Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Getting Wild in Canada

One of my favorite things to do in the Canadian Rockies is to hunt for wildlife to shoot. With my camera, yo. (Good one, me) So when we drove back to Calgary this summer, we scheduled a few extra days for a visit to Jasper National Park. Jasper is about three hours past Banff National Park and is a bit more wild and less touristy. You never know what you might see.

The best way to spot animals during your drive is to constantly scan the trees for movement. But since that just makes me carsick, I prefer the second best method: watching for other cars pulled over on the side of the road. But here's a caveat: one stopped car almost always means the driver is looking at a map. More than one? Hot dog! Get your camera ready.

Wildlife usually moves fast, so I always set my camera for an action shot, pump up the zoom and prepare to capture whatever part of the animal is visible in the branches. We look at the people first (this is not a joke! repeat, this is not a joke!) to see where they're looking and then I click, click, click in that direction, producing fabulously sharp images of the sky, the road, the backs of people's heads and- God willing- fleeing wildlife.

Our first sighting this summer was a friggin' black wolf. Boom! Cars were pulled over and excited tourists were running along the shoulder of the road, looking up into the trees. I usually stay in my car, preferring not to be mauled (by the animal, I mean. The tourists can have at me!), but I got out and asked someone if it was a bear. "A black wolf!" he replied, with an English accent. "Very rare." We were all staring at a break in the trees, because someone saw it headed that way. And while that poor Englishman turned around to answer someone else's question, the wolf darted by.

He missed the shot but I got him! We all watched the woods a bit longer, standing in excited silence. I found myself worrying that the wolf might suddenly fly out of the trees, landing on one of us. It was foolish to be out there. As I made my way back to the car, I passed a man climbing down from the top of his RV. "Is the wolf gone?" I asked. He answered in German, gesturing further up the hill. We decided to move on.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. But the next day, right outside the township of Jasper, we saw a blonde bear and two cubs run across the road. (Technically, it would be called a blonde black bear. I ain't kidding. Look it up.) I told Greg our trip had been made: two unusual sightings and OK photos from each.

Now that that was out of the way, we could relax and just enjoy. Without much effort, we bagged photos of the usual elk, big horned sheep and a black bear.

Well, hello! This guy was on the side of the road and when I rolled down my window to take his photo, he was RIGHT THERE.

And this elk was eating leaves along a path we walked on. We kept our distance, not wanting to disturb him. Don't forget, I was using a zoom lens! We aren't idiots. OK, keep your opinions to yourself.

Despite these animal sightings, the visit was starting to feel routine. Jasper was our go-to place for company during the 3 years we lived in Calgary. We were starting to feel like we had seen it all- a few times- until I read that we might be able to see salmon swimming upstream. Holy Halifax, Canada! There are always new things to see!

Here's the thing. Watching the salmon throw themselves hard against the water and the rocks and then seeing all the dead ones upstream was really sad. I started a blog post in my head titled, "It Sucks to be a Salmon" but abandoned the idea because it was too much the bummer.

Salmon don't eat for like, a month, before spawning. They put everything they have into making it against the current and up the falls they encounter. We never could get a shot of one in the air because it happens too fast but this red guy in the photo was resting after an attempt.

We followed their journey to a spot upstream where a salmon expert/volunteer explained the whole grizzly business. After spawning, the salmon die. Their decomposing bodies provide nutrition for the new little salmon babies. "Thanks, Mom and Dad! You died giving me life and now I"m gonna EAT you!"

I'm glad we experienced salmon running upstream, but it isn't the beautiful spectacle you see on TV. Wait, what am I talking about? Those poor bastards on TV usually wind up being torn to shreds by a bear. Thank God I didn't see any of that carnage.

I think I'll concentrate on my pretty photos of  living, healthy animals and believe they live in Disney's version of forest life- dancing, happy animals like Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck and Bambi. BAMBI?? Damn.

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