Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Moose, elk. (20140119) First outing with Grayson-- Updated with Grayson's contribution!

Grayson is visiting the GWN (Great White North) with a pile of his friends from college, and wanted to get out to see what we could find. I met him downtown and we headed out to a parking spot north and west of the city to find a place to park his vehicle. The mourning was looking very dismal, the wind was howling like a banshee, if this wasn't our only "available" day I would have recommended a postponement. We were able to find a couple of moose to start us off, they were down in a protected valley.
This cow only held briefly before she called her calf to her and they headed for the protection of the heavier timber. This is the primary reason I hat being out in the heavy wind, critters are just very spooky and refuse to hold. Here is the calf on the move to mom. From the shape and size of the "bell" this looks like a young bull.
We found a very uncooperative coyote, that we were unable to get any decent shots of while we were on the "wolf" road from New Years. The wind was absolutely relentless and I knew we had to get out of that area and try and find some where with more protection.
 Shortly after we turned around to head out the road Grayson spotted a ewe Bighorn sheep that we spent several minutes with and he should have some excellent images. I am hoping that he will send me some of his images so I can share them with the viewers.
After a long dry spell we found this "naked" bull at about 350 yards out in the willows.
While we watched this fella, we spotted two other single critters moving about in the material and this group of three that brought the total for this area to 6. These three were probably 5 or 600 yards away. The middle unit is a young bull.
Not too far from here, Grayson spotted a lone moose that I believe was a bull, it was a great spot on his part! Getting to see a couple of critters certainly makes it easier to find them as you now know what to look for. We spotted a couple of long distance Wild Horses that really didn't give us any shots, and an hour or two later we had a Northern Goshawk that evaded our camera's as well.  As we were wrapping up the day we found another Coyote, and I am hoping that my guest got some better shots than the morning animal presented.
We wrapped up the photoing with this large group of elk. This is a good piece of the herd that we found that I estimate to be about 400 animals in all. the critters in the top of the image are cattle.
I tried to get us a little closer, to see if we could get better images, and found this small bull with three cows.
The light was going to get too low to shoot any shots of the 15 Mule deer we finished the tour with. We had a little difficulty getting Grayson on the road, but these are the types of things that make trips really memorable.  I believe he enjoyed himself and am hoping he can contribute a couple of images, particularly of the items I did not get images of. Have a super wildlife week!

Here is an account of the day from Grayson's perspective:
I came to Alberta from New York with a merry gang of 30 skiers but read so much about the Albertan wildlife that my packing was equally divided between what kept me warm and what abetted the taking of critter portraits. I contacted Kerri who put me in touch with Paul, and I am so glad to them both for the experience I had. 
I was so excited to be with a local guide adept at finding wildlife to put in front of my lens (and I apologize, Paul, if this was not evident when I hopped into your truck at 7am that day!). I’m a night owl and was groggy from my flight, but Paul’s overview of what we could see that day was better than strong coffee. I’m from New York and I was basically going to see every animal he mentioned for the first time!  Within minutes he was showcasing his knowledge of meteorologic phenomenon and their effects on animal behavior and I knew we’d have an exciting day. 
For example, I learned that high winds puts mice to moose on high alert because the wind spreads their scent to all manner of predators as well as masks the sound of their approach. This combined with the chilling effect of a good winter wind causes animals to hunker down in tough-to-find spots. This made a lot of sense to me, especially when I compared a moose in high wind to a human in pitch black.  A young Boy Scout walking through the woods might be fearless in the day with his decent eyesight and Swiss Army knife, but at night would be more inclined to ask questions like “was that an acorn hitting the ground, or a twig breaking underneath a cougar’s paw right behind me?” He would freeze for a few seconds, to minimize his own signals to whatever else is out there, before thinking “well that sounds like another acorn but I’m going to run as fast as I can anyway.”
A moose with his excellent hearing and sense (albeit poor vision) would feel much more like that camper in high wind because his early warning system is compromised. It is therefore less patient when answering questions like “was that the paw of a cougar cracking through the snowpack, or the clumsy racket from an amateur NYC photographer opening the door of his truck and fumblingly attaching a monopod to his camera to take my portrait?” 
In addition to his great store of knowledge, I found Paul to be a very honest and straightforward individual. This was because he spared no time in explaining that due to the heavy winds that day, the animals would be shy and skittish. Disappointment would probably ensue. 
I said, “oh.” 
But optimism was re-established when we saw a couple moose in a small grove, which quickly hurried off into deeper cover. This was the first time I had seen moose in the wild and my initial impression was “fast.” They can move-and that’s not just an excuse for my being too slow to get even a decent “evidence” shot. If that was through snow, imagine how quick they could dart across a road…which was unsettling food for thought for every one of the hundreds of kilometers I put on my truck that week on the highways of Alberta. 
We briefly missed a coyote scuttling across the road and into the forest and I began to wonder if despite Paul’s uber-pleasant company I might be resigned to seeing just the tails of things all day. I was just thinking about how heavy and annoying my camera equipment was to carry internationally when this stoic ewe presented herself on the side of a highway":
Paul T: an indication of the wind of the day:
Back to Grayson's naritive:)
"Next, we observed a clump of Bohemian Waxwings on this tree, all waiting for a bus it appears:
Their namesake comes from the vivid red and yellow wax covering their wingtip feathers. Another fun fact is they like to get drunk off over-ripened Rowan berries. 
Paul spotted this eagle seemingly a mile away, but since I’m American I will insist on including it even though at several hundred yards away it was a tough shot-

Paul was drilling into me all day what “moosy” habitat looked like, so I of course had to spot one for him just to prove I was listening…he never turned around to face us so this is my best portrait from 40 yards. 
The light was dying as we made our way home, and luckily we were able to take a side road to get near this elk couple. I say couple because there are two elk here; the male in front and the female behind him nearly perfectly in profile. Maybe she thought we were hunting. 
This is coyote. The light was dying and he’s pretty far off here scampering into the forest. Paul assured me they are nothing special up in Alberta but I’m from Manhattan and so obviously I was pretty fired up to see one.  I thank him for pulling the truck around at my behest so I could get an “evidence shot” to end our terrific first day. 
My trip to Alberta was enormously enhanced by spending the day with Paul and I recommend that anyone trying to get a serious glimpse of the wildlife to get in touch with him. Just in case you’re the type of person who wouldn’t take advice from someone who wouldn’t follow their own, I was so happy with our results the first day that I wound up taking another day off from snowboarding meet up with him in Banff- which proved to have some wonderful surprises too!"

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