Monday, February 28, 2011

Photo of the Day - Arctic Hare

Yesterday was a monumental day in the business life of John E. Marriott (aka me).  Sunday, February 27th, 2011 was the day I finally put to bed the editing for my RAW files from 2008.  Yes, you read that right -- I just admitted that I am more than three years behind in my editing/keywording/filenaming and yesterday finally got my lazy butt around to finishing off the final edits of my final folder of 2008 images, a folder full of wildlife and scenic photographs from northern Manitoba from a trip to Churchill in November 2008.

An arctic hare bundles in against itself behind a rock in a furious blizzard in the subarctic

So in memory of that trip, and to pay tribute to today's balmy -29 (with wind chill) here in Canmore, I decided to show off one of my favourite images from the Churchill adventures: an arctic hare huddled in the leeway of a big rock as snow hurls around it.  That day was about -45 with the wind chill and I remember barely being able to stay outside shooting for more than five minutes at a time.  I was wearing four pairs of pants, along with four tops and a full down jacket.  And I was still getting cold!

Unlike this hare, I've decided to unhuddle myself from the warmth of my bed today to continue this progression through the edits of my long-forgotten images.  A 12-hour flurry of activity yesterday has taken me all the way to June 2009 in my editing process, with haughty goals of reaching 2010 by week's end.  Wish me luck!  And I hope you enjoy all the 'new' images I'll be posting....

Happy editing!

John

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Best of Jasper Winter Wildlife Photos

This year's first big event, my Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop from February 8-13,  went off without a hitch and continued the success of October's great workshop in Jasper. This time around, four wildlife photographers from the Calgary area joined me for 4+ days of learning how to track and find wolves, lynx, and other animals, while also learning the ins and outs of becoming a better wildlife photographer.

So, did we find any wolves? Well, sort of! I saw 2 wolves on the Athabasca River along Highway 16 on one of my pre-scouting days (Monday) and then the day before the participants arrived on Wednesday night, wolves took down a bighorn sheep on the river right near town! However, by the time we got out there on Thursday morning in the pre-dawn light, all we could find on the remains were five coyotes.

Fortunately, we did have a brief sighting on our second full day in the field of a beautiful gray wolf bedded down at the end of the meadow about 150 metres from the highway. Two of the participants got some shots (it was the first wild wolf sighting for both of them), but it was very early in the morning and proved to be tough to photograph and tough to see (one car never did locate the wolf).

We did find four kill sites over the course of the four days, including a fresh rail-killed elk that we kept an eye on for periods of the final two days with nothing other than coyotes, bald eagles and ravens coming in to it (two wolves were spotted near it in the dark shortly after we left one night). We also discovered fresh wolf and lynx tracks in numerous different areas of the park and I think all the participants left the workshop feeling like they will have a much better chance of finding wolves and other elusive, hard-to-find animals on their future forays into the mountain parks.

The highlights of the workshop were the wolf sighting, a stake-out on a cow and calf moose in a blizzard that never did quite materialize (the pair came achingly close to walking out into the open and crossing a river in front of us), an encounter with a monstrous 8x9 bull elk, and an hour in the sunshine with three white-tailed ptarmigan at the Columbia Icefields. In total, our counts for the week were: 1 wolf, 10 coyotes, 3 ptarmigan, 8 moose, 4 bald eagles, and a pile of bighorn sheep, deer, and elk.

Check out a few of the best pics from the participants below and let me know what you think! And if you're interested, I've secured dates for the February 2012 Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop from February 7th-12th, 2012. This workshop will be exactly like this year's, with a wolf and lynx tracking component to go along with the fantastic photo and learning opportunities.

White-tailed ptarmigan © Pat Roque

Big Bull Elk © Jose Diaz

Bighorn Ram © Pat Roque

White-tailed ptarmigan © John Yates

Bull Elk © John Yates

Coyote © Hendrik Boesch

White-tailed ptarmigan © Jose Diaz

Moose © John Yates

White-tailed ptarmigan © Jose Diaz

Bull Elk in Snow © Jose Diaz

White-tailed ptarmigan © Hendrik Boesch

Wolf tracks across the Athabasca River © Hendrik Boesch

Bighorn Ram © Jose Diaz

Stare from Above © Pat Roque

Coyote © Pat Roque

The wolf!! © Hendrik Boesch (cropped from original - shot with 300mm lens)

There are currently five spots available for the February 2012 workshop and just two spots left in the October workshop (2011) -- for more info on booking a spot, please visit the Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop page.

Thank you to Hendrik Boesch, Jose Diaz, Pat Roque, and John Yates for the use of their images.

Happy shooting!

John

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Bear and Wolf Photos

I'm putting the finishing touches on my talk, Tall Tales, Long Lenses: Bears, Wolves and a Million Bucks, for this coming Friday, February 18th at the Ramada Hotel in Calgary and thought I better put out one more reminder for those of you that may be interested in attending.

A grizzly bear family portrait in Jasper National Park

The evening will be a two-hour multimedia affair with a combination of stories and advice on photographing wild predators like bears and wolves, along with some business tips for anyone looking to make a bit of money off of their nature photography.  Want to hear about the time I got charged by a bear?  Or the time I discovered Sasquatch tracks in B.C.?  Then you'll need to spring for the $20 and come hear me speak!  I hope to see you out.  Tickets are available on The Camera Store's website.

Happy shooting!

John

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Skoki and the Kananaskis Wolves

Two years ago when I first started following the new Pipestone (now Bow Valley) wolf family in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to name one of the pack members.  Independent wolf researcher Gunther Bloch named the leading male and female and two of the six-month old pups, but he left the naming of one of the young pups, a shy black male, to me.  I tried out a few names, but kept coming back to the same one over and over again, and so the shy black male became known as Skoki.

For those first few months Skoki proved to be elusive in front of my camera.  He would quickly dart into the woods whenever my vehicle approached, or he'd stay hidden in the trees until dusk if I was staked out waiting for the wolves.

In December 2009, Skoki was captured by a Parks Canada research team hoping to monitor the wolf family to determine how much time they spent in mountain caribou terrain in the northern part of Banff National Park.  After the invasive, but necessary, experience, Skoki emerged an even more elusive wolf sporting some fancy new jewellery, a big white gps satellite radio collar.

Despite more than 60 days in the field in the winter and spring of 2010, I wasn't able to get any good pictures of the wolf I had named.

One day in October, I chanced upon Skoki walking along a road by himself less than fifty metres from my vehicle.  But in the split second that it took me to grab my big lens and put it on my window sill, he was gone.  So close, and yet so far away!

Finally, in late November of 2010, I managed to get an 'ok' ('ok' meaning 'low-light-I'll-take-what-I-can-get-YIPPEE-got-a-shot-of-Skoki-FINALLY!!') photo of the now nineteen month-old collared wolf.

Skoki, a gps-collared male wolf now living in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

In December 2010, Skoki made news in wolf circles around here when he went 'missing'.  At first the fact he was not with his usual wolf family wasn't big news, as Gunther, myself, and the parks researchers thought that he'd gone for "one of his walks" and that he'd rejoin the pack in due time.  However, as weeks became a month with no sightings and no way to download his collar, Parks Canada began casting a wider and wider net trying to figure out where Skoki had gone.

The big break came last Tuesday, January 25th when I was down in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park with a film crew from Bragg About the Creek TV.  While driving the Smith-Dorrien Road late that evening, the film crew and I came across several sets of fresh wolf tracks moving up and down the road.  Peter Lougheed has not had a regular, established wolf family for years now, so I immediately alerted Parks researchers to my find.  The next day, I got a jubilant email from one of the researchers notifying me that Skoki had been found!  The researcher had driven down the area where I'd seen the tracks and had almost immediately picked up Skoki's signal from the collar.

The day after that, on Thursday, January 27th, researchers were able to successfully download his collar, giving us a glimpse into where he'd travelled since he dispersed from the Bow Valley pack.  From the data, researchers were able to determine that Skoki left the Bow Valley on December 15th (shortly after Gunther and I saw him for the last time on the 13th), made his way past the Town of Banff and up the Goat Creek trail to the Smith-Dorrien Road, then set up shop in the heart of Kananaskis Country in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

And better yet?  It appears he's found at least one other wolf to hang out with already.  Everyone is now hoping that the companion wolf is a female and that they're able to re-establish a Kananaskis wolf family in the park.  The area is full of ungulates and other game, so I'm hoping that Skoki will be successful and that our paths will cross again one day soon!

Happy shooting!

John

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