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 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 Hare
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 Bear
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 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 Goat
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 Woodpecker
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.
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.