by Dr. Robert Berdan
September 30, 2018
Wedge Pond Panorama in September
Kananaskis also called K-country is about an hour drive from Calgary. K-country is a collection of parks and natural areas. There are no fees required to enter the park and most of the pictures shown in this article were taken a short distance from my car. Some vistas e.g. Sarrail falls required a short 20 minute walk.
K-country was established in October 7, 1977 to provide recreational opportunities for Albertans and to alleviate congestion in the National Parks. The region is thought to have been named by John Palliser for Kin-e-ah-kis, an indigenous warrior who was fending off an axe attack. The area is multi-use which means the park is used for logging, oil and gas, hunting, fishing, skiing, golf, hiking, biking and camping. The park is also popular for film makers and photographers. A photography permit is only needed if a photographer is doing commercial work, requires park supervision, requires exclusive use of an area, requires props, models or may interfere with other park visitors enjoyment. For most photographers a permit is not required. See commercial photography guidelines and fees for Alberta Parks.
In this short article I share some recent pictures and also some pictures I have taken in previous years on my excursions to the park. In spring you have opportunity to see certain birds e.g. Harlequin ducks, Tundra swans and Golden eagles that migrate through the park. Also grizzly bears like to feed on dandelions along side the roadway in June. Deer, moose, elk and bighorn sheep are common around the road side so be especially careful when driving in the dark or fog.
When I ever I stop at Wedge Pond I think of the Late George Brybycin who climbed hundreds of mountain peaks in the parks, slept at the top and photographed from the peaks. He produced 57 coffee table books from his photographs. I met George Brybycin at Wedge pond one autumn morning about 20 years ago while we both tried to capture the first light. We later became good friends and my hope is that one day his accomplishments will be rewarded and they will name a mountain after him. The pond is made made as a result of gravel they used in the nearby Kananaskis golf course. Although small and inconspicuous it is a real gem in late September and it is stocked with Arctic Grayling, but it is catch and release only.
Wedge Pond from the upper ridge. The lake is partially surrounded by Aspen trees which turn bright yellow in autumn. Photograph taken about an hour after sunrise 4th week in September.
Wedge pond 4th week in September with moon above. 20 mm wide angle lens F11, tripod.
Autumn in Kananaskis at Wedge Pond with Mt. Kidd in the background.
Trail around Wedge Pond showing some of the back-lit aspens - 20-35 mm zoom lens.
Wedge Pond at sunrise. The shallow pond is often smooth as glass.
There are a number of roads into K-country. The easiest route is to take Highway 40 off the Trans-Canada. You can also access parts of the park via Bragg Creek and also via Turner valley. Highway 40 is paved and takes you to the Highwood pass and then onto Longview and Turner Valley where you can return to Calgary. The Highwood pass route is closed from December 15 to June 15th. There is also a dirt road (Spray lakes Trail - 742) that is open all year and it connects Kananaskis with Canmore via a steep mountain road that is open all winter weather permitting.
What I like about this park us that it is closer to Calgary then Banff National Park, it's less crowded, and I tend to see more wildlife in this park. It is especially good for viewing moose, deer (white tail and mule deer), Bighorn sheep, Elk, spruce grouse, coyotes and occasionally wolves. I see moose on about 50% of my trips to the park. With wildlife keep in mind that they are mobile - just because you don't see them doesn't mean they are not there. Some trips I don't see any moose and on other trips I might see 6 or more moose. The more often you visit the park the luckier you are likely to be. Also keep in mind that wildlife tend to be seen more often in the early mornings and evenings whereas during mid day moose often retreat into the forest.
If you hike into the back country you should bring bear spray and tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back. Also you should check your self for ticks at the end of each day. Ticks can attach to your clothing, back packs or camera bag and then crawl into your hair. Ticks will often wait until you are sleep before they bite and suck your blood! If you are bitten - see your Doctor as ticks may transmit Lyme disease and Rocky mountain spotted fever. Ticks seem to be more numerous in spring and need to be taken seriously.
Grizzly bear on the side of the spray lakes road. It was casually lifting rocks and looking for "grubs" or other edible food. The bear looked well fed and healthy.
\When photographing bears for your safety stay in your car and photograph from the window. If a park ranger comes by they are likely to ask you to move on as they are concerned the bears may become habituated to cars and could be run over or they might attack you. I recommend that you take some pictures and move on to minimize your interaction. I think it is unreasonable to ask people not to stop as many have never seen a bear and it is exciting to watch them in the wild from a safe distance. Never feed any wildlife including birds - you could be fined if caught.
Mule deer along side the road
Pika at the Rock slide near the Highwood Pass - these critters were collecting grass for winter. They make a high pitch sound "Peeek" and I have always found a few willing to sit and pose. You have to look for movement or listen for their sound because if they are sitting still they blend in perfectly. They are sometimes nicknamed "Rock rabbits". The front of their dens can often be seen to be stuffed with grass.
Least Chipmunk at Upper Kananaskis lake
Young bull moose drinking water next to the road in Kananaskis
Bull moose accompanied by several females adjacent to the Kananaskis river - photographed from highway 40. Female moose will sometimes fight each other over a bull moose.
Mother moose and calf at the edge of the parking lot at Upper Kananaskis Lake - 300 mm F2.8 lens.
Mother moose and calf crossing a meadow near the Spray lakes road turnoff.
Bull moose in the bush with a female
Bull moose at Upper lake walked straight toward me
This moose kept walking toward me before veering off and walking down the road below.
Bull moose walking down a one way road with the lower Kananaskis lake in the background.
Below are some common birds I have photographed in Kananaskis. Grey jays and Clark's Nutcracker are common all year long. Grouse are common along side the roadways near Upper lakes and along the Spray lakes road.
Ruffed Grouse in a tree.
Male spruce grouse is medium sized with red eyebrows. When approached by a predator it relies on immobility and camouflage and are sometimes referred to as a "Fools hen" for this reason.
American Dipper near Spillway lakes - these birds will swim underwater to catch small fish. They are also common in the Black Prince area along openings in the river in winter.
Harlequin Ducks Kananaskis river - Alan Mackiegan (almac.ca) showed me where to find and photograph these beautiful birds.
Common loon photographed at Barrier lake near the dam in spring
Panorama of the Upper Kananaskis Lake
Mt. Lyautey Upper Kananaskis Lake early morning. Photographed with a 4x5 camera.
Upper Kananaskis Lake at sunrise
Upper Kananaskis Lake
Rock Island Upper Kananaskis Lake
Upper Kananaskis lake with cloud cover
Upper Kananaskis Lake with Mt. Putnik in the center
Lower Kananaskis Lake photographed from the north end
Lower Kananaskis lake photographed from the North end - 300 mm Telephoto lens.
Sarrail Waterfalls Upper Lake Kananaskis
Moose in the meadows adjacent to the Spray Lakes trail after an early autumn snow fall
Moose meadows along the Spray lakes drive (road 742) - I have seen up to 6 moose at one time in the meadows.
Moose meadows near Mt Engadine Lodge - a nice lunch stop with a view of the meadow.
Kings Canyon and Highwood Pass
Kings Creek Canyon from highway 40 in September
Kings Creek Canyon
Fresh snow fall in Kananaskis in September along highway 40
Slopes next to the Highwood pass
Alpine area around Highwood Pass
Road to Highwood pass from Longview
Miscellaneous Locations in Kananaskis
Meadows near the Emergency Center in Kananaskis across from Nakiska Ski Area
Barrier Lake shoreline
Mount Kidd reflected in ponds around Kananaskis river early morning
Mud lake along the Spray lakes road (Smith Dorrien Trail 742)
Shallow spillway lakes are often smooth as a mirror in the morning reflecting the surrounding mountains. One day I hope to photograph a moose wading in the water here.
Silhouette of a photographer at Kananaskis Lower lake. I underexposed the photo with the sun's rays behind the photographer to create the silhouette and bring attention to the watery reflections.
If you are planning to photograph wildlife: 1) have your camera ready in the car and 2) have a telephoto lens attached. Wildlife encounters can sometimes be brief, the animals can run across the road in front of you view and disappear quickly. I have seen wolves and Lynx cross in front of me and both were gone before I had a chance to photograph them and I was ready and prepared.
Basic Recommendations for Visitors to K-country
1. Bring your camera and binoculars. You can get trail guides at the information center and updated information about wildlife sightings.
2. When stopping to photograph wildlife pull way over to side of the road for your own safety.
3. If hiking into the backcountry bring bear spray and let someone know where you are going and tell them when you expect to be back, especially if you are hiking alone.
4. When hiking be prepared for rain and snow all year, bring bottled water, snacks and a camera.
5. Please take any garbage you pack in with you when you leave.
For information about different K-country trails see Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trails Guides Vols 1-4, 4th edition Rocky Mountain Books. These books are available online and at most book stores and the Camera store in Calgary.
Looking for a short photo guide with maps and pictures of where to photograph in Kananaskis I offer an e-guide (PDF) specifically designed for reading on cell phones and tablets for only $2.99. The e-book can also be displayed on desktop computers.
Robert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert retired from Cell\Neurobiology research to take up photography full time years ago. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training - including photomicrography, macrophotography.