October 22, 2015
Text and all photos by Faye Baldock
As a worker of the hospitality industry here in Banff I often get asked ‘What kind of animals are there, and where is the best place to find them?’ It is apparent that for many, the chance of seeing wildlife is a high motivation when exploring the park. If visitors are lucky enough to encounter wildlife, it can be an exciting experience for all involved and just one of the many highlights gained from visiting these Canadian Rocky Mountains. What I have learned:
Black bear and cub. Black bears can be black, brown, blond, cinnamon or blue-gray.
What kind of animals are in the park? According to Parks Canada, Banff National Park is home to 53 species of mammals. The most commonly seen are elk, deer and big horn sheep as well as the small critters including, Columbian ground squirrels, chipmunks and pikas. If you are really lucky and the timing is right, you may come across black bears, grizzly bears, wolves and the even rarer cougar, lynx and wolverine. (For a complete list of species please visit this Parks Canada website.)
The elusive wolverine.
How can I find a particular mammal? Some visitors may come to the park purely to see a particular mammal and if doing so my best advice is to research that particular species' behaviour and its traveling patterns. Let’s take bears for instance; in my experience the months of May to June have opened a window of opportunity for seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. They start to awake from a long winter in hibernation and are on the search for food. With snow still covering the higher elevations they come down to the lower sections of the valley and can often be seen on the side of the road foraging on shrubs and dandelions. As spring turns into summer and the town becomes more populated with visitors the bears will move into higher elevations in the search for a quieter environment and a different food source. Mid-summer / early fall, buffalo berries are a major food source and in turn can cause the bears to come back down to lower elevations providing another opportunity for them to be seen.
Best time of year to spot wildife? Most wildlife can be anywhere at any time so it’s difficult to predict the best time of year. If viewing wildlife is a high priority for visitors I would recommend visiting during slower seasons when the park is quieter. But again, it depends on the type of wildlife and their behaviours. Elk for example, can be seen quite often during fall when the male and female elk come together to breed and the annual elk rut commences. This can be incredible to watch and also incredible to hear as the bulls mark their territory with their distinctive bugling, pacing back and forth, and antler rattling competitions over whom is more dominant. Some species, like the bears and ground squirrels, hibernate during the winter months.
Best time of day to spot animals? Animals tend to be most active either first thing in the morning just as the sun has risen or last thing at night just before the sun sets. Again, this all depends on the animal’s behaviour, feeding and sleep patterns.
A young moose.
How to view wildlife safely and responsibly? As exciting as it is to see animals living in their natural environment, it is essential that we keep the ‘wild’ in wildlife and maintain a healthy human to wildlife relationship. A complete list of safety precautions and best wildlife practice can be found on the Parks Canada website however, as a temporary local to Banff, I take it upon myself to never go ‘searching’ for wildlife. If I am lucky enough to come across animals, great! But I never stick around long enough to disrupt them. It’s always best to keep a safe distance even when viewing them from a car and if I do pull over I always make sure I am giving the animals enough space, leaving if too many people start to gather and not stopping at all if there is already a road side jam. Feeding wildlife or enticing wildlife to come close is an absolute no and if there is litter already on the ground I always go out of my way to pick it up as who knows where it could eventually end up. (Ed. note: Attempting to feed wildlife can endanger the photographer as well as the animals. Once wildlife-especially the larger mammals-become habituated to humans feeding them, they search out human contact/food and risk having to be relocated or put down.)
My experiences Over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to encounter wildlife a number of times and I feel I have been extremely privileged to see the different species I have come across. The beauty of it all is that you never know where animals can be at any given time. Sure, we can always have an idea of the ‘hotspots’ and where they have previously been seen but nature has a way of showing you its beauty when you least expect it and that’s what makes encounters so exhilarating. This is a collection of my favourite pictures I have taken here in the park. Please note all photos have been taken with a zoom lens.
Grizzly or black bear? Here is how to tell the difference.
The industrious beaver.