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May 2002

Upper Kananaskis Lake - Click to Learn More


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Rarely has the month of May be more keenly anticipated than this year. The cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls this April, while long needed by the water table, left most locals keen for the lengthening days and (hopefully) warmer temperatures that May promises. Also welcome will be the first signs of green as leaves begin to emerge and the first flowers add a sprinkle of colour to the meadows and forest floors. Higher up, ground squirrels and marmots will re-emerge from a long winter sleep.

From Crocus to Coltsfoot

Prairie Crocus - click to learn moreFew things signify the arrival of spring more than the appearance of the first wildflowers. The prairie crocus seems able to push its fuzzy purple flowers right through late spring snowfalls. I've spotted them as early as April 23 in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Look for them on sun-baked hillsides where they can soak up the spring rays. Another spring flower, the arrow-leaved coltsfoot emerges with clusters of white flowers around the same time. Because the coltsfoot is less showy, it's not as well known. The calypso orchid (fairy slipper), a delicate spring orchid, brightens the needle covered floor of the lodgepole pine forest towards the end of May. Click to learn more

Pika - click to learn morePikas and Marmots

The heavy snow this winter blanketed the Rockies with a welcome source of spring runoff. Beneath the snow, hoary marmots and golden-mantled ground squirrels were in a deep state of hibernation. This month, we'll begin to hear the familiar calls of these high country hibernators. Mixed with the whistle of the marmot and the high pitched call of the ground squirrel is another familiar sound, the "peeeek" of the pika. While ground squirrels and marmots were sleeping away the winter, pikas remained active, feeding on hay piles collected during the previous summer. They create an intricate series of snow tunnels that they use to navigate through their snowbound home. Click here to learn more

Was that a snake?

We don't often see snakes in the Rockies, but this apparent absence is just that, apparent. If you know where to look, you may get the opportunity to see the occasional garter snake. The Marsh Loop boardwalk at the Cave & Basin Centennial Centre is the premier location for snake watching in the mountains. In the spring, the snakes emerge from a communal winter den (hibernaculum) to soak up the first rays of spring sunshine. This is the only known hibernaculum in Banff National Park. Other spots for snake watching include the Fenland Trail in Banff, and occasionally the Valley of Five Lakes in Jasper. 

Planetary Lineups

SaturnThe recent movie Tomb Raider was based on a supposed alignment of all the planets of the solar system. According to the movie, such alignments occur every 5,000 years. In reality, there has never been such an alignment. That being said, the next best thing is happening right now - an alignment of five of the planets. Beginning April 26, and lasting for about 10 days, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter are forming an almost straight line in the western sky. Unlike the movie, they are not lining up one behind another, but rather in a diagonal line beginning with Mercury low to the horizon (only visible from an area with a clear horizon) and climbing to Jupiter which will be easily visible even in the mountains. A trip to the plains will give the best view. Look west at sunset (around 8:30 p.m.) and focus your attention on the two brightest of the planets, Jupiter and Venus. The line between these two planets will contain Saturn and Mars. Mercury is even closer to the horizon than Venus. click here to learn more

All material copyright Ward Cameron 2002