Sunday, April 20, 2008

Long-eared Owl in Banff

When my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, I felt like doing pretty much anything but going out and taking pictures. But against my better judgement, I scraped myself out of bed and drove into Banff to cruise the Bow Valley Parkway and see what I could find.

While I didn't see any large mammals, I did have a remarkable, and unique, sighting near the start of the Sawback Burn in amongst the charred tree skeletons. As I was driving along, an odd shape on a snag caught my eye and I looked over to see a small, strange-looking owl peering back at me through the light snow. I did a quick mental checklist of owls I've seen before and none matched the description of the one looking back at me.

I snapped a few quick shots, then moved in a little closer and took this shot of the owl, still unsure of what kind of owl I was photographing.

Long-eared Owl - photograph cropped 50%
As luck would have it, I had forgotten my bird id book at home, so I had to wait a few hours before I could positively identify the orange-faced, miniature, great horned owl lookalike that I had seen. When I got home, I realized that I had spotted and photographed my first ever long-eared owl!

I also managed to get some nice images of varied thrushes that were lining the Bow Valley Parkway feeding on the tiny bit of exposed grass on the edge of the road.
Varied thrush in a spruce tree

Varied thrush hanging out in the snow
Portrait of a thrush

All in all, a successful day. Guess it pays to get up early...sometimes....

Cheers, John
© John E. Marriott Photography

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lynx Photography - The One That Got Away

Wildlife photographers are like fishermen in many respects. A mutual admiration for the great outdoors? Check. A desire to proudly show off the pictures of the day’s great ‘catch’? Check. An ability to spin a tall tale when the ‘big one’ gets away? Check, check, check!

In fact, half of wildlife photographers’ time in the field is spent sharing glorious yarns with fellow wildlife photographers, and anyone else that cares to listen, about the pack of twelve wolverines they saw kill a wild boar on the outskirts of downtown Vancouver just last year. Thing was, of course, it was kinda dark and none of the pictures turned out. So the story has to stand on its own, soon embellished to fifteen wolverines and extra bonus points for a sabre-toothed tiger on the side.

[Note: no, wolverines do not travel in packs, especially packs of twelve or fifteen. No, wild boars do not live on the outskirts of Vancouver. And no, sabre-toothed tigers are not still kicking around somewhere.]

However, occasionally, we do get some photos to back up our stories. And even more rarely, we get photographs to back up our stories of the one that got away. You know, the big fish…or in my case, the big lynx.

Lynx are beautiful wild cats, but they’re shy and elusive, so they’re rarely seen. I’ve only had a handful of sightings of them in the Canadian Rockies, so when I heard from friends in Jasper last week that lynx were being sighted fairly regularly in several areas, I immediately packed the car and drove up.

For three straight days I searched from dawn to dusk, but couldn’t find a thing other than some old tracks. By 9 am on the fourth morning, I was done. No lynx, no luck, so I started heading back to Jasper.

Not five minutes after ‘giving up’, I drove around a corner and was shocked to see a large lynx casually crossing the road right in front of me. A surge of adrenalin instantly snapped me out of my trance and my instincts took over. Grab cautiously! Open lens! Drive up window calmly! Errr, grab lens, open window, drive up calmly and cautiously.

As I pulled up, the lynx stood on a short bank and briefly turned around to look at me, just long enough for me to get my big lens focused and snap this shot – so close that it barely fit into the frame!


Not really sure if I’d gotten a good shot or not, I watched with dismay as the lynx then wandered off into the bush to the left. But I quickly realized there was a good chance the lynx was going to walk through a small clearing a hundred metres up the road, so I whipped the car around and stopped at the clearing.

The little clearing was so close to the road that I flipped on a smaller lens, turned off my engine, and got ready. Sure enough, before I even had time to think, the lynx popped its head out of the trees, strolled out a few feet, then stopped and stared right at me. I aimed, pressed my shutter button down…and…what the #*%@! My autofocus wasn’t on!! In the extra second it took me to flick it on, in THAT extra second, the lynx turned around and walked back into the bush.

“You have GOT to be kidding me!” was the first thought that raced through my mind, followed closely by a few choice expletives. What kind of wildlife photographer doesn’t have his autofocus turned on?? Still stewing and desperately hoping for one more opportunity, I cruised up and down that stretch of road incessantly for the next nine hours until dark, but didn’t see a thing.

So finally, in the waning evening light, I returned to the spot of the ‘tragedy’. Then, as if to torture myself for eternity, I pulled out that same lens, aimed at that same spot, and took this picture:


The one that got away, indeed….

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

John E. Marriott Launches Wildlife and Nature Photography Blog

There was no parade, no celebratory dinner and no awards were given out.

Nope, my first foray into the world of blogging was met with little fanfare at all. I signed up for Google's Blogger and next thing you know, I'm sitting at my desk typing up the first of what I hope will eventually be hundreds of engaging, witty, and even delicious blog posts about a variety of things Canadian wildlife and nature photography related.

This is where you'll find the prequels to the amazing stories in my Storybook Gallery: the sasquatch that got away (or were those grizzly tracks?!), the nightmarish backpacking trips, and the incredible sights I see regularly on my photography forays into the Canadian wilderness.

I'll also occasionally delve into top secrets from the photo biz and into local, provincial and national conservation issues.

And of course, I'll try to fill this blog with as many new wildlife and landscape pictures from the field as I can, keeping you up-to-date on my travels, my images and my latest news.

Cheers John
© John E. Marriott Wildlife and Nature Photography