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My Favourite Wildlife Photos of 2023 – The Triumph of the Small


I saw some big creatures this year: grizzly bears, mountain goats, even a rare lynx, but what consistently caught my eye were smaller animals, often right beside the trail. These close encounters were rewarding for the beauty revealed in fur and feathers, and for the behaviours exhibited. In the order that I crossed paths with them, here are my favourite five…

1. Least chipmunk
Least chipmunk feeding on a juniper berryChipmunks are certainly cute, but if you watch them closely, they have an interesting approach to berries: they’re only interested in the seeds. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wild strawberry or a buffaloberry, they don’t eat what we think of as the “good” part – the fruit portion of the berry – they just eat the seeds. I watched this one on the Rockpile trail at Moraine Lake in May. It would grab a juniper berry off a bush, munch through the tough skin and pulp until it found the seed, and then throw the rest of the berry to the ground.

2. Violet-Green Swallow
Violet-green swallow in BanffWhen people talk about “wildlife,” they usually mean mammals, but mammals aren’t always easy to find. However, if you include birds in your definition, you are sure to see ‘wildlife” in the park every single day. Add binoculars or a zoom lens into the mix, and your bird sightings will wow you!

I spied this male violet-green swallow in June in Banff, and was impressed by its vivid metallic green back. I was glad that it parked itself for a few moments, as they are really hard to photograph in flight: they can rip along at up to 45 km/h. No wonder their Latin name is Tachycineta thalassina. Tachycineta is from the Greek “tachos,” which means speed.

3. Columbian Ground Squirrel
Columbian ground squirrelAt the beginning of July, in a meadow below the Victoria Glacier, near Lake Louise, a wary ground squirrel and I tried not to move as we observed one another. When you get close to Columbian ground squirrels, you really notice a beautiful, dappled pattern in their fur. They’re definitely worth a second look.

Here’s the wild part: even though it was only early July, this one was more than halfway through its brief summer above ground. They are hibernation champs, spending seven to eight months of the year asleep.

4. White-tailed Ptarmigan
White-tailed ptarmigan near Mcarthur Lake, Yoho National ParkOver the years, my go-to destination for ptarmigans has been Lake O’Hara, where I’m lucky enough to see them pretty much every summer, especially up at Oesa, Opabin or McArthur. This one, in early August, seemed utterly unperturbed as we crept by on the trail. Just look at those feathers!

5. Pika
Pika grazing on the Rockpile at Moraine LakeEarly September means a final trip to the alpine salad bar for pikas. This one grazed amid the hustle and bustle at Moraine Lake, allowing me and my hiking group a wonderful close-up. I especially like the long whiskers.

My Favourite Wildlife Sightings of 2022

Hoary marmot

It’s time for my fave animal photos from last year. I always love going through my pictures (all taken on my teensy Panasonic Lumix camera), but it’s always tough to pick the final shortlist. Let me know if you’ve got a favourite from the bunch.

1. Snowshoe Hare
Snowshoe hareI think this one will be hard to beat. I got home from snowshoe guiding on a snowy day last January, and while I was shovelling, I noticed a roosting snowshoe hare beside the woodshed. They often rest in the daytime, and this little cutie decided that this was the perfect spot. The next day, I was doing the dishes and looking out the kitchen window when I realized that a clump of snow underneath my car was… the same little snowshoe hare!Snowshoe hare roosting under the car

2. Yellow-Fronted Bumblebee (Bombus flavifrons)
Bumblebee and glacier lilyThis early bird (er, bee) was out gathering nectar and pollen at the end of May in Yoho National Park. Given the early date, this is a queen bee, born in the late summer of the previous year. She and her sisters are the only bumble bees from a colony that survive the winter, and after hibernating, each of them will try to start a new colony in the spring. Talk about resilience! Plus, if you need proof that bees are important pollinators, this picture is worth a thousand words.


3. Hoary Marmot
Hoary marmotThese photogenic and jumbo-sized squirrels could make my list every year. There’s something endearing about marmots and their big buck-toothed grin. Right now, they are in the middle of almost 8 months of hibernation, making them the deep sleep champions here in the Rocky Mountains (take that, grizzly bears!).

4. Grizzly Bears
Female grizzly bear and cubSpeaking of grizzly bears, sometimes the Lake Louise Ski Area lives up to its billing as a good place to spot bears. I was on the “Grizzly Express” summer sightseeing lift in July when I spotted this mama griz and her cub.

5. Chipmunk
chipmunk stuffing its cheeks with seedsFall is my favourite time to watch chipmunks, because they get really focussed on collecting seeds for the winter. It’s super charming: they harvest and husk grass seeds, then stuff them in their cheeks until they can’t squeeze in any more. These seeds are carried to the hibernation den and piled up until there are a couple of litres (!!) squirrelled (er, chipmunked) away for the winter. They wake up and snack frequently during their hibernation period.

6. White-tailed Ptarmigan
White-tailed ptarmiganOkay, I have to start with the only ptarmigan joke I know…

Q: Why can’t you hear a ptarmigan going to the bathroom?
A: Because the “p” is silent.

At the end of September, you know that winter is just around the corner, and for proof, I like to watch the white-tailed ptarmigan moult from summer brown to winter white. It takes a few weeks, but once it starts, it’s time to break out the long-johns and the extra puffydown jacket.

My Favourite Panoramas from 2022

Marcus on top of the world

A happy new year project for me every January is posting my favourite panoramas of the past twelve months. Panos are great at capturing the sweep of the landscape, and most of the time, I like to place a person in the frame for scale. Enjoy these half dozen photos from 2022!

February: Afternoon light on Mount Hector. With the sun low on the horizon throughout the day, winter is a magical time for mountain photography.Mount Hector

March: On a ski tour with my friend Marcus north of Lake Louise, we enjoyed the proverbial “sea of peaks” all around us. It’s an experience that makes you feel big and small at the same time.Marcus on top of the world

August: Lake O’Hara is one of my favourite places, and here you can see why. Thanks to the Bedrich family for agreeing to do the stiff climb to All Soul’s Prospect. This spot gives you a sense of accomplishment and beauty in equal measure.High above Lake O'Hara

September: This is O’Hara again, only a few weeks after the previous photo. My guests Eric, Alice and I had never seen anything like it: a full-on snowstorm to the north of us; a mix of clouds and sun to the south; and the three of us standing at the dividing line between the two weather systems!snow and sun at Lake O'Hara

November: Lake O’Hara a third time, in mid-November. My friend Chuck and I cross-country skied up to the lake, which was frozen and in deep shadow. All around us were glorious peaks.Chuck at Lake O'Hara

November: That’s yours truly on the same day, after a magical afternoon skate on Lake Louise. The lake ice was spectacular in mid-November, and in ten days I managed to skate on five different lakes and one river.Joel on the ice of Lake Louise


My Favourite Wildlife Sightings of 2021

Bull elk jousting in the fall

It’s time for my annual lookback at some favourite wildlife encounters from last year. Going through my photographs this week, it’s clear that my luck runs highest in spring and in autumn. Here are seven favourite moments from last year.

1. Mountain BluebirdMale mountain bluebird

In early May, while out for a bike ride, I spied this male bluebird on one of the fenceposts alongside the TransCanada Highway. It’s like a piece of sky took the form of a bird, and flew down from the heavens. The blue that comes into our eyes from the bluebird’s feathers is called “structural colour.” It means that there’s no actual blue pigment in the plumage, only blue light that the internal structure of the feather amplifies and scatters. If you put all of this bluebird’s feathers in a blender, and chopped them up small enough, they’d be white. Crazy, eh?


2. Snowshoe Haresnowshoe hare in new summer coat in May

Usually shy and timid, snowshoe hares occasionally head for the spotlight. This one showed up in my backyard one morning in late May, and grazed on the lawn. The light was so good that I could see white guard hairs that hadn’t fully moulted yet, and the brown iris. I’d always thought that hares had black eyes. It was a joy to observe this animal up close. Normally you see a hare for about 5 seconds while it runs away from you.


3. “Split Lip” the Grizzly BearMale grizzly #136 in May
deneme bonusu veren siteler
If you live in Banff or Lake Louise, you know about the park’s two most famous grizzly bears, The Boss and Split Lip. Officially, their names are numbers (#M122 and #M136), but everyone uses these nicknames. I see them every once in a while, which usually means I’m safely in my car along the Bow Valley Parkway, but this time I was on my bike, and it was pretty unnerving. Split Lip got spooked by a train just as I rode by, and darted across the road into the woods. Since I didn’t know where he was, I backed off. Eventually, he came out of the forest and started walking down the road, right towards me. I don’t think he was interested in me – it was just an easy route for him, but I had to flag down a passing pickup truck to put a metal shield between me and #136. When we passed the bear, he was not even five metres away, with just this little pickup between us.


4. Golden-mantled Ground SquirrelGolden-mantled ground squirrel

This is the most commonly-seen mammal in the park, I think. So much so that you stop even paying attention to them. But this curious ground squirrel showed up on one of my guided hikes in June, and I couldn’t help but snap a photo. Seeing it blown up on the computer monitor, I could really appreciate the long claws and the beautiful midnight black eyes. It was a great reminder to pay attention to the world around us, whether small or big, common or rare.


5. Mountain Goatmountain goat in September snow

Most of the goats I see are perched up high. They are called “mountain” goats, after all. But on a snowy day in September at Lake O’Hara, one of my clients spotted a goat trucking along a trail we’d been on only five minutes before. It was in a hurry, which makes sense. Goats aren’t swift runners or powerful jumpers, so if they’re on the flats, they are vulnerable. Their safe havens are the crags where only goats can go, so when they are between cliffs, they hustle.


6. Pileated Woodpeckerpileated woodpecker on a tree trunk

After the end of my hiking season in early October, I headed down to Kootenay National Park with friends to do some camping. We picked the right spot, because for about half an hour one day, we had the pleasure of watching a giant pileated woodpecker hacking away on stumps and downed logs right beside our campsite. If you ever wondered whether or not birds evolved from dinosaurs, this is the proof you need: it’s Woody Woodpecker meets Jurassic Park.









7. ElkBull elk jousting in the fall
bonus veren siteler

Fall is the rutting season for elk. It runs from late August into early October, but there’s enough testosterone coursing through the system that some elk are still scrapping and posturing in November. That’s when I saw this trio just off the Lake Minnewanka Road. Even from 75 metres away, I could hear the antlers clacking.

Hope you enjoyed the virtual wildlife tour. Let’s see what I find in 2022.

My Favourite Panoramas from 2021

Fireweed beside the trail to Boulder Pass in August

It’s that time of year, when I post my favourite panoramas of the past twelve months. It was a tough cull this year — there’s just so much beauty out there! If you’ve never been to the “Canadian Alps” (as they were once called in tourism brochures), I hope these shots inspire you to plan a trip here. And if you’re a Rocky Mountain veteran, may they bring you fond memories of this extraordinary place.

March: on the Dolomite Circuit, a ski tour around Dolomite peak, north of Lake Louise, with my friends Hannah, Marcus and Anna.

Skiers on the Dolomite Circuit north of Lake LouiseApril: Snowshoeing along a lovely stream in Yoho National Park with Paul & Eva.

June: Stephanie admiring the view at the Abbot Pass Lookout, above the Plain of Six Glaciers.The Abbot Pass Lookout above Lake Louise

July: Lake O’Hara reflecting Schaffer Ridge and Mount Odaray like a mirror.

Schaffer Ridge & Mt Odaray reflected in Lake O'HaraAugust: a bumper crop of fireweed beside the trail to Boulder Pass.

Fireweed beside the trail to Boulder Pass in AugustSeptember: Larch trees in all their golden glory in the Skoki Valley on September 24, which was one of the peak days for colour this year (it ranges from about September 19 to 25).

Larch trees turning gold at SkokiLet’s see what 2022 brings for grand vistas and glorious scenes. Happy New Year, everyone!


My Favourite Wildlife Sightings of 2020

Western White Butterfly

In November, a pine marten showed up in my woodshed, and when I snuck out the front door to get a better look, it didn’t budge. I had five magical minutes with this creature, in some cases only a couple of metres away from it.

My trusty digital camera was being repaired (in fact, I had to get it fixed twice in 2020), so I have no photos of the marten, but I did manage to capture a few special moments this past year:

1. Northern Hawk Owl

Not an everyday bird, but if you get lucky enough to spot one, it usually puts on a show, perching proudly from a treetop. This was in late January.

2. Grizzly Mom and Her Two Youngsters

This was special: mom and her brand new cubs beside Highway 40 in Kananaskis in early June when the road is closed to cars (but open to cyclists!). Wonderful.

3. Red Squirrel with Nest Material

Another shot from the spring, and another mom, in this case a red squirrel gathering grass for its maternal nest. These tree nests – known as “dreys”, if you’re looking for a new Scrabble word – look like grass volleyballs.

4. Western White Butterfly

The little things are easy to miss in the Rockies, but there’s a lot of beauty in the world of the tiny.

5. Mountain Goat Fur

Okay, so technically not a wildlife sighting, but this shot of moulted mountain goat fur is just the tip of the iceberg. Last summer there was gobs of the stuff draped all over the place, giving a certain atmospheric quality to the landscape.

6. Hoary Marmots Play-fighting

It was WrestleMania at Consolation Lake in July, as three hoary marmots played pugilist among the boulders. Downright entertaining!

Last year, at the end of my post about my favourite wildlife shots, I wrote this: “My New Year’s wildlife resolution is to finally see a wolverine!” Well, guess what? I saw two wolverines in 2020 (no camera either time). Since that resolution was such a success, I want to channel this year’s resolution towards something more globally important. Here it is: I wish for the terrible toll of Covid-19 to end as soon as possible.

May you stay safe and healthy in 2021.

My Favourite Panoramas from 2020

Consolation Lakes from Panorama Ridge

It’s time for my (mostly) annual top panoramas of the year. Panos are a great way to capture the grandeur of the landscape here. May they remind you of your time in the Rockies, or entice you to visit, no matter the season.

March: The Whitehorn Trail, on one of my last tours before the coronavirus hit.

April: the trail to Surprise Pass, during a ski tour above Lake Louise.

July: hiking down from Helen Lake, with a group of healthcare workers.

July: Maligne Lake and Valley, from the Bald Halls, in Jasper National Park. Maligne is the largest lake in the mountain national parks, and is truly magnificent.

July: Mounts Quadra, Fay & Babel, and the Consolation Lakes below, from Panorama Ridge. It took me and my neighbours two tries to get up this benign looking ridge this summer, but the views were worth it.

August: North Molar Pass, 30 km into a 42 km day hike with my “monster hike” friend Hannah. How long does it take to hike 42 km? 15 hours. And you feel it the next day.

November: Bow Summit, where my friend Josee is snowshoeing in pretty deep powder. Winter came early this year: this photo was taken on November 1.

Kootenay National Park turns 100!

Postage stamp featuring photo of Floe Lake by Roger Hostin

There’s a lot of news that is getting missed as the world deals with the Coronavirus pandemic, but I didn’t want Kootenay National Park to get lost in the shuffle.  Today, Kootenay turns 100 years old, which is definitely a birthday worth celebrating.

September at Floe Lake, in Kootenay National Park

The park was created out of a “land for service” swap inked on April 21, 1920.  The province of British Columbia transferred about 1400 square kilometres of land to the federal government in exchange for the feds building the “Banff Windermere Highway,” today’s highway 93S, from Castle Junction to the town of Radium.  This road has given Canadians and world travellers a century of access to some sublime scenery and nature.

Perhaps the most dramatic area in Kootenay is the Rockwall trail.  It’s one of the most celebrated trails in the Canadian Rockies, and for the 100th birthday of the park, a part of the Rockwall trail has been featured on a Canadian postage stamp.

Photographer Roger Hostin, centre, beside his beautiful shot of Kootenay’s Floe Lake

My friend and long time Parks Canada co-worker Roger Hostin, a very talented landscape photographer, had his image of Floe Lake chosen for the stamp.  If you still send letters, look for it at your favourite post office!

And if you want to see more of Roger’s work, check out

Happy Birthday Kootenay!

My Favourite Wildlife Sightings of 2019

Female grizzly #142 and one of her cubs

Some lucky locals got to see the Bow Valley wolfpack near the Lake Louise campground on New Year’s Day, and it reminded me that it was time to post my annual “favourite wildlife” stories. From the memory card of my little Panasonic Lumix camera, here’s what stood out for me in 2019:

1. #142 and Her Two Cubs

One of our local female grizzlies, named “#142” (researchers use numbers to identify some of the park’s bears), spent a lot of time near Lake Louise this spring, with her two yearling cubs in tow. She even put in an appearance on the lawn next to the Chateau Lake Louise! I was lucky enough to see her on several occasions, and she was always on the lookout for male bears, who will sometimes prey on cubs. I love her vigilance – she is a very conscientious mom.

2. A Thirsty Black Bear

This young black bear showed up during an early morning birdwatching trip I was leading at Johnson Lake in July. It was very well behaved, and just wanted to get to the water’s edge for a drink. I like the reflection just before the snout broke the water.

3. The Goat Gang

A big herd of goats right beside one of the trails at Lake O’Hara was a show-stopper in July. They were so close that we could hear them grazing. Amazingly, the adult goats were just moulting their winter fur. Remember, this was on July 20! Makes you realize how short summer is around here.

4. A Marmot Family Compact

Hoary marmots live in nuclear family groups, and everybody has got everybody else’s back. I interrupted this family (there were five of them in total) in the rocks near a little meadow beside Temple Lake, and they checked me out to make sure I wasn’t going to eat them.

5. The Humble Bumblebee

Everyone loves the bigger animals, but let’s not forget the little stuff, which makes the world go around. This glorious patch of “river beauty” (a relative of fireweed) wasn’t just a feast for the eyes, it was a feast for the ears: the patch was full of pollinating bumblebees, and this scene literally hummed. Check out the bright orange pollen on her hind legs.  This gal is making things happen!

Here’s to 2020, and whatever nature brings. My New Year’s wildlife resolution is to finally see a wolverine! Well, we’re all allowed to dream a little, right?

A Month of Amazing Mushrooms

Sculpted Puffball mushroom, Calbovista subsculpta

As August comes to a close, and the rain comes down today, we have to be grateful for the extra precipitation this month, as it has led to one of the best mushroom displays we’ve had for years. The fungi love the moisture, and we’ve seen species that are totally new to us.

Sculpted Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta

It started just over a month ago at Lake O’Hara, with a spherical mushroom that looked like a geodesic dome, and was the size of a baseball! We checked in with the Alberta Mycology Society, and were told that it’s a Sculpted Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta.

That was the beginning of the floodgates opening – this month we’ve seen mushrooms that are purple, orange, green, red, and a hundred shades of brown. They’ve been as big as dinner plates, and as tiny as tapioca pearls.

What follows is a photo album of some of our favourites. If we know what they are, we’ve labelled them, but if we’re in the dark, which we are for most of them, do not let their anonymity distract you from their beauty.

Giant Shingle Tops, Sarcodon imbricatus

A species of slime mold, once considered a kind of fungus, but now classified independently.  They can out-weird even the weirdest mushrooms: slime molds can move!