YOHO NATIONAL PARK: Fairy Barf and Squirrel Love
“It’s all in the details.” We say that about contracts, and it is true in nature as well. The grand landscapes are stunning in Yoho National Park, but the details of the landscape are often entertaining and visually fascinating. Here are a few stories and pictures showing some of those wonderful details from hikes that I and my companions took in the Lake O’Hara area.
We had hoped to see one of three species of ptarmigan on our hikes, but we struck out. On our last day in Yoho, we talked about not seeing ptarmigans, and I said we were more likely to see a grouse along the forested, lower elevation trail we were hiking. Within a couple of minutes, I looked up the trail and there was a Spruce Grouse standing right in the trail! It was a male, painted with bright red eye shadow. This species is also known as “fool hen,” because it is rather oblivious to the presence of people. We pointed cameras at it for nearly ten minutes at close range, and the grouse showed little nervousness about us.
The day before our grouse experience, we were hiking on the Opabin Plateau, which is a glacial hanging valley populated with Wolverines, Grizzly Bears, and Zen Buddhists–of which we observed only the latter on our two day trips into this valley. But what interested me? Squirrel sex! A lady Red Squirrel sat
demurely on a conifer branch, nibbling at a cone and allowing us to approach close enough to get some nice pictures. She was lovely. Then another squirrel appeared, and began chasing our lady ’round and ’round, up and down and around tree trunks, and dashing over the mossy forest floor. Finally he caught her and they mated. Then another chase. Then he caught her again; this time
she picked up and gnawed on a Douglas Fir cone while mating, as if bored with the whole act. Then another chase. And another mating. She chewed some more on her cone. My female hiking companions finally got tired of watching animal porn; and from then on they refused to point out any more squirrels to me!
I hadn’t realized that fairies lived in Yoho National Park, but we saw evidence of them all the time. Along the trails were little patches of puke, where fairies who nipped a bit too much on the ambrosia of the Canadian Rockies spilled their guts on the morning after. Actually, these patches of puke are Fairy Barf lichens, with plenty of tiny chunks against a bilious green background.
We had seen enough lakes at Yoho to realize that nearly every medium sized lake and tarn contained a resident Barrow’s Goldeneye. These ducks spend the waning autumn days at these subalpine lakes, constantly diving for aquatic
insects. In the clear mountain lakes, I could watch the goldeneyes as they swam underwater. In fact, the first time I saw one from above, I could follow its trail underwater by the cloud of silt it stirred up as it swam along the bottom. These ducks were only going to enjoy their Canadian Rockies vacations for a short time, since ice would soon seal all of the lakes and tarns; then they would have to fly to their wintering grounds to the south.
A couple of little birds love this high country; two come to mind. The American Pipit enjoys Canada as much as this American, and spends its time searching for food on the rocky shores of mountain lakes. The American Dipper walks underwater along mountain streams and lakes.
Male Fairies in these woods have a poor sense of direction, and would be too embarrassed to ask a mere human for directions, so they’ve created an elaborate system of maps. I didn’t fully understand the maps, but I’m not supposed to, as I am not a Fairy .
When we visited Yoho, the wildflowers were essentially done for the year. But seed heads of several species could still be found before the falling of autumn snows covered them for the winter. This included the Western Anemone, which is also known as “Hippie Stick” and “Towhead Baby,” and which has a prominent crown of feathery seeds that reminds humans of hair.
When we ventured above timberline, we would see rodents that looked like oversized chipmunks, except that the face is not striped like chipmunks. These Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels live in burrows under rocks in the high country, and have learned that humans sometimes leave behind bits of crackers and cheese and nuts–or that these big creatures will sometimes hand them free food, often with strange chuckling sounds coming from their upturned mouths.
We didn’t see any large browsing animals in Yoho, though Elk and Moose are found in the park. The closest we came was seeing this track in the snow, several miles from Lake O’Hara. The details are obscured by the snow, so I cannot say for sure if if was an Elk or a Moose.
Below is a gallery of lichen photographs. I don’t recall ever being in a place so rich with lichen diversity. It takes patience to look close and photograph these miniature designs, which consist of a cooperative combination of fungus and algae. I am not an expert at identification of lichens, so if anyone out there in blogland knows more than I do, feel free to identify some of these by genus and species or to correct me.
Finally, we saw a variety of mushrooms on this trip. Rather than try to identify these, I’ll just show them to you for your interest; I especially liked the combination of mushrooms and snow.
This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.
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