The Most Canadian News Story…

Every once in awhile there is a news story that hits television that is so stereo-typically Canadian, it reinforces to everyone what a wild, wacky place Canada is. These are stories that lead people to believe we live in igloos, get around by dog sled and only eat poutine. This week, another of these stories made the television.

As many of you know, I call Kananaskis AB home. KCountry is a very magical place and a hub for amazing nature and wildlife stories. Since I have lived here, several wildlife videos from the area have gone viral. Like this one of two bull moose rutting or of this wolf taking down a big horn sheep on the side of the highway. So it is pretty safe to say the wildlife here is never boring. Right now the critter that is making the new is, once again, a moose.

You probably saw this story on CBC (yup, that’s right, this made national news) that Kananaskis has issued a moose warning for the Chester Lake/Burstall Pass trail heads due to a moose hanging out in the parking lot licking cars. 

Yes, you read that correctly. This moose (and her calf) are hanging out in the parking lot and licking cars. Read the CBC story here. So why the heck are these moose licking cars?

For the same reason that big horn sheep, deer and other critters are ‘licking’ the road:

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They are eating the salt. Salt contains minerals that are important to these critters, but beyond that, the salt tastes good them.

The cars are getting salt on them from driving on maintained winter roads, and the wildlife has come to expect that they can lick cars to get the salt off. To be honest, if I had to choose between licking asphalt or licking a car, I guess I would lean towards the car, so it is no wonder that the moose are doing it too.

Alberta Parks has issued a formal warning, including what NOT to do if a moose is licking your car, but I am going to give you some tips here again:

  • Don’t approach the moose; if they walk up to you, try to maintain a safe distance or stay inside your vehicle.
  • Don’t offer the moose food; they do not need to become any more accustomed to people as a food source
  • Don’t try to physically move a moose away from your vehicle. They will win.
  • Always make noise when hiking, exploring, so as to not surprise wildlife.
  • Keep your pets on a leash. A kick from a moose can kill or severely injure a dog.

If you return to your vehicle to find a moose licking it, by all means  take a picture!  I would! But do not approach the moose to do so. Make noise, be loud and be patient for the moose to move off.  Be aware of what way the moose will most likely run if it gets startled, no one wants to get run over by a moose. If everyone respects the space of these dorkily majestic animals, then everyone will be able to share the space.

 

 

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Back to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

I haven’t been posting a lot on here over the last couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been doing anything, it is quite the opposite! I have been super busy so I am just now getting through some of the photos that I have taken in the last bit.

Last week found me back at the Yamnuska wolfdog sanctuary: This is a place that I seriously cannot get enough of; anytime I am lacking inspiration, I can find it here, in these incredible and beautiful animals.

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Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

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The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, located just northwest of the town of Cochrane, is home to a number of incredible animals and the people who love them.

14590357_10210775482292872_48043961797827570_nThe name ‘wolfdog’ is pretty self explanatory, they are hybridizations of wolves and dogs, or of other wolfdogs. However, under that name there are lots of different distinctions: there are low-content wolfdogs and high-content wolfdogs as well as a full range in-between. Since you cannot tell how much wolf is in a dog based on a blood test, the dogs are placed on the scale based on looks and behaviour.

Wolfdogs are absolutely beautiful animals; it is easy to see why people want them as pets. They can feel like they own a piece of the wild when their pet looks like a wild wolf. However, for the vast majority of people, these dogs do not make good pets. They are highly intelligent escape artists, always looking for food, territorial and need a lot of space and a lot of exercise. These animals require a lot of work, day in and day out and its easy to see why so many people are not successful owners.

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As the popularity of wolfdogs as pets became more popular in Canada, Georgina De Caigny and Andi Scheibenstock identified a need for a knowledgeable and experienced rescue organization that would make the rehabilitation and rehoming of displaced wolfdogs a priority. It was in June of 2011 that Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary opened its doors as not only one of the largest sanctuaries within Canada, but one of the only sanctuaries to balance educational programs with a highly successful adoption program too.

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Visiting the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal with these beautiful animals. The sanctuary offers a self guided tour as well as an in depth interactive tour.

On the Interactive Tour, you get to enter the enclosures with the wolfdogs as well as one of the sanctuary guides; the guide provides a lot of background info on wolves and wolfdogs in general as well as personal information on each animal that calls the sanctuary home.

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You start off by entering the enclosure with the high content wolfdogs, learning about the physiological differences between wolves and dogs, and picking out these characteristics in the individual animals. One of the things I like most about the interactive tours, is that nothing is forced and the interactions feel natural. The wolfdogs are free to come and go as they feel comfortable, retiring to the woods to nap when they tire of the people watching them.

After interacting with the high content wolfdogs, you get to enter the enclosure with the low-content wolfdogs and see the distinctive differences. These animals are more dog-like, less wolf-y. However they are still incredibly high maintenance and require a lot of space, which they are given at the Sanctuary.

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The sanctuary does occasionally adopt out some of the low-content wolf dogs, but there is a strenuous screening process to make sure they go to a home that can offer them what they actually need. The Sanctuary also takes in owner-surrenders of animals when people realize they are in over their head. They do all of this with fundraising from donations as well as the proceeds from their tours. To learn more or to make a donation to this great cause, check out their website: http://yamnuskawolfdogsanctuary.com/.

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One of my favourite photos was when one of the younger wolves tried to nibble on my boots

Photographing Bears

This one is for all you people who don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to photographing bears and other wild animals. 

No, this is not a photography-how-to.

This is a wildlife etiquette issue.

Everyone wants that amazing and perfect close-up of a bear in the wild, but is that photo worth your life? Or a bears? A bear that becomes overly comfortable with humans, or with humans feeding it, is almost guaranteed to end up dead at the hands of humans, either having to be put down because it sees humans as a food source, or dead due to road mortality because it doesn’t see cars as a threat, or people are driving like jerks around it.

Over the years, working for Parks and now as a guide in the Rockies, I have seen some seriously crazy stuff. People genuinely do not seem to realize that wildlife is…wild. You can’t walk up a wild animal like its a neighborhood dog. And sure, maybe the person before you did it, and they were fine. Maybe you can do it too, this one time. But its always okay,  right until it isn’t. Then the next thing you know, there is a story on the news of a ‘bear attack’ and everyone calls it a tragic accident.

The truth is, most negative wildlife encounters are completely avoidable. Respecting an animals personal space and making noise so as not to surprise them
(and no! I do not mean bear bells) will help stop most negative encounters.

Most professional or seasoned wildlife photographers that I have met are incredibly ethical in how they photograph wildlife; they know the best practices and they stick to them. These people tend to love the wildlife that they are photographing and would not do anything to put it, or themselves at risk. They also understand the risks, so they are able to avoid them. So many people just have no idea what they are getting into when they approach wildlife, so I have created a list of common ‘Best Practices’ for photographing or viewing wildlife.

1. Stay in your vehicle.

If you are driving and you see an animal roadside, then its simple: Stay in your vehicle. Things start to go wrong when people start to view the wildlife as tame animals. Just because the bear is on the side of the road, and seems more interested in food than you, does not make it okay to get out and approach it.

2. Do not cause a bear jam.

Or a deer jam, or a squirrel jam or any sort of traffic jam for whatever it is that you see. If you see wildlife, and you are going to stop for a better look, then pull over on the shoulder of the road as far as you safely can. If you cannot safely pull over and get off the road, then you don’t stop. Its that simple.

3. Do not harass the wildlife.

Do not stay by an animal for more than a minute or two (refer to #2). The bears do not enjoy having vehicles stop by them and stay there for an extended period of time. If you are going to stop and can safely do so, then stop for a minute or two, snap your photos, admire the animal and be on your way. We do not want animals to become accustomed to humans, because in the long term, that is how they end up dead.

4. Do not bait the wildlife.

On this point, most people are probably thinking ‘Well obviously!’ But a lot of people are unintentionally ‘baiting’ wildlife through simple carelessness. Do you know how many common camping items are actually considered bear or wildlife attractants? Things like: toothpaste, shampoo, soap, cooking oil, canned goods, alcohol, freeze dried foods, pet foods, dirty dishes, the clothes you cooked/ate in, etc. By leaving these things out and unattended in day use areas or campsites, you are inviting wildlife into your site. If you intentionally bait wildlife, then you are an a$$hole. A fed bear is a dead bear. And no photo is worth a bears life.

5. Do not feed the wildlife.

Any of it. Not even that cute squirrel or bird. Have you ever fed a squirrel or chipmunk and noticed that they are taking a lot of food? Like more than their own body weight in food? They are not eating it all, they are caching it around your site, creating little hidden treasures of food that will attract other animals to the area.

6. Do not touch the wildlife.

By now, everyone has probably heard about the well-meaning tourist in Yellowstone who picked up the bison calf because he ‘thought it looked cold.’ Do not assume that baby animals who appear to be left alone, are abandoned. Mothers in nature know whats best for their young and it is not our job to interfere. Do not pick up wild animals, if you are concerned that something has been abandoned, or is injured, report it to your local conservation officers, park staff or fish and wildlife officers. You can find these numbers online for your local area.

7. Use a long lens.

Do not expect to get a great close up photo with your smart phone. Don’t even try to do it. Use a zoom lens, or take the photo and crop it down after. Approaching wildlife with a smart phone to get a close up photo is the dumbest thing you can do (other than Pokemon Go, but that’s a different story).

 

So what do you do if you come across a bear on the trail or on the roadside? You should call it in to your local wildlife hotline. Google to find your local wildlife authority or parks service. If you call in a report, you are going to be asked for some basic info. Here are some things that you will probably be asked:

  • Your name and contact number
  • Type of Bear (black or grizzly, remember not all black bears are black!)
  • Location – try to get as many landmarks as possible, signs, intersections, etc
  • What the bear was doing
  • How long ago you saw it
  • If the bear was eating, what it was eating.
  • How close you were to the bear
  • How it reacted (surprised, aggressive, indifferent, curious, etc)
  • Visible tags or collars (note numbers on tags and color of tag if possible)
  • If there were cubs, how many?
  • If it was roadside, were other people stopped/getting out of vehicles

This information is used for biologists to track bears and behavior and also used to dispatch conservation officers to help move bears along and stop human-bear conflicts. If you see a conservation officer or parks employee on scene, then do not report it. The person on scene is there because someone else has reported it/they are already aware of the situation so you do not need to create duplicate calls.

I love bears, and all wild animals. I have lived in bear country for the last 7 years. I hate seeing animals need to be put down because of human stupidity.  People visit the mountains because they want to enjoy the landscape and the wildlife, so if everybody would do their part to be here and respect nature, than we can ensure that these places are here and protected forever and that future generations will get to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.

Any other tips on wildlife etiquette?

Share in the comments below!

A Bow Valley Summer Tradition

Floating the Bow River is a long standing tradition for permanent and seasonal residents of the Bow Valley. You go out, buy some sort of floating device, hop in the river and off you go. This is lots of fun if you a)know the river and b)are okay with getting wet. But if you want to float the Bow in comfort and style, then Canmore Raft Tours is the way to do it.

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A locally owned company, Canmore Raft Tours can be found downtown Canmore at their Raft Shack during the day, located across the street from Rocky Mountain Bagel company by the Settlers Cabin.  They run 1 hour tours several times a day, as well as my favorite tour, the two hour scenic float every evening (Bonus: The evening tour features a hot tea or coffee as well as locally sourced treats). All tours start downtown Canmore and you get shuttled back to the starting point, making this easy for anyone to do.

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On these float trips, the Guide does all the work.

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You get to see a side of the Bow Valley that is only accessible from the river.

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There is lots of wildlife to be seen from the river!

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They even do dog friendly trips!

I am constantly in awe of the wildlife that they see and manage to photograph or film. A couple of weeks ago, a black bear swam across the river in front of the boat and just a few days ago, a coyote was on the river bank as they passed by!

Check out the video of the coyote here.

or

Check out the black bear video here.

Looking for a great way to enjoy the rest of your summer? Definitely give a float trip a try; I have gone out 3 times now and each time is better than the last!

To keep up with their amazing social media feeds, or to learn more, you can check them out on Facebook or Instagram (@Canmore_Raft_Tours).

Rock Glacier, Kananaskis

Not going to lie, I drove past this at least a half a dozen times before finally pulling over on the highway.  Rock Glacier, from the road, looks like a giant pile of rocks. Which is pretty much accurate, because it is in fact, a giant pile of rocks.

But beyond that, this giant pile of rock is actually a deteriorating face of Mount Rae; time, along with wind and water have eroded the rock face, causing pieces to break off and pile up. It is home to many beautiful alpine plants, flowers in miniature, along with lots of Picas. A Pica is a member of the rodent family, more closely related to a rabbit than a mouse, despite its mouse-like ears.

Rock Glacier is a neat spot to stop for a few minutes, wander the super short interpretive trail (seriously, it will take 10 minutes tops to walk) and to admire all the tiny wildflowers while feeling that picas are watching you from all around (their ‘eek’ is a very distinctive sound). I now stop in at this spot every couple of months (when the road is open) to check out the wildflowers and be taunted by Picas.13901381_10210278538269582_225001863872050541_nCHE_0008

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This Pica taunted me with its ‘eeks’ for a solid 5 minutes before I spotted it in the pile of scree.

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A dwarf-sized fireweed

Its Here!

I have been asked time and again to put together a calendar with some of my photos, and recently, my facebook fans voted on the photos that they wanted included in the calendar. I ordered a prototype to see how it would turn out and….

It is beautiful! (If I do say so myself 😉 )

The calendar is now available to order here, through my Etsy shop.

 

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