January 2002

Upper Kananaskis Lake - Click to Learn More


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January is the coldest month of the year. The clear, dark skies are ideal for stargazing, planet watching and viewing the northern lights. Itís also an ideal time for looking at the ways animals and birds have adapted to our harsh winter climates. Animals hardy enough to live year-round in the mountains must deal with frigid temperatures, deep snowpacks and limited food supplies. It is an unforgiving land with few second chances.

A Planetary Phenomenon

January represents the best time in years for observing Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in the solar system. Jupiter is at its closest approach to Earth, making it the brightest object in the sky (other than the moon). With just a pair of binoculars, you can see several of the moons of Jupiter. If you are lucky enough to have a spotting scope, you can get a fabulous view of both Jupiter and Saturn. The tilt of the ringed planet varies dramatically over time and this year the rings are exceptionally clear. Click to learn more

Happy Birthday to Baby Bruin

While we shiver away in our heated homes, black and grizzly bears are sleeping away the winter in their dens. There is a general perception that once bears enter their den they fall into a deep sleep that lasts until the following spring. While bears DO spend the winter in dens, they also wake up periodically. During January and February, female bears wake for a short time to bring a new life to the world. Bears mate in the spring and give birth during their long winter sleep. Black and grizzly bear cubs are blind and helpless for the first few weeks and will gain weight rapidly over the next few months before emerging from the den in April. Click to learn more

Low Elevation Ungulates

Harsh temperatures and deep snow forces hoofed animals (ungulates) into the valley bottoms to feed. Despite this winterís less than average snowfall, elk and deer have moved into the valley bottoms and townsites. Canmoreís urban elk were spotted feeding on front lawns Christmas morning, bringing visions of Santaís reindeer. While elk resemble reindeer (also known as caribou), in the northern Rockies, mountain woodland caribou have also descended to the valleys. At this time, you have a good opportunity to spot them along the northern section of the Icefields Parkway and the Maligne Lake Road. Bow Summit is the southern limit of the mountain caribouís range, and these shy animals usually avoid close approach by humans. Watch for moose along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail in Kananaskis Country, around the Emerald Lake area in Yoho National Park, and along the Yellowhead Highway in Jasper (as well as the far side of Pyramid Lake). Click to learn more

Season of the Jay

January is a perfect time to watch members of the jay family such as ravens, nutcrackers, magpies and Canada, stellerís and blue jays. Jays are some of the most intelligent and easily observed birds in the mountains. The iridescent colour and long tail of magpie elicits more inquiries from visitors than any other bird. Canada jays are the most aggressive avian beggar, earning it the nickname camp robber. Look for them along cross-country ski trails and the margins of townsites. Another gray coloured jay, the Clarkís nutcracker is more common at higher elevation like the Chateau Lake Louise or the Mount Edith Cavell area in Jasper. Farther west, especially on the western side of the Continental Divide, the brightly coloured Stellerís jay is easily identified by its blue colour and distinctive black head. The blue jay, so common in the east, has made large inroads into the mountains and is now an increasingly common sight in communities like Canmore. Youíll often hear their raucous call before you spot them at local bird feeders where they compete with squirrels for the bounty of sunflower seeds. Click to learn more