Wildlife, Banff National Park
Chipmunks, much like squirrels are the entertainers of the forest but what to us is entertainment, for the chipmunk is the work of storing food for the winter. They just move so fast it appears comical to us but make no mistake, these are serious omnivores whose diet includes nuts, insects, grain, small frogs, fungi, worms and bird eggs. One of the things that makes them so cute is also one of its greatest food-gathering assets. Their cheek pouches expand their entire face but make it possible for them to carry a lot more food to their dens or food caches.
These cute critters play an important part in the ecosystems they are part of and feeding them is a selfish way to get a photo or make yourself feel like a do-gooder. You are actually hurting them by forging bad habits and taking them from what they were put on this planet to do. We know deep down that a carrot is better for us than a candy bar but many still choose the latter. Chipmunks do not know candy bars and the like unless we expose them to them. Let chipmunks eat what is right for them and keep man-made garbage solely for polluting our own bodies.
If you have never been in an alpine area, you have not likely seen a pika and even if you have been to one, you may not have been so lucky. But if you are a hiker in such area, chances are you have certainly heard one. Their shrill alarms to their comrades of oncoming hikers has earned them the name of the “whistling hare” as they are cousins to rabbits.
The very small mouse-like creature is lightning quick and a great climber, making them well-adapted to their rocky mountain habitats. They do not hibernate so spend much of their day in search of food and places to store it all for the long winter months. They are a delight to watch and the best way to do it is just sit down, keep an eye out and don't move too much. They scurry as soon as they know you are around.
The Spray Lakes Trail (also called the Smith Dorrien Trail) is a well-maintained gravel road that winds up out of the south end of Canmore and eventually meets up with the Kananaskis Trail at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. I've never actually checked the distance on my odometer, but you should allow about an hour to get from Canmore to Peter Lougheed PP.
To find the start of Spray Lakes Trail, follow the signs from downtown Canmore to the Nordic Centre. Just after you pass the turn off to the Nordic Centre, the road forks and you need to take the right fork (towards Kananaskis Trail). The first mile or so of this road is pretty steep and a little rough but then things level off and smooth out and the road is fabulous.
There is a fair bit of traffic on this road but it is still relatively quiet and in the middle of nowhere, which makes it a GREAT place to see wildlife, particularly at dusk and dawn. On one trip through here fall of 2008 we saw 6 moose, a black bear, 2 elk and a wolf. All within about 2 hours.
There are also several lakes, hiking trails and picnic areas along this road. It makes for a great day trip, so pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon exploring a few of the trails. Consider any wildlife you see a bonus!
The squirrels are always on the look out for a free meal. We watched with intense interest as they selected their prey..........scampering through the picnic tables & scurrying up the back of the benches - then cheekily sitting right beside unsuspecting humans - I think the trick was to give them such a fright - they would drop the food - hey presto human vending machines just for squirrels.
Five species of Ground Squirrel (or gophers as we always called them) live in Alberta:
Richardson's ground squirrel; Columbian ground squirrel; golden-mantled ground squirrel; thirteen-lined ground squirrel;and Franklin's ground squirrel.
Most of the species (there are 21 altogether in N. America) hibernate during the winter underground.
I love these little creatures...even if they can be a nuisance to farmers and ranchers. Besides, they were here first!
If there is one animal that visitors to the Rockies hope to see (from the safety of their cars) it's the Grizzly.
Immense, powerful, uncommon, it symbolizes mountain wilderness.
To most of us (who have been face-to-face with them!) it's easy to distinguish grizzlies on the spot! However, many visitors get them confused with the black bear. The grizzly, however, is larger with a distinctive hump on the shoulder. This is the most distinctive field mark from a distance. And make sure you DO keep your distance...a very LONG distance from them!!!
Like the black bear, the grizzly spends a lot of his time eating to get fattened up for winter hibernation. The diet is also similar with plants (80% of their diet), berries, flowers, insects, and small animals being eaten.
When grizzlies wake up in the spring they head for the avalanche slopes for a frozen "TV dinner". Over the winter, the odd bighorn sheep, the odd mountain goat, and even the odd mountain climber falls victim to winter avalanches. These nicely preserved morsels give them the protein boost they need after their winter sleep.
The trickster, as the Blackfoot tribes of Southern Alberta knew the coyote, is a common sight throughout the Rockies.
We have friends who live on the outskirts of Calgary and they often see them around.
Look for a medium-sized grey dog with a grizzled coat with a reddish tinge to its fur. The underside is white and the tail is thick and bushy.
Coyotes are easily the most versatile predator of the Rockies. In terms of adaptability, they are very quick to take advantage of unique situations. They have been known to follow the grizzly bear, and, while the grizzly digs at the front door of a ground squirrel's home, the coyote catches it trying to make its escape out the back door, leaving the grizzly still hungry!
They will also play dead; wait for the raven to come and pick at its carcass; then, in turn, end up picking at the raven's carcass!!
For some strange reason they have been stealing golf balls from the golf courses in Banff! The biologists think it may be because they look like eggs, but they aren't sure as yet.
Nothing looks like a cougar but a cougar!
If you see a really big cat with a long tail, it's a cougar.
Their body is lean and muscular, tawny in colour with a light underside. Their face has a black mask, and the long tail a matching black tip.
Cougars are extremely efficient hunters and their prey is usually one of the large herbivores such as deer, elk, or moose. They will also take sheep or rarely goats. Smaller prey will be taken at times of desperation, but without a stable population of large herbivores, the cougar cannot survive.
While adult cougars have few natural enemies other than man, the kittens are very vulnerable to predation by male cougars.
They may also fall victim to wolves, coyotes, or even eagles and hawks.
While the black bear favours forested habitat at any elevation, it's most common in the montane or valley bottom areas. Consequently, black bears are often seen beside highways, along back roads and trails, near camps, and around towns.
With the amount of time dedicated to hibernation, a lot of eating is needed the rest of the year to get it through the winter. They eat a diet that is mostly plants, but a fourth of their diet will consist of carrion and insects.
In the spring, they'll eat fresh shoots and buds, and strip the bark from trees to eat the nutritious inner bark. And by summer and fall they dine on fruits and berries.
After getting all fattened up for winter, they will generally hibernate from early November to mid-April.
There are around 63,000 black bears in British Columbia (a few are quite close to where I live that are spotted on the hikes I go on and eating the apples off the neighbours' trees), and about 47,000 in Alberta. Though they are common in their present range, they once lived all across North America.
Since 1800 they have lost half of their range..
This very common ugulate has a light brown coat and white rump with a very short tail.
The horns of the female are short and goat-like, often causing them to be mistaken for the less-common mountain goat. Only rams grow the full curl horns for which this animal gets its name. It takes 7 to 8 years to reach this impressive stage and with being hunted as trophies outside of the park boundaries, you will probably only see them within the park boundaries.
The sheep are browsers and eat a variety of vegetation. Their predators include wolves and cougars, and occassionaly the coyote or eagle will try to pick off an unattended lamb
Banff national Park is Bear country. There are signs all along highway 1, the Bow Valley Parkway and Highway 93 telling you this.
Black bears are the one bit of wildlife most people want to see on this stretch of road - and we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse! wow!
We saw bears twice - once on the way to Jasper and once on the way back from Jasper to Banff. The first opportunity (picture opposite) was just one bear walking arounf just 20ft from the roadside.
The second sighting was even better. We had the priveledge of seeing an adult bear and a junior. Not sure how old the small bear would be, but it was pretty small.
A word of warning though - read the signs!!!! STAY IN YOUR CAR!!!!!!!
The bear in the picture opposite isn't to easy to see. Look in the middle of the picture near the bottom.
Bighorn sheep were the first animals we came across in Banff.
We were just getting in the car to leave Lake Minnewanka when tseveral of them appeared on the road.
There was a bit of a panic as several people had just came out from Scuba Diving in the lake, so there were lots of people not in their cars - including us! Being respectful to the wildlife and warning signs we headed straight to the car and kept out of there way!
We continued to drive aroun Lake Minnewanka road and ended up passing around 15 - 20 bighorn sheep in total!
We were driving back from Lake Louise when we suddenly stumbled across 4 Elk grazing at the side of the road.
The Elk were accompanied by the usual crowd of car abandoing tourists!
We read about these people! Although tourists ourselves, we like to think we have a good bit of respect for the wild. Some of these guys stopped their cars in the middle of the road and jumped out!
Such a shame, as they scared 2 of the Elk away! These are lovely animals, and very peaceful looking - we passed more the next day, so keep your eye out for them!
Enroute from Banff NP to Jasper, these white mountain goats were spotted on the hills we were passing. We obliged our wonderful driver (she was a traveller who loved Canada so much she signed up as a tour guide with a local tour company!) to stop for a kodak moment.
We saw this bear while we were on the way from Jasper to Banff.
The traffic had slowed down and a lot of tourists had gotten off their vehicles. We wondered what the fuss was. Apparently a baby bear was near the road and everyone was excitedly taking photos... the poor life got petrified and ran into the forest (see hill in background). Soon we saw at least 3 or 4 other bears. They seemed to be having some kinda alliance on "we look after our baby bears well, So keep your cameras to yourself" attitude ;p
I took this shot while sitting in the middle seat of the front of a 12 seater van.