Welcome to the Rocky Mountain Nature Forecast
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June brings new life to the mountains. The landscape is being painted with an explosion of wildflowers, and the hoofed animals are giving birth to the next generation. The warming temperatures are beginning to drain last years snowpack and there are finally signs of green as this years leaves finally emerge, several weeks behind schedule..
Calving brings added dangers
With the arrival of spring, elk, deer and moose seek out quiet locations to give birth to the calves they have been carrying since last autumn. This is a sensitive time for them. They have been weakened by a long winter with limited food supplies, and further complicated by this years lingering winter. These are delicate times and these animals need their privacy. Any close approach will likely result in an aggressive reaction, depleting valuable energy reserves and possibly resulting in your being injured. While mountain residents are well aware of this annual event, many visitors are not. It is up to all of us to educate our guests to the importance of keeping wild animals wild. Within an hour or so of being born, newborn elk, deer or sheep are ready to begin following their mother on short forays. Often, she will hide the calf in dense forest while she forages, returning periodically to nurse. It is during this time that grizzly bears, wolves and cougars hunt for stray newborns. In some areas, grizzlies can take up to 50% of newborn elk and 42% of moose calves. The calves quickly mature though and can elude bears by a few days of age.
This month, we'll see an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour as spring flowers begin to brighten the horizon. In the needle carpeted lodgepole pine forests, look for the delicate pink Calypso Orchid and the pink wintergreen. These colourful flowers will be mixed amongst the pinkish-white blooms of bearberry. On the open avalanche slopes, grizzly bears are attracted to the early shoots of the glacier lily and the sulphur Hedysarum. In other areas, look for the delicate blue of the early-blue violet and the white flowers of the star-flowered Solomon's seal and the baneberry. Sunny hillsides sport the windflower, shooting-star the tall lungwort. These are only a few of the may flowers debuting this month. Don't forget to pack your flower guide.
Animals are motivated by the need to feed, the need for secure habitat and the need to reproduce. If you take the time to understand these requirements, you'll gain more control over your wildlife encounters. On one hand, you'll find yourself spotting more animals, but on the other, you can better anticipate (and thus avoid) unwanted encounters. June is a peak time for roadside wildlife. The high country still has plenty of snow, and the valleys are beginning to bloom. Grizzlies may be spotted along mountain roads like the Icefields Parkway, or Highway 93 south through Kootenay National Park. They can also be seen scouring avalanche slopes (like those adjacent to Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park) for new plant growth and the carcasses of winter killed sheep and goats. Bears seek out the earliest stages of plant growth, especially the new leaves. Once a flower blooms, it is not as nutritious, or as high in protein. Bears follow the blooming of plants like the glacier lily, seeking out areas where the plants are in the proper stage of development. Click here to learn more about the seasonal feeding habits of bears.
Aside from anglers, most people don't get overly excited by the prospect of fish watching, but June is a great time for checking out some of our slippery locals. In late May and the first few weeks of June, head to the Maligne Lake Bridge at the far end of Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Here, in the shallow waters you can watch rainbow trout spawning in the shallow water. While not native to the Rockies, rainbow trout play an important role in the sport fishing industry. Most of the trout native to the Rockies, such as bull trout and cutthroat trout, are the focus of conservation projects designed to reintroduce and conserve native stocks. Cutthroat trout, another spring spawner, prefer colder water than rainbow trout, and over the past few years, have been reintroduced into many areas, including Canmore Creek.
All material copyright Ward Cameron 2002