Wildlife viewing along Alberta backroads
We are finally starting to get some decent weather, still not quite up to seasonal norms, but above freezing, so we'll take it! Not wanting to be inside today, we decided to take a short trip around the backroads to see if we could find any wildlife.
So far in Alberta, we haven't been very lucky with our wildlife viewing. I realize we have been sticking to highways and short trails, so we are restricting ourselves a little. But we do not feel comfortable or experienced enough to go hiking in some of these places. We would rather be safe than sorry!
On this occasion, we knew we would be staying in the truck and not hiking, so we set off after the early morning traffic chaos and headed north. The route through the city was pretty easy and we didn't encounter any delays. Having looked at the maps earlier we had decided to head for a road called 766 which is basically a backroad which goes between Calgary and Red Deer. We had heard of deer sightings, so we had our fingers crossed that we might see a deer or two if nothing else.
Although this road is pretty straight between the two cities, it does wiggle a little and we had the map in hand, just in case we needed it, but it was very well signposted and every time there was a detour there were signs telling us exactly where to go, so very easy to travel along. Also, as it was a back road it was very quiet and we didn't encounter many other vehicles. On the west side you get great views of the mountains, but straight ahead and to the east, it is just flat prairies and the ever present oil derricks.
Our expectations were pretty low considering our previous wildlife viewing experiences in Alberta, so when we came upon a heard of mule deer grazing on some branches, we were very happy.
There were about nine in total and they seemed as curious about us as we were of them. Fortunately, they tolerated us staring at them and taking photos and just carried on with their day.
Just a bit further up the road, we found a field that had a lot more deer. In total there were probably a couple of dozen of them, but many were over the brow of the hill and they were all quite far away, so the cameras were on full zoom.
Just when we thought we had seen as many deer as we could, we saw even more. I think today we probably saw more deer in one day that we have ever seen anywhere. Usually, we end up seeing white-tailed deer, particularly when we lived in Ontario, but all the ones we saw on this trip were mule deer. These are bigger than white-tailed and have longer ears. They also have narrower tails with a black tip, whereas white-tailed have, guess what, white fluffy tails with no black tip.
At this point, we were really happy with all the deer we had seen and would have been content with that, but it was about to get even better!
All along the road, we had seen various birds of prey in the skies, but they were always too far away to photograph. We occasionally spotted one on a telegraph pole but they always flew away as we approached. But, we got lucky. One bird, which turned out to be a rough-legged hawk hung around long enough for Chris to get some brilliant shots of him as he flew off.
Along the same section of the road, we also saw an American Kestrel. These are the smallest birds of prey in Canada and I think North America. There were two of them sitting on the wire swooping down to catch whatever it is they had their eye on.
One very interesting place we came upon was this farm which had a lot of sheds just sitting along the side of the property. Although sheds in themselves are not particularly interesting, these had a very picturesque setting and the fact they were all lined up made for a really good photo opportunity. The farm has clearly won some awards as the owners proudly displayed their plaques on a stone near the entrance.
At this point we were only a few km's from Red Deer, so decided to turn around and head back to Calgary. We were completely happy with all we had seen, but we were still in for another treat.
Chris spotted a prairie dog or gopher as they are sometimes called. I had completely forgotten about these delightful little creatures. We had seen some when we travelled across Canada last summer and again seen some around the city, but of course, they have been hibernating over the winter and have just started to appear again.
This particular one was a complete show-off and didn't appear to be at all fazed by us being parked just a few feet from him. He just pottered around, totally oblivious to us.
We did see some more deer on the way back, probably the same ones that were there before. There were also a lot of birds of prey in the air, but none that we could get close enough to the photograph. In total we travelled about 270km.
Overall, we had a fabulous day and definitely the best wildlife viewing day we have had in Alberta. Now the weather is on the turn, hopefully, that will continue and we will see more and more. We would like to see some elk and of course a grizzly bear would be the icing in the cake.