I find living in a snowy environment quite reassuring. Whether blizzard, sunlit morning, or soft snowfalls, it’s really quite magical if you pause and reflect on it for a moment. That is, a season of the year in which there are no bugs; we can walk on water; and we see the heavens at night filled with stars. Here are two images taken during the winter months: One is early morning on a very cold day (probably -20C or colder), in which we had a column of hoar frost crystals in front of our home. I am not sure what causes this kind of dazzling columnar effect, but it lasted long enough for me to have a cup of coffee and take the photo, before it dissipated. In the other photo, taken today (Dec. 4, 2013), a light snow-storm is brewing across Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park. Everything is muted. There is a stillness and it is cold and windy (-19C with windchill taking it down to -25C). The singular tones of this image setting are part of the great quiet and peace that I hope that we never take for granted in our national parks. Winter photography is fun. Just getting outdoors in winter is fun.
One of my greatest joys living at Riding Mountain National Park is to head out for some “slow travel”, where I drive slowly to a random location, get out of my car and just slowly listen, walk, or snowshoe. Riding Mountain National Park is a large national park where things become so much clearer in the months between November and April. It may be that you get to see tracks in the snow from wolves, grouse, or lynx – tracks you would never notice at other times of the year. A bird on a branch. A raven calls. Things seem to be more intense, quiet, and there are less distractions. It is a wonderfully rejuvenative time of year. Yesterday, I had a quiet encounter with a spruce grouse. The male is colourful. It’s a bird that lives in boreal (coniferous forests). Notice that this one is on a jack pine branch. This bird, as described by Cornell University’s All About Birds site is the north-eastern species. “Two distinct subspecies of Spruce Grouse exist. “Franklin’s Grouse,” D. c. franklinii, found in the southwestern portion of the range, in the mountains from Alberta southward, has an all black tail with small white spots on the feathers overlying it. The northeastern subspecies, D. c. canadensis, has a rufous tip to the tail and lacks white spots above the tail.”
This is fall in the Riding Mountains. My short list of three things I love to do during the September, October season includes photography, listening to the elk rut, and listening to migrating waterfowl. But, this is also the season of harvest. The freezer is now almost full – tomatoes, fresh basil pesto, red pepper pesto, fresh locally raised organic Berkshire pork, fresh chickens and we are waiting for our annual delivery of local lamb. As this season takes on its colours and unique smells, it’s time to try out new things. We are trying out some new sit-on kayaks that are very stable and could easily be used for wildlife viewing. We like what we are learning. Stay tuned for some new water-based experiences in 2013.
When the full moon is up in February and you are out snowshoeing in Riding Mountain National Park, you do not need a headlamp or any kind of supplementary light. The blanket of snow acts as a big reflector illuminating your travel pathway. We had the opportunity to snowshoe under a full moon with a couple from Manitoba. With our head guide Buzz Crowston as our guide to the night sky using a special laser pointer, we headed to two off-trail locations. At the first one, as we shared stories of winter wolf ecology and behaviour, a pack of wolves (which the park has been monitoring) began howling. At the second location, we mused on the role of prescribed fire as we gazed on an eerie blackened landscape of spruce and jackpine spires thick like the back of an alarmed porcupine. The October prescribed burn in the Rolling River area quietly and expectantly waits for spring to release new growth into the landscape.
Our guests had a few things to share about this experience after they returned home…” Hi, we just came back from a walk this evening and the night sky is a brilliant as ever, the planets, the twins, the Big Dipper, the “M” for Michelle, we had to stop gazing and watch out for ice along our path. We just wanted to tell you again thank you so much for the evening, the pictures are great, and most of all the company and the stories was want made the evening a night to remember. Our family was very jeolous of the stories we came back with, especially our wolf loving son and story loving mom… Thanks again for sharing the evening with us, we have shared our story with so many people, we hope that one day, some may call you up for their own adventure.”
Recently, we had the pleasure of taking a mother and her daughter on a customized photo safari into Riding Mountain National Park. Late July and August is a beautiful time to experience wildflower blooms. The following is a slide show of some of the flowers and wildlife images of things that you may see at this time of year on the prairies. Rough fescue prairies are one of the most biologically diverse habitats anywhere in Canada. With rich Chernozemic soils undisturbed by any human activities, you will see an ecosystem that has over 30 plant species per square metre in some places. This is the land of wild grazers (herbivores) like bison, elk, and white-tailed deer. Occasionally, moose or wolves or coyotes may also be seen.
PHOTO TIP: Knowing how and when to go, the time of day, lighting conditions for optimal photography, and understanding the habitats and habits of each wildlife species is helpful in being able to photograph or view birds or mammals in the cycle of light and weather each day.
Riding Mountain Fescue Grasslands and Aspen Forests
As we turn the corner to Canada’s traditional “May long weekend”, we are finally experiencing spring. Warm temperatures in excess of +20C are bringing smiles to people’s faces. My wife is in the garden planting potatoes. And, me..well, I am out taking photographs of local wildlife, identifying birds, and being alert to new species moving through. Here is a short video about wildlife and birds that you might see in the spring, around Riding Mountain National Park. You’ll see some neat footage of buffleheads, Canada lynx, and spruce grouse.
This past weekend (March 5, 2011)…
we had the pleasure of taking a couple of guests out on our Earth Rhythms Stories in the Snow day adventure program. What’s involved – some driving to look for owls and signs of winter birds; looking for fresh tracks of wolves and elk; wildlife viewing and digital nature photography tips; and a snowshoe outing. We had a great day traveling by vehicle, walking and snowshoeing in and around Riding Mountain National Park.
In two separate locations, we found overnight wolf tracks that were superb, fresh, and we were able to track them over long distances. Fresh elk, coyote, and bison tracks all provided comparison size opportunities. While the main herd of bison were a distance away, we were able to watch them through our spotting scope. A short snowshoe outing took us off-trail into 1 metre deep snow. We were rewarded at the end of the day with a beautiful view of a red fox hunting. The slide gallery captures a few of the images from our day of exploring stories in the snow.
Here are a few images from our Stories in the Snow outing as well some other scenes that we may see on any given day that we head out on one of our Stories in the Snow outings.
I love snowshoeing. Because I can travel anywhere. I am not restricted to being in a ski track. I can follow wildlife tracks and trails. I can walk over frozen surfaces (with at least 6 – 8 inches of ice) to get to beaver ponds, and access places that would be much more difficult to get to in the summer and fall months.
Snowshoeing is easy to do. It offers good cardio-vascular activity, and it helps me to keep learning more about nature. Each time I go out snowshoeing, I am noticing and learning something new. Perhaps where a woodpecker has been active, or where wolves have made a kill of an elk, or where there is enough running water that has not frozen.
What I love most is the unexpected. Then, I really take notice. Like when the wind from a south breeze moves light crystals of snow on the frozen surface of a lake in Riding Mountain National Park. These crystals are moving along the ground in undulating waves. Take note of these golden waves of snow crystals behaving similar to northern lights, picking up the light intensity of the setting sun, moving in broad patterns with the wind, and moving in undulations that take your breath away. This is HD video. Make it full screen to get the full impact of it.
Being in the right place at the right time is an act of commitment. Going out daily to snowshoe is like a meditation. It helps me to be present.
Owls fascinate me. They are definitely a passion of mine from a photographic perspective. But, I think that what I love most about owls is their behaviour. We learn lots from just simply sitting and observing them. This is a time of year when there are three owls that I look for – great gray owls; northern hawk owls; and great horned owls. Great grays and hawk owls are both active during the day time. Because the the leaves are off the trees, they are easier to see. Northern hawk owls can be seen in Riding Mountain during the winter months.
How to watch for owls
What is involved in looking for owls? A good pair of eyes – knowing what to look for, and learning to look at the landscape to distinguish the shape of an owl; being out at the right time of day for nocturnal owls (great horned owls, or spring arrivals of saw-whet or boreal owls); having a pair of bright field binoculars and a spotting scope; a field guide – either book or electronic editions; and being warmly dressed. Often, you are standing outdoors for short periods of time. By being warmly dressed, you’ll be able to persist and watch.
Here is a photograph of a great gray owl I noticed, as I was driving along. It swooped low across the road and then up into a spruce tree. If I had not noticed its flight, I likely would not have noticed it in the tree. It is very well camouflaged.
Earth Rhythms creates small group photo safaris to learn how to use your digital camera in new ways. Along the way we spot birds, photograph tracks, and share stories about Riding Mountain wildlife. Bring your family or friends. Combine it with a stay at a local resort or a visit with friends in the area. Call us at 1.888.301.0030, or visit Earth Rhythms online. Happy owling!
This is a time of year I absolutely love. It is delightfully quiet. In the last 15 years, I have noticed that we have a much greater prevalence of moisture in the winter months. This is often deposited in the form of hoarfrost, which I had previously written about. Here is a short slideshow of some recent images taken in Riding Mountain National Park. Call us if you are interested in a short outing to learn how to use your digital point and shoot, or your digital SLR to catch winter at its best. 1.204.848.4680 Earth Rhythms.