Townsend's Warbler

Most hear its song coming from the top of the forest and never see it. The Townsend’s Warbler likes to forage and nest high up in the trees in western Canada. It takes some effort, needing a binocular or a long enough zoom to look upward and spot the bird. I have at times spotted them by being on a steep slope of a hill, giving me better eye-level view and an even better opportunity to take their pictures. And if one comes down to forage, it’s a special day. Don’t waste it by celebrating right away, observe its beautiful colouring and if you have a camera, take lots of pictures. And when it returns back up the tree, celebrate with chocolates.

Townsend's Warbler 190628 Amar Athwal.jpg


Tundra and Trumpeter Swans may stop over in Banff NP when heading north to their breeding ground and or when they are heading south for the winter. Most of the times it’s rare to see them up close in the park, let alone both species together close by. In my case one of each swan was about 50 meters away, with them above the water I was able to clearly see the size difference. It can get difficult when they are in the water, even with the weight difference.  An adult tundra can weigh up to 14lbs and 30lbs for the trumpeter. I saw them over a few days, they would spend the night and early morning on one side of the valley and the rest of the time on the other. I was watching them for an hour or so, when their head started bobbing in sync, getting ready to fly. When they were taking off they were too close to get both in the frame, but this was my favorite picture with the snow peak in the background.

Trumpeter and Tundra Swans 190517 Amar Athwal.jpg


Just under two hours were left before sunset, I decided to go for a drive. Middle of a straight way, several vehicles were parked on both sides of the road. Folks were out of the vehicles and looking up the slope of the mountain. I stopped and asked what they were looking at, black bear they said and pointed. I looked in the direction and then quickly pulled out my binoculars, it was not a black bear but a large grizzly. I told the crowd who were looking or trying to locate the bear and taking pictures with all type of cameras, even when it was about 400 meters away. As soon as they heard me, they asked if it was the “boss”, I said yes it was M122. Making his way up the slope of the mountain, I started wondering why. They do not use up all that energy for no reason. It was not an area where it was going to go over a pass, nothing to dig up and too early to go up and looks for moths under the rocks. Perhaps there was a kill up there, the wolf pack have gone up there and cougars hunted in the area. We would never know if he found anything, but he sure made lot of visitors to Banff happy that evening, as they observed with their eyes, binoculars, cameras and with a scope one gentleman pulled out for others to use.

Grizzly 190510 Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern Saw-whet Owl

As I was walking on the trail I could hear ahead of me the calls of an American Robin and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Within seconds the calls turned into warning calls, simple translation, “predator, predator, etc…” I slowed down and tried to pinpoint where the stress calls were coming from, was there a predator nearby I thought. I saw the robin and looked in the direction it was looking at. It was a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Northern saw-whet Owl 190426 Amar Athwal.jpg

Brow Creeper

With nature photography, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. You may plan to go out to take pictures of one thing, but you may come back with pictures of something else or nothing at all. I was trying to locate Three-toed Woodpecker to take pictures of. I went for a small hike near the town of Banff where they are spotted among the old trees. Over the several visits I got to see and take pictures of many other things before getting a picture of a Three-toed Woodpecker, including my best pictures of Brown Creepers. A beautiful small bird, found among mature trees in a forest. It looks brown from a distance, but as you can see it has few other subtle colours on its back, which helps it to blend in with the bark of the tree. Making it harder for a predator to spot. It will go from tree to tree, creeping up looking for insects to eat. The problem always has been for me to get enough light to get a clear picture of it, I got that and a pleasing background.

Brown Creeper 190305 10-Edit.jpg

Red Fox

The red fox had found something to eat, a frozen bird that looked to be hit by a vehicle few days ago. It was covered with dirt and snow, not much of a meal, but a start to the morning meal. Normally I just see the tracks of the fox, hunting near and away from the road. This cold morning the fox was where I was passing through, the warm morning light was starting to streak through the forest. With each hour the temperature would go up, requiring less energy to stay warm. For this fox like any other wildlife, it’s all about instinct in deciding how much food is needed. If they eat too less, it makes it harder to survive and harder to catch their prey. If they eat too much, they then become too slow to get away from the predators. Most of us humans have stopped paying attention to our bodies, even after a big meal we’ll somehow will find space for that slice of chocolate cake.

Red Fox 190405 Amar Athwal.jpg

Fairholme Range

If you have seen on a clear sky a reddish glow in the opposite direction to the sun rising or setting, just above the horizon. Before the sun comes above the horizon in the morning or after the sun has gone below the horizon end of the day. You were looking at an alpenglow, not to be confused with the alpenglow my face gets when I have eaten chocolates in the mountains.  No clouds are needed for the reddish glow, but you do need precipitation, ice crystals or particulates in the lower part of the atmosphere. The light gets reflected off them and you get a beautiful reddish glow above the horizon. After sunset, you can get this even without the mountains, but the snow covered mountains do add to the beauty.

Fairholme Range 190329 Amar Athwal.jpg

Ice Bubbles

I can honestly say I have never gotten tired of nature photography, with so much to choose from, there is always something to take pictures of and each season brings different opportunities. But I also want to keep growing as a photographer. So over the winter I started to look for the smaller pictures I was passing by. It’s hard at first, but it has and will get easier trying to find a picture with just some rocks and ice and snow, or instead of the whole forest from a distance, getting close and having only just few trees in the picture, or a single one from a distance. 

A couple of days before warm weather arrived I was on a small patch of open ice on the Bow River. The section was roughly 3 meters by 6, the ice was full of cracks with various shapes of ice bubbles.  Again, where ever below the water organic material is breaking down, there is a good chance methane gas is bubbling up and during winter getting trapped. It was very relaxing hour spend looking down at the ice and coming up with what I thought would make a good abstract image. Knowing the ice was solid, I was relaxed and spent a good hour getting different compositions, attached is my favorite. Art by nature, photo my moi.

Ice Bubbles 190322 Amar Athwal.jpg

Boreal Chickadee

All things being equal, getting a good picture of birds is the hardest part of nature photography for me. No problem getting a picture of a bird, big or small. But to get a good picture of a bird, where it stands out, that’s the challenge. It starts with locating a bird, followed by tracking the bird through the camera, smaller the bird, harder it is to do. Then I try to get close to the bird without scaring it away, for me it works best when I figure out which direction the bird is moving and wait ahead of it and let the bird decide to get close to me. The birds have so many options with each move, always a good chance I’ll not get a clean look. But with nature photography it about staying positive and always thinking this will be the day. There are bird photographer who will use food to get close up pictures. For them, it's all about the picture. With me when shooting wild birds, I’ll always learn something about them and with lots of work and some luck I may get a good image. With bird photography I end up keeping a very small percentage of the images, we’re talking about single digits. One cold day standing in knee deep snow, I was watching several Boreal Chickadees. Waiting and waiting until one got closer and in a position where it stood out. The bird only gave me a couple of seconds to get it in focus and get the whole bird in the frame. No cropping was done with this image. Within 15 to 20 minutes I took about 400 images, kept less than 10. Nature keeps you humble.

Boreal Chickadee 190308 Amar Athwal.jpg

Castle Mtn

During the winter there are more or at least different options when trying to take pictures of the same mountain in the morning and the evening. The sunlight is coming from a different angle, thus different part of the mountain lights up first thing in the morning and same when the sun is setting. During the summer the open water may decide where I can go and not go to get the picture. But with colder temperatures, being careful, I can easily walk over the frozen water to gain different opportunities. In this case picture of Castle Mtn in the middle of winter.

Castle Mtn 190301 Amar Athwal.jpg


Relatively speaking, it started out easier for the elk this winter. Not as cold and less snow on the ground. They still had to eat the same less nutritious food, no greens in the winter. But less snow to move aside to get at the food and less energy needed to get through the milder days and nights. But all that changed, snow storms started to come through and February brought with it much colder temperatures. Just like these three bulls, they have to spend more energy moving lots more snow to get at the less nutritious food and as well, losing lots more energy to survive the colder days and nights. Until spring arrives, they will be getting weaker, while their predators get stronger.

Elk 190222 Amar Athwal.jpg

Mount Chephren

To me it seems to occur during winter, when wherever I go into the mountains I see possible black and white images. I think for me it has to be the snow, with much of the surrounding covered with snow it lot easier to imagine the scene I want to take pictures of. And the chances are more likely I will take a picture in black and white if there are clouds in the sky. As well, most of my black and white are taken after sunrises but always before or after the sun has reached its highest point in the sky. There are no right or wrongs, it's just my preference for monochrome images. For this image it was about two hours after sunrise, I had crossed over the frozen lower Waterfowl Lake. While walking along the Mistaya River I walked into this picture. There was more than enough light to take the picture hand holding the camera. Trying few variations, this one was my favourite of Mount Chephren that morning. I then snowshoed along the river to the creek coming from Chephren Lake and then using it as a guide to get up to the lake to explore.

Mount Chephren 190215 Amar Athwal.jpg

Cascade Mountain

Each winter is different, it plays a role where, when and if I’ll get a certain picture. We received early snow in September and October, then there was a long pause before the next snow storm. It was slowly getting colder and my thought was there would be plenty of places to skate and for me places to take pictures on frozen lakes and rivers. But nature is never that easy to predict, the places I was hoping to take pictures at froze later than I hoped and were soon covered by snow. But for this location there was still an opportunity, I just had to wait. The winds coming around this bend of the river are strong, it was just a matter of time, as long as no large amount of snow fell. On my hikes I would check the area, on a recent visit I came across the methane ice bubbles I was waiting for. Much of the snow had blown off by the wind, except for few patches and the cross country ski tracks. For me it was enough for a picture, bubbles starting the pictures and the tracks taking the viewer’s eyes into the picture toward Cascade Mtn surrounded by clouds on a windy day.

Cascade Mtn 190208 Amar Athwal.jpg

Storm Mountain

The goal was to get out for a couple of hours, to look for a spot where I could take pictures of a mountain, bathing in the warm light at the end of the day. Started my walk, saw a couple visiting Banff NP, said hello and kept walking. They started walking behind me, I hoped they would stop because they were not dressed to go where I would end up. Few hundred meters later they stopped, I kept going for a km until I found a spot to take pictures. Walking along a river with snow, ice and open and hidden water can be tricky. I did not want others to take the risk by following me. I still had an hour before I would start to take pictures. Looked around to become familiar with the area I had not visited for two winters. The light I was waiting for arrived, started taking pictures with the river front of me and the mountain in the distance. As the photography session was coming to an end, I looked back.More clouds had gathered and there was a good chance they were going to light up when the sunlight got under them. Walked hundred meters and found some open water in the foreground and the rocks I thought would add to the image. About 15 minutes later I was looking at a beautiful sunset, kept taking pictures until the light was gone. I had just enough warmth in the hands to pack up and start walking back to the vehicle. Once I started walking the hands warmed up and I was energized,  got two opportunities to take pictures in one evening.

Storm Mtn 190201 Amar Athwal.jpg

American Marten

Unlike human, wildlife always has to be at their peak. They are always being challenged by the environment, by members of their own species for food, territory and for mates. Competition from other species for food and territory and depending on where they fall on the food chain, they always have to be two steps ahead of becoming someone’s meal. Unless they are on the top part of the food chain, they can't over eat and became an easy prey. When it gets dark, the species that stay active, it's even more important to stay healthy. That leads me to this American marten I came across with a damaged left eye that has turned green and is shrinking. Being out there middle of the wilderness, every day it survives with one eye, it's overcoming extreme odds against nature.

American Marten 190125 Amar Athwal.jpg


How time flies, it's that time of the year again. On Saturday, February the 2nd I'll be doing a slideshow presentation at the Cave and Basin NHS. Going over some of my favourite nature pictures from 2018 and the stories that go along with them. For $4.90 come spend couple of warm hours, from 7 to 9pm, sitting back and looking at flora, fauna and landscapes photos from the past year.

Elk 190118 Amar Athwal.jpg


This is M122, his reputation seems to gets exaggerated more and more each year and other large grizzlies or even a large black bear often gets confused for him. By reading what’s out there on social media, you would think he’s the only large grizzly in the Bow Valley, if not in Banff NP. In the Bow Valley there are four large dominant male grizzlies, M122, M126, M134 and M136. M134 was not been seen last year, or at least no records of him being spotted. He might have decided to go to another valley at the start of the season and then stayed there. For a number of years M134 has always been the bigger male and this year M126 and M136 look to be the same size as the famous M122, if not slightly larger. For M122, it was never just about the size, it was also about his attitude toward other bears. M134 would run away from him, twice within few days M136 gave way to M122 this last fall. M122 may no longer be as dominant as he was the last number of years, this last summer he was showing some pretty big scars, on his shoulder and on his face. The larger males always get tested for mating and for food. If we were to shave one like a sheep, we would be amazed to see all the scars on their body from the various battles and some from trying to mate. M122 is 18 to 19 years of age now, I hope he’ll be around for several more years. He will become less and less dominant, but will always be an important grizzly on the landscape.

Grizzly 190111 Amar Athwal.jpg

Morant's Curve

Few mornings back. I was out for a drive, fresh fallen snow was everywhere. When I left home, clouds covered the sky. But the further west I got , more of the sky was becoming visible. I headed for Morant’s Curve, providing a grand view and opportunity for a morning landscape picture.

Morant's Curve 181226 Amar Athwal.jpg