A pine marten left its tracks in the snow on our roof this morning, reminding us of how wonderful it is to have wildlife around – it just makes life in the Rockies more... interesting. In keeping with this idea, we look back to our favourite wildlife sightings of the year.
Let's start with harlequin ducks. These beautiful sea ducks migrate here from the west coast every spring, and then eke out a living in our high elevation lakes and fast-flowing rivers. To see this pair courting on Moraine Lake back in May – before all the winter ice had even melted – reminded us that some harlequin romances are real!
Next up, at the height of summer, we saw a chipmunk. A chipmunk? How could it make the list? Well, it was beautifully perched on a sentry rock festooned with what looked like brilliant orange frosting. Clearly, there was a story to be told here. It turns out that certain chunks of limestone get covered with a lichen known as Xanthoria elegans, but only when those rocks have been fertilized with the droppings of birds and mammals. It takes the concept of "mixed media" to a whole new level.
At the end of August, there was a strange bird on Bow Lake, just one metre from the shore. It turned out to be a phalarope (good scrabble word!), which is like a sandpiper crossed with a duck: with partly webbed feet, it can swim around on the surface of lakes and ponds. We watched, enthralled, as it spun around like a whirling dervish., picking bugs off the surface of the lake with its delicate bill. It turned out to be a juvenile, and was flying from the high Arctic to South America, for the first time in its life. Wow!
Our #1 memorable wildlife sighting was on August 3, on the border of Banff and Mount Assiniboine Parks. It's one of those places that feels special. You look in all directions, and see nothing but high peaks and forested valleys. It whispers “wilderness”, and since the ultimate symbol of wilderness is the grizzly bear, it was only appropriate that we were lucky enough to see one... well, three, actually: we heard a clatter, and then spied a trio of bears running down a scree slope. Pure magic, and we managed to catch it on video. They were kind of far away, but we hope you enjoy the show.