August 22, 2016

Bumper Berry Crop, Part II

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the incredible crop of buffaloberries this year. Yesterday, after my morning guided walk, I got to see who was enjoying the harvest. Not 50 metres from our front door, a big male grizzly bear was feasting on berries.


Grouseberries, a low-growing blueberry

Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me, but I did capture the next chapter of the berry story later in the day.  We zipped up to Saddleback Pass in the afternoon, and passed all of the other berry species that are coming ripe.  As the buffaloberry crop wanes, grizzlies should start moving uphill to take advantage of the late season berries.  Here's a few to watch for:

  • Crowberries grow almost on the ground, and are a purplish-black colour. They're easy to miss.
  • Grouseberries are a dwarf blueberry, even though they're pink when they're ripe.
  • Huckleberries are nice deep purple, and are another member of the big blueberry clan in the park.

Keep your eyes peeled for both the fruit and the frugivore!

August 14, 2016

Fungus and Glaciers and Sheep, Oh My! A Day Trip to Wilcox Pass.

We had an afternoon off yesterday, and decided to take advantage of the rare sunny day we'd lucked into to go for an explore up the Icefields Parkway.  Just after the Banff / Jasper boundary, there is a marvellous trail to Wilcox Pass.  Nadine was not sure she'd ever been up there, and I hadn't been for years.

It turned out to be a spectacular day.  The trail is short and steep, and gets you into the treeless alpine in only about twenty minutes.  Enroute, there are at least a dozen vantage points that take in the big peaks and glaciers of the Columbia Icefield area.  It's heaven if you like panorama photos.  Don't forget to click this shot to see it full size.

Bighorn sheep ram near Wilcox Pass
We also spied a couple of beautiful bighorn sheep rams, but what really caught our attention after the eye candy of wildlife and mountains was the incredible coral fungus popping out of the soil.

With all the rain so far this summer, 2016 is proving to be a good mushroom season. This coral fungus highlights the beauty of mushrooms, but also the difficulty we face when asked, "what is it?" and "can you eat it?"

Coral fungus the size of a dinner plate!
This species is in the genus Ramaria, and there are 200 species of Ramaria around the world! Identifiying them requires a microscope, a chemistry kit, and a whole lot of patience. As for edibility, coral fungus run the full gamut from "edible and choice" to poisonous.

So we've decided to just allow ourselves to be moved by the beauty of the coral fungus, and leave all the ID work to the experts. If you are out hiking during the rest of August, don't forget to look down.  You may enjoy the view.

August 6, 2016

Bumper Berry Crop This Summer

If you've been in the Rockies this summer, you'll have noticed that we are having the best berry crop in years.  The berry everyone follows here is the buffaloberry (Sheperdia canadensis), and it is the single most important food for bears in Banff and Jasper.  Bears are able to consume over 100,000 of these berries per day in the best part of the summer, which by all accounts, is right now.

This year's climate must have favoured the buffaloberries, and if you are alongside rivers or roadsides in the park, the fruit is so abundant that you can see the red among the foliage.  When you get up close, the bushes are just stacked with berries.

I sleuthed around online and found a 2007 PhD thesis about buffaloberries, by University of Saskatchewan student Richard Green.  Here's the skinny on what's in a buffaloberry:
Ripe buffaloberries, August, 2016

  • 75.1% moisture
  • 1.4% protein
  • 0.5% lipid
  • 4% dietary fibre.
  • 6.4% glucose
  • 3.7% fructose
It's those final two ingredients that turn our skinny bears into fat bears. Come September, we expect to see some pretty fat bears!

If you find a patch of buffaloberries, keep your eyes open for bears, and happy trails.