by Dr. Robert Berdan
December 4, 2016
Panorama at Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park, AB - I took several images with 8 mm fisheye and stitched them together using PTGui (Panorama tools graphic user Interface software). This was taken during another one of my winter workshops.
Male mule deer trying to impress a female - next to Bearspaw Road, Calgary.
Snowy owls can be elusive. To find snowy owls the best locations near Calgary are around Beiseker and then south of Calgary around Mossleigh in my experience. I drive on average of a 100 km in order to spot a single snowy owl. Sometimes I don’t find any. The best time of year to see them is from November to around the end of March. Bring binoculars with you, stop frequently and scan the fields, fence poles and telephone poles. Most of the time Snowy owls are on poles though I have seen them in trees and on barn roofs. They are perfectly camouflaged in winter when they land in a field – so be patient and take your time. If you get a tip that one is in a specific area that can help, but there are no guarantees. These big beautiful owls will hunt voles, muskrats and even cats.
Snowy owl in flight photographed near Mossleigh, AB.
Snowy owl in flight after leaving a telephone pole (DM) - in this instance a blue sky makes a nice background.
Snowy Owls on the ground are difficult to spot in winter - look for movement and use binoculars to spot them.
Snowy owl in flight against a white winter sky. I like it when the sky merges with the landscape in winter.
If you drive to Mossleigh in search of Snowy Owls don't forget to stop and photograph the grain elevators. Panorama created by stitching 4 - 8 mm lens photos with PTGui. There are two places in Mossleight you can stop to warm up and eat; Aspen Crossing and the Outpost. There is also a gas station.
Snowy owls are peculiar in that sometimes they will let you get close and other times they will fly off as soon as you open your car door. My advice when you see one is to stop the car about 2 telephone poles away, get your camera out and then slowly walk toward them. Be sure to take some photos while you do this and don't slam the car door! As you get closer move more slowly and watch for signs that the owl might take flight – they raise their wings then lift off. A long lens of 300 mm or longer is recommended to get photos of the owls, though sometimes I have been too close with a 70-200 mm. Sometimes the birds won't move at all and let you get right under them.
It doesn’t hurt to ask locals for snowy owl sightings. If you do find one that is cooperative try to minimize the time you spend with the bird so as not to disturb their hunting, I try to limit my time to 15-20 minutes.
Winter field - can you see the snowy owls? Just kidding if they are there you probably wouldn't see them. I was attracted to the simplicity of this photograph and wide open space that seems to go on forever. There is no single focal point in this picture so your eyes can wander . I used a pair of binoculars to search for a snowy owl on the fence poles in the distance.
Best places for pheasants in winter that I have found is south of Mossleigh and on the road to Dinosuar Provincial Park near Brooks, AB (see below).
Ring-necked Pheasant taken from my car window next to the road out to Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks, AB
Sunrise along Highway 2 near Red Deer. I took this photo while driving to Red Deer College one morning in order to teach Photoshop. I usally bring a camera along with me on winter road trips just in case I see something worth photographing.
White-tailed deer near Bragg Creek, AB. Note you don't always need to fill the frame with animal, sometimes leave some space around them to show their environment. 70-200 mm lens.
Horses in snow near Millarville, AB
In March, south of Calgary near Frank Lake I have seen hundreds of tundra swans and other waterfowl gather on the ice. These birds can be photographed from next to Highway 23. East of Calgary I often spot Short Eared Owls around marsh lands north of Strathmore, but these birds tend to be wary.
Tundra swans gather on the ice near Frank Lake, AB around middle of March.
Simple is some times nice - 70-200 mm lens.
A dreary winter day on the prairies north of Calgary.
Mule Deer in Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks, AB are easy to approach and photograph in winter.
South of Calgary you can head into Kananaskis Country along highway 546 from Turner Valley. I have photographed moose, coyotes and owls along this route. The park itself is closed in winter, but the drive to the park can be scenic. Virtually anywhere outside of Calgary in winter there are opportunities to see and photograph wildlife and that is something we shouldn’t take for granted. Kananaskis country and the Spray lakes road are good places to see moose in winter, especially near the Engadine lodge. I tend to see Moose more frequently early in the morning, but I have photographed them throughout the day in winter. In one instance I had a client with me from England who wanted to photograph a moose and was pleasantly surprised when one came over to lick the salt off my jeep (see below). I see moose in Kananaskis in about one in three trips to the park, so if you have not seen them keep going out and try to go out early in the morning to increase your chances.
I brought a guest from England to Kananaskis Country in hopes of photographing a Moose. This moose came up to my Jeep to lick the salt. I wouldn't recommend getting closer than this.
Moose in meadow near Upper Lakes Kananaskis - 70 200 mm Lens.
Elk are common in Banff National Park, several are shown here at Hillsdale meadows. Elk are also common in Kananaskis near the Golf Course in winter and are usually easy to photograph. Again don't get too close as they can charge you.
If you are looking forabstract photographs created by ice bubbles the Vermilion lakes in Banff is a good place to look. On the left is a friend and fellow photographer Hälle Flygare photographing air bubbles trapped in the ice. Be sure the ice is strong enough to support your weight.
Abstract patterns in ice created by air bubbles can be beautiful.
Sometimes the patterns of air bubbles in ice can resemble images from outer space.
If travelling alone I keep my camera on the front seat with a telephoto lens on ready to shoot. Some owls will let you drive up next to them and take their picture. There are no secrets to getting good photos of wildlife in winter it simply takes lots of time and you can’t expect to get great shots on every outing. The more often you get out the luckier you will become. Learn as much as you can about the wildlife you looking for and that will improve your chances. Take a friend and you can split the cost of the gas and have some company – two people looking is better than one. Also consider taking a workshop if you would rather not drive out alone – see my workshops page if interested and I would be happy to take you out in the country in my Jeep for a reasonable fee.
Winter roads photographed with a telephoto lens compresses the picture making the telephone poles appear closer together. Top photo - converted the image to black and white. Both of these winter roads are just a few kilometers north of Calgary. 70-200 mm lens at 200 mm.
Cone Mountain near Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis. I included the road to lead into the picture and create a sense of depth in the two dimensional photo. 70-200 mm lens.
Great Horned Owl near Turner Valley, AB. Owls can be very difficult to see because they are so camouflaged. 300 mm F2.8 lens.
Prairie field south of Calgary in winter - I liked the yellow grass and the complimentary blue coloured sky. 20-35 mm zoom lens.
Winter sunset north of Calgary - there is snow in the air that ads a texture to the image. 70-200 mm lens.
Late afternoon photograph north of Calgary - you can see a snow fence in the distance. 70-200 mm lens.
Tuk is a black wolf photographed in Blaeberry valley with the Northern Lights wolf center. You can take a walk with the wolves for a fee and learn more about these beautiful animals. Also see my article on walking with wolves if interested. CS. 70-200 mm lens.
Crazy wildlife jumping into water at Lake Louise in winter, Banff National Park, AB.
Just a note if you are heading out in winter along some backroads it is a good idea to have snow tires, 4 wheel drive if possible, bring a cell phone, bag of sand, shovel, few snacks, hot drink and let someone know roughly where you are going and when you expect to get back.
I have tried to show you a few of the subjects you can photograph this winter and some places to check out around Calgary. I hope my winter photography photographs will inspire you to get out and takes your own photos, after all we get about 5 months of winter every year. RB
Reindeer from Point Lake Northwest Territories - Merry Christmas & Happy New Year (DM).
Robert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training.
Previous Winter Photography Articles
Click on the buttons below and share this site with your friends