17 A sweet encounter
Photo taken on 29 November 2016 and posted on Flickr on 6 January 2017.
On 29 November 2016, I was fortunate enough to have a third trip into the mountains to look for and photograph these wonderful White-tailed Ptarmigan. Friend, Shirley, had been out there before, but just missed seeing them. She asked if I wanted to go with her, and I jumped at the chance. I knew several other people who were planning to go, so felt a little more confident that we would probably be able to find these birds.
Find them, we did - but, oh, what we had to go through in order to see them! Unlike the other two times I had been, on 22nd and 23rd November, this time the birds were not near the main road area but, instead, were first spotted way across the valley, low down on the mountainside. A few years ago, I had done a short walk along this valley in deep, deep snow and vowed I would never be so foolish to do it again. You need snowshoes and, even then, the going is difficult. Of course, I don't have snowshoes, nor did a few of my friends.
When I heard that some people ahead of us had seen a few of the birds closer than the mountainside, I decided I would at least start 'walking' and see how far I got. The first short distance through the snow was flat, but then we had to climb upwards through knee deep snow. I almost had to give up, but thanks to friend, Tony, who basically dragged me up some of the most difficult parts, I was able to plough my way to where the closest Ptarmigan were. A few other helping hands, too, made this climb possible.
Several of the birds were in the sunshine for a while, either resting or taking a few short steps. So different compared to seeing and photographing them on a cloudy, gloomy day.
These birds tend to walk around in just a small area for a while, feeding on the buds of the low Willow bushes, and then the group lies down, some of them burrowing till just the head and neck are visible, or some will burrow till they disappear completely under the snow. Every now and then, you can hear the little sounds they make. After resting, they repeat the feeding process and then rest again. As you can imagine, from a distance, a turn of the head so that a bird is looking away from you, all that remains is something that looks like one of the many lumps of snow everywhere.
"The smallest grouse in North America, the White-tailed Ptarmigan inhabits alpine regions from Alaska to New Mexico. It has numerous adaptations to its severe habitat, including feathered toes, highly cryptic plumage, and an energy-conserving daily regime." From AllAboutBirds.
"The white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura), also known as the snow quail, is the smallest bird in the grouse family. It is a permanent resident of high altitudes on or above the tree line and is native to Alaska and the mountainous parts of Canada and the western United States. It has also been introduced into the Sierra Nevada in California, the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon and the Uinta Mountains in Utah. Its plumage is cryptic and varies at different times of the year. In the summer it is speckled in gray, brown and white whereas in winter it is wholly white. At all times of year the wings, belly and tail are white. The white-tailed ptarmigan has a diet of buds, leaves, flowers and seeds. The nest is a simple depression in the ground in which up to eight eggs are laid. After hatching, the chicks soon leave the nest. At first they eat insects but later move on to an adult diet, their mother using vocalisations to help them find suitable plant food. The population seems to be stable and the IUCN lists this species as being of "Least Concern". From Wikipedia.
Eventually, it was time to head back down and along to the cars, repeating the difficult process of 'step and plunge' through the snow. It felt so good to finally reach the car!
Shirley and I had left the city and travelled south via Turner Valley, but came back to the city via Barrier Lake and Highway 1. While driving out to Highway 40 in the morning, we stopped to watch this beautiful female Moose along the road from Turner Valley. She was quite a distance from the road, and turned to look at us, even taking a couple of steps towards us. After a short while, she decided that we just weren't all that interesting or a threat, and continued into the trees. Later, we stopped to watch a couple of Bighorn Sheep on Highway 40. Other than that, there was no sign of other wildlife other than many tracks left in the snow.
“The moose (North America) or Eurasian elk (Europe), Alces alces, is the largest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with adendritic ("twig-like") configuration. Moose typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Moose used to have a much wider range but hunting and other human activities greatly reduced it over the years. Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most moose are found in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. The most common moose predators are wolves, bears, and humans. Unlike most other deer species, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move surprisingly quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.
The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume 9,770 kcal (40.9 MJ) per day to maintain its body weight. Much of a moose's energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch. These plants are rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants. While much lower in energy, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life. In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter. A typical moose, weighing 360 kg (790 lb), can eat up to 32 kg (71 lb) of food per day.” From Wikipedia.
AlbertaCanadaRocky MountainsCanadian RockiesKananaskisnatureanimalwildwild animalwildlifemammalMooseAlces alcesFamily CervidaeSubfamily CapreolinaeGenus Alcesdeer familyvery largefeedingdried grasstreesbushesoutdoorfallautumn29 November 2016FZ200FZ200number4annkelliottAnne Elliott© Anne Elliott 2016© All Rights ReservedAnne Elliott, from
Photos posted to Flickr, 1 January - 31 March 2017