May 23, 2014

Grizzly bears and fire, plus the black bear "mom of the year" award

Last night was all about bears.  We went to Banff National Park's research updates, and heard a great presentation about how much grizzly bears like to spend time in burned areas, as a lot of the vegetarian foods they prefer grow really well after fires.  A young biologist named Charlie McLellan has been putting in a lot of days in the park doing vegetation plots, and putting in a lot of days at the computer looking at where grizzly bears with GPS collars are spending their time.  Last summer, one grizzly spent six weeks in a row a portion of Kootenay National Park that had been burned in a wildfire in 2003.

Buffaloberries yielding bumper crops in Kootenay National Park in 2009,
six years after the big forest fires of 2003.

Heading home at dusk, not far from the town of Banff, we saw our first grizzly of the year, a beautiful subadult feeding on grasses.  We didn't have a camera with us, so we watched for a few minutes through binoculars, and then headed home.

And finally, in the bear department, after the presentations, everybody was talking about the video clip of a mother black bear in Kootenay who did some good quality parenting to keep her young of the year cub safe near Highway 93 South.  It should put a smile on your face!

May 14, 2014

The Ultimate Headbanger

The birdwatching season has begun!  Here in Lake Louise, we're still waiting for the snow to melt, so there's not much around, but at last weekend's community bird walk on the edge of the town of Banff, the keen participants spotted more than 60 species of birds.

On Saturday, our friend Reno Sommerhalder, who is a naturalist with a special interest in bears, took this great shot of a pileated woodpecker excavating a nest cavity in a trembling aspen tree.  The pileated is North America's biggest and toughest woodpecker, and if you look closely at the photo, you can see it spitting out wood chips.  That is one hard-headed bird!

Pileated woodpecker.  Photo by Reno Sommerhalder.

Woodpeckers like the pileated play a crucial role in forests, because their old nest cavities become prime real estate for dozens of other animals, from owls to bats to flying squirrels.

If you want to join in on the Banff Community Birdwalk, there are trips on Saturdays and Mondays through into June, usually starting at 8:00 a.m.  Contact if you want more information.