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November 2021

The Return of Cutthroat Trout, World Record Bird Flight, Advent Nature Calendar, and more…

Larch trees at Lake O'Hara
Great Divide’s Fall Newsletter, 2021

Happy November from Lake Louise, and Happy Thanksgiving to those south of the 49th parallel. Speaking of thanks, to all those who joined me on the trails this summer, please know that I am very grateful that you chose to hike with Great Divide.

It’s fully winter now in Lake Louise, and to announce the season with a flourish, I saw a lynx (a very winter-loving animal) cross one of the runs at the ski hill yesterday. Also, in the last week I’ve been snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, lake skating, and backcountry skiing. How’s that for winter?

My 2021 / 2022 snowshoeing season starts in less than a week (Dec 1), and conditions are great. I’m taking reservations for the whole season, and if you’re looking for an experiential Christmas present for someone special, you can purchase a Great Divide snowshoeing gift certificate.



Parks Canada aquatics biologist Shelley Humphries is all smiles at the “hatchery” in Corral Creek

Cutthroat Trout Homecoming at Hidden Lake

“311 fry were released last week!”

This was the good news that arrived at the end of August in an email from Shelley Humphries, the aquatics biologist for Parks Canada in Lake Louise. For over five years, Shelley has been working to return native cutthroat trout to Hidden Lake, a small gem behind the Lake Louise Ski Area. This summer marked the final step of the project.

I already knew the good news was coming because, a couple of weeks earlier, I volunteered to help carry film equipment for a video shoot featuring the reintroduction. We trekked along the creek that drains Hidden Lake, where Shelley and her team were rearing cutthroat trout eggs. There, we filmed an ingenious collection of buckets, tubing, and special mesh that were holding the eggs. New life was waiting to pop out!

The fish fry that hatched are endangered westslope cutthroat trout, which were once found in almost every stream and river in the mountain parks. During Banff’s early days, people fished with wild disregard for conservation, and other fish species were introduced into the park’s waterways. Cutthroat trout took a big hit from those actions.

Cutthroat trout eggs.

Today’s national parks are in the business of protecting their native species, so putting these fish back into some of Banff’s lakes and streams is an important and inspiring story. In an underwater way, it is the equivalent of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone, or of bison into Banff’s backcountry.

The “Mighty 311,” as I’m calling them, are like orphans coming home for the first time. Go, little fishes, go!



Great Divide’s Online Advent Calendar

Advent starts on November 28, and for the second year running, I’ll be posting my Advent nature calendar on Facebook and on Instagram.

There’ll be engaging photos and stories about wildlife, mountain scenery, wildflowers, and birds. Look for it on Great Divide’s Facebook page , with the hashtag #adventnaturecalendar, or on my instagram account. Let me know if you want this to become an annual tradition!


New World Record for a Migrating Bird

Bar-tailed Godwit, a flying machine. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Two months ago, a bar-tailed godwit – which is like a jumbo-sized sandpiper – broke its own world record for non-stop flight, set only just last year. On September 28, it landed in Australia, 10 days after leaving Alaska!

In an almost unimaginable trip, the godwit travelled a distance of just over 13,000 km in 239 hours. Top speed? Over 88 km/h (55 mph).

What can one say except “wow.”

In the last 15 years, thanks to miniaturized satellite trackers attached to the birds, biologists have been able to closely follow this amazing migration.

You can follow it too: the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre in New Zealand has a Facebook page that posts live updates each spring and fall.



Great Divide’s Favourite Nature Book of 2021: World on the Wing, by Scott Weidensaul

It is a tradition of this fall newsletter to recommend a book for the nature lover on your Christmas list. Continuing with the bird migration theme, this year I’ve chosen an absolutely absorbing book about feathered travel.

Whether he’s talking about hummingbirds or Amur falcons, travelling to Alaska or to Africa, putting GPS units on snowy owls or counting a river of warblers on the north shore of the St Lawrence River, journalist and bird biologist Scott Weidensaul paints a vivid picture of one of the Earth’s greatest natural spectacles: the annual movement of billions of birds.

He documents how birds travel across deserts, mountains and oceans, defying the limits of endurance, but he also covers the human element: how people have developed ingenious leg bands, tiny geolocators, and the citizen science of e-bird, all to help us figure out where the birds are going.

I loved it!


Covid-19 Update

I received my second Covid shot in June, and I’m not alone: a huge majority of people who live and work in the mountain parks of Banff, Yoho and Japser are fully vaccinated. On top of that, Canada is in the top 20 nations worldwide for per capita vaccination rates. Since late summer, our nation has also re-opened its borders, welcoming guests from the United States and abroad. So if you’ve been waiting to come to the Rockies, now’s the time to start planning. All of my Covid-19 safety measures are laid out on the Great Divide website.

Have a safe and happy holiday season with your loved ones, and I hope you’ll join me this winter for a snowshoe tour. My best wishes to everyone.