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Nadine Fletcher

Meet the “Alpine Five”

herd of mountain goats crossing snow patch in July

You’ve heard of the Avengers. You’ve heard of the Fantastic Four. You’ve heard of the X-Men.

But maybe you’ve never heard of the Alpine Five. In the past week, we’ve been lucky enough to get up into the high country on several occasions, and we’ve seen all five members of the superhero troop that we’ve dubbed the Alpine Five.

These five mammals and birds have figured out a way to live in the highest inhabitable parts of the park, and for us, seeing them all in just a few days is something that only happens once in a blue moon.

From smallest to largest, here are the Alpine Five:

1. The American Dipper, which plunges into cold, fast-flowing streams to feed on aquatic insects.  We watched one last week at Beauty Creek in Jasper, diving right into the rapids and staying under for up to 15 seconds at a time.


2. The Pika, or “rock rabbit,” which stores piles of leaves and grasses for winter, earning it the nickname “farmer of the alpine.” This little cutie was on one of the trails off the Icefields Parkway.

3. The White-tailed Ptarmigan, which matches its feathers to the environment in both summer and winter. This male was on an outlier of No See ‘Um Peak, at about 9000 feet above sea level!

4. The Hoary Marmot, which is a hibernation wizard. They can sleep for eight months of the year, dropping their heart rate and body temperature to unbelievable levels. This one was busy feeding near McArthur Pass, in Yoho National Park.

5. The Mountain Goat, which climbs “free solo” 365 days a year: no ropes! We were charmed by an entire herd at Lake McArthur last weekend. First, they crossed a steep snow slope before arriving at a lush green meadow. Then, the show stopper was two brand new kids, born in June, playing King of the Hill.


Banding Banff’s Most Beautiful Duck

aquatics biologist and guide Nadine Fletcher releasing banded harlequin ducks

I am holding a stunningly patterned male Harlequin duck just above the fast moving water of the Bow River. When the signal is given, I open my hands and he launches himself downstream to land in the whitewater. So beautiful.On Monday this week, I had the opportunity to help band Harlequin ducks on the Bow River here in Banff National Park. They are listed as a species-at-risk in Canada.

It was a beautiful, warm spring day that unfolded at a careful pace. Herding and netting ducks on a river requires tactical precision and co-ordination.

First you’ve got to string a “mist net” across the river. Then you need to get multiple people positioned, in boats and on shore, to gently move the birds downstream. Finally, at just the right spot, you’ve got to get them airborne so that they will fly into the net – and not over it!

We successfully netted a new pair of birds. Cyndi Smith, our Harlequin banding specialist, took measurements and attached brightly-coloured leg bands. Moments later, I helped release the ducks. When they head back to the west coast for the winter, they’ll become part of an ongoing effort to monitor the population.

After banding… ready to go! Harlequins are named for the male’s patterns which are reminiscent of the Arlequino character from the Italian commedia dell’arte.