Could we ever spend a hour looking through the eyes of a coyote? I think it would overwhelm us. We see the wild in passing, usually from a car these days. The coyote hears it, smells it, lives it. The stories that they could tell!
It’s the last evening in the park for me. And I could ask for nothing more: a family of coyotes in the fescue prairie west of Riding Mountain, resting and watching, as coyotes do.
And wandering a little.
Coyotes are omnivorous, just like foxes and bears. Berries are on the menu tonight!
Four coyotes? Perhaps more. Certainly three adults and a pup.
They’re waiting for winter. I’m waiting to travel again. Hard to believe, just eight days and so much wildness. Now we’re bound for Toronto and the long journey home.
I had some concerns about returning here after my long absence, afraid that the old essence had become diluted by relentless over-development and over-tourism. And there are problems, it is true; not on the scale of what Jasper and Banff are enduring, but even the prairie hasn’t escaped commercialism. I was especially concerned at the new road being built in East Block of Grasslands, a highly questionable action that seems to have gone unnoticed by Canadian NGOs. And Canada’s federal and provincial biodiversity protection laws could be tightened up. That is not news. Nor is the bubbling friction between people and large wildlife in some rural districts.
But there is still so much life in the Great Lone Land. Taste of the air or the glow of a lynx’s eyes? Hear it in the coyote’s song and the catch the shadow of an owl on a forgotten farmstead. It is something, intangible and free. Coyote, bears, moose, prairie dogs – they’re still here.
Long may they remain so.
It just goes on, forever.
Crossed by wary wild things.
And some smaller but bolder. This bundle of frenetic energy is a mink, a small, water-loving member of the weasel family.
It is so intent on its quest that it almost ignores me.
Spruce grouse keep watch on their own stretch of highway.
If there are any bats in the batbox, they are certainly asleep.
And the road – it just continues, rolling out of the park gate and into the rural provinces beyond.
You can never really know a path like this. As soon as you reach one end, the beginning has reinvented itself with the seasons and you have to start all over again.
Constant travelling. Constant learning. Life on the Canadian roads.
September 2018 – Canada is riddled with water. Rivers, waterfalls, mountain lakes – frequent material for tourist advertisements, yet quiet corners remain where wild creatures swim.
Beaver: ecosystem engineer. They’re a hot topic in the UK at the moment because the reintroduction of the closely-related European species has shown a lot of promise, not only for biodiversity but also in reducing flooding of towns. Beavers change the environment, more than any wild animal except perhaps elephants. They slow rivers, create pools, fell trees – creating microhabitats, in other words, which other species eagerly use.
And the beaver’s fans don’t get much bigger than moose! These fabulous ungulates often browse in the marshy habitat created by beavers.
This one is clearly ready for the rut. A moose’s antlers can weigh close to 80lb, one of the heaviest crowns in the animal kingdom.
The weather’s still turning.
But a woodchuck is still awake. Hibernation hasn’t called him to a winter burrow yet.
There are days that you remember for the smallest possible reasons. I honestly thought it was a beetle, scootling across a forest road, but, no. It’s a mammal. The smallest mammal that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
It’s about the size of a £2 coin. Definitely a shrew, possibly an American pygmy shrew Sorex hoyi, the second smallest mammal on Earth. There are hummingbirds that would dwarf this bundle of whiskers and fur. Uncaring of the two-legged giants and their cameras, it predates invertebrates amongst pebbles that must seem like monoliths.
It’s easy to see a forest in only the big pieces – clouds, trees, lakes. But this wonderland at the autumn-winter boundary continues to enchant with surprises.
I used to watch belted kingfishers when I lived on Vancouver Island. This one cuts a fine figure against Manitoba trees sprinkled with white.
And it is still full of seasonal boundary lines out there.
Afternoon brings something of a thaw. And with it, a welcome face.
Not a particularly large bear, but I wouldn’t even like to guess how many shrews would equal the weight of just his head.
We’ve stumbled into a place of magic. Autumn and winter built a palace, and look at their art!
It’s quiet now, with skies lightening after last night’s snow. Spruce grouse wander the roads.
…roads: pathways past miraculous beauty.
And – this!
A bear! Three bears in fact; mama and two cubs of the year. They must be wondering who has repainted their forest, but seeing these wonderful creatures contrast the white is spellbinding.
Black bears are a special species to me after all the time I spent with them out west. I’ve travelled so far driven by the hope of seeing one again, and here there are three! Christmas come early, I think.
A good moment. A special moment. The type of moment that makes you realise how precious our wild neighbours are.