Miracle Moments: Of Bears, National Bird and Other Critters at Banff National Park

Of all the times we’ve been to Banff National Park, I haven’t seen any bear roaming about yet except when we were cycling on the Continental Divide west of the Park over 15 years ago.

Paintbrush flower –common in western Canadian mountain areas. Banff National Park, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong

This summer Jack did spot a bear when he biked out to Vermillion Lake, a popular marshy area with birds, striking wild grasses and bushes in especially fall. People drive out, hike, kayak and hang out along the water edge. I had

Brown bear spotted afar near Vermillion Lake from safety of road. Banff National Park 2019. Photo by J. Becker

declined after a fabulous 50 km. of cyclng round trip along the Legacy trail between Canmore and Banff.

To see a bear in broad daylight in a human-busy national park at summer peak, is a rare treat.  Good thing the bear, was ambling up a gentle rocky hill.  Be aware this type of bear can run 50-60 km. per hour.

Wild brown bear at Vermillion Lake. Banff National Park 2019. Photo by J.Becker. Bear iweara tag locator from Parks Canada around its neck.

More than Just Wild Bears
While international tourists might crave to glimpse our large wildlife –elk, bighorn sheep or mountain goat, they might consider some of our wild birds and small ground animals found in the Rocky Mountains. Not anywhere else in Canada, east of central Alberta.

Canada Jay. Renamed from Gray Jay, since it does inhabit across most of Canada. Lake Agnes, Banff National Park, Alberta 2019. Photo by J.Chong

We forget in some countries, particularly in the tropical areas, certain squirrels and chipmunks we see in Canada, don’t even inhabit elsewhere in the wild.

In my last blog post, I included shots of chipmunks sited in the park, by Lake Moraine. They were wonderful chance glimpses.

Rudder duck. Vermillion Lake. Banff National Park Alberta 2019. Photo by J.Chong

This spring, while we were biking in the mountain resort town of Canmore, it was the Columbian ground squirrel by a bike path.  It has a habit of standing up, sentinel-like when it senses danger (of a human being or large animal) nearby.

Columbian Ground Squirrel. Found primarily only northwestern North America. In Canada from Rocky Mountains and westward. Canmore, Alberta 2019. Photo by J.Chong

The next siting was by picnic table where not surprisingly there were several burrow holes right underneath the table. One might as well be dropping food from heaven without any effort for these wild happy critters.  Certainly we

Plump Columbian Ground Squirrel. Banff National Park, near Legacy bike trail 2019. Photo by J.Chong. Burrow was directly under picnic table.

spied a plump Columbian ground squirrel that didn’t run away from us.  It did shriek out for others  –probably a food call, rather than a danger alert.

Whistling Columbian Ground Squirrel. Tend to stand up, sentinel-like to warn others of danger, etc. Banff National Park 2019. Photo by J.Chong

Perhaps it’s just living thousands of kilometres from where I grew up in southern Ontario but now decades later, I am more aware of the birds flitting, chirping and twittering in the trees and above. The red-breast robin is still one of the bird harbingers of spring in western Canada.  There are still the brilliant green headed mallard duck trundling around in ponds and rivers.

Stellar Jay. Lake Louise, Banff National Park 2018. Photo by J. Becker.

Now it’s the Stellar Jay, a bird native to northwest Pacific coast in Canada and  states as well as into the Rocky Mountains.  More grey with blue and less white than the flashier blue jay I saw often in Ontario.

Clarke’s Nutcracker –not to be confused with Canada Jay. Lake Louise, Banff National Park 2017. Photo by J.Chong

Since we still don’t have a pair of binoculars, it’s a challenge to glimpse tiny cute warblers and other song birds darting and hiding among tree foliage.

Varied Thrush. Found while hiking along Tram Line Trail. Banff National Park 2018. Photo by J.Chong

While we were along the Tram Line, a hiking and snowshoeing trail in the Lake Louise area, we spotted a bird colouring unknown to us.  It turned out to be a Varied Thrush  — a species that does not frequent this area.

Canada Jay, Banff National Park, Alberta 2019. Photo by J.Chong. Unlike other birds, Canada Jay stays in Canada during winter. It fluffs up its feathers to keep itself warm in winters as low as mid -20’s C. Canada’s national bird named by Canadian National Geographic Society 2016.

While we were near Lake Agnes, by the Beehive mini-mountain, a short hike above Lake Louise, a friendly Canada Jay popped onto a low branch. It was formerly called the Gray Jay, until the American Ornithological Society renamed it appropriately since this jay bird does occupy a huge swath across Canada.

Young deer roaming in Banff town. Summer 2019. Photo by J.Chong
Stellar Jay bird with munchie to eat. Lake Louise, Banff National Park 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Elk. Vermillion Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta Oct. 2015. Photo by J.Chong

True, long after leaving these wilderness areas, I occasionally dream of jewel lakes, ice capped mountains and the wildlife that pop about.

All wildlife inhabit Rocky Mountains. Banff National Park, winter 2017. Photo by J.Chong

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    Fantastic pictures, Jean. We we were in Denali NP lately, we didn’t get that close to the wirldlife, but we did see some [bears, caribou, moose] and we enjoyed our visit there a lot.


    1. Jean says:

      Believe me, my partner was not that close to the bear. He had a pocket digital camera that had enough zoom for the situation. We were to other wildlife featured in the blog post. Great you went to Denali! I’ve only seen a moose briefly…it was a teenager. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marta says:

    Great pictures!! I loved the ground squirrel, hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      The ground squirrel is only found in western Canada. It takes awhile to gather photos of wildlife. For us, various years. Not in 1 trip. Glad you enjoyed them, Marta.


  3. Lani says:

    So cute. Those bird photos – WOW. You could print a calendar. Have you thought about that? They make great gifts.


    1. Jean says:

      Thx, Lani. I’m not sure if my family still wants an analog calendar even with nice photos. On the other hand, I received 2 different wall clocks from 2 different sisters, each gift given in different years..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lani says:

        I love calendars. I like the art or photos in them, but since I’ve moved abroad, I’m a fan of desk calendars because they don’t have dry walls over here, thus it’s easier to put up a desk calendar. Do you mean ppl use their phones or laptops for calendars? Egats!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jean says:

          🙂 Still haven’t got an iPhone/cell phone yet. So I love wearing my little arty watch..its face has a tiny quill pen and key for watch arms.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. OK, you are hereby promoted to Professional Photographer!! Beautiful captures, Jean, really fine. I especially liked the jay-bird eating a creepy-crawly potato chip!! 😊


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