October 29, 2016

Prepping for hibernation, Rocky Mountain style

We've had snow in Lake Louise the last few days, and it's clear that it's going to stick around on the ground from now until spring.  In most years, we have snow in our backyard from late October into early or mid-May.

That's a long winter.

Hoary marmot

A lot of mammals in the park spend those snowy months underground. By our best count, there are ten species of hibernators in the park.

Here's the list:
  • grizzly and black bears
  • two kinds of grounds squirrels
  • two species of chipmunks
  • little and big brown bats
  • one species of jumping mouse
  • the hoary marmot

Columbian ground squirrel
This fall, we managed to see a couple of these animals in “prep” mode. All the rodents carry extra bedding material to their dens in September. You'll see them running around with giant mouthfuls of dry grass. I managed to snap shots of both a Columbian ground squirrel and a hoary marmot as they couriered grass across the meadows.

As well, all of these mammals gain weight before the snow flies, and bears showcase this the best. They can put on between one and two pounds of fat per day during August and September.  Last year, our friend Amar Athwal paired a photo of grizzly bear #148 that he'd taken in the spring with the same bear in the fall. The weight gain is extraordinary. Look for the little yellow ear tags in each photo.  It's the only way you can even tell it's the same animal.

Grizzly bear #148, in spring (right) and fall, 2015.  Photo by Amar Athwal

Since we've featured Amar's photo, we'll do another shout out to him here. You can find his celebrated “Banff Moments” either on Facebook or at his website, and if you want to get a weekly email featuring his latest photos, you can email him at warmlight@gmail.com.

We don't hibernate, but we do plan to take it easy for the next few weeks ourselves, as we wait for the snow to pile up enough for snowshoeing season to begin. Enjoy your fall!