Monday, 2 July 2012

A Day to Remember

Ptarmigan Cirque in the Highwood Pass, Canadian Rockies
Today my wife Beryl, son Jeremy and grandson Morris all decided to drive through the Kananaskis Valley and up the Highwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Cirque (7300 feet) and on to Highwood House and back.  Our main target was seeing Grizzly Bears never an easy task. We set off early and stopped first at a Visitor Centre for toilets.  Whilst I was absent the rest had good views of a Golden Eagle which miffed a little bit as I had never seen this species in Canada. We moved on up the pass and saw little until we arrived at a massive rock scree right up against the road.  Here we hoped to see a mammal I had never set eyes on before.  Within minutes we were in luck with 2 Pikas ( a tiny rock loving member of the rabbit family) showing them selves really well.

Pika habitat
We moved on and found finding any wildlife very difficult.  A stop at the Cirque revealed the news that a female Grizzly and 2 cubs were on a meadow which would involve a very steep climb to get anywhere near them.  We passed on that and took a short walk through a snowy landscape but found nothing but hordes of Cambrian Ground Squirrels and some pretty Western Anenomes.

Western Anenomes

We gave up any further walks and drove on going down now towards Highwood House.  We stopped for lunch by a superb fast flowing river.  We had hardly started eating when an American Dipper flew downstream and returned a few moments later with its mate.  Gazing up at enormous peaks we found a juvenile Golden Eagle soaring overhead so now I felt better. Lunch was a splendid picnic and we finished up and carried on to Highwood House.  This sounds very grand but is a petrol station and services centre at a junction between two mountain routes.  It is famous for its hummingbird feeders and we did not have to wait long before 3 Rufous Hummingbirds appeared.  Walking around the site we also located a Red-naped Sapsucker feeding in a tree.

Male Rufous Hummingbird
Red-naped Sapsucker
Birds were proving hard to find although frustratingly many unfamiliar songs were heard.  We did hear a number of Hermit and Swainson's Thrushes though.  It was late afternoon and apart from an Osprey and a pair of Red-tailed Hawks we added nothing else.  We decided to drive back slowly in the hope we might see a bear.

Red-tailed Hawk
Within a hour we came across a group of cars parked by the roadside and there at last a young Grizzly Bear dashing about looking confused.  Suddenly mother appeared and the two set off along the side of the road feeding.  They dug about in the turf and mother suddenly had a mouthful of dandelions.  We had them in view for at least 20 minutes which was a real privilege.

Our first Grizzly Bears of the day
Dandelions are obviously part of the diet of a Grizzly Bear
We moved on leaving hordes of people watching and made for a picturesque picnic spot where we had earlier noticed 4 Mountain Goats way up high.  We took a snack here and whilst sitting at a picnic table noticed another female Grizzly and cub heading down the track beside us.  We packed up quickly and followed them in the car.  Soon we found them after a slightly worrying confrontation with a female Moose.  They were moving quite quickly in a straight line through forest and parts of the track.

Mother and cub Grizzly on the path
We decided to get down onto the main road and try and anticipate their emergence there.  We could not have done better.  Within minutes the cub came bounding out of the forest followed by a much darker female than the animal seen earlier.  Eventually they crossed the road and disappeared again.  It was only after looking at the photographs on a computer that I noticed this female had a tracking device and tabs behind her right ear which you can see on the photo of her crossing the road.

The second female Grizzly Bear crossing the road.
We were by now elated and could not imagine we would be so fortunate.  We set off for home adding another Moose, White-tailed Deer and quite a few Bighorn Sheep to our list.

Male Bighorn Sheep
What a fantastic day - can watching wildlife get any better?


  1. Nothing like the Canadian West to experience wildlife up close!


  2. And you haven't even been to Yellowstone and the Tetons yet. Fantastic, Derek.