Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wildlife at Banff and Jasper

There are abundant wildlife and wildflowers at Banff and Jasper. We saw bountiful of wildflowers along the highways in the parks and met quite a few large animals when driving in Jasper in July. There are more variety of wildflowers in the mountains along the trails we hiked; there should be more variety of animals there as well - though we saw quite a few different type of birds and small animals but we were not so lucky to meet large animals.


We met with a large group of Elks (female elks and young male and female elks) several times - the first couple of times we saw them in the meadows by the highways grazing; we saw another group of elks cross a river and then a road in front of us. We were also also fortunate to peek at a huge Bull Elk rest in its day nest on the way to Lake Maligne - thanks to a tour bus driver who spotted it from his high driver's seat! We then saw the same(?) Elk grazing by a creek near the highway on the way back to hotel from Lake Maligne

Black Bears

We had encounters with black bears twice. The first time was when we were approaching the town of Jasper in the evening of July 11th - a large black bear was wandering by road side - unfortunately my camera was out of battery I did not catch it on my camera; Justin and Nick did take a few pictures of it before the bear disappeared into woods as more and more tourists stopped to look at it. We met a black bear the second time when we were driving on icefield parkway on the way to Banff from Jasper - a black bear was walking along a creek by the highway. The bear was grazing and moving slowly along the creek, raising its head occasionally to look around, seemingly not bothered by the tourists accumulated on the other side of creek. I walked downstream in its walking direction ahead of it and moved away from the crowds, and got a few good pictures of it

We were also excited to see a grey Wolf on a tree log by the roadside and a coyote crossing the road right in front of our car - but we did not get good pictures of them

Small animals

When we hiked into the mountains, to glaciers, and to water falls, we were so much more closer to nature. We went hiking early in the morning, usually arriving at trail heads around 8 am, so we got a good chance to see wildlife. Though we did not encounter any large animals, we saw a lot small animals we could not name - we had to resort to park animal guide or online resources to identify them.

At the head of the trail to "plains of six glaciers" by lake Louise, after taking a few pictures there, the rest of my family moved on, I stayed around just a little bit longer. Glancing to the mountain side, I saw this big mouse-like rotten looking out from a rock. As I was trying to take a picture of it from a good angle, it disappeared. Just a few minutes later on the trail, Just spotted this same animal, which turned out to be hoary marmot, which is common to Jasper area, staking out from its hole under a big rock. Later on the trail, I heard a strange loud, piercing sound, I looked around and could not see anything, keep looking I finally saw another hoary marmot on a big rock above where we were, making the calls sporadically.

Another common small animal to Jasper area is columbian ground squirrel. I saw so many of them, especially at Lake Louise Ski resort, I wondered what their predators are. One particular columbian ground squirrel was particularly interesting, it stood on a big rock in a patch of small blue flowers, calmly checking hikers passing by!!

The first time I saw pika was by Lake Louise. I spotted a small mouse speeding from bushes to grass in an open area on lake shore, back facing me. It had very big ears - I was curious to see its front and whistled, it turned around and ran away in a split of a second. The next time I encountered this little animal was at rocky section of the trail of Mt. Edith Cavell. I was ahead of the rest of my family, then suddenly a little pika crossed the trail right in front of me, stopped, looked at me for a second or so, escaped with a small tree branch in its mouth.

Almost at the same time, Lily spotted a pair of black marmots playing in the rocks - they were frolicking each other, hugging, wrestling .... and then stopped for a moment looking at us, then chased each a bit more, frolicking, hugging was so cute. It was bit too far for me, but Lily got it good on her camcorder.

(to be continued: Birds & Flowers)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Best of Banff and Jasper National Parks

We went to Banff and Jasper National Parks of Canada in mid July 2011 for a week. The views of Rocky Mountains, magnificent glaciers and elegant glacier lakes, abundant wildflowers; the sounds from rushing glacier rivers, thunderous water falls, and singing birds; the sights of wild animals and colorful flowers and the cool weather, all made the trip memorable. It was wonderful.

The best places within the parks are Moraine Lake and Valley of 10 Peaks, Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers, Icefield Parkway in Banff and Mt Edith Cavell in Jasper.

Moraine Lake

The second day at Banff, we went to Moraine lake early in the morning in light drizzles. It was quiet and beautiful: the tranquil lake with its rippled turquoise water, and the surrounding 10 Rockie peaks, lush green pin trees and vegetation on the northern shore and moraines on the southern shore. As we walked along the shoreline, all we heard was the rushing glacier melts pouring into the lake.
Then we hiked to Larch Valley, which is 2.8 km away from the lake and 465m above the lake. It was cold ( 7C) that morning. So it took about half kilometer hike for us to warm up and the rest of the way was very pleasant. As we zigzagged in the mountain, we saw various kinds of wildflowers, we heard the chirping of birds now and then, and of course the running creeks every time we crossed them.

When we reached Larch valley, the clouds broke, the Sun shone on the lush meadow. We were at the glacier level, passing glacier remnants a few times.

Lake Louise

The lake is more whitish green than emerald green, Victoria Glacier seems to be right at the top of west end of the lake, and the grandeur Fairmont Chateauon is at the east end.

We went to Lake Louise twice, the first time was in the afternoon after our trip to Moraine Lake.
Nick, Justin and I canoed on the lake, which provided a different viewpoint and a distance from the crowds at this popular location, while Lily walked along the shoreline.

We went to Lake Louise early next morning to hike to the plains of six glaciers - 5.3km distance from the lake, and an elevation gain of 365m. Blooming flowers are allover the mountains. We encountered golden ground squirrels, saw hoary marmot in and out of its burrow, heard the chirping of birds which have black and white strips on their heads. We walked on glacier remnants, and witnessed the thunderous breaking off of glacier ice from Victoria Glaciers while we were picnicking by glacier creeks.

Icefield Park Way

Icefield Parkway is the most beautiful highway I have ever driven on. We passed numerous emerald green glacier lakes dotted along the highway, reflecting rocky mountain ranges; We drove right under the towering glaciers, we passed by many water falls - large and small.

It took us about 10 hours to drive from Banff to Jasper - about 230km due to frequent stops on Icefield parkway. As we were approaching Jasper in the evening, we encountered Elks, Black Bear, Wolf which were wandering by roadside, and a Coyotte which crossed the road right in front of our car!

Mt Edith Cavell

We were the first to arrive at Mt Edith Cavell the first day we were at Jasper. We had the whole mountain to ourself and we enjoyed Mt Edith wilderness - subalpine forest, flowery Meadows on the slopes, spectacular view of angles glacier. As we hiked into the mountain, we encountered a pika carrying a small pine tree branch, two marmots frolicking each other on boulders, a bird singing for us for a good stretch of time.

When we came down the mountain we went to Edith Cavell Glacier and Glacier lake. The glacier is small, but very approachable, we were right at the front of the glacier - aquatic water, floating ice, fissures/caves in the glacier ice .... we felt incredibly intimate with the glacier!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve and Beyond 2

As we proceeded further south, we reached another large open area - apparently we were entering another park, which turned out to be Woodruff Park. This northern section of the park has large open area in the north, a big pond at the south by the Parker road, some recreational facilities on the east of the pond - playground, sand volleyball court and a pavilion. We rode around the pond and went further south via the underpass of Parker road and reached the southern section of the park - another large prairie - looks very similar to the prairie by the oak point lake - the concrete trail extends into another forested area and ends at its southern boarder.

As we rested under a big tree at the southern Woodruff, by the Rowlett Creek, Lily noticed a shell of Cicada on a leaf. Looking around we found more shells. It is a good time to show the kids that Cicada grows by molting and it is the insect that makes the sound of summer. She also identified a wheat like plant.

On the way back, we stayed at the pond of Woodruff for a while, as we observed an Egret by a marsh land. Justin spotted the egret and waited for Nick and I to come since we brought our cameras with us for the outing. We were about only 10 yards away by this big egret - we could see the bird clearly - its long black leg, bright brown beak, light green eyelid, green eye and snow white feathers! Standing in the tall green grass, it looked so elegant, graceful. Then wind blew its feather, the egret started to clean its feather, scratch its neck ... enough of the show for us, it flew away from the spot and to the pond, ready for its lunch.

On the way back to oak point park, I was separated from the group again, thinking that they went to the parking lot, I went to the oak point lake directly, but they took a detour to oak point amphitheater. So I slowed down to enjoy the prairie under the hot Sun. There were a lot of grasshoppers of different colors - green, grey, yellow ... somehow many grasshoppers jumped out of grass and stayed on the concrete, seemingly sunbathing :).

With all the blooming around, there must be many butterflies, dragonflies and bees. But I did see any while speeding around; with their camouflage and the bright sunshine, it is really hard to see them. So I got off the bike and stood still for a minute or so, and finally saw some butterflies and dragonflies, - and one dragon fly flew nearby and rested on a plant. While I was wandering around, I also noticed some burrowed holes - still not knowing what they are. Finally we were reunited by the parking lot, resting at shaded area, enjoying the breeze and watching a captured grasshopper climbing out of its water bottle prison. Afterwards, we headed to the huge pavilion by the lake for our picnic lunch.

In the the pavilion, we were by ourselves, enjoying our lunch feast -home made french bread freshly baked that morning, individually sliced lunch beef and hams, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, celery, kettle chips, ice cooled peaches, tomatoes, plums, ice cold water from frozen bottles......With the surrounding tall trees, the sound of summer from cicadas all around, the light northern wind, the rural like atmosphere was tranquilizing.


Nicholas took the picture that the egret scratch its neck
The trip exceeded our expectations.
When we were about to leave, we noticed that our van was the only vehicle in the huge parking lot - we did have the park for ourselves for a period of time

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve and Beyond

This 4th of July weekend we explored another local park - Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve. Oak Point is an 800 acre open prairie which has plenty of wildflowers, bushes and vegetation, and miles of paved bike trails and many more miles of natural trails in the woods within the park limit and beyond.

Last Sunday was a typical Texas summer day - cloudless sky, bright sunshine and hot. When we arrived at the park via its main entrance around 8:45am, there were only a handful of cars parked in the huge parking lot. Dismounting 4 bikes from the bike rake, inflating bike tires, applying sunsceens, and then checking park trail map one more time,in 10 minutes, we were on our way into the park - Justin leading the way.

About a quarter mile into the ride, we reached the oak point lake. The rest of the family sped away as soon as they saw me catching up, I stayed at the lake spill way a bit longer to look around. The lake elongates from west to east, and quite narrow in south-north direction. Besides the man-made concrete trail around the lake, the trees, vegetation and blooming bushes all look quite natural in there habitat. A couple of people were fishing on a pier at northwest corner of the lake, another two were jogging or running around the lake, a family of four were sitting by the spill way, preparing to hike into the woods. The lake rippled under a northern breeze.

Continuing from the spill way, the trail branches - one branch curved back to hug the lake, the other branches away. I followed the run away branch which is on the west perimeter of a large open prairie bordered by trees, blooming plants and the Rowllete creek. Yellow Sunflowers, purple "sensitive briars", white "pink evening primrose", red-yellow "blanketflowers" were blooming among the spread of out-of-season whithered plants. There was no shade to this stretch of the bike trail - just as I was thinking that it would be a grueling bike ride, I noticed additional branches of the trail to the creek direction - it would be nice to bike there. My family was waiting for me at the second break-away bridge over the creek, while looking around, drinking water.

The trail extends south into a small forest - with well spaced large trees with umbrella like canopy. It is definitely well shaded all day long, and it is paved and level. We rode through the underpass at spring creek road, the trail becomes more like tree formed tunnel. In the background shrill sound of Cicada, we heard bird calling now and then. The temperature on the trail was actually at a very pleasant level despite the hot day; the ride was very comfortable. There were few hikers or bikers on the trail or in the park. It felt like we had this hidden biking paradise all to ourselves!

(to be continued)

note: the flora identification in the prairie was per the guide from the park website

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hagerman Wildlife Refuge

During our June 18 blueberry picking trip to Sadler, TX, we also visited nearby Hagerman National Wild Life Refuge. Since we quit blue berry picking early than planned that day, we decided to go to Hagerman for a lunch picnic instead of staying at the berry patch. Unfortunately, the visitor center at the wildlife refuge was closed, we could not find a large shaded area with benches and tables for our large group. We picnicked under the tree shades by the parking lot! It was a little bit disappointing.

After the picnic we hiked on the Harris Creek trail, then most people were eager to leave, so I did not propose to drive around the refuge or to walk into the marshes where wildlife is. But I did know then that the refuge was very beautiful, with flush green marsh lands,many waterfowl, such as white egrets, grey herons, brown/black geese ... along with butterflies, dragonflies since we drove inside the refuge along a gravel road on the way to the visitor's center. Here is the proof.

There were many types of dragonflies on the Harris Creek Trail - well camouflaged, hard to see when they landed on bushes

There are many ponds in the refuge for water fowls

Geese and Egrets on the shore of Lake Taxoma

There are more egrets and herons in the marsh.

A grey/white heron? or a hybrid? This bird was all itself in this puddle - the lasting drought this summer is obvious.

Sunflowers were blooming

We planed to go back to explore Hagerman Wildlife Refuge this fall already.