While 2016 was a no good rotten year for almost everybody we know (us included), it wasn’t without it’s beauty and it’s small joys. Though we spent less time in the field than any year before, we were able to capture some remarkable moments – and in a first – at least one image stood out every month.
To close out this year, we thought we would share with you our 12 favourite images; our favourite shot from every month.
We’re sure many of you has gone through considerable change this year. We’ve gone through some significant changes that were thrust upon us. But forced change can often be a good thing. We’ve embraced the change by leaving the wonderful wild city of Toronto (and the many creatures we got to know in their environments), for Calgary, and it’s proximity to the mountains and the bears we love. We are incredibly excited to share with you the adventures that await us, as well as help tell stories, create connections and spark conversations around the issues that affect the animals in the landscape of the Rockies and in the broader world.
In 2017 we are committed to making Ghost Bear more relevant. We will hopefully be taking it from a passion project off the sides of our desk, to making it a bigger part of our lives. This will include spending more time in the field and doing our best to connect the images and stories we gather to issues you care most about. We will also be broadening our service by creating more opportunities for inspiration, education, and engagement.
We would love to hear from you through our social media platform. What do you think is missing in the landscape of nature storytelling? How do you think we draw better connections between what inspires us and what concerns us? With fewer and fewer educational resources to go around, how do we close the gap? And in a world of information overload, what role do you see us playing in cultivating a positive, forward looking community that seeks to better the balance between people and nature?
Ultimately, Ghost Bear started as the desire to share our love of nature, and thanks to your incredible support over the years we’ve been able to take this project to places we have never dreamed. We are excited to build something even greater with you.
We look forward to building something better with you.
Best of Ghost Bear – 2016
Finally taking time away from marten photography in Algonquin, we spent considerable time in the winter of 2016 trying to find red foxes – and our efforts were rewarded with some exceptional encounters. The one that produced this shot began with a 4am wake-up call and a long drive in the pre-dawn hours to the park from our apartment in Toronto. At sun up, our car told us the temperature was a frigid -34 and my double-gloved-yet-still-frozen hands agreed. We found a set of fox tracks heading into the woods and we followed them for a few hundred yards until we reached a clearing covered in knee-deep snow. Before us was not one, but two foxes – the vixen and one of the kits from last spring – digging up the remains of stashed snowshoe hare. Just as I set up my tripod in the icy snow, the foxes started to play, backlit by the rising sun. The moment lasted less than two minutes before they disappeared deeper into the forest, leaving me cold, wet, and with a massive smile, knowing I’d captured an intimate, natural moment between wild foxes. – Simon
Pine martens haunted my dreams for years before we realized that a three hour drive north of our now former home in Toronto lives, perhaps, the densest population of this member of the mustelid family. In fact, one particular spot in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park houses 10-12 individuals within one square kilometre of each other – shocking, given that martens are territorial and density usually ranges between .4 and 2.5 martens in an area of equivalent size. Clearly, the park agrees with the martens, likely in large part due to the sizeable populations of their preferred prey, such as hares and red squirrels, not to mention the odd suet bird feeder, which they commonly raid. If my photography past has taught me anything its to never take for granted a few precious moments with a fast moving and often elusive creature like a marten. – Simon
We were fortunate enough to take a trip to the Rockies during my former school’s March break. Simon was speaking on behalf of Ghost Bear’s mission and helping build a leadership program at the Banff Centre, but I was able to spend quality time in the field steal in search of life. Though I had some success in spotting wildlife (second earliest sighting of a grizzly in Canada in 2016!), it wasn’t until Simon and I were able to take a day drive to Jasper together that the luck really turned in our favour. We discovered a herd of beautiful, mature bighorn rams playing out their rut in March – and right next to the road. The show was one of our favourite moments in nature and lasted hours, but the photographic highlight was when they decided to go for a drink of water. Crossing the road (demonstrating the constant reminder to slow down while driving in national parks), the bighorn walked in a perfect line across the long sand bar of Jasper Lake and to the distant water, the Athabasca River. After having their fill, the rams walked back towards us, setting up one our of favourite images of all time. – Jill
Jill and I were fortunate to find a fox den in suburban Toronto, thanks to the help of a good friend, and spent every moment we could over a two month span documenting the incredible – and unique – behaviour of this family in its urban setting. Both of us being supporters of and advisers to the Wild Cities initiative, this fox den was an incredible opportunity to create the visual documentation of the importance of their work, showcasing wild animals successfully adapting to their surroundings. It was also a lesson in how we, as their neighbours, can live in harmony with urban wildlife. Though how this fox family utilized den sites was far different than, say, foxes we’ve observed in the Rockies, what remained a constant was the fox family’s love of play and the pure joy they would express whenever a parent or kit would return after an absence. – Simon
We often hear about vixens (female) and dogs (male) having their kits (young) in the spring and working together to raise their litter through the summer or until they’re old enough to survive on their own. But this spring we witnessed a new fox family unit: Two vixens raising 13 kits from two different litters. One litter, we believe, was born four weeks later than the first, hence the size and colour difference. It was one of the most incredible displays of animal behaviour we’ve ever witnessed and underscored for us how much we, as a society, have to learn about – and from – wild animals. – Jill
Though our sixth summer of living in a tent and documenting wildlife ended far differently than we expected, the start was one for the ages. Our first wildlife encounter in the Rockies in 2016 wasn’t in Yellowstone (we elected to pass on the US park this year after for a host of reasons we’ve written about in previous posts), but rather in Kananaskis Country – and it didn’t feature a grizzly bear, but a cow moose and her two newborn calves. Maybe it was a sign of the photographic successes to come in the months ahead, but the setting couldn’t have been more perfect for a private and respectful encounter with these monarchs of the Canadian wilderness. Sadly, this cow lost one calf later in the summer (natural causes, from what we understand), as we found the family again on our last day in the Rockies. – Jill
Our morning with these incredible bears ranks easily as the greatest wildlife encounter of the summer – and probably the best of our lives. When Simon has time, he’ll put pen to paper on the full story of this encounter, and the many that proceeded and followed. And a great story it is. What we were able to witness and document over the course of several days was even better than the photography – it was a living lesson on grizzly bear social dynamics and insight into behaviour previously unseen, according to the several Parks Canada wardens we spent time with during what we dubbed the ‘week of the grizzlies’. This image of two unrelated grizzlies playing and interacting outside of mating season also reaffirms the need to bust many of the myths that our society holds as truths about the great bears that rule the Rocky Mountain wilderness. – Jill
August produced many memorable moments, including a week observing a mink den and a stunning wolf encounter. But we landed on this image for a host of reasons. Aside from the unique backdrop, what really stood out for us about this encounter with one of Jasper National Park’s biggest bull elk and his harem was the ability to observe these animals in a restful state. So often in the mountain parks people get far too close to the large ungulates and it was a true joy to watch these magnificent creatures from a distance and at peace. When the bull eventually decided it was time to resume eating, his move to stand up showcased not only his power and size, but also helped create a scene that encapsulated the story of the rut in one image – Jill
Jasper National Park, as I’ve written before, is one of our favourite parks anywhere for landscape photography, given its interesting light, impressive mountain backdrops and endless lake foregrounds. The many and varied vistas are different each season and each year, due to the ever changing landscape and climate, and that creates an ability for the photographer to capture their own unique take on a landscape photographer hundreds of thousands of times each year. With a bite in the air, we rose early one morning to capture this stunning sunrise on Pyramid Mountain, reflected in a shallow bar of the Athabasca River. In all my years of visiting Jasper, this was the first day I was ever able to safely access this portion of the river and create an image I long dreamed of documenting. – Simon
The month of October was a busy one. Simon hosted a major event in Banff and we had the task of driving across Canada twice – first to return home to Toronto and then to move to Calgary, after a few weeks of packing. As such, it was the only calendar month of 2016 that we failed to spend a day in search of wildlife – yet we still managed to capture one of our favourite images of the year…and of a wolf, no less. On our drive back to Toronto from Banff we were fortunate enough to stumble across this beautiful light wolf in northern Ontario. Our sighting was in almost the exact same spot as where we observed its pack the previous year (that encounter was in the middle of the night) – an area that is thankfully protected. But for an animal as far ranging as a wolf, a small protected area does little to safeguard against Ontario’s regressive wolf hunting policies that extend to the small park’s border. As such, we limited our time with this wolf to a few images so not to give the animal a false sense of security around people and made sure it was able to cross the highway safely. – Jill
Spray Lakes Trail between Canmore and Kananaskis is one of our favourite destinations to search for wildlife. Though we’ve had poor luck on the road, we always feel lucky. After moving to Calgary, our second outing in search of animals in our new backyard took us to Radium, BC to document bighorn in rut. Though we captured a few interesting images and managed to test our new snow tires in a blizzard, we elected to head home via Kananaskis at sunset in the hopes we could stumble across something truly unique. Our reward for the road less taken was the most memorable encounter during the month of November: two coyotes frolicking and playing together on the frozen and snowy Spillway Lake. The sight of joy and love between two animals never gets old. – Jill
Our final image of 2016 was also our best from December. While Jill was away for a week in December, I was able to get into the field for a day thanks to our good friend, Kerri Martin. Along with excellent photographer Jamie Pentney, we had an incredible day with a merlin, several rough-legged hawks, a couple of snowy owls and a great horned owl. But the highlight was an afternoon with at least seven short-eared owls – a first for me. Of the many images I took capturing very cool behaviour, it was my final shot of the owl circling against the backdrop of the sun setting behind the Rocky Mountains that stood out for me. To my eyes, it symbolizes the beauty we were able to find in a hard year and as the sun sets on 2016, I also like to think this image is a reminder of the dawn of hope that the New Year brings to us all.
Happy New Year!