Studying wildlife one photo at a time

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Photographer Janis Watt has been able to capture Central Alberta in al of its glory on her 10 acres west of New Norway, Alta. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian

Photographer Janis Watt has been able to capture Central Alberta in al of its glory on her 10 acres west of New Norway, Alta. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian

Paradise for Janis Watt comes on a 10-acre plot of land just west of New Norway.


The Ontario trucker has spent her adult life travelling ribbons of asphalt across this country, but it was not until she slowed down that she actually started to see the world she was driving through. She has spent all of her free time in the last couple of years photographing it and sharing what she sees through the lens.

What struck her the most, as much as she was watching the animals, they were watching her just as much.

"They were looking at me, and I clicked, then I zoomed in and I clicked … then I started finding out what they were," said Watt, who was part of the first leg of the Art Walk this year, with her pictures displayed at Fiona's Coffee and Gifts.

"It's hard to digest at times, but it's amazing what I see out here."

The self-taught photographer has published two books, including "Ten Acres of Wildlife: Flora and Fauna", that chronicle life out on the acreage she has called home for the last five years. There is far more out on this skiff of land than one may think. She has recorded more than 150 species of birds — from great horned owls to wax wings – on the property on ebird Canada and dozens of different types of other animals or critters, as she calls them.

Watching the different animals and studying the way they interact in their environment is her entertainment. She has learned much about the different species and their nuanced differences and behaviours. Watt has captured the full range of the animal experience through her camera from nesting, to reproducing, to hunting and foraging to just hanging out and existing.

"I didn't think all of this came together in one place or went by," said Watt. "This acreage has either permanent or migratory residents (all) year, and I can identify when they were here."

One of her favourite things to do is watch a resident long tail weasel as it goes about its day-to-day and hanging from white in the winter to brown in the summer and fall.

"If I can find him, I will," she said. "He's very inquisitive … he does a lot of interesting things."

Watt got into photography almost by happenstance. Her landlord was trying to fix her old digital camera, but shattered it in the process. He surprised her by replacing it with a much better model and her passion was born.

"He said 'sorry' and he said 'here' and he gave me a box and that box contained a Canon camera that I own now," she said. "He noticed I was taking notice. My profession is nothing like this. I never took pictures like this in my life."

Her work has also been published in "Nature Alberta Magazine" on four occasions in addition to her two books.

Every picture she has captured and printed was shot on the 10 acres of land that they reside on. Her landlord has carved trails throughout the acreage that she walks every day that go up and over hills, around ponds and through tall grass. The property exists as a snapshot of the Prairie landscape and the multitudes of life that can be found within it.

Watt says this part of the country is often overlooked.

"(People) think it's just grassland, I think it's a long road – Highway 21 to Highway 2 – but if you get off at certain exits you'll find something, but it has to be through your eyes only," she said. I've travelled a lot and I found this through my eyes. People saw it and said I should put something together."

The Hamilton native has led a rather nomadic life and is not quite sure where the next turn will take her. However, she has been bitten by the shutter bug, and as she shifts gears from being a big rig pilot, a camera is almost guaranteed to be in hand and likely in this province.

"I've always been intrigued by Alberta," she said. "This is my eighth year out here, but my third truck out, it's always been a pleasure to be here and I knew it was going to bring me back."


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