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Banff

Bow River

Our resort accommodation was located below Tunnel Mountain, outside of the main hubbub of the small town centre. It was surrounded by Douglas Fir, with some open areas. Dark-eyed Juncos (and a Red Squirrel) were seen from inside the living room, but most obvious birds were crows - Black-billed Magpies, American Crows & Ravens in good numbers. A small manicured area outside of the Mountain Lodge opposite had a mix of only half a dozen bushes and small trees, but was a regular spot for Sparrows (White-crowned & White-throated), as well as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Pine Siskin, and Wilson's Warbler. Adjoining conifers held Grey Jay, more Red Squirrels, and a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel. Another morning produced a single Clarke's Nutcracker at the top of one of the conifers, as did a walk to the top of Tunnel Mountain.

Black-billed Magpie Junco
Black-billed Magpie (Oregon) Dark-eyed Junco
Red Squirrel Black-tailed Deer
Red Squirrel Black-tailed (Mule) Deer

The walk along the Bow River to Bow Falls from town picked up a few morsels. In amongst the Ruby-crowned Kinglets was at least one Golden-crowned Kinglet. Listening to the Chickadees picked up a different call to the common Black-capped, and those seen proved to be Mountain. The falls and the river are a clear turquoise wash from the glaciers, and this proved a lure to the single Goosander below the falls. The handful of Gulls patrolling the waters seemed to be all Ring-billed.

Vermilion Lakes were scanned on the return from Lake Louise. Good numbers of wildfowl were on the lake covered, but most were Mallard. However, 5 male Hooded Mergansers were amongst them, along with 2 Goosanders. A visit to the lakes later on in the week, by way of the adjoining track, only added a pair of Song Sparrows.

Vermilion Lakes Song Sparrow
Vermilion Lakes Song Sparrow

Marsh Loop

Marsh Loop

An hour and a half was spent circumnavigating this loop on the last full day in Banff. It is a very aesthetically pleasing walk, taking in not only the pool at the centre of the loop, but also giving magnificent views of the icy Bow River with mountainous backdrop. Downside is that the loop track is also a bridleway, so you have to watch for the nags and horse poo.

The pool, which is of a reasonable size, was devoid of bird life, and it wasn't until almost half way round that I came across a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. More avian desert was to follow, with a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and single White-throated Sparrow sparking of a bit of a bird rush. Just before the 75m long board walk above the marsh were a pair of scruffy looking Varied Thrushes. An American Robin landed on the top of the boardwalk, and a Grey-cheeked Thrush on the descent.

The boardwalk is probably very productive in season, since it not only looks over the marsh from above, but also protrudes a little way into the marsh itself. On leaving the boardwalk, a Dark-eyed Junco preceded an active flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets and slightly lesser numbers of Black-capped Chickadees.

Varied Thrush Black-capped Chickadee
Varied Thrush Black-capped Chickadee

Lake Louise Lake Agnes
Lake Louise Lake Agnes
American Three-toed Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker

Before heading to the twin lake tourist hotspots, a circuit was made of the road to Lake Minnewanka. The dammed lake is mainly reserved for watersports and tours, but the short road loop is supposed to be quite good for critters. We didn't see any evidence of this, although one of the clearings had a few busy Grey Jays.

We took the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise, which runs parallel to the much busier #1 highway, but this was again devoid of mammalian life to us. The shorefront at Lake Louise is infamous for it's mass of tourists, but we probably hit a decent time of year, since their numbers seemed well past the peak. However, the Clark's Nutcrackers seemed to be much more fond of the multi-cultural comings and goings, since they acted as the local breadcrumb scavengers.

The camera toting hordes can be quickly left behind by taking the trails along or up from the lake. We chose the climb to Lake Agnes, and the well known attending tea shop. This hike passes through the mainly coniferous trails, with occasional openings for required views of the turquoise vista below. Prize on the ascent was an American Three-toed Woodpecker, picking its way along the trunks of the conifers. Red Squirrels were also occasional, with one gathering what looked like a store of mushrooms. The stop at Mirror Lake found a very obliging Grey Jay, probably looking for titbits.

The tea house at Lake Agnes was another treat for Clarke's Nutcracker fans, since many of the tourists blatantly ignore the signs not to feed the animals, actively encouraging the Nutcrackers to beg by the tables. The few Grey Jays and Dark-eyed Juncos here are a little less forthcoming.

Grey Jay Clark's Nutcracker
Grey Jay Clark's Nutcracker

Moraine Lake is a much smaller yet possibly even more stunning affair than Lake Louise. Birds were very much less obvious here (apart from a few Dark-eyed Juncos, Ravens, and a single Grey Jay), but mammals were quite good. The short walk up to the lake viewpoint found singles of both Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Least Chipmunk, more or less oblivious of the passing hiking shoes and high heels mix. Prized asset was a North American Porcupine, slowly making its way from the side of the road to tree cover on our descent.

Moraine Lake Least Chipmunk
Moraine Lake Least Chipmunk

Bow Lake Peyto Lake
Bow Lake Peyto Lake

THE reason for driving the parkway is the magnificent views of the glaciers and turquoise lakes which dot its length. To do the whole length justice would take the whole day, so we did under half the length (just short of the Icefield Centre) and took our time at the breathtaking sights.

Birds and mammals were few and far between, even though a couple of walks were taken. Most common were ubiquitous Ravens, which were usually single or in pairs by the roadside, and quite often hopefully looking on at stopping points. A Red-tailed Hawk over the Saskatchewan River area was the first dark morph I had seen from many Red-tails over the years.

The short trek up to the Peyto Lake lookout point was taken for what is reputed to be one of the best lake views in the area. There is no doubt that the lake is a stunning colour and in a remarkable setting, but the small lookout platform and area in front tends to be noisy and a little crowded. The onlooking Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels didn't mind, though. The undergrowth on the return turned up trumps, with a trio of Spruce Grouse foraging next to the path, unperturbed by our presence.

Perhaps best move of the day was to walk up the 2 miles or so of the Parker Ridge trail. This ascends through the treeline, with the promise of goodies such as Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, but a greater prize is the view of what I felt was the most stunning of glaciers running from Mount Saskatchewan. A group of birds working the scree were not the hoped for finches, but Shorelarks. Only bird on the descent was a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a brace of White-tailed Deer crossed the road back at the Saskatchewan River.

White-tailed Ptarmigan Ground Squirrel
Spruce Grouse Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

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