Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Canada part 4: animals what ain't bears!

We absolutely loved all the small animals we met in Canada. In some ways they were the stars of the show. It can sometimes be too easy to focus on the big beasts and let the small ones disappear into the landscape, but we had some great encounters.
It started pretty much on day one with this confiding squirrel round the back of our hotel in Banff.



These American red squirrels are about the same size as our red squirrels but have that lovely white eye-ring. Lacking the ear-tuft of course makes them less appealing!
Another of the small mammals which we saw a lot of was the golden-mantled ground squirrel.



They tended to be found at higher elevations, like these ones at the top of Gondola mountain in Banff.  They were almost always pretty confiding, even approaching you for food despite the warning signs that you could fined an eye-watering amount of money if you were caught!!! Like this one, with its massive cheek-pouches they weren't short of natural food as they started to lay up for the winter.

This one though seemed to have a strange food source. This was on top of a mountain in Jasper, above the treeline and somehow it had found a mushroom which it was clearly enjoying.



Now I'm not pointing fingers but the fact that the cafeteria by the cablecar station was nearby struck me as suspicious. Never mind, it did mean that it was so concentrating on its meal you could approach ridiculously closely to it.

At the same mountain top were hoary marmots.


They are much larger than the ground squirrels, about the size of a domestic cat and they trundled about the plateau in a most amusing way as they searched for any grass to eat. Again they showed little fear of us and pretty much ignored mad photographers lying on the ground near them!
When they weren't feeding they liked to lie up on rocks in the sun, almost as if they were admiring the view.

That tail is a thing of wonderment and beauty!!!

You also came across small mammals in some unusual places. This Colombian ground squirrel was basically t the side of a parking lot on the Icefields Parkway and again was totally unfazed by us.

Probably, no definitely, our favourite though was the pica. These are smallish mammals, about the size of a small guinea-pig but much cuter (I don't like guinea-pigs).
They tended to be found in the scree slopes on the edge of forests at reasonably high altitudes, like this one at Moraine Lake. We were supposed to be going on a longer hike to a flower meadow but got diverted.




 You quite often heard them before seeing them, with their high pitched cry declaring their ownership of a patch of rocks. What thy were doing was laying in food stores for the Winter. They would rush across the rocks to the edge of the forest, then come back with their mouthes stuffed with greenery.



What they were doing was taking it back to their den in the rocks where it acts as a foodstore for later when food becomes much harder to find.

So, instead of our hike we sat and watched this little guy for I suppose an hour or so. The strange thing was lots of people hiked past, but nobody seemed to notice the pica scurrying around.

Of course, not all the animals were land-based. On Haida Gwaii we went out on a zodiac trip and got very good views of aquatic mammals as well.
The harbour seals, both here were quite shy, generally hiding in the kelp.

This was not because of their big cousins the sealions who were also around, lazing on a rock



including this very snotty alpha male,
 but they were hiding from orcas who love eating seals. We didn't see any unfortunately.
Later on in the great bear rainforest we did get much better views of the harbour seals in a shallow inlet where they were safe from orcas.

We were hoping to sea otters, which do live round here, but their numbers are very low. Once numerous they were effectively wiped out from the coast here by hunting and they are only now starting to recolonise the area. This cute pair were in Vancouver aquarium.


The aquarium, which is very good, also provide us with then chance to take some arty shots of the sea life including these enormous lion mane jellyfish.

I'll leave you with two of the more comedic shots. One is of a mountain goat which looks like its trying to photobomb our shot

and the second is a close but not close enough shot of a flying squirrel. If i'd been a bit faster on tracking it rather than leaving the focus point on the rock we could have had a great shot.

Ah well, can't win them all I suppose!