All Posts By

Joel Hagen

Canada Geese Corner the Real Estate Market

We’ve been doing a lot of birdwatching this spring. Now that we’ve passed through the migration phase and much of the courtship phase, it’s time for the nesting phase. And here we’ve got to tip our hats to the Canada goose, a bird that we’ve noticed is willing to nest almost anywhere, even if means claiming real estate that already belongs to some other member of the animal kingdom.

First up is a nest on a muskrat “push up.” I took this photo in May at the Cave and Basin marsh near Banff. Muskrats make push ups in ponds and wetlands in the winter, shoving up mud and reeds above the level of the ice. They are usually meant for one (muskrat, that is), but this top floor reno is very goose friendly.

Next up is a nest I snapped  in April on a beaver lodge in Minnekhada Regional Park, near Vancouver. We like how the goose actually ended up blending in pretty well. This lodge looks big enough for at least a duplex, but geese like a little bit of space between neighbours.

Finally, we’d heard that Canada geese will even try to take over osprey nests, but unlike in the case of muskrats and beavers, the existing tenants aren’t so keen on this. Last spring, at an osprey nest in Charlo, Montana, a pair of geese found out the hard way that not all real estate is up for grabs!

The Travelling Wolverine

If you look up “mystery” in the dictionary, it should just say “wolverine,” based on how hard it is to find one. Nadine finally got lucky last summer and saw a trio of wolverines near Moraine Lake, but I (Joel) am still waiting for my first sighting after 26 years in the Rockies. One day I hope to be close enough to get a photo like this (thanks, Wikipedia!).

But that doesn’t mean I’m striking out completely.  Every year or two, I see tracks, and some of them are so fresh that you wonder if you’ve missed the mythical beast by hours, or only minutes…

Two weeks ago, on a backcountry ski trip just outside of Banff park’s western boundary, we got up early to ski over to the Campbell Icefield, and in the beautiful low-angle morning sunshine, there were fresh wolverine tracks.  Based on the snow we’d been getting, they were hours old, tops. But what was really impressive is where they had come from, and where they were headed: this wolverine had climbed up out of the Valenciennes drainage, made treeline, crossed about 4 km of the Campbell Icefield (at 2500 metres above sea level!), and then headed due south down towards Waitabit Creek.

There was no break in the tracks — it didn’t look like the animal had even stopped for a rest! But that’s all part of being a wolverine. Here in the Rockies, a male can have a home range of over 1500 km2, so being a travelling wolverine is the norm.

We should soon be finding out more about wolverines here in the park.  PhD student Mijam Barrueto is about to begin a multi-year study, using automated cameras and barbed wire hair traps to capture both pictures and DNA from these enigmatic animals. Stay tuned!

 

Mystery Tracks near Bow Lake

On the weekend, I took my friend Mark up to Bow Lake to go snowshoeing. It’s a dramatic spot, and there’s always at least a few wildlife tracks around. We saw traces left by snowshoe hares, white-tailed ptarmigans and pine martens, but there were also the signs of some other creature…

The mystery trough…

We found a trough in the snow, with pigeon-toed tracks running down the middle of it. Whatever left the tracks behind had to be relatively slow, and relatively heavy, and at that elevation, there’s only one creature that fits the bill: a porcupine.

I have to admire this one. We were at almost 2000 metres, and the snow was 165 cm deep. That’s one tough porcupine. I’m sure it is looking forward to spring, when it can switch from eating bark and the needles of evergreens to much more digestible leafy plants.

 

 

 

 

Outta my way – I’ve got a date with some salad!

The bug that says, “Spring is Here!”

Spring is just around the corner, but last week we saw the official harbinger of this change of the  seasons. We saw a snow crane fly.  That’s right, even though it was below freezing, we saw an insect.  Just to remind you of how amazing this is, insects are cold-blooded, so when the temperature is below 0 degrees C, that’s usually the end of the line for any insect that’s out in the cold.

But snow crane flies are different.  They produce glycerol (a sugar alcohol) in their blood, which makes them tolerant of below zero temperatures… But not too far below zero!  If the temperature falls below about -7 or -8 degrees C, they risk “flash freezing.”

And this is why they are a harbinger of spring.  For most of the winter, our temperatures sit well below -7 or -8 degrees C.  It’s only when it starts to get warm that they can be out and about.

If you are out on snowshoes or skis at this time of year, watch for what looks like a spider walking across the snow.  Snow crane flies have to walk everywhere, because they are wingless.  This may seem unimpressive, but they’re pretty speedy: they can cover over a metre a minute (which is pretty good when you’re only 8 or 9 mm long).

Pretty soon our first migratory birds are going to show up, and our ground squirrels will pop out of hibernation, but until then, let the snow crane fly call out, “spring is here!”

Dateline Banff: Wolf Spotted on Bear Street

We are in the middle of the Annual “Snow Days” festival in Banff and Lake Louise, and that means wildlife shows up in unexpected places, courtesy of talented snow and ice carvers. Banff’s snow sculptures on bear Street are really impressive this year, and include a wolf, a lynx, and a trio of bison.

Here in Lake Louise, at the Ice Magic Festival, there are frozen bears, wolves and Northern Lights.

The carvings and sculptures usually stay in pretty good shape for a couple of weeks, so if you are in the park, check out downtown Banff or the shore of Lake Louise for some frozen art.

By the way, if you are wondering what wildlife is really showing up on the streets of Banff, an RCMP officer picked up this image of a cougar on his dashcam video a couple of weeks ago.

 

A year in Panoramas – 2017

Happy New Year everyone, and in what we hope will become an annual tradition, here’s a little look back at 2017, from the widest angle:

1. Lee on the way up the Cataract Valley in January

 

2. Near Bow Lake in March

3. April in the Pipestone Canyon

4. The Valley of the Ten Peaks in early June

5. Ptarmigan Lake from Packer’s Pass in July

6. Jasper’s Skyline trail in August

7. Mount Whitehorn in September

Then I lost my camera, and didn’t get a new one until the beginning of December…
8. Frozen Hector Lake in December

9. And an oldie, but goodie…