Wednesday, September 16, 2009

B.C Trip Part XII

June 21

Radium Hot Springs to Lake Louise

To reach Lake Louise we had to pass through two national parks, Kootenay and Banff.

Within minutes of entering Kootenay N.P. we encountered our first large mammal of the day. As we approached the Hot Springs, a male bighorn sheep ran past us in the opposite lane. You can't get much closer than that!

Near the parking area for the Radium Hot Springs pools we observed a flock of bighorn sheep (mostly males).

Our next stop, the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint (elevation 1370 m).

During the 10-15 minutes of taking in the dramatic view, we observed an American Robin and a Dark-eyed Junco. The junco was not the "slate-coloured" variety we normally observe in our back yard. This one, a first for Jean and I, was a male "Oregon Junco".

Hector Gorge, Elevation 1266 m

In the valley we had some great views of a flock of mountain goats.

We stopped by the Simpson River to observe the results of the 2001 Mount Shanks Fire.

In 2003, 12.6% of the park was burned when two large, lightning-caused fires merged. Fire good! New growth rapidly occurs in the nutrient rich earth (created by the fire).

Continuing through the valley along Highway 93, two vehicles ahead of us came to a stop. A gray wolf was crossing the highway. We managed to catch a quick glimpse of the wolf as it was completing its crossing. It then climbed a bank and disappeared into the forest. This was my first viewing of a wolf in the wild.

We stopped for a break and a short hike on a trail that led to the Paint Pots. Though in a valley we were at a higher elevation (1450 m) than we were at the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint. We were approaching the Vermilion Pass. The Continental Divide and Alberta were only 10 kilometres away. This would be our last attempt to add birds to the British Columbia list.

We crossed the Vermilion River while hiking the Paint Pots Trail.

We hiked through the ochre beds. Native tribes from the mountains and prairies used the "red earth" powder mixed with fish oil or animal grease for use in painting bodies, teepees, clothing and pictures on rocks.

The Paint Pots (3) were formed by the accumulation of iron oxide around the outlets of three cold mineral springs.

Image by Bob

Unfortunately no additions to the B.C. list. Common Raven, Chipping Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warbler were the only birds seen.

We crossed the Continental Divide into Alberta. Next stop Lake Louise.

We arrived in the mid-afternoon and parked the car in a very busy lot. Jean and her mum started off without me as I grabbed a few things from the car. They were not too far ahead when Jean called out to alert me of a new bird. One I thought would not be so easy. Sitting at the top of a tall conifer was a lifer Clark's Nutcracker (#282)! A woman walking by wondered what was so interesting to us. A bird of course. I did tell her the type but she did not share the same level of excitement that we three did. As we reached the viewing area I was amazed at the number of Clark's Nutcracker we saw. Four more adults and one juvenile were in the trees in the lake's viewing area. The birds had no fear of the tourists. In fact, they took handouts from any tourist willing to feed them. I had no idea that we would be able to tick a lifer Clark's Nutcracker so easily. Birders visiting Banff N.P. for the first time. Don't worry. Clark's Nutcracker will not take a considerably amount of energy to find. In fact, all that is required is a short walk to this amazing view.

Capturing an image of a Clark's Nutcracker did not prove difficult at all.

Another bird looking for handouts, a fellow member of the Jay family, was a Gray Jay. One adult taking care of this juvenile was seen amongst the Clark's Nutcrackers.

We spotted a pair of Common Loons on Lake Louise.

Image by Jill (mum)

After a late lunch in the Lakeview Lounge of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise we birded from the paths surrounding the lake for a while longer. Chipping Sparrow, Pine Siskin and American Robin were added to the Alberta list. It was time to find some accommodation for the night. Why not the Fairmont you ask? Yeah, right.

Staying in Canmore (further down the Trans Canada) was a more economical choice but a quick check of rates (off season and within our budget) at Paradise Lodge and Bungalows had us staying one more night in the national park. Jean and I would have another chance to bird the Lake Louise area before leaving for Calgary. Stay tuned for B.C Trip Part XIII.

Images by Jean unless stated otherwise.

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