Red-tailed Hawk

Being an early riser, there always seem lot of time and no need to hurry. And if I try to sleep in, my body forgets how to rest and I end up getting out of bed with body aches. For that reason, no matter the day, up and at it early every morning. Then getting out of the house, I’ll take the slowest route to where ever I’m heading. Checking the sky, are there any clouds, is the moon still out, just to see for any landscape photography possibilities. If the answer is no, then time to look for wildlife, which include birds and mammals. On my days off when looking for photo opportunities, walking even a small distance can take a long time. For every bird sound I’ll stop, try to locate where the sound is coming from and what is making it. And if I think there will be a photo opportunity, I could be in the same place for a while. Always have to remind myself to also look up, never know who’s perched on the trees.  That’s how I was able to see this Red-tailed Hawk one morning. It did not fly away when it saw me, I got the camera out and took few pictures. It then took to air and landed on an another nearby tree to give me even a better picture. That morning a rarity with Red-tailed hawks in Banff, when I got my pictures the bird was still perched as I walked away. Hopeful it will pass on the message to other hawks, I mean no harm.

Red-tailed Hawk 191011 Amar Athwal.jpeg

Bald Eagle and a Red-winged Blackbird

Still my favourite part of nature is when I get a nice surprise, the more I get out there the more surprises I encounter. I had gone for a drive after dinner, it was a quiet evening, but always good to be out. On my way back, I decided to check out the nearby lakes. On top of a dead spruce tree was an adult Bald Eagle perched. I parked my car to the side, rolled down the window and got a few pictures. Looked at the images, made a small adjustment to the setting and started taking more pictures of the eagle. To my amazement a male Red-winged Blackbird came into the frame, trying it best to harass the much larger eagle away. An adult Bald Eagle can have a wingspan of 2.3 meters and weigh up to 6.3 kg, while blackbird can a have a wingspan of 40 cm and weight up to 77 grams. The blackbird did its best to move off the eagle, the eagle just looked at the bird and stayed perched. I was all excited getting both birds in the plane of focus and could see in the image eagle’s eyes looking at the blackbird. The Red-winged Blackbird had no luck moving the eagle, but I did, getting to see and to get pictures of the small interaction between the two species.

Bald Eagle and Red-winged Blackbird 190823 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

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

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

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

Black-billed Magpie

Just in town of Banff, on one side of the Bow Bridge next to the sidewalk, this Black-eyed Magpie enjoying lunch. I was heading home, when noticing the magpie, I had to stop and take a few pictures before I could pass by. The bird was perched upside down eating berries, two others were busy doing the same.

Black-eyed Magpie 181219 Amar Athwal.jpg

Northern Pygmy Owl

Between December 14, 2018 through January 5, 2019 the 119th Christmas Bird Count  will be taking place this season. A great way for people to get together and see how our feathered friends are dealing with the winter. The results get sent to Audubon, who can compare this year results with the previous and look for trends. If you live in the Bow Valley or visiting the Bow Valley on Saturday December 14. 2018 and would like to play a role. Pop on to the WWW for contacts and further info. by heading over to the “” site. Not a site for those who enjoy nature au naturel, for sure not middle of December in Banff. But a  Bow Valley Group who deals with natural history and conservation, including where around the towns of Canmore and Banff this year CBC will be taking place.

Northern Pygmy Owl 181207 Amar Athwal.jpg

Bald Eagle and the Common Raven

Bald Eagle larger than most birds, with a wingspan of 2 meters, scavenges meals by harassing other birds and never says no to carrion or garbage. Most of the time they eat fish, but will hunt mammals and waterfowl. They are often spotted soaring high in the sky. The Common Raven is dwarfed by the much larger eagle, wingspan around 116 cm. One of the smartest birds, capable of learning and being a better talker than some parrots when raised by humans. Works with land predators, letting them know when a prey is near or seeking their help opening the tough hide of a carcass to access meat. Never a good idea leaving your bag of garbage outside, if you do where ravens reside, all will know the contents of your garbage. In the image it seems both are flying together, in reality the raven was protecting its territory by harassing the eagle away.

Bald Eagle and Common Raven 181123 Amar Athwal.jpg

Golden-crowned Kinglet

During the fall as other seasons. I try to take pictures of wildlife surrounded by the background of the season that's taking place at that time.  I was hoping to come across bears with the fall colours surrounding them, no luck again. But I did have some luck with the  birds, it paid off carrying a lens to get close to the birds. I would hike through the larch trees and stopping  when a birds were heard. Seeing  which direction they were coming from and then wait for them to pass by me. There were always opportunities to get a picture, but not always a good picture. In this case I was hearing several kinglets and chickadees heading in my direction. I guessed where they would pass by as they went from tree to tree looking for food. This Golden-crowned Kinglet perched not too far from me, showing a bit of its golden crown, I focused on it and got the picture of it perched on a larch tree branch. Next year I'll have to persuade a kinglet to show me more of its golden crown, matching with the larch needles.

Golden-crowned Kinglet 181026 Amar Athwal.jpg

Spotted Sandpiper

I get lots of bird pictures each year, particularly during the bird season. Because I get so many chances, I tend to have higher standards for what I consider a good bird picture. After taking pictures of birds for several years, I'm always thinking about the pictures I do have and try to get a picture of the same quality or better. In the case of this Spotted Sandpiper, I have a handful of very good pictures of them, but not one of them on a branch. In this case I ended up one afternoon middle of several families of Spotted Sandpipers, they were not happy with me being there. With camera in hand, I was making my way through the area, I just had to stop for a few seconds to get this picture. I took one step back to get the branches to the right into the frame, for me it made the picture that much better.  A second after the bird was off the branch, I moved on and the birds were calm again.

Spotted Sandpiper 180824 Amar Athwal.jpg

Pileated Woodpecker

Few times I went to watch the Pileated Woodpecker's nest, it was first used last year. There was some work done on the nest before woodpeckers started using it this year. I would be challenged by the mosquitos whenever I went to take pictures of the family. Each time I would wait for a short while for the adults to get the food and feed the nestlings. It will be interesting to see if the nest gets used next year.

Pileated Woodpecker 180730 Amar Athwal.jpg

Canada Goose

 have been saving this picture for a while, it was my first sighting this season of the goslings, there were two sets of family hanging out near each other. I stayed in the middle and kept taking pictures as opportunities presented themselves. It was during  the morning and the sun was quickly rising, couple of town staff cleaning up the area were the only other people in the area. We all decided it was a good way to start the day, seeing  little balls of golden yellow running around their parents. I had to make minor adjustment to my location, I wanted the sunlight to be hitting them from the back, also kept making minor adjustments to the camera setting to get some details in the goslings. After spending about twenty minutes, I was happy with what I got and continued my bird walk.

Canada Goose 180713 Amar Athwal.jpg