Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Looking for the wise ones

Calgary, Cochrane & Kananaskas Provincial Park, Alberta

We were planning to go to Calgary to meet up with Frank who was at Lake Clark AK, last year and now that Cathy and Jim whom we met in Yellowstone this year had introduced us to Kyle and his family in Waterton, we had another reason. Kyle suggested we go to Kananaskas, which is ‘next door’ to the Canadian Rockies (Banff etc) and where the locals go. After looking at the map, I was thoroughly confused as it had many different areas, so we decided to go to Calgary first. Kyle had asked his father if we could stay in his driveway as he lives on acreage outside town, to which he agreed. I think it helped that we were Australian as he loves Australia, having been there twice and calls Australia ‘Canada with palm trees’. Calgary is similar to an Australian small city. The weather is perfect, around the mid 20’s C each day and the food in the supermarkets is similar to ours as well. His father has a number of Kyle’s photographs on his walls and my favourite is a howling wolf.

Great Grey Owl near Cochrane

The first night Kyle took us out to find Great Grey Owls, which we had never seen before, let alone photograph. They have a flat face that acts as a sonar to feel any movement around them. I got a great shot of an owl side on and it looks like his face has been smashed! When they sit on the fence posts and scan the area for prey, they swivel their head, which is where Stephen King must have got some ideas for his books. They are magnificent and we saw were lucky enough to see four of them. They are best seen at night when the temperature has dropped which also coincides with reduced light, which makes them difficult to photograph. The second night Kyle wanted to see if we could find some grizzlies and pikas (rock rabbits). The pikas hang around a slop that is covered in lots of large rocks and poke their heads out every now and then, so you have to be quick to capture them in pixels. I managed to see three of them, but they were too far away for my lens, but Lindsay managed to get a few pictures. We saw four grizzlies. One juvenile by himself, who unfortunately had a collar and antenna on him and then not long after we saw the sow and two cubs, but by this stage is was 10pm and the light was too low for any decent photographs. We didn’t get back home until midnight, so after two late nights, we didn’t have any energy to go out again on Sunday night. 

Grizzly mum and two cubs
juvenile grizzly
Kyle’s father Guy arrived home from his cabin on Sunday night just as we were cooking dinner. At 9pm I decided dinner couldn't wait any longer! We were invited into his magnificent house the next morning for morning tea and sat looking out the large picture windows at the rolling green hills. I think he enjoys having us there. He asked us if we were going to go to Vancouver Island, we were, but didn’t think we had enough time, so he suggested that we leave our trailer at his cabin (he had already invited us to stay on the way) and do a day/overnight trip to the Island by ferry which we think is a very good idea.

That night we caught up with Frank and his lovely wife Michelle at their apartment. They have a number of Frank’s pictures on the walls and my favourite is one of the grizzlies at Lake Clark sitting on the beach, looking straight at the camera. Frank cooked us a magnificent meal as the restaurant he had been planning to go to was closed. They have two cats who normally never venture into a room if strangers are there and I managed to pat one three times!

Kananaskas is about an hour and a half from Calgary so it made sense to be based out there to be able to look for bears at both ends of the day. The Eau Claire campground was in the vicinity we wanted to be and being unreservable meant we had a good chance of getting in midweek. The sites are large and nestled in the forest. It doesn’t matter that we have no facilities as we are allowed to use our generator in Canadian parks and we had dumped and filled up with fresh water at the information centre on the way in.

Lindsay went out after dinner the first night and only saw a few bears for a short time as there were many rangers who would scare the bears off. He gave up. The next morning he went out at six and found two grizzlies – a brown one and a blonde one which made getting the settings right a bit tricky. There was no confrontation for exciting pictures but they did keep rubbing their backs up against a tree. The brown bear is covered in dandelion seeds that make him look like he has dandruff! 

looking for the rangers, not their favourite friends as they haze them
We stayed there six days and went out most mornings at 6am and again out at night. Over the period we saw about ten different bears, a couple of moose and a calf, a few deer, rocky mountain sheep, picas (rock rabbits) and of course squirrels.

Pica [rock rabbit]

Juvenile grizzly with an incessant itch
this cub watches how mum eats the dandelions and does the same

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