• eat
  • shop
  • see
  • go
  • stay
  • daytrip
  • map
  • calendar
  • transport
  • weather
  • currency
  • tofrom

wildlife

Photographing Winter: an Interview with Cai Priestley

In October Where Canadian Rockies held a photo contest for our Winter magazine cover. For several weeks, we were overwhelmed by the number of quality submissions sent to us by photographers from all over the world. After much deliberation and debate, we chose Cai Priestley’s photograph of a red fox, taken on the Bow Valley Parkway, as our winner. The fox captured our attention because we couldn’t help but think it was looking right at us, demanding that it become our selection (we hope you feel the same way)!

Cai’s skills as a photographer extend well-beyond the fiery fox in the snowy landscape; his website (www.caipriestley.co.uk) offers stunning wildlife photography from Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa—we really think you should buy one of his calendars (!)

We wanted to know more about Cai, and he took the time to answer our questions about his bucket list, his training as a photographer, and the craziest thing he’s ever experienced while out photographing. Have a read below to learn more about the man behind the Winter 2017/18 cover:

WHERE ROCKIES: You are from Wales, but you specialize in Canadian wildlife photography; what brought you to Canada?

CAI PRIESTLEY: Back in 2008 I decided to do some traveling, with the intention of finding and photographing some wildlife along the way. I spent a couple of months in Africa and then came to Canada to meet some friends who were living in Banff.

My plan was to keep traveling around Canada for six months, but after seeing the mountains and some local wildlife, I decided to stay in Bow Valley for as long as I could. I’ve run out of work visas now, but I was able to live and work in Banff for five of the last ten years, and I hope to call it home again someday soon.

WR: You capture what seem to be really intimate moments with animals (a bear cub looking back at you while walking with her mom and siblings, the peek from a pine marten, the fox…!); how are you able to capture them so perfectly?

CP: I put in a lot of time looking for wildlife. I try to get out as often as I can, and by doing so, I’m always increasing my chances of having an incredible encounter with something really cool. When it comes to capturing an image that I’m happy with, it’s a whole other story. It’s not always glorious wildlife and great photos. There are a lot more failed attempts and missed opportunities.

WR: Were you formally trained in photography or are you mostly self-taught?

CP: I’m mostly self-taught, but I did do a short photography course as part of my art foundation in college. That was mainly working in the darkroom learning film processing and developing though. I’ve also had some great mentors along the way who have taught me lots, especially since arriving in Canada. John Marriott and Peter Dettling were both instrumental in helping me learn the ropes when it came to Canadian wildlife.

WR: On your website, you note that you came home because you’d reached the end of your working visa; do you want to come back to the Canadian Rockies anytime soon?

CP: I’d love to make the Rockies my permanent home someday, but in the meantime I’m visiting for a couple of months every year. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can do at the moment until I’m in a better position to be able to move back for good.

WR: Is there anything that you haven’t captured on camera that still remains on your bucket list?

CP: The holy grail of Canadian wildlife for me would be a wolverine, a cougar or a fisher. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for wolverine but the chances of ever seeing one let alone photographing one, are incredibly small.

WR: How do you describe your photography style?

CP: I’ve never really pinned down a particular style as far as I can tell. I like shooting very wide scenes that show a subject in its environment or habitat, but I equally like a nice intimate portrait where fur or feather detail can be easily seen.

WR: Where is your favourite non-Canadian place to shoot?

CP: I love photographing on home soil here in Wales, but most of my photography is done abroad these days. I visited Alaska very briefly a few years ago and it’s somewhere I’d love to return to someday.

WR: In a landscape with sublime mountains (the Rockies), why animal photographs?

CP: I love the mountains, and I can’t say no to a good sunrise or sunset, but I’ve been obsessed with wildlife from a very young age, so wild animals will always take priority over landscape images for me. Every time I stop to shoot a sunrise, I can’t help but thinking there could be a pack of wolves waiting patiently for me in a meadow somewhere, and that’s all it takes for me to turn my back on the scene and keep searching.

WR: Can you tell me about some of your Rocky Mountain Favourites (best places to dine, visit, etc.)?

CP: I used to be a huge Barpa Bill’s fan, and I still recommend it to anyone looking for the best burger in town, but since turning vegetarian my favourite dining experience has got to be Nourish.
When it comes to my favourite places to visit or spend time at in Banff, I’d have to say the Cave and Basin or the Banff Springs Golf Course. Both places are seriously beautiful and great for a stroll close to town.

WR: What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you while photographing?

CP: Luckily I’ve not had many crazy moments when I’m out taking photos. I try my best not to put myself in those situations, or in scenarios that could potentially turn ‘crazy’. Sometimes though, things happen that are unforeseen, and there’s been a couple of times where things could have turned sour.
One that comes to mind was not long after I moved to Canada, and I got fairly close to a cow moose in a meadow in Kananaskis. I had made quite a long silent approach towards her, and I was fully visible so that I didn’t spook her. She was comfortable enough with me to carry on doing what she was doing, as I’d shown her that I wasn’t a threat.

What I hadn’t seen though, was the big bull moose that had emerged from the trees behind me and was making his way towards her. I got quite a shock when I eventually heard him thrashing his antlers in the willows just a few yards away. My exit was now blocked, and I had a river to my right that was way too deep and fast flowing to try and cross, especially with my tripod and camera. What ensued was a very intense twenty minutes where I stood still right in between the cow and bull, as the bull slowly closed the gap with his approach. Luckily, I didn’t have to get wet to make my escape in the end, as the cow decided to walk off in a different direction, which drew the bull away from my exit. As soon as I had enough room, I snuck out of there with a huge sigh of relief, and let him continue his advances alone.

Do yourself a favour and follow Cai on social media, @caipriestleyphotography + Cai Priestley Photography, you’ll be happy that you did.

The Winter 2017/18 issue of Where Canadian Rockies can be read here: http://rmvpublications.com/whererockiesdigital/

The Winter Issue of Where Canadian Rockies, featuring the photography of Cai Priestley

 

Banff & Jasper Wildlife Tours

By Afton Aikens & John Strugnell

This summer, check spotting wildlife in the Canadian Rockies off your bucket list on these guided tours. (If you’re wildlife watching on your own, just make sure it’s from a safe distance!)

Photo: Courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

Photo: Courtesy of Discover Banff Tours

Wildlife Safari

Grab your camera and join Discover Banff Tours’ Evening Wildlife Safari—their most popular excursion. This two-hour small group experience visits multiple Banff National Park locations; over 95% of trips spot wildlife. You’ll learn lots too, like how bighorn sheep horns are formed. (Spoiler alert: tiny hairs grow tightly together).

(more…)

Winter Wildlife Watching

Photo: Tourism Jasper

Photo: Tourism Jasper

By Afton Aikens

What could be more picturesque than seeing a bighorn sheep with impressive horns against a snowy mountain backdrop? Wildlife add such character to the landscape of the Canadian Rockies. Perhaps you’ll be fortunate enough to spot some this winter!

The Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park is a slower, more scenic alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise. Drive this route and you may be rewarded with more than mountain views. Aptly named Moose Meadows is an ideal habitat for these large mammals. Elk are more commonly spotted—watch for them east of Johnston Canyon. If you’re lucky, you might see wolves. Please don’t feed or get close to animals.

(more…)

Wildlife Viewing Tips in the Canadian Rockies

By Peter A. Dettling

Although archeologists have determined that First Nations used the Canadian Rockies regularly for 11,000 years, the idea that bears, cougars and other ‘predators’ were vermin to be eliminated was a European notion that arrived with the explorers in the late 1700s. As the non-Native presence in the Rockies grew, over hunting brought these large carnivores to the brink of extinction, and also depleted the ungulate population including elk and moose.

Thanks to the creation of protected areas, re-introduction efforts, hunting restrictions and changing attitudes towards large carnivores, we now find all pre-European settlement species in the Rockies, except free roaming bison. But don’t take a grizzly or wolf sighting for granted. Seeing large animals in their natural habitat is a privilege.

Since you are a visitor in their home, treat animals with respect by giving them space to decide what to do and where to go. When viewing wildlife from your car, pull off of the road, shut off the engine and silently enjoy the sighting. Stay in your vehicle, especially when watching wolves or bears. It will ensure a safe and pleasant experience for both you and the animal you’re observing.

Wildlife sightings in our mountain parks are frequent and widespread occurrences. Elk are common. In fall, visit Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka Loop or Golf Course Dr near the town of Banff, or Athabasca River flats near Jasper, to see bugling elk. Your best chance to see bears is in early summer north of Lake Louise on Icefields Parkway’s avalanche slopes and in roadside dandelion patches, or beside Jasper’s Maligne Lake Road (Map 5, 5P). Elusive wolves can sometimes be spotted early summer west or south of the Jasper townsite. Kananaskis Country often hosts moose, bears and wolves.

Try walking scenic mountain trails to feel truly connected with your surroundings and yourself. It is especially exhilarating to see animals on slopes and meadows away from the road.

Editor’s Note: Peter Dettling owns Canmore’s Terra Magica gallery and is the author and photographer of The Will of the Land. Visit TerraMagica.ca for details on his award-winning work.

10 Nature and Wildlife Safaris Across Canada

By KAT TANCOCK

Orca, British Columbia (Photo: Jonathan E. Shaw)

You don’t have to go as far as Africa for a world-class nature experience, whether it’s wildlife viewing or something a little less traditional. Bring homegrown excitement to your next vacation with these 10 Canadian wilderness and wildlife safaris. (more…)

Elk Herd in Bob Creek Wildland Park, Alberta

Every Friday we feature an inspirational travel photo of a Canadian destination taken by one of our readers.

Why we chose it: In the Prairies, land and sky can blur together in winter. This snapshot of an elk herd on the snowy horizon illustrates just that, in Bob Creek Wildland Provincial Park in southwestern Alberta (map). Winter can be a fantastic time for wildlife-viewing in Canada without the crowds—of humans, that is. (more…)

Photo Friday: Loon in Dogtooth Lake, Rushing River Provincial Park, Ontario Canada

Every Friday, we will be featuring a travel photo from our readers that inspires you to explore Canada. We want to showcase your adventures whether it’s of a park, a city scape, nature or an interesting character.  Join our Flickr Group so we can easily find you.  In exchange for use of the photo, we will credit your name and link to your photo.  If you have a particular theme that you would like us to showcase, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Loon, Rushing River Provincial Park, Ontario Photo: coollessons2004 (Flickr CC)

Fleeting Glimpses

Wildlife in Yukon Territory proves elusive

By Andrew Findlay

Autumn comes early in the Tombstones, painting the tundra in jewel colours. Photo by Robert Postma, courtesy Government of Yukon

Mist rolls across a landscape turned crimson by the chill of approaching autumn. It’s the middle of August; fall arrives early in the north. For most of the morning a friend and I have followed a small but elusive herd of woodland caribou through the alpine tundra of Tombstone Territorial Park, about a 90-minute drive north of Dawson City.

The mountains around us, black and brooding obelisks, live up to their ominous name—the Tombstones. Underfoot, there is a thick spongy carpet of mosses and lichens, delicate sieve-cup lichen and fluorescent reindeer lichen. For caribou, lichen is often breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We pause behind a ridge, lowering our bodies close to the ground, and watch. The swish of air through thickets of willow tricks my eye into perceiving the movement. Are those legs or the spindly stalks of willow shrubs?

I came north to see wildlife beneath the expansive skies and the virtually people-less landscape of the Yukon. At 186,272 square miles (482,443 square kilometers) the territory is almost twice the size of the United Kingdom, yet has a population of just 40,000, most in the capital Whitehorse. A similar number of people would be crammed into a single London borough. That’s why the Yukon has a special magnetism for people fatigued by the frantic trappings of modern life, a place to be humbled by landscape so vast that technology and the other distractions of civilization seem inconsequential in comparison.

Up here in the wild Tombstones, life for now has indeed been reduced to a few simple essentials—staying warm and scanning the horizon for animals. The mist rises, lowers, then rises again and suddenly they appear, a half-dozen caribou, black snouts aimed in our direction, their grazing interrupted by the scent of humans carried on the breeze. That is life as prey, constantly alert to clues and signals in the environment; survival depends upon it. Then just as quickly as they appear, the caribou vanish like the ultimate illusionists into the swirling mists of the temperamental mountain weather.

A week earlier I had gone in search of Fannin’s sheep, a Yukon wildlife anomaly, in the Anvil Range above the town of Faro that sits smack in the centre of Yukon. For thousands of years before lead and zinc put this region on the map, Fannin’s sheep ranged the adjacent mountains.

The story of their origins is infinitely complex. Initially scientists considered them to be a distinct sub-species of wild sheep, along with others found in North America—Stone’s and Dall’s, or thinhorn sheep, and the Rocky Mountain, California and desert bighorn sheep. Research has shown that Fannin’s are genetically Dall’s sheep, but with unique dark-colored flanks and mottled white neck that came about through the effects of interbreeding and isolation, before and during the last ice age that ended some 10,000 years ago.

Today more than 2,000 Fannin’s sheep spend their summers in the Anvil Range north of Faro and winters in the lightly snow-covered forests near the Pelly River.
Though I managed to spot a few Fannin’s sheep high on a windy ridge in the Anvil Range, the glimpse was fleeting. Wild sheep are loath to grant predators the advantage of height and I was no match for these creatures of the mountains.

I have more luck with the woodland caribou. The sky has lifted and for the first time I see the razor-cut tops of the Tombstones. As we descend toward the valley bottom we cross a patch of old snow, dimpled with caribou tracks, and then we see them again briefly gathering on a hillock, wary as always. And that is the last trace we see of those animals, swallowed like us by the vastness of the Yukon sky and landscape.

Where the Wild Things are in Winter

Elk in Winter; image courtesy Jasper Tourism

We often see elk along the Icefields Pkwy just south of Jasper and bighorn sheep along Hwy 16 just east of town. At other roadside venues we’ve spotted coyotes, moose and mountain goats, and on rare occasions cougars, wolves and woodland caribou. Joe Urie of SunDog Tours suggests that the best way to get a glimpse of Jasper wildlife is in the company of an experienced guide. “Many Jasper guides have their own wildlife ‘hot spots’, secret places they keep closely guarded. Guides provide insights on the animals and ecosystems, making sightings more than just a photo opportunity,” he says.—Alison Baird

Clash of Horns

Courtesy Travel Alberta

Courtesy Travel Alberta

The large, curled horns of the male Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can weigh up to 14 kg (30 lbs), more than all its bones combined! Rams use their horns as a status symbol and weapon when fighting for dominance or mating rights. Combatants rear up and charge at up to 32 km (20 mi) an hour. The clash of horns echoes through the mountains as the encounter repeats (sometimes for hours) until one ram submits and walks away. Murray Morgan of Jasper Adventure Ctr suggests watching for bighorn sheep by the Athabasca River bridge where Maligne Rd meets Hwy 16. —RM

5 Best Places to Spot Wildlife

Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside

Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside

Canmore author John Marriott has photographed animals since he was six years old—find his Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside at local bookstores. His top picks for wildlife viewing are:

1 Lake Minnewanka Loop: Bighorn sheep (especially at the Lake) and elk

2 Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Castle Mountain: Deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep and elk

3 Bow Valley Parkway between Castle Mountain and Lake Louise: Black and grizzly bears

4 Vermilion Lakes: Bald eagles, waterfowl, elk and coyotes. Try sightseeing by canoe

5 Icefields Parkway between Weeping Wall and Columbia Icefield: Mountain goats and bighorn sheep