tree reminded me of a carpenter using a sharp chisel to shape wood. The layer just beneath the bark appears to be the one they favour as food, but once this layer has been removed and consumed, their gnawing often continued until a large piece had been removed after which it was dragged back to the pond for use on the lodge or dam. Some pieces were almost as large as the beaver itself, yet being one of the largest rodents in the world, they appeared to use their size and strength to great advantage.

For winter, beaver stockpile twigs and branches close to their lodge by sticking one end of it into the bottom of the pond, they can then retrieve and feed from their cache without having to surface through the ice.

The beaver’s tail is probably their most versatile tool. Most people who have seen beavers swimming, have likely witnessed their trademark tail slap whenever they sense danger. But in addition to using it as a warning signal they also use their tails as a rudder, as well as to help support and balance themselves while walking on their hind legs. But perhaps a lesser known fact is that their tails also contain fat reserves that they draw upon during the cold winter months.

I really enjoyed the time I spent watching, photographing and learning from this family of beavers, and was always disappointed when the light was lost and it came time to pack up and go. Perhaps this is why I was always so anxious to return again the following evening, but then again, perhaps it was just that beavers are such fascinating animals to watch, study and to learn from, something I hope to do many times again.

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Grand Teton NP Mammal North American Beaver Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Rodent USA Wyoming https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/10/north-american-beaver Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:52:25 GMT
The Grand Teton's https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/10/the-grand-tetons The day I arrived in Grand Teton National Park it was raining and any view of the mountains was totally obscured by the heavy blanket of cloud that had descended upon the Jackson Hole Valley. The next few days were much the same, so I used this time to learn a little more about the park, its history and its wildlife.

I learned the park had been named for its tallest mountain, “discovered” (no doubt to the great amusement of the local First Nations people who had been coming to this valley for over 10,000 years) by 19th century French speaking fur trappers who named this range les trois tétons  (the three teats). The name was later anglicized, and revised slightly to become Grand Teton’s.

I also learned that while it took only 2 years to establish the world’s first national park – Yellowstone, it took over 50 years to establish Grand Teton. The original park was created by an Act of Congress in 1929 and consisted of only the Teton Range and several glacial lakes. But any potential future expansion was vehemently opposed by local ranchers, businessmen and regional US Forest Service personnel who viewed it as a threat to traditional hunting and grazing rights, as well as their individual freedoms.

Luckily due in no small part to visionary men such as Stephen Mather (the first director of the US National Park Service), his assistant Horace Albright, and the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller Jnr who through his own company (Snake River Land Company) purchased over 35,000 acres of land which he then donated to the National Park Service, the park slowly began to grow in size.

In 1943 Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his Presidential powers to create the 221,000 acre Jackson Hole National Monument which again renewed intense resentment and hostility in Wyoming. Finally in 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill merging the original 1929 park with the 1943 National Monument lands to form the present day 310,000 acre Grand Teton National Park.

Driving around the park, much of its history is still evident today, a few privately owned ranches still dot the valley within the park boundary; at the Grand Teton Discovery and Visitor Center, a bronze plaque memorializes Stephen Mather; there is the Albright overlook; and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, formerly a Rockefeller home, where the public are invited to enjoy the scenery and freely wander its trails.   

GrandTetons-5516GrandTetons-5516Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late on my fourth day, the weather finally began to break and I had my first glimpse of the Grand Teton Range which was like nothing I had ever seen before. Rising abruptly more than 7,000 feet from the valley floor, this mountain range is stunningly beautiful, and reminded me of fanciful landscape paintings I had seen, but had often dismissed as being unrealistic. Simply put, I was awestruck.

Most of my days in the park began the same way with a pre-dawn drive to Windy Point where for a few short minutes each morning until sunrise, I was able to watch and photograph the parks elk herds. The bugling sound of the bulls in the chilly, early morning light is hauntingly beautiful, an experience I always enjoy.  

Elk-0753Elk-0753The annual rut is an exhausting time for bull Elk (Cervus canadensis) who must not only mate, but protect their harem by fighting and driving off any would-be contenders. This leaves little time for rest and even less for feeding, so some bulls enter the long winter months exhausted and emaciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later in the morning I would look for moose and often found them feeding and moving about the woodland more freely than later in the day when they would typically bed down in trees. I especially enjoyed watching the behaviour of the bulls as they began to sense a rival presence in their area. This usually began with them thrashing their antlers on nearby shrubs and tree branches, and sometimes pawing at the ground to warn rivals of their unwelcome presence. Most intruders were younger bulls who ran off at the first signs of confrontation, still the dominant bulls would continue their vigilant watch to ensure they didn't return. 

These activities, together with seasonal breeding, are physically exhausting and negatively impact the time bulls have to spend grazing. Many of the bull elk I saw were visibly lean, and one I observed later in the week was so exhausted, that other than twitching his ears to stave off flies, he continued to lay unmoving in the same spot for several hours. 

Moose-8283Moose-8283A bull moose stands in a woodland clearing in Grand Teton NP, Wyoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late afternoon I would sometimes find smalls herds of pronghorn, the fastest hoofed animal in the world, where like the elk and moose, the herd buck was often kept busy driving off younger males. And though I had heard of a large herd of plains bison seen by numerous people near the Mormon Barns, I was never able to find more than a handful. But then it’s always amazed me how large animals like this can seemingly just vanish into wide open country.  

I spent the close of each day watching beavers along the Snake River. These industrious little mammals so fascinated me that I was always disappointed when it became too dark to continue photographing. But I so enjoyed watching and photographing them that I’m tempted to dedicate a future blog post to them.

Grand Teton National Park is an incredible place that together with Yellowstone National Park forms the Greater Yellowstone area. It's an amazing place to visit, and experience, and I now understand why Mather, Albright and Rockefeller pushed so hard for the expansion of this magnificent park, and remain grateful for their vision, tenacity and significant achievement.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Beaver Elk Grand Teton NP Moose Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography USA Wyoming https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/10/the-grand-tetons Fri, 10 Oct 2014 18:20:57 GMT
Waterton-Glacier NP's https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/8/waterton-glacier-nps Earlier this month I spent a week or so in the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park that straddles the Canada-US border in southern Alberta and northern Montana. Although the environment is similar here, there are obvious differences between the two parks.

While Waterton is less commercialized than most other Canadian mountain parks, private businesses and residences are still permitted within its boundaries. Thankfully though, there are no shiny bright skywalks there yet, leaving me to believe that people are perhaps still attracted by its natural beauty, well-maintained trails, beautiful waterfalls and pristine mountain lakes.

By contrast, I think the American’s who originated and evolved the idea of preserving their natural spaces for the enjoyment of all, have done a much better job of creating their national parks than we have in Canada. For as American historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stegner so famously wrote, it’s "the best idea we've ever had," and as I’ve stated previously in my blogs, on this issue I believe the Americans got it right. In Glacier you won’t find many privately owned motels, restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations or souvenir shops, instead you’ll find them just outside the park in places like St Mary and West Glacier, where personally I believe such amenities more rightly belong.  WatertonLakes-5738WatertonLakes-5738Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton NP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterton’s potential as a tourist destination was first realized by America’s Great Northern Railway which in 1926-7 constructed the iconic Prince of Wales hotel overlooking Waterton’s Emerald Bay. Built using a distinctly Swiss alpine architectural design, it became a drawing card used in the “See American First” campaign, designed to persuade middle-class American’s to forgo their European vacation in favour of staying home. To transport tourists to the Prince of Wales hotel from Goat Haunt, Montana, the GNR constructed the “MV International,” a 200 seat wooden boat that has been in service on Upper Waterton Lake since it was built there in 1927. Still sea worthy, I took the “International” from the Waterton townsite to Goat Haunt, before making the short hike into Kootenai Lake which I’d heard was one of the best places in either park to find moose. This tip turned out to be correct as within a few minutes of arriving there, I sat eating my lunch while watching a cow moose and her twin calves enjoying theirs a short distance away.

The following day I drove down to St Mary, Montana where I took in one of Glacier’s most interesting features - the 85 km (53 mile) long “Going-to-the-Sun” road. The road runs between St Mary at the east end of the park to West Glacier, crossing the continental divide at the 2026 m (6646 ft) Logan Pass. Built during the depression era, this civil engineering marvel used native rock to blend aesthetically and seamlessly into the mountainside along which it offers breathtaking views of the lakes and green valleys below, and the rugged and majestic snow-capped peaks above.

My goal in coming to Glacier this trip was mainly to photograph moose and mountain goats where luckily I found both. I had heard that along with Kootenai Lake, Fishercap Lake was also a good location to observe and photograph moose, and since it’s located not far from the Swiftcurrent Inn parking lot, it’s an easy hike even when carrying heavy photographic equipment. Again I wasn’t disappointed as over the next few days I saw several moose that came down to the lake to feed. In Addition I also saw several white-tailed deer, a young black bear and an adolescent grizzly that put in brief appearances there too.

Moose-3426Moose-3426Once alpine lakes warm up sufficiently for plant life to begin regrowing in early summer, Moose (Alces alces) are often found browsing on these plants as they contain 500 times more sodium than those found on land. Image taken in Glacier NP, Montana, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my previous visits to the park I’ve usually had good luck photographing mountain goats in the Logan Pass area, but as I discovered shortly after arriving there this time, there is now a three year mountain goat research project currently underway. Aimed at studying the interaction between goats and humans, most goats were now wearing VHF radio or GPS collars. Given the expense of this equipment together with limited fiscal resources is perhaps the reason I also saw one goat that had been dyed with florescent orange stripes, presumably to help identify it as one of the study animals. Although I understand the importance of scientific study, I believe many visitors come to the park especially to see and enjoy wildlife that still look wild. Given the nature of the study, I found it a bit ironic that the only goats exhibiting signs of human interference were ones that had suffered it at the hands of the researchers themselves. Luckily I was able to find a few unmolested goats a short distance away that were either not included in the study, or had so far escaped the biologists dart gun.

RockyMntGoat-5068RockyMntGoat-5068Rocky Mountain Goat, Glacier NP, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent my final day in the park along Avalanche Creek where a unique microclimate has helped create and sustain an old growth forest of western hemlock and western red cedar that are more commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. In fact this is the farthest east these 500 year old trees are found in the U.S., so it’s always a treat to visit and enjoy the sights, sounds and intoxicating aroma of this very special place. 

Woodland-5950Woodland-5950Woodland scene, Glacier National Park, Montana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along with the wildlife and natural beauty found in the park, I also met some interesting people. Glenn from Helena, and Patti from Portland are both fellow nature lovers and photographers I enjoyed chatting with as we photographed moose at Fishercap Lake together. Then while hiking up from Logan Pass to the Hidden Lake lookout, I met a dairy farmer from Madison, Wisconsin, whose daughter was getting married at the lookout that morning. I’ve always said you meet the nicest and most interesting people in the parks, and this trip was no exception.

Waterton and Glacier are very different parks, each with their own unique character. Both are great places to hike, explore and photograph, and without question, are places I'll continue to visit often.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Canada Glacier Montana National Park Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography USA Waterton https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/8/waterton-glacier-nps Thu, 21 Aug 2014 13:48:16 GMT
Alberta's Wood Bison https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/7/albertas-wood-bison Imagine that you’re walking down a woodland trail enjoying the early morning sunlight as it streams through the aspens, here and there illuminating the forest floor. White Admiral, Swallowtail and Northern Pearly-eye butterflies flutter about the sticky geranium, wild rose and cow parsnip. Small frogs, hidden under the vegetation jump about at your feet, and through the trees you can hear the melodic trills of red-winged blackbirds. Suddenly something catches your attention on the trail ahead, and you look up to see a huge bull bison standing there - completely blocking the trail - just staring at you. This was the dilemma I found myself in last week while hiking the 16 km trail around Flyingshot Lake in Elk Island National Park.

WoodBison-8866WoodBison-8866Wood Bison, Elk Island NP, Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is saw it I had three choices, I could advance slowly in his direction to see if he would move out of the way, I could turn around and go back, or as Parks Canada recommend, I could take a wide berth around him rejoining the trail further up. I really had no desire to confront this behemoth by walking towards him, and since I was already five or six kilometres down the trail, I really didn’t want to turn back either. Yet after surveying the vegetation on either side of the trail, I discovered it was full of thorn bushes and dead-fall trees most of which were totally obscured by the dense ground cover. Trying to carry my camera, telephoto lens and tripod through all that didn’t seem like much of an option either – so now what?

The wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) is the largest land mammal in North America and once roamed the boreal forests of northwest Canada and Alaska. They were never as numerous as their cousin the plains bison (Bison bison) as according to Parks Canada even at their peak they likely numbered no more than about 170,000 animals. At first glance they look like any other bison, but a closer look reveals they differ in appearance from the plains bison in several ways - their hump is squarer with the high point located well ahead of the shoulders, their beards are thinner and more pointed, and the hair on their foreleg chaps is also shorter.

Perhaps in part through disease and over hunting, their numbers steadily declined until they became almost extinct, then in 1957 a small herd was discovered in a remote northwest region of Wood Buffalo National Park. To safeguard them against further loss, 18 animals were relocated to the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary near Fort Providence in the Northwest Territories where today their population has grown to somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 animals and now represents the largest free roaming wood bison herd in the world.

Then in 1965, to save them from an outbreak of anthrax, 23 animals were transported to Elk Island National Park where their numbers now exceed 200. As a result of these encouraging population resurgences, in 1988 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) revised their conservation status from "endangered" to "threatened."

As I stood looking at this huge bull while deciding what to do next, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a fourth option that I had already unwittingly adopted - perhaps I could simply wait him out! Although I had visions of him laying down on the trail and getting really comfortable, he continued to stand there staring at me. Turned slightly to his right, he was immense and perhaps like a bull elk displaying his freshly shined fall antlers, he was now trying to intimidate me by showing me just how big he really was. I remained still, and not wanting to provoke a confrontation, I looked away, and then down. After a few moments when I looked up again I saw that he hadn’t moved, and I began wondering how well this "fourth option" was really working.

Suddenly he turned away, and after completing a three hundred and sixty degree turn, he again stood facing me, this time turned slightly to his left. Perhaps he was now becoming a little impatient, wondering why I was still there - I began thinking it may be time to make a retreat. But then having made his point, and without warning, he slowly turned to his right and walked off into the trees.  

WoodBison-5461WoodBison-5461The Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae), seen here in Elk Island NP, Alberta, Canada, differs in appearance from the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison) in a number of ways. Unlike the plains bison, the highest point of the wood bison is well ahead of its front legs, they also have larger horn cores, a darker and woollier pelage, and less hair on their forelegs and beard. Image taken in Elk Island NP, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cautiously I advanced up the trail until I reached the spot where he had been standing. Looking into the forest I saw no sign of him at all, he had seemingly vanished without a trace, and the only evidence I had that this wasn’t simply some kind of apparition was a few captured images on my memory card. Still perhaps the way he was able to literally disappear with such ease proves that this forest is indeed wood bison habitat, a place where these magnificent animals are truly at home, and will continue to be so as long as there are wildlife sanctuaries like Elk Island National Park.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Bison bison athabascae) Alberta Canada Elk Island NP Mammal Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Wildlife Wood bison https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/7/albertas-wood-bison Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:57:15 GMT
Seward Penisula, Alaska https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/6/seward-penisula-alaska Unlike Rome, where it's said all roads lead to, there are no roads leading to Nome - only three (Teller, Glacier and Kougarok) leading away from it. Just 164 miles from Siberia, with a population of 3500, Nome is remote and can only be accessed by air, by crossing the Bering Sea, or perhaps by crossing the frozen tundra in winter on a dogsled or snowmobile. But it’s the remoteness of Western Alaska that I found appealing, as once you’re out of Nome and travelling across the Seward Peninsula, there are no fence lines, transmission lines or rail lines, and other than a few widely scattered Iñupiat communities and hunting shacks, no human footprint whatsoever.

 

SewardPeninsula-3427SewardPeninsula-3427Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

 

It was into this remoteness that I ventured earlier this month along with seven other wildlife photographers, to view, experience and photograph its wildlife, its beauty, and its shear wildness. June is a good month to experience this as the sun rises at 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t set until 1:30 a.m. the following day, the extended daylight hours thereby providing ample opportunity to see and photograph many of the migratory birds that come here to nest. It's a birder's dream come true with species such as Arctic Terns and Long-tailed Jaegers; American Golden, Pacific Golden, and Black-bellied Plovers; Yellow Wagtails, Red-breasted Mergansers, Tundra Swans; Pacific and Red-throated Loons; Arctic and Yellow Warbler's; Rock and Willow Ptarmigan; along with elusive Whimbrels, Bluethroat's, and the Spectacled Eider duck (pictured below).

SpecEider-1243SpecEider-1243Spectacled Eider duck, Lalaska.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is also an abundance of mammalian life here too, including the iconic Musk Ox which perhaps due in part to a combination of disease and over hunting, became extinct here in the early twentieth century. Fortunately they were successfully reintroduced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service sometime around 1935, and now seem to be doing well again. In fact they are doing so well that they now occasionally create problems for the locals when they're driven too close to town by predators. On those occasions close contact with working dogs can lead to the dogs being severely injured or killed, perhaps due in part to their close resemblance to wolves, which are a natural enemy of the Musk Ox. 

MuskOx-3937MuskOx-3937Musk Oxen (Ovibos moschatus) like this herd in Alaska, instinctively form a protective circle around their young whenever they sense or detect danger. Image taken on Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also saw a herd of Caribou that are not to be confused with domesticated herds known locally as "Reindeer." Although the Alaska department of Fish and Game estimate there are perhaps as many as 950,000 Caribou in Alaska, this was the only herd we saw, and since wild herds are hunted for food, this one appeared quite nervous of our presence, and maintained a healthy distance at all times. 

Most days we also saw at least one moose, with a cow and two calves being the most we saw at a single time. Alaskan moose are one of the largest sub-species, standing over 7ft (2.1m) tall at the shoulder and weighing in around 1400 lbs (635 kg). Being that large they need to consume around 10,000 calories each day, and are therefore more often found singly, browsing in willow bushes where they appear to enjoy fresh green foliage and supple new shoots.

Our week there went by all too quickly and before we knew it, it was time to leave. In my all too brief visit, I found Western Alaska to be a profoundly beautiful and tranquil place that provided me with a valuable glimpse into what the rest of North America must have looked like before it became settled, farmed, industrialized and "tamed." It is perhaps one of the few remaining places in the world still in its natural state. It's a place to be valued and cherished, a place that will hopefully be preserved in tact for the appreciation and enjoyment of many more generations yet to come.  

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alaska Avian Mammals Nome Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Seward Peninsula USA Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/6/seward-penisula-alaska Mon, 30 Jun 2014 13:15:00 GMT
American White Pelicans https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/5/american-white-pelicans Sometimes when I talk to people who don’t live here on the prairies, they're surprised to hear that American White Pelicans are frequent visitors to our area, assuming instead that they're strictly coastal birds. Yet its not uncommon for pelicans to nest on the gravel bars in our rivers, or take up summer residence on our freshwater lakes.

I spent the few favourable spring-like days we had last week, observing a group of about two dozen pelicans that had camped on just such a gravel bar in the middle of the Oldman River. Their day began with 15 or 20 minutes of preening until every feather was exactly in the right place, after which they would waddle over to a new sunny spot and sit down. Then turning their heads 180 degrees, they rested their beaks on their back, and went back to sleep.

AmWhtPelican-2583AmWhtPelican-2583An American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flies above the Oldman River in southern Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around mid-morning, the pelicans became a little more active, and after preening themselves again, a group of about six birds entered the water before taking to the air. With wingtips skimming the surface, they flew side by side for about 800 metres upriver, touching down again at the weir adjacent to our local water treatment plant.

Although I’ve read and heard of pelicans working cooperatively together to fish, I had never seen it for myself until I had spent time watching this particular flock. After flying upriver, this small group slowly came into view again, drifting downstream shoulder to shoulder in a semi-circle formation, attempting to drive the fish before them.

AmWhtPelican-0544AmWhtPelican-0544American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) working cooperatively to fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then with all the precision and grace of a synchronized swim team, they plunged their heads into the water until only their tails and webbed feet were visible above the surface. Then just as gracefully, they lifted their heads out of the water and righted their bodies again. Occasionally I would see one or two pelicans had been successful in catching a fish that was wriggling about in the pouch of its beak. This invariably drew the attention of the other birds who would harass the successful fisher in hopes of getting it to cough up its catch. This harassment continued until the pelican had finally succeeded in getting the fish pointed in the right direction, and with one huge swallow, helped it on its way. After this brief respite, the pelicans once more resumed their original semi-circle formation, and began drifting downriver again.

AmWhtPelican-1108AmWhtPelican-1108American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) working cooperatively to fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all the pelicans participated in this activity however as some preferred to stay on the gravel bar to preen or snooze. Still others decided to look for alternate fishing grounds elsewhere, and after taking off from the water, began circling, climbing higher and higher, until they found a wind current to take them in their desired direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the original group was now taking a break from its drift fishing activities and were bobbing up and down in the turbulent water below the weir searching for any fish that may have been swept over it. While some pelicans braved the current at the centre of the weir, most stationed themselves along its edges, closer to the river bank, where the current was not quite as strong. There they fished for about a half hour, until resuming their familiar semicircle formation in preparation for drifting downriver again.  

The few days I spent observing and photographing these pelicans were both enjoyable and educational, and I find the more time I spend observing nature, the less I really know about it, and the more intrigued I become. I'm fortunate to live in a community that still has such an abundance of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and where the presence of both is very much valued, appreciated and safeguarded. 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) Alberta American White Pelican Avian Canada Oldman River Rick Andrews Nature & Wildlife Photography Wildlife https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/5/american-white-pelicans Sun, 04 May 2014 15:57:20 GMT
Industrial Development in BC Parks? https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/3/industrial-development-in-bc-parks It’s no wonder that younger adults are apathetic towards our electoral process and elections in general. After 44 years as an eligible voter, I’m beginning to think that our whole political process is seriously flawed and in need of a major overall. In a year when Canadian senators believed they were entitled to pocket tax payer’s hard earned money, Alberta’s Premier thought it ok to spend $45,000 of our taxes to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and the Mayor of Toronto made that city the laughing stock of North America, I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse. But the BC government is quickly proving me wrong.

As I understand it, we as the general public, elect representatives to act on our behalf in the best interest of the people. Yet despite an overwhelming lack of public support for opening previously closed areas of British Columbia to allow trophy hunting of grizzly bears, the BC government is now thumbing its nose at the public once again by introducing Bill 4 aimed at making changes to its Park Act.

Woodland-0080Woodland-0080

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The proposed changes will pave the way for industrial development such as the installation of pipelines, transmission lines, the construction of logging roads, and the extraction of resources within BC’s public parks. It is also seeking to change the Act to allow industry to propose amendments to existing park boundaries, and remove current restrictions exempting parks of less than 2023 hectares in size. Potentially these revisions will impact any provincial park, anywhere in BC.

The proposed changes significantly compromise the entire park concept process which was developed over many years, usually after lengthy consultative processes with many different stakeholders. In this process, lands housing sensitive species or wildlife habitat, along with old growth forests like those currently found in MacMillan Provincial Park (pictured above), were designated as parkland to protected them against this very type of impact and exploitation.

The BC government claims that its parks are a public trust, to be managed for the protection of BC’s natural environment, and the inspiration, use and enjoyment of British Columbian's.

I guess they forgot the bit about – unless industry sees it differently.


March 27, 2014 Update: Bill 4 passed. BC Parks now open to pipelines and industrial expansion

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(Rick Andrews Photography) BC Provincial Parks British Columbia Canada Cathedral Grove Development Industrial MacMillan Provincial Park https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/3/industrial-development-in-bc-parks Tue, 25 Mar 2014 18:42:12 GMT
Winter in Waterton Lakes NP https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/3/winter-in-waterton-lakes-np Last week I made a day trip down to Waterton Lakes National Park to engage myself in some winter nature photography. It was a beautiful sunny day with mild temps and clear skies that enabled me to catch my first glimpse of the mountains from just outside Lethbridge. Although the mountains were still well over 100kms (60 mi) away, I could see them clearly, and could easily identify them from the Livingstone Range north of the Crowsnest Pass, all the way down to Chief Mountain in Montana and beyond. I always enjoy this scene and never tire of it, for me it’s a bit like walking into a room filled with old friends that you haven’t seen for a while. You get the chance to watch them for a few fleeting moments before they catch sight of you. It’s always a very special time.

For those who haven't had the opportunity to visit Waterton Lakes, its a gem of a park located in the very southwest corner of Alberta, where it borders with the province of British Columbia to the west, and Glacier National Park (Montana) to the south. Waterton, named for Victorian naturalist Charles Waterton,  was established in 1895 as Canada's fourth national park behind Banff, Yoho and Glacier (British Columbia). In 1932 it joined with Glacier National Park (Montana) to become the first international peace park in the world, a novel idea that in addition to promoting peace and goodwill between nations, also emphasizes the international nature of wilderness and the ongoing cooperation and commitment needed to protect it. Together, this unique peace park was designated a World Heritage site in 1995 for its distinctive climate, mountain-prairie interface, and its rivers which feed three different oceans.

After arriving inside the park I was greeted by one of Waterton-Glacier’s elk herds. The elk here are also "international" as they spend their summers in Montana, before heading back for the fall rut, and to spend their winters here in Alberta. I spotted them grazing on the snow-covered slopes right beside the highway, and found them to be more wary than their Banff and Jasper cousins. But they were close enough to get a few shots without disturbing them, and that's the type of photographic encounter I always hope to achieve.

Elk-0741Elk-0741Elk herd, Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like most national parks, not all roads are plowed in winter leaving some areas of Waterton Lakes inaccessible. This not only provides more winter habitat exclusively for wildlife, but also great opportunities for cross-country skiers and snowshoers to get out and do their thing. I even caught site of two intrepid British Columbia ice-climbers carefully ascending a frozen waterfall below Crandell Mountain.

But even on days when winter wildlife viewing is scarce, one can almost always rely on Waterton’s resident mule deer population to provide photographic opportunities. They can often be found grazing right in the townsite or sometimes on the windblown slopes around the Prince of Wales hotel. Considered by some to be common and uninteresting, I always think any wildlife viewing opportunities are special, and over the years I've found muley's often make excellent photographic subjects.

MuleDeer-0542MuleDeer-0542Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the day ended and I began making my way back home, I glanced over to see Chief Mountain illuminated by the last light of day. This is a sacred mountain to the Blackfoot First Nations people who believe it honours an ancient war chief killed in battle. Legend has it that his distraught wife then climbed the mountain before throwing herself and their baby to their deaths on the rocks below. The body of the chief and his family were then buried amongst the rocks. 

ChiefMnt-0856ChiefMnt-0856Chief Mountain, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another legend claims it was Napi, the old man, who came down from his home in the sun to help the Blackfoot people. When his work was done, he went up into the mountains, where he came to two lakes. There he said to himself, "I believe I will go up on that highest mountain and change myself into stone." In the crevice in the mountain, he lay down, with just his face peeking out, and turned himself into a rock.

In my younger days I was privileged to climb Chief Mountain and remember that experience well. It was an extremely exciting and rewarding day for me because I guess in some small way, climbing it connected me with the mountain. On that day, I became a very small part of its history, and it became a very important part of mine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Blackfoot First Nation Canada. Chief Mountain Elk Mule Deer Peace Park Waterton Lakes NP World Heritage Site https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/3/winter-in-waterton-lakes-np Mon, 03 Mar 2014 21:49:09 GMT
My Rocky Mountain High https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/2/my-rocky-mountain-high Someone asked me the other day why I enjoy photographing in the mountains so much. It seemed like a pretty straightforward question, yet one I couldn't easily answer.  

Growing up in Toronto during the late ‘60’s and early '70’s I was influenced by a lot of singers and songwriters including Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver. I found Lighfoot’s songs delightfully poetic and in many ways they reminded me of the beautiful southern Ontario countryside.

Pussywillows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses
Rainbows in the woodland, water to my knees
Shivering, quivering, the warm breath of spring
Pussywillows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses

                                    ~ Gordon Lightfoot

By contrast, Denver’s songs were often about the mountains, and listening to them created an inexplicable yearning in me, it sounded like such an incredible place that I really wanted to go and see it for myself.

After deciding against raising our young family in Toronto, we moved west and settled in Lethbridge, Alberta, a community at that time with a population of just 50,000 people. It was well away from the hustle and bustle, and pollution of major cities. It was a place where kids could play outside, a place where parents didn’t have to be overly concerned for their safety. A place where kids could just be kids.

Lethbridge is only a little over an hour from the Rockies and I remember my first visit vividly. There are no foothills in this part of the country, so the mountains can be seen clearly from 100 kilometers away, rising abruptly to stand 2,000 meters above the surrounding prairies. I watched excitedly as they grew ever closer.

Wat_10_010Wat_10_010Waterton Lakes NP, Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once there I saw its majestic and rugged peaks, its pristine lakes, its streams and rivers that cascaded and tumbled over and around boulders and rocks, and I experienced its aromatic woodlands scented with fir and pine. Then there was the wildlife - moose, elk, deer, sheep, goats, bears, lynx, hawks and eagles. And though I had never been here before, everything felt so very familiar, it felt like I was home, that this is where I belonged. I heard the words of John Denver ringing in my head.

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

                                                                                                            ~ John Denver

Incredibly, that first visit was almost 40 years ago, and since then I’ve returned often and spent many happy hours in the mountains where they continue to provide me with more beauty and inspiration than I can find anywhere else. I guess you could say my images are photographic memories that tell a very small part of the grand story of this beautiful place. They link me with it, and continue to provide me with fantastic opportunities to experience it over and over again in every season.

 

Photography also provides me with opportunities to seek out the solitude and intimacy of the mountains. Here I’m surrounded by nature as it was intended to be, and I experience a sense of freedom and awe that somehow puts everything else into perspective. It’s a place where I can think more clearly, where everyday worries evaporate with the thermal winds, and life somehow just seems to make more sense.

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

                                                                                                            ~ John Denver

I guess that’s why I’m drawn to the mountains, why I keep coming back to them, and why I hope to continue doing that for many years to come.

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(Rick Andrews Photography) Alberta Canada Nature & Wildlife Photography Rick Andrews Rocky Mountain High https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/2/my-rocky-mountain-high Mon, 17 Feb 2014 16:37:54 GMT
Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/1/hunting-in-british-columbia-canada I just finished reading a press report issued yesterday by the Center for Responsible Travel, in Washington DC. The report entitled “Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia” found that in 2012, eco-tourism generated 12 times more visitor spending in the Great Bear Rainforest than grizzly and black bear trophy hunting, and employed almost 500 people more.   

The study was undertaken by Stanford University researchers who interviewed bear-viewing companies, hunting guides/outfitters, visitors, and conducted in-depth interviews with government officials, First Nations leaders and hunting and wildlife viewing associations involved in the GBR. The results were then compiled using Statistics Canada’s Input-Output Model of the British Columbia economy, and other than the BC governments own figures, is perhaps the first impartial academic study to compare the two sectors. The release of the study comes amidst a controversy over bear-viewing and trophy bear hunting, in the Great Bear Rainforest which first made national headlines in September of last year when NHL player and BC resident Clayton Stoner shot and killed a grizzly bear, cutting off its head and leaving its body to rot. An act that I think most hunters would also strongly disapprove of. A year previously, Coastal First Nations representing some 20,000 First Nations people in BC, imposed a trophy hunting ban on bears throughout its lands, however the BC government maintaining that it is the sole regulatory hunting authority, continued to authorize the hunting of black and grizzly bears in the GBR.

GrizzlyBear-0017GrizzlyBear-0017A sow Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) in teh Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This study further identified over 50 bear-viewing companies who collectively generated an estimated client spending total of over $15 million, which is perhaps low given that only 25 of the 53 companies completed the relevant survey questions. This compares to only 4 outfitting/guide companies who collectively generated just under $1 million. The study also found that most (80%) trophy hunters are from the U.S., while bear-viewing visitors come from Europe, Asia and the U.S., and is therefore less dependent upon a single market.   

While hunting has its place, I don’t believe that place is in the GBR, and from a purely economic standpoint, this study appears to support that. After all bear-viewing companies can continue to lead groups into the GBR throughout the natural life span of a bear, whereas a guide will likely only lead a hunter to a bear once. But even if the hunter were unsuccessful, it’s doubtful to me that bear-viewing companies could achieve the same level of success taking viewers into areas where bears are regularly shot at. One only has to see the difference between a coyote accustomed to people armed with only cameras in a national park, and ones that are regularly shot at by ranchers and farmers to understand the potential viewing differences.

This is not the only time that the BC Government has been called to task over the provinces hunting polices however as in the winter of 2012 a wolf-killing contest in northeastern BC came to light. The contest offered cash prizes of up to a $1000 for the largest wolf, and $150 for the smallest (which hopefully wasn't a young pup) and limited the number of wolves to 3 per hunter. Rich Petersen, identified by the Vancouver Sun as a Fort St. John B.C. hunter and realtor, and co-organizer of the contest was quoted as saying “It’s just kind of a social thing that’s gotten bigger every year …. if you are driving down the road and see one and you happen to shoot it and you’re in this contest, you have a chance to win something.”

This story understandably drew outrage from many BC’s residents as well as public condemnation from around the world which went so far as to call for a tourism boycott of the Alaska Highway.

As I said, I believe hunting has its place, and while I personally don't hunt, I’m not opposed to those who do providing it’s done in the right areas, under proper control and regulation, and there is scientific evidence to support culling a particular species. But I’m not convinced that the Province of British Columbia has a very good handle on that right now.   

Update: For an update on this story, please see Vancouver Sun correspondent Stephen Hume's articles of March 16 and March 23, 2014.

Update: April 1, 2014 Spring Grizzly Bear Hunt now open 

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(Rick Andrews Photography) British Columbia Canada Great Bear Rainforest Hunting Wildlife Viewing https://www.rickandrewsphotography.com/blog/2014/1/hunting-in-british-columbia-canada Wed, 08 Jan 2014 17:15:10 GMT