I love going snowshoeing in the winter. The snow muffles all sound, and changes the landscape. We see tracks in the snow, which gives us a good idea what variety of animals and birds are in the area, going about the business of surviving when there isn’t much food around.
One bird we almost always see near the trails is the Gray Jay (also known as the Canada Jay, or my favorite name, the Whiskeyjack). A very bold and intelligent bird, they know most humans will either drop crumbs, or will give in to that direct stare that says, “I don’t mind having a share of whatever that is you’re eating…” I’ve even had Whiskeyjacks at Lake Louise fly right into my face, trying to startle me into dropping the chocolate I was eating.
On one snowshoe trip, it was a warm and sunny day, and we were startled to see tiny insects hopping on the surface of the snow, clustered mainly in spots where the snow had been indented by a footprint. I found out later that these are Springtails (also known as snow fleas, although they aren’t a flea at all), an important insect for breaking down all the detritus of the forest floor into smaller bits, so it can decompose.
Travelling through Banff National Park, we often spot elk (also known as Wapiti), especially in open meadows near roads and the airfield. When they can, they dig through the snow to reach dry grasses and leaves for winter forage.
On an early winter trip to Elbow Lake in Kananaskis, we were lucky enough to spot a pair of coyotes travelling in the snow across the lake from us. One was following the trail on the lakeshore, while the other headed upslope, both aiming for the same clump of shrubs. Due to the distance, I wasn’t able to get very clear photos, but we all enjoyed seeing them out there.
A few years ago, on a very memorable snowshoe trip, we had just pulled into a trailhead parking lot in Kananaskis when a cow Moose ambled down into the parking lot right among our cars, leaving her yearling calf back on the meadow above the lot. What ensued what a bit of a dance, with my group of snowshoers trying to get their gear on, and take pictures of Mama Moose without getting too close to her, and Mama Moose sniffing around all our vehicles. She was looking for salt, an essential component of their diet. Wild ungulates will often lick dirty vehicles in parking lots, to get at the salt on them. When we returned from our snowshoe that day, we had a good laugh, as Mama Moose had sampled every vehicle in the lot, and the dirtier the vehicle was, the more lick marks it showed. I’ve had this happen more than once while out in the parks. I’m not sure where the phrase “Kananaskis Car Wash” started, but it stuck, and we always love to see the moose, though we try to keep a respectful distance.
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