July 23, 2011

A Bird in the Hand

Banding station and coffee!
On Monday this week, I (Joel) got up at 3:45 a.m. This is not something I particularly like to do, but if you want to volunteer to band birds, sleep deprivation just comes with the territory. I slipped out of the house at 4:00, drove to the banding site, and in the pre-dawn shadows, fellow volunteers Peter, Jen and I prepped the site for a morning of banding.

Banff's banding station is located along the Bow Valley Parkway, and volunteers like me have been collecting data there since 1999. Six times a summer, from mid June until early August, a series of nets are set up for six hours at the site. Every half hour, the nets are checked, and we gently release the birds from the mesh and bring them over to our master bander, Greg, who identifies, weighs, sexes, and ages our feathered friends. Greg fits each bird with a numbered metal band, and then releases it.

Greg banding a warbling vireo

So why go through all the trouble? Well, for one, if you love birds, it's great chance to see them up close. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as the expression goes, and I believe it. On Monday, we caught a hummingbird, and it's bill was dusted with pollen from the flowers it had been visiting. Wow!

It's also great to watch the sun rise on the peaks, and hear the dawn chorus of birds singing.
Northern waterthrush

But mostly, I like to bird band knowing that it's part of a long-term continent-wide science project that monitors the health of bird populations. It's one of the biggest citizen science projects going on in Canada and the USA.

If you want to know more, check out the website for MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship), and you might find you want to hold a bird in the hand as well.

July 11, 2011

A Year in Wildlife

Banff National Park has recently posted a fascinating video that chronicles the animals (of all sorts!) that have passed in front of a remote camera over the last year.  Wildlife dominates in summer and people dominate in winter.  It's an amazing look at who's out there!

We're not sure where the camera was located, but our best guess in the Redearth Creek fire road, which is now a trail used for hiking-biking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.  It is also close to the low elevation prime wildlife habitat in Banff.

July 7, 2011

Lake Louise is a Royal Destination

At Lake Louise, the combination of bright sky, glacial ice, dark forest and emerald green water has attracted many tens of millions of visitors.

Historic Skoki Lodge
Two names can be added to that list.  Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, spent the night at Skoki Lodge, an historic backcountry lodge across the valley from Lake Louise.  They got a special flight in by helicopter, and did some hiking in this lovely backcountry destination.  The presence of this world famous couple will no doubt put Lake Louise in the spotlight for a few days, but it is not such an unusual occurrence here.  Lake Louise has been a royal destination since the 1890s.

Princess Louise Caroline Alberta
First off, many of our place names come from the royals.  The peak behind Lake Louise was formerly known as Mount Green, but during the Diamond Jubilee for Queen Victoria in 1897, it was renamed Mount Victoria.  Once known as Emerald Lake, the body of water fed by Victoria's glaciers was renamed Lake Louise, which is fitting – Princess Louise was one of Victoria's daughters.  Louise's middle name was Alberta, which is now the name of our province

Second, Kate and William are also not the first royal visitors here.  Edward, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) visited in 1912, and since then, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip been to Lake Louise.

It's been a beautiful couple of days here, so let's hope that William & Kate had a good time away from their busy schedule.