Canada ’08: Canadian Critters
Canada is a country of course renowned for it’s varied wildlife, readily accessible to view quite often. To this end I have a confession to make at this early point.
I have never seen a bear in Canada.
There, I’ve said it. In around twelve, usually quite long visits to this glorious, beautiful and wild country, I have never seen a live Bear. This must be some kind of record considering the amount of time I’ve spent in British Columbia and Alberta alone at various times of the year. I’m beginning to wonder if this notion of bears is a myth concocted by tourism officials in order to attract more visits to the Great White North. perhaps I’ll find out the hard way one day…
I’ve always had a notion of what to do in case of a bear attack. This time I had it spelt out for me. Apparently Black Bears are untrustworthy creatures, surprise surprise. The code is to never trust in their actions and in case of attack fight back however the best one can. I’ve never met or even heard of anyone who’s managed to land a haymaker on one yet without having their face ripped off though. This line of defense does seem problematic at the very least.
Grizzlies are a different matter it is said. Much larger than Black Bears, these monsters can grow to a size of around thirty-five stones and almost unfeasibly stand at around nine or ten feet on their considerable hind legs. They run, swim and climb better than humans and just to put a finishing touch on things have razor-sharp claws around 3″ long. If it really fancies breakfast, you’re toast basically. Now the strategy is quite different when meeting a Grizzly. Fighting just WON’T work so let’s forget that one straight away (phew). As already discussed, once confronted, there really is no escape except at the Bear’s discretion. This means not fleeing but playing dead. It’s your best hope. Unfortunately lying still whilst this ferocious killing machine is bearing down on one must be equally as worrisome as fighting a Black Bear.
I never suffer in spotting practically every other creature that Canada has to offer though. The recent encounter with a Garter Snake on a city sidewalk being only the thin end of a large wedge. During my stay this time I have also witnessed sightings of chipmunks amongst other ‘critters’. The little stripy fellows are hardly rare but on this occasion I actually had them on my lap staring into the camera lens. Too close for a close-up boys. In the same less harmless area of wildlife a Marmot or two were spotted, scampering about not far from the lake and quite untroubled by our presence.
Of course there are sometimes false alarms. This time it was a ‘raccoon’ that turned out to be a domestic cat – or maybe not – we’re still not sure. It’s in the bird life that this trip came into it’s own. I’m always entranced by the birds one can spot in Canada. From the hugest hawks to the tiniest of humming birds. There is such variety and the colours often seem so vivid compared to some of the native birds of Great Britain.
In our garden most days we would readily spot House Finches and the odd Cardinal Finches, both very noticeable with their bright red markings. Those birds are so gorgeous, their reds almost impossibly scarlet. There would always be a small squadron of sparrows busily taking food around them too. Their numbers, now much greater in the gardens here seemingly than at home where sightings appear to have dwindled alarmingly.
Of great entertainment value to us each day have been an extended family of Quail who scan the local area looking for three square meals a day. The quail are most comical in the sense that they are very indecisive birds. Usually there would be a male adult or two overlooking feeding operations in the back garden. This would have been preceded by the sight of them all walking through the gateway every morning from breakfast time onwards. A curious thing about the quail is that they are appear so reluctant to admit they are actually birds. Only under extreme duress will they seem to take to the air and escape the keen gardener by flying over the perimeter fence. Meanwhile the young birds will look on concerned whilst the very youngest – mere dustballs scuttling around the garden in numbers, will dart this way and that. Sometimes even hiding under the wooden back door step imagining I can’t see them under there!
A type of Flicker – similar to a Woodpecker, would be spotted occasionally. These birds have vivid orange under feathers which are quite rare in ornithology apparently. A healthy sized bird and not particularly common in the Okagan.
Days in the Provincial Parks have provided some of the most spectacular sightings but not exclusively. At Echo Beach camp site a small flock of Stellar’s Jays with their attractive bright blue plumage took the eye. Fairly tame too, as they would perform slow-motion acrobatics on the fences close to our evening camp fire. It was at the same camp site that a good population of various charming little humming birds went about their business. I always find it difficult not to be entranced by these beautiful, diminutive and pretty birds.
Perhaps the most dramatic sighting was the initial one of a Bald Eagle. Whilst swimming in Okanagan Lake in Ellison Provinvial Park near Vernon the skies suddenly seemed to get significantly darker. I exaggerate slightly but to illustrate the point a male specimen of this huge bird can apparently sport a maximum wingspan of 88″. That’s over seven feet in real money. Imagine that. This magnificent symbol of the American nation has stabilised from being ‘endangered’ to the lesser ‘threatened’ classification thankfully. This is due partly to a healthy population of them in Canada. After this amazing sighting above my head as I bobbed around in the lake, I swear I could see the eagle’s shadow passing gracefully over the water. It finally landed in it’s eyrie at the far bank of the lake and proceeded to remain there all afternoon giving those with binoculars a tremendous view for a long period of time.
Perhaps surprisingly one does not have to travel far – not even out of the city, to see a Bald Eagle. There lies an eyrie in Mission Creek in Kelowna that is re-visited each year by a pair of the birds. I have taken a winter look at the nest when it is more visible due to the deciduous trees shedding their leaves but I was still slightly aghast when crossing a small side road near a local beach only to peer upwards into the sunlight to see another one of the enormous birds above my head.
Lastly and perhaps even more impressive, there are Ospreys nesting in Kelowna. To the average British person an Osprey is a rarity indeed. At one time down to only a few pairs remaining in Northern Scotland, the birds are making something of a UK resurgence but are still extremely rare and protected.
That protection extends to regular watches on Osprey nests due to past crimes of having their rare and valuable eggs stolen. In Kelowna they live downtown! Quite near some million dollar condominiums on the Waterfront in fact so they are obviously birds with good taste! To see them incongruously perched up high in a residential area felt slightly bizarre, settled up high above a creek though they may be. On our visit the pair were at the nest, one preening itself at length and the other tucking into a tasty fish for lunch. It’s amusing to think how much of a stir such a sighting would make in the UK.
There we are then. Some fantastic and memorable bird sightings and some amusement along the way with the other critters. I’m still looking for those mythical bruins though…