Columbia Icefield and Peyto Lake

Columbia Icefield is an enourmous glacier that is situated near Athabasca, in Jasper National Park. The tour operator offers a package where you are transported using special vehicles that can climb steep hills of ice, let you walk in the glacier for half an hour, and then transport you to the Skywalk, a platform located at the edge a 280 meters deep canyon, where the floor is made of transparent materials, so you can see all the void below. While the tour itself does not grant you with a lot of photographic material, it can easily be a once in a lifetime experience. There is a different tour where you can hike all the way through the glacier, up to the icefield, but it takes 4 hours and special equipment to walk in the ice.

After the icefield, we headed back and went to Peyto Lake. This is another Turquoise lake, situated around 100 km northwest from Banff Town. We visited it during the afternoon, when the sun is higher up the sky, as it is the time the color of the lake is the most brilliant. A lot of conifers and some mountains serve as the background for this amazingly colored lake. Just as the other lakes, the color is formed due to sediment that comes from the nearby glaciers.

 

Moraine Lake

The place that needs no introduction. Moraine Lake is bound to be one of the prettiest lakes in the world. Going also by the name of “Valley of the Ten Peaks”, it helps to augment the mystery surrounding this lake. Sunrise is the best time of the day to observe the lake, as the slowly rising sun illuminates the peaks with golden light, changing also the color of the sky from blue to magenta in a smooth transition.

Lake Louise

World famous Lake Louise is one of the turquoise lakes that are found in Alberta. A mere 60 kilometers from Banff, it is no wonder why it gets crowded, even during the low season at the start of autumn. There is a trail that goes all the way from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to the end of the lake, which runs by its edge for about 2 kilometers. There is a lot to see along the trail, including friendly chipmunks and iconic Clark’s Nutcracker. But the lake takes center stage most of the time. Let me show you…

 

 

Johnston Canyon

To get to the falls in Johnston Canyon, you have to walk about 2 km. That sets this part of the workshop apart from the rest. Two kilometers might not sound like a lot, but add the weight of a full package of photography gear, snacks and water, and things start to become more difficult. It is worth though, and as one person that started enjoying nature by hiking, I have nothing to complain about. It also helps you become more aware of the surroundings. Sometimes when photographing the grand scale landscape, we forget about the little details that make it come alive. This part of the trip has both.

 

Banff Town, Bow River and Autumn

Banff Town is located right inside Banff National Park, in Alberta, Canada. The nearest airport is situated in Calgary, which is about one hour and a half away. The workshop included transportation from Calgary to Banff and back again using the Banff Airporter shuttle service, which is comfortable and reliable. The road to Banff was filled with scenery, from snowy peaks to small lakes and mixed Aspen/Pine forest. We catched a glimpse of Autumn as some of the Aspen trees had turned yellow already. The excitement grew up.

Once in Banff, we met with the whole group and our instructors, Luis Solano Pochet and Alvaro Cubero. Twelve ticos and two Peruvians, we all headed out for a delicious lunch and then explored Banff itself. Luis explained that Banff is most likely the only town in the world that’s been built inside a National Park. The reason it happened was because the town was actually built a number of years before the area was declared the first National Park in Canada. Parks Canada limits new construction work in the town, helping preserve the natural scenery that this place is home to.

Right by the middle of Town, Bow River crosses with its green/turquoise water. We marveled at the snow-covered peaks that we could see from the town, included the iconic Mount Rundle, which could be seen from different angles throughout the workshop. We also got to see Crows and Black-billed Magpies, which may be regarded as the equivalent to Great-tailed Grackles that we normally see in Costa Rican cities in terms of abundance, though not necessarily have the same bad reputation.

As the days passed, we explored quite a bit of Banff’s surrounding spots, getting different views of Bow River and the Pine Forest. We also went to the highs of Mount Norquay, a lookout point that transforms into a Ski resort in the winter. From the lookout point, we practiced panoramas and returned for a night photography lesson.I did not have much luck with the latter, but the panorama turned out to be a pretty good view of the city by daylight.

On the last few days, we stopped by a point were beavers where constructing a den. There we photographed up close Aspen tree that were glowing in the sun with their yellow leaves. Their white bark, interrupted by some black protuberances, is also an intriguing sight. And then we had Vermillion Lakes, which are a series of lakes connected by a canal and featuring trails inside the forest. The odor was not pleasant, but it had a great view of the mountains. For the last day, I just explored more of Banff, in the company of fellow workshop participants. Whyte Museum offered us a collection of desiccated animals, with impressive Grizzly and Elk, as well as countless birds of all sizes and types. Finally, we went to Cascade Gardens and explored for a bit, looking for colorful flowers and peaceful walking. Then my return trip to Calgary reached me, and I felt all the most nostalgic for leaving such a wonderful place, and such wonderful people.

 

 

 

Saskatchewan and Athabasca Rivers

Athabasca is the farthest north that we ventured into Alberta, about 250 kilometers in distance from Banff. It is situated in Jasper National Park, 30 kilometers before reaching the town of Jasper. Athabasca river is pretty long at 1,230 km, and its origins are found right at the Columbia Icefield. As its origins are glacial, its color is the expected Turquoise that we see in most other lakes and rivers in Alberta.

Saskatchewan is also a pretty long river. We passed by on our way to Jasper. A nice trail that followed the course of the river let us enjoy an unsurpassed view of the valley it goes through.

 

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Cleus castaneus)

We were expecting to see this large woodpecker, whose coloration is somewhat hypnotic. It did appear at the feeders, but with low light levels. Still, just seeing it perch and peck at the coconut in upright position was wonderful. Furthermore, we were able to see a complete family of about 5 individuals, where mom, dad and the fledgings were almost the same size. The following picture was taken on July 8th, 2017 during another Photography Workshop at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge with To The Wonder.

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This Female Chestnut-colored Woodpecker came to the feeder to eat coconut

Plain-colored Tanager (Tangara inornata)

The Plain-colored Tanager is a nondescript bird that is easily overlooked, as it lacks the size and flashy colors of other CR Tanagers like the Golden-hooded or the Passerini’s. At first sight, it might look a lot similar to the Palm Tanager, however the Plain-colored is smaller and plumper than the Palm. Also the Plain Tanager has not olive or blueish coloration in the body, being pure shades of grey with black iris an bill. They like to eat fruit at feeders like most tanagers. The individuals below were photographed during a Birdwatching tour with Fundación Rapaces de Costa Rica, at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, Boca Tapada, on November 25th and 26th. There they shared their space with all three species of Honeycreepers, Tanagers and Orioles, but anytime a big bird like the Toucans or Oropendolas arrived to the action, every single bird flew away.

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The Plain-colored Tanager is pretty small. Compare the size with the small parasitic plant attached to this branch

Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa)

The Plain-brown Woodcreeper is one of the largest woodcreepers inhabiting Costa Rica, but since it got almost no markings in its plumage, it is difficult to identify. This one perched on a dead bamboo log with an insect inside its beak, and stood there motionless for quite some time, seemingly undisturbed by my presence. The picture below was taken on July 8th, 2017 during a Photography Workshop at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge with To The Wonder.

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Blue Dacnis (Dacnis catana)

The Blue Dacnis is so cute! If there was a beauty contest between birds, it would have to compete with the Red-legged Honeycreeper, the Shining Honeycreeper and the Green Honeycreeper, however the Dacnis can give all of those a run for their money. It’s deep blue coloration is inspiring. The following pictures of a male were taken on July 9th, 2017 during a Photography Workshop at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge with To The Wonder.

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The Blue Dacnis easily got into my list of favorite birds. It looks gorgeous, even on flash in a dark environment