Classic Banff - Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Here we are at the end of Alberta Week and I am ending it with another iconic shot from Banff, namely Lake Louise. This location is probably the most visited in the Canadian Rockies. Part of the reason is Victoria Glacier at the far end of the lake, as well as some amazing hikes that can be taken from the lake (the Tea House is a favorite of many). If you want to see the lake in relative quiet, visit at sunrise or stay at the impressive Chateau Lake Louise (every bit as pricey as the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff). If you are not there at sunrise, be prepared to share the lake with tons of tourists. It is a favorite stop for every tour bus in the area. It has gotten so bad that I won't visit there at any other time.

I hope you enjoyed my little visit to Alberta this week. I will be off on my last trip of the year to Death Valley today, so I will see you when I get back.

Bow Overlook - Bow River, Banff, Alberta

You don't have to go far from the town of Banff to see classic scenes of the Canadian Rockies. In fact, you don't have to leave town to do so. There was a reason that the town was formed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 to serve as a stopover on the transcontinental railway on the route to the Pacific Ocean. One of the hotels that was built at that time to house visitors to the town is Banff Springs Hotel, pictured in this photo on the other side of the Bow River. Want to stay there? Better open your wallet, as the daily rate is around $799 Canadian a night. Even with a favorable exchange rate, it is still extremely pricey. For me, staying on the outskirts of the town and visiting all of the stops in town and the park is the way to go. This particular photo was taken from Tunnel Mountain Road, which rises above the Bow River with scenes like this.

Maligne Wonder - Spirit Island, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Earlier this week, I posted a photo of Moraine Lake, which is one of the most iconic locations in the Canadian Rockies. If there is another location that gives Moraine a run for its money, it has to be Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. I am guessing that Moraine Lake is the most visited, as it is pretty close to Calgary and all you need is a car to see it. Spirit Island is a bit more challenging to visit, as a 35-minute boat ride is required to see the island and it is over 4 hours from Edmonton. I am not as convinced that Moraine is the most seen, at least photographically. Why is that? We can thank Eastman Kodak. As part of a marketing effort, Kodak sent out one of their photographers, Peter Gales, to find remote locations that would help promote the sale of their film. His image of Spirit Island became part of Kodak's Colorama display (larger than life photos in Grand Central Terminal). Over the more than 40 years that it hung there, millions upon millions of people viewed the photo.

The classic view of the island (actually only an island when the water is high) is from above on a short trail. This composition from ground level is also wonderful and gives a closer look at it.

Canoe Rental - Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Although this is "Alberta Week" on my blog and social media, I just had to post this photo from Yoho National Park. Yes, I know that Yoho is technically in British Columbia, but it is just over the Alberta Province line. The centerpiece of the Yoho is the beautiful Emerald Lake, where the color is the deepest emerald that I have seen in the Canadian Rockies (you can't tell that from this photo so you will have to trust me). One of the classic scenes of the lake are the canoes that can be seen being rowed on the lake. When we first got there, there were only a few canoes on the lake and I spotted this composition of canoes waiting to be rented. In the background on the left is, you guessed it Emerald Peak, and on the right is the fine restaurant, Cilantro on the Lake. 

Clearing Weather - Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

I am woefully behind in reviewing my photos from my trips this year and I am determined to catch up over the winter. I spent some time going through all of my photos for the first time from an epic trip to Alberta this past June. We had outstanding weather and I found quite a few "keepers". I have decided that this week will be "Alberta Week" on my blog and social media.

There is only one location in Alberta that deserves to lead off the week and that is from iconic Moraine Lake. The fact that the lake is located in a valley named "Valley of the Ten Peaks" probably says it all. Surrounding this emerald mountain lake are the towering Canadian Rockies and it is an impressive sight to see. This particular morning, it was snowing reasonably hard (yes it snows in Banff in mid-June) when we got to the parking lot. A few hardy souls climbed up the "rock pile" along the trail, which leads to one of the most photographed scenes in Canada. I chose to wait until the snow stopped before I headed up the trail. I was rewarded with this composition that showed a break in the clouds as proof the weather was clearing.

In the Shadows - Red Cliffs Lodge, River Road, Moab, Utah

Sometimes the light, shadow and clouds take over and you get side tracked. After Jeff Clow's Moab Tour back in March was over, Jaki Good Miller and I headed out to Grand Junction to visit Colorado National Monument before our flights home the next morning. I have visited this great park quite a number of times and it has been a favorite of mine. Jaki had never been there and I wanted to show her some terrific landscapes. All that went out the window as we got onto River Road. I don't know how many times we stopped, but it was quite a few. We spent a lot of time at this spot near the Red Cliffs Lodge and we were rewarded with some great scenes. We did make it to Colorado National Monument, but the light was gone. We will just have to revisit there on our next trip to Moab.

Colorful - Kruger National Park, South Africa

Happy Thanksgiving

Here in the US, we are celebrating one of our most family-oriented holidays, Thanksgiving. The tradition is for families to sit around the table and feast their eyes on a big turkey. The bigger, the better. I've seen turkeys on sale that weigh almost 30 pounds. Turkeys are not the prettiest birds in the world and I don't have a good photo of one, so I thought I would post a photo of a bird that is quite the opposite.

This bird is an African Pygmy Kingfisher that I captured on my recent trip to South Africa. While turkeys are basically white and brown, this bird is one of the most colorful ones that I have ever seen in person. From a size perspective, the kingfisher is usually only 5 inches in length. This bird is just too pretty to eat and you would need an awful lot of them to feed a family on Thanksgiving.

Before Sunrise - Palouse, Washington

Many of the photos that you might see of sunrises in the Palouse are taken from the vantage point of Steptoe Butte. There you can look down on the rolling landscape from a height of around 3,600 feet. There are, however, many places that are just as pretty without shooting from a great height. When Jeff Clow and I were scouting the Palouse this past August, we headed to the town of Palouse (the Palouse often refers to an extremely big area in eastern Washington and western Idaho) and stopped on this road when we saw the great light and clouds that were welcoming the new day to us. The farmland in the foreground had recently been harvested and you can make out the tracks where the farm machinery had been only days before.

Water Hole - Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

With the two year drought in Sabe Sands and Kruger National Park, the existence of water holes is a key for the survival of the wildlife there. Some of the water holes have dried up and forced many of its wildlife "residents" to seek other water holes. Of course, those water holes are already "owned" by others and the only way to survive is in battle. We saw an example of that when a hippo, in search of a new water hole, presumably did battle with another hippo only to lose. That is not surprising, as the hippo probably had to walk a long distance in the heat, weakening him as it prepared to fight. 

The water holes represent survival to many. We were lucky to spot a herd of elephants one late evening that our guide said was heading to a local water hole. Sure enough, that is where they were headed. As they got close, they began to start running to their oasis. We were lucky enough to watch (and photograph) them drink and cool themselves off. A short respite for the herd in the wild.

Wet - Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Most photographers do not like to shoot in rainy weather. Keeping your camera gear dry is important even if your camera is weather resistant. Another challenge is keeping the front of your lens dry so that water drops do not mar any of the photos you take. Typically, most photographers wait out the rain and hope that you don't have to wait for a half day or more before that happens. If you are lucky enough to have the rain stop, you are often rewarded with scenes like this where there is a sheen on the landscape. We were pretty lucky on this road shot somewhere on the Icefields Parkway to have a great sheen leading to the mountains in the distance. It was interesting trying to get this shot, as the traffic was pretty regular and we would all run out to the middle of the road to get a shot. It probably was quite comical for any non-photographers to witness us.

Cheetahs on Prowl - De Wildt Cheetah Center, Brits, South Africa

One of the animals that we weren't able to see in the wild on our safari in South Africa were cheetahs. Fortunately, we had taken a side trip from Johannesburg to the De Wildt Cheetah & Wildlife Trust before our safari started. The facility is a captive cheetah breeding center that was started by Ann van Dyk in 1971 on her parents chicken farm. Other animals are also bred there, including wild dogs, brown hyenas, suni, duiker, cape vultures and riverine rabbits. On the tour through the center, we were able to photograph the cheetahs that live there. These two cheetahs were on the prowl waiting to be fed.

Cheetahs and leopards are often confused. Cheetahs have black oval spots, while leopards have more complex spotting that are shaped more like roses both square and round in shape. Cheetahs also have black lines that run from the corner of their eyes down the sides of their nose to their mouth while leopards do not. Leopards are also noticeably bulkier looking than cheetahs. Cheetahs can run up to 75mph over short distances allowing them to catch their prey, while leopards use more surprise attacks. Regardless, both are extremely majestic and are amazing to observe and photograph.

Wildebeest - Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

Most nature followers have heard of or seen (at least on film) one of the most amazing migrations of wildlife in the world - that of the wildebeest in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It is often referred to as one of the "Seven New Wonders of the World", where over two million animals travel about 500 miles on their annual trek looking for grass and water when the Serengeti dries out.

While we were not in Tanzania, we were able to spot quite a number of wildebeest on our safari in South Africa, although not nearly anything close to two million (maybe 100 for the trip). Wildebeest are actually gnus and are strange looking animals. Many of our guides made jokes about how they were made with leftover parts of other animals. While I don't remember all of the parts that supposedly make up a wildebeest, here is what I remember: it's head is from a ox, it's mane is from a horse and it's horns are from a buffalo. In any case, this is one we spotted one evening in Pilanesberg National Park.

Water Hole Drama - Kruger National Park, South Africa

Water holes are the key to survivor in the wild. We had heard that there were lions there, so off we went to check it out. Once we got there, we found the lions off in the distance, sleeping. That isn't a surprise, as lions sleep 18-20 hours a day. After watching to see if they were going anywhere for a while, we repositioned ourselves to another part of the water hole.

There were all kind of animals there and it was interesting to see how cautious they were knowing that the lions were not that far away. Any noise made them skittish. I particularly like that some of the wildlife were reflected in the water as they drank. As we were shooting, we noticed a little drama between this crocodile and a heron. As you can see near the bottom of the photo, the crocodile was looking like it wanted to pounce on the heron for a meal. He would inch up very, very slowly every 15 minutes or so. We waited for quite a while, but it was not likely to happen. We were sure that the heron would easily escape, so we headed out looking for new wildlife sightings. 

Nose Horn - Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

I know that the title of this post seems strange, but it actually is the English translation of rhinoceros. The rhino is one of Africa's "Big Five", so named by big game hunters to reference the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Weighing in at over 2,000 pounds, I can't imagine hunting these animals on foot or by any other means for that matter. Just spotting this rhino that walked by the back of our truck was frightening enough, especially when he turned toward us to see what we were doing. There have been instances where they have charged safari trucks and cars using their horn as a weapon.

It is somewhat ironic that the rhino's horns make them a target for poachers who will cut off their horns and sell them on the black market. The horns are worth more than $60,000 a pound, making them more valuable than gold, diamonds and cocaine. The demand for the horns is due to the belief that they are an aphrodisiac as well as a medicine. The biggest demand for the horns are from Vietnam and most of the horns poached in South Africa are destined for there. In fact, on one of our days in Kruger National Park, there was a poaching reported and all vehicles leaving the park was searched. 

Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill - Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

Okay, if Tuesday's post of the Lilac Breasted Roller didn't shock Jeff Clow, I thought that posting another bird photo in the same week would get his attention. I can just picture him acting like Red Foxx in Sanford and Son looking up to the heavens, holding his hand over his heart and saying "This is the big one...".

If this Hornbill looks familiar, you probably have seen its cousin, Zazu in the movie the Lion King. In the movie, Zazu was actually a Red-Billed Hornbill. These birds are relatively common on South Africa and feed on small insects, spiders, seeds and fruit. They also have been known to eat small animals. When courting a female, they will often feed them for month before mating. They tend to be monogamous. 

Mother and Child - Kruger National Park, South Africa

Some of the most entertaining animals that we encountered on our recent safari were the primates, primarily the baboons and monkeys. They were usually found along the road, seemingly there to play with one another and put on a show for visitors like us. When there weren't putting on a show for us, they were caring for their young babies like this one. It was fascinating to watch how they cared for their young ones. This baby baboon was feeding on something under the watching eyes of his mom.

Lilac Breasted Roller - Kruger National Park, South Africa

I am sure that my buddy Jeff Clow will fall off his chair when he sees this post. While I am a nature photographer that primarily shoots landscapes, I will shoot wildlife if I come across them. Jeff has been more of a wildlife shooter than me and he has recently been focusing (pun intended) on birds. I don't have much interest in photographing birds and it has been a long running joke between us about his need to shoot birds while I want to move on.

The other reason he might react to this post is that, on our recent safari to South Africa, he was desperate to photograph the Lilac Breasted Roller pictured in this photo. Every time that we spotted one, it seemed to take off or be on the wrong side of the jeep, leaving Jeff frustrated. Near the end of our safari, I called the Roller Jeff's Moby Dick. Well, he finally got a shot of it near the end of trip and I am glad he did. When I saw my shot and saw that it was in focus, I knew I had to post it.

Grief - Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

When planning our trip to South Africa, we decided to fly into Johannesburg early and do a couple of day trips before our safari. Our first excursion took us to Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve. This turned out to be our first experience with predators and their prey in the Circle of Life.

It was late morning and the temperature was approaching scorching. The wildlife typically finds shade and might remain there for the afternoon. Our guide Peter spotted a female lion under a tree and we stopped to see if she would get up and wander. After waiting a few minutes, it was clear that she wasn't moving and he decided to head up the road before we headed to lunch. We spotted a dazzle of zebra with a baby that was one or two days old. It was really cool to see the little guy following and playing with his mother. As we followed the zebra, our guide realized that they were heading in the direction of the lion. He thought that if they continued on their path, the baby zebra would be at risk. Well, he called it exactly as it would happen. We watched in both horror and fascination. As the baby zebra went behind a bush our eyes and camera lenses turned toward the lion, waiting for her to pounce. That's when the action happened. Unbeknownst to us, there was a second lion that none of us saw and she attacked the baby zebra. The rest of the adult zebras took off in a gallop, but it was too late for the baby. I am sort of glad not to have seen it. As soon as it happened, the adult zebra stopped near our truck and looked toward where the lions were. That is when I snapped this photo. While I won't forget this, I think the most haunting memory will be the grief that the mother expressed when she realized what happened.

Fresh Kill - Kruger National Park, South Africa

One of the goals when visiting Africa on safari is to capture photographs of the "Big Five". The term was originally used by big game hunters to reference the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Included in the Big Five are the elephant, lion, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. They were chosen to be included due to the difficulty and danger involved in hunting them.

Photographing them is a lot easier than hunting them and not very dangerous at all. By the last day of the safari, we had many photographs of four of the five. The leopard had proven elusive, and when we headed out on our last morning, hope was starting to fade. About 15 minutes after entering the park, we got very lucky. A male leopard was spotted that had just made a kill and was dragging it to a culvert along the road. After getting some decent shots, we started driving away. Everyone was quite excited and happy, but the adventure was only half over. I happened to spot some movement to our right, which turned out to be the leopard's female counterpart.  I fired off this shot of the female as it approached the culvert. Her eyes were intent on eating, but the male decided that he wasn't going to share his kill and sent her on her way. Quite interesting behavior.

Elephant Bath - Kruger National Park, South Africa

Lake Panic Bird Hide

Going on my first safari, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew it was going to be hot (probably averaged 100 degrees for the duration of the safari) but I wasn't expecting to experience the effects of a two-year long drought. The last two years, rainfall has been 65% and 52% of the long term average year respectively. Wildlife can be found in early mornings and late evenings, but the rest of the day, it can be hit or miss. I think we were reasonably lucky during these off hours. 

The day I shot this photo, we had been driving without many wildlife sitings, Our guide Gregg decided to take us to the Lake Panic Bird Blind to see if we could shoot some of the exotic birds that are found in Kruger NP. Once we got there, birds were quickly forgotten as an elephant herd decided to visit the lake to escape the late morning heat. It was quite the sight, as these magnificent animals started to use their long trunks as water hoses, splashing lake water on all sides of their bodies. I happened to catch this elephant in the process of spraying his back.