Red Fox

While driving through the mountains, I decided to stop at a pull-off for a few minutes of rest. I looked straight ahead and saw something coming out of tall grass, it was a red fox. It got onto the concrete barrier and straight walking away from me. I quickly grabbed my camera and tried to get a few pictures. I did not have much luck. But to my surprise it turned around and started walking toward me on the same barrier. This time I had better luck.

Red Fox 190820 Amar Athwal.jpg

Grizzly Bear

The evening I saw this female grizzly and her two one year old cubs, it was a peaceful as it could have been. The whole family was eating in a small open field and the cubs got to nurse a couple of times. Just the day before it was the opposite. During the first year with her first cubs, this female covered a much smaller area, playing it safe. But this year she’s covering more of the area as she did on her own and with her sister and her then famous mother F72.

The day before she was near a campground, strong food smell attracted her to a tent. A camper was inside the tent, she was trying to figure out what to do as she stood on her hind legs with her front paws putting weight on the top of the tent. Luckily for the unaware camper inside the tent, who did not know what was going outside until sounds from other camper’s vehicles and their yelling moved the grizzly and her two cubs away.  The camper, unzipped the tent looked back while standing on his knees. Once seeing what was touching his tent, he put his hand over his heart and was grateful it was only a scare and learned a very important lesson from the bear and Parks Canada. A tent is not a good place to secure your food from wildlife.

Everyone was happy the grizzly and her cubs did not get any human food reward, including the members of the wildlife team that have been looking after the nine year old grizzly when she was a cub herself. Colleagues kept a close watch on her for the next few days. 

The grizzly and her two cubs are having quite the adventures this season. Including one adventure that seem to be pulled right out of the famous Parks Canada’s kid book “A Beary, Berry Good Day”. Always up to something, the large male grizzly M136 near a different campground was trying to go after the two cubs. In the end he was not successful, but was able to scare one of the cub away from its family. The cub was heard crying by a campers at night, but all ended well as the family was back together again the following day. This picture of a peaceful moment was taken last months, since then they had many more 

Grizzly 190816 Amar Athwal.jpg

Black Bear

It seems the black bears are tired this summer being 2nd best. They are out there in force, being spotted regularly in the front country for several weeks now. Colleagues dealing with wildlife calls dealing with young, old and mothers with cubs. Black bears are doing far better and have greater numbers and can be found in far more places across North America. More of the visitors who visit the mountains have seen a black bear already, far fewer have ever come across a brown bear in their life. Brown bears have far smaller range from their historic land they called home. The brown bear here in Banff as many other places is studied, to help them be more successful on the landscape. And when grizzlies are successful on the landscapes, it also means a vast amount of flora and fauna are doing very well on the same land. I always have to remind myself, the black bear does not care that the grizzlies are getting more attention, they only care that they have a place where they can be wild. Here’s a beautiful black bear that was easily moving through an area that needed two prescribed burns to help create habitat that both bears can call home.

Black Bear 190809 Amar Athwal.jpg

Barred Owl

I had gone for an evening drive, came across a large grizzly, separated by a stand of trees. The bear was busy digging for food, a couple of vehicles stopped with a few people trying to get pictures. I slowed down to identify the grizzly and then kept driving. Calling it in when I got cellular coverage, there was a good chance someone was going to get out of the vehicle to get closer. About an hour later I was coming back, when I was less than half a km from where the grizzly was spotted, I saw a large bird cross my path. By the colouring it was an owl, I saw roughly where it went up to perch in the trees to the left of me. I found a spot to pull off, got out of the car and had a good look around me, all was safe. Bear spray within easy reach I headed to see the owl. A couple of minutes later I was looking at a Barred Owl, it was toward the end of the day and it was hunting time for this owl. I backed up, took the picture and we said our goodbyes. On the way home, I located the grizzly again, he was bit hard to see, but I could still see he was digging for food. No one was in the area, I kept driving, no need to attract any attention. He was at home eating and I need to get home to eat.

Barred Owl 190802 Amar Athwal.jpg

Hoary Marmot

We’re in the midst of the hiking season, hiking up for grand views, meadows full of wildflowers and the wildlife that can be found at higher elevation. One of them is the hoary marmot. The largest member of the squirrel family, hibernates most of the year, from seven to eight months of the years. They spent lots of time eating, as they need to live off their fat during winter and also a lot of time spent sitting on rocks and taking in the heat. I got an early start to reach the area where I might be able to see marmots before the light got too harsh. After an hour of strong hiking I reached the place. Sat down and waited for the marmots to start coming out, it did not take long. All together, I saw at least 12 different marmots, heard and saw 3 pikas, one male mountain goat and several species of birds. A very good morning.

Hoary Marmot 190726 Amar Athwal.jpg

Round-leaved Orchid

Another wildflower beauty that's worth getting closer to the ground for. Round-leaved Orchids season has passed in the mountains here, but I enjoyed coming across them on many of my walks and hikes. On one occasion I was trying to take pictures of a bird, but most of my attention was focused on not stepping on these beautiful orchids. In the end the best picture I got was of this orchid flowers.

Round leaved Orchid 190722 Amar Athwal.jpg


I can still see the frighten look on the adult female grizzly face I saw one early morning in June. I have known F160 since 2012 when she was a year old, life was a lot simpler then, with her mother in her 20s having lots of life experience and doing a great job looking after her three cubs. In June the eight years, was in a bad place, bad side of the fence, and middle of the Trans-Canada Highway. F160 was looking for a way out, kept changing direction, running back and forth. I was worried for her and even more so when I could only see one of the two cubs she was with just a few days before. I called Banff’s Dispatch, they were already made aware and help was on its way. As I was talking I saw the help, replied back, I hope the other cub is safe and I left the area. Later that day I learned the family was back on the good side of the fence. About ten days later the other cubs was spotted with vehicle related injuries, with a broken back right leg. She was euthanized the next day.

Banff National Park has come a long way, keeping wildlife away from the busy road, with fences, wildlife crossing and colleague working to keep the wildlife safe. Bears are pretty amazing animal, very curious, which is great when searching for food. No one knows if it was the search for food or running from a large male grizzly that got them going over the “cattle guard” and then onto the highway. The hard part always is getting wildlife back to the good side of the fence on their own, physical options are being incorporated. But even today, the best hope comes in the form of human, opening the gates along the road and forcing the wildlife in their direction. The cub is survived by its mother and its sibling, hoping to see them for many more years.

Grizzly 190719 Amar Athwal.jpg

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