2016: a helluva year in the Canadian Rockies (and beyond)

By January 7, 2017Wildlife Blog

2016 was a rich honeycomb of luxuriously sweet experiences. With each segment barely distinguishable from the others in terms of amazingness, I was forced to delve deep into the viscous layers of memory to narrow down my top twelve. It was an onerous task, but an enjoyable journey through one of the best nature/wildlife/photography years of my life. Enjoy 🙂

Prelude: Bears, bears and more bears

Before I start the official count down, I need to talk about the bears.  With a total of 30 grizzly bear and 23 black bear sightings, presented in a variety of unique situations, I have had the best bear viewing year of my life. The magic started on April 23, with a family of four grizzlies, and ended on November 11, with a grizzly on the tracks in Banff (see November below). Intermixed in those 8 months of bear viewing were:

Having already written about most of my bear experiences, I decided to focus on the myriad of other little gems that mother nature gifted me with over this past year.

January Raven

January was a tough month wildlife-wise for me, but luckily in Alberta, you can always count on the common raven. Alberta grows ’em big and bold in the mountains, especially along the Icefields Parkway where my friend Jamie (CrzyCnuk Photography) and I had the opportunity to observe and photograph this handsome specimen of a bird.

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Common Raven, Banff, AB

February White-tailed Ptarmigan

I wrote about the White-tailed ptarmigan experience in February, so no need to repeat myself. Here’s a re-edit of one of my images – I just love these white footballs!

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White-tailed Ptarmigan, Banff, AB

March Mountain Aurora

In March, the chance of seeing lady aurora propelled me to spend a night in Banff in the hopes of catching some color against a mountain back drop. Just a small hint of green is all the sky offered that night, but I happily accepted the gift of seeing two of nature’s glories – mountains and aurora – mingling to create such a magical scene.

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Banf Mountains

April Wild Foal

The same April outing that resulted in my first grizzly sighting of the year also produced a band of wild horses with two young foals. In terms of adorableness, nothing beats these curly-haired, wobbly-legged beauties.

Wild Foal, West of Sundre, AB

Wild Foal, West of Sundre, AB

May Wolf

This was my first opportunity to photograph a wild wolf in Banff. Unfortunately, this beauty is no longer with us 🙁 I won’t get into the full story again – feel free to read more here if you are interested.

RIP my beautiful, beautiful girl – I promise you will never be forgotten.

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Wolf, Banff

June Big Horn Rams

June 15, opening day of the Highwood Pass in Kananakis, not only led to a number of bear sightings, but a herd of five bachelor big horn rams. While June is no where near breeding season, this guy seemed intent on showing his dominance by going head to head with his mates. I did not capture the action, but I’m really happy with this image of the big guy at rest.

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Big Horn Ram, Kananaskis, AB

July Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel

Richardson and Columbian ground squirrels (aka gophers) are cute, but plentiful – they don’t exactly evoke mind-boggling excitement for me photo-wise. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels, on the other hand, are much less common and therefore ridiculously exciting. Jamie and I saw a number of these cuties SE of Nanton in July (a first for both of us) and were ecstatic to have a new creature in front of our lenses. Look at those eyes! They seem to take up half of the head.

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Thirteen-lined ground squirrel, East of Clarseholm, AB

August Peter the Pika

No yearly count-down is complete without my favorite pika in Kananaskis. I’ve observed and photographed Peter several times over the past two summers, and this year my hope was to get a ‘pika in flight’ shot. Pika jump from rock to rock, but their speed makes it really difficult to freeze the mid-air action. It took several thousand frames, but I was so happy to get an in-focus-front feet in air-mouth full of grub shot of Peter. How do I know this is Peter? I guess I can’t know ‘for sure’ that I’ve been photographing the same Pika for two years, looks-wise. But, I’m very confident based on territory and the fact that I seem to have a deep connection to Peter – I just know him when I see him 🙂

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Pika, Rock Glacier, Kananaskis

September Antelope

This antelope mom and young’n is my only non-Canadian top photo for this year. When I’m in Montana, I love to visit the National Bison Range near Ronan. Not only is the range home to several herds of Bison, but a healthy population of antelope, elk, deer, big horn sheep, golden eagles and grouse. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area – it is about a two hour drive from Kalispell.

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Antelope, National Bison Range, Montana

October Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

Jamie, Russell and I had a great day in NW AB photographing wild horses in October, but the highlight, at least for me, was photographing a flock of these beautiful finches. We had such a blast with these little birds! They were active but fairly tolerant, enabling us to slowly edge our way closer to photograph the flock as they fed on the side of the road.

West of Sundre, AB

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch West of Sundre, AB

November Grizzly and Deer

I haven’t had a chance to write about my last bear encounter of 2016, so I just had to sneak one bear into my top 12. I worry about the problems with grizzly bears eating grain that spills on the tracks in Bow Valley, but I’ve put that aside to allow myself and others to enjoy the peacefulness of this image…

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Grizzly bear and deer, Banff, AB

December Short-eared Owl

2016 ended with on a high note with a flock of 6 or 7 short-eared owls SE of Calgary. Jamie, Simon and I all captured hundreds of photos of these adorable owls in great light. I’ve said it before – these are the most interesting and entertaining owls in world 🙂

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Short-eared owl, SE of Calgary, AB

My intention for 2017 is to continue my journey with our animal friends from a place of compassion, respect and appreciation. I will, of course, keep you posted.

Until next time, continue to love life and everything wild 🙂

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