Brian photographed this dramatic view that looks into the established portion of the wildlife corridor from Hwy 3 northward. This is the Alexander Creek basin in BC, part of one of the most important corridors in Western Canada. This was his first day of a week-long BioBlitz of the region with a team of scientists.Brian joins The Homestretch from the Flathead Valley in southwestern B.C. to share what he is doing on a BioBlitz in the area.
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July has been a banner month for mountain hiking. Brian and some friends encountered 9 bighorn sheep high on a Kananaskis ridge recently, enjoying a sunny mid-day siesta. Can you spot the 9th sheep?
The red paintbrush and white valerian carpeted much of the alpine.
The Okanagon dry forest still had a few flowering plants blooming even though any spring moisture had long left the soil. This is the profoundly beautiful Mariposa lily Brian photographed just a few days ago.
Hiking the subalpine trails in Mt Revelstoke National Park. This early July flower abundance is fully 4 weeks ahead of schedule this year! The lupines in the foreground were in full bloom.
Brian Keating tells the Homestretch about scorpions here in Alberta and other parts of the world.
Day 8: The final leg
“Today’s alarm clock: Catbird meowing, Red-winged blackbird trilling and a Spotted towhee buzzing, all in the bush hardly a meter away from the tent. I could hear every crystal clear note of each of the birds’ calls. I suspect it was 4:30 AM.
We arose at 6:30 to partially cloudy conditions, with low cloud and mist on the hills just to the north.
Once on the river, it was an hour paddle to our takeout on very quiet, flat water. Rain fell for much of our paddle, but had stopped by the time we pulled out at Sandy Point.
We drove one hour to Medicine Hat, where we met with Uncle Stu and Doris for lunch before we began our drive back to Calgary.
Kilometres today: 7″
7 mammal species sighted: 46 Mule deer, 10 White-tailed deer, 1 elk, 5 coyotes, 5 beavers, 1 raccoon, 2 Nuttall’s cottontail rabbits
65 species of birds: including 4 confirmed nests of Prairie falcon. One nest had 5 nearly grown chicks, another had 2 downy “bobble heads”. 2 Bald eagles, 6 Golden eagles (one with a goose kill), 12 Pelicans.
1 Wandering garter snake, 1 scorpion.
166 Km total, took 30 hours of canoeing, so we averaged 5.5 Km/hr. (of interest: normal summer flows from 150 cms to 600 cms should provide good paddling. River speed varies from 2 km/hr at 100 cms to 6 km/hr at 2,000 cms. June daily mean = 600cms, July = 330 cms and Aug = 157 cms…….info from “Marks Guide for Alberta Paddlers”).
“I was up by 5:30 AM to disassemble the tarp and start on our breakfast (cheese omelet). We took down the entire camp and were on the hiking (deer) trail by 7:30 to explore the big coulee just 300m downstream. We hiked way up the valley bottom, found a logical ascent to the high grassland plateau, and returned to camp via a grassland ramp.
High on the top during our descent, we were in some fantastic badlands of bentonite and hoodoos with orange ironstone cap rocks. There we scared up two cottontail rabbits, one of which posed long enough to photograph before it bolted like lightning. I stopped for my morning constitution, with a view, moved a rock on the ground, and lo, there was a scorpion! I suspect a female, as it looked fat and pregnant! (I chose another rock to make my deposit!). Other finds included some fossils, dramatic sandstone weathering, and a pronghorn skull!
Once on the river we enjoyed a tail wind for at least an hour, making some good downriver time. That luck soon ended, but the headwinds were not that bad, and somewhat variable, so we did get some relief.
Three more eagle sightings were made during the day, as were several deer of both species. The most dramatic hoodoos and coulees were now behind us, but still the views along the river were stunning. Dee spotted a wandering garter snake as we paddled not far from shore. A storm caught us by surprise as we paddled, but we were able to get our rain gear on and continued with big raindrops falling and somewhat distant lightning making quite the racket. It soon stopped, but the new moisture brought out the Nighthawks and Bank and Rough-winged swallows in force. A beaver slapped his tail as we passed, and another slipped into the water with a loud splash.
Finding a camp out of sight of the big pipeline crossing but before the take out tomorrow at Sandy Point District Park at Hwy 41 was a bit tricky. But just as the sky was turning black and threatening, we managed to find one after a few false starts. Dee rapidly put up the tent as the thunder and clouds approached, and I quickly took apart the canoe and transported our gear up the steep bank.
Just as we finished erecting the tent, all hell broke loose, just like at the start of the trip, although the hailstones were tiny. We had just enough time to slip under the tarp to wait out the worst of the storm. A blue-sky reprieve soon appeared, and we took full advantage with drinks and treats, overlooking the river and fantastic badlands cliffs on the opposite bank. Soon another black storm cloud appeared, and we beat a hasty retreat to the comfort of our tent and Therma-rest lounge chairs, hot cup-of-soup in hand.
Storm cloud after storm cloud with lots of lightning and thunder then continued. It all lifted, however, and we were able to do a short walk up the coulee behind us.
Kilometres today: 33, and we have named this camp ‘Thunder & Lightning Camp.’”
Day 6: Hoodoos, dinosaur bones and coyotes!
“During breakfast we spotted a raccoon on the other side of the river, and watched for some time as he prodded the waterline up to his elbows looking for clams. He never noticed our presence. We had been seeing raccoon tracks pretty well everywhere where there was soft mud, so it was nice to finally see one.
We had packed up camp and were on the river by 8 AM, and then hiking again by 8:30 at the big White Rock Coulee, the other deep valley that makes up this special area. We hiked for a little over an hour, looking for dinosaur bones and fossil wood. We found and photographed some nice examples. One hoodoo cap was sitting as if ready to fall at the very top of a huge cliff, atop a pinnacle of bentonite. We joked that if we set up camp, we could witness its tumble!
The canyon walls were steep, hoodoos plentiful, and evidence of deer and coyote everywhere.
There was a set of easy rapids immediately downstream from the entrance to White Rock Coulee, and from there on we were battling headwinds. Lunch was enjoyed at a small but beautiful coulee entrance with the only (small) tree around for protection from the wind. We went for a short walk, and Dee found a dinosaur skeleton, in the usual multi-thousand fragmented pieces. But there were some sizeable bones that we photographed. We searched unsuccessfully for any teeth.
Back on the river, the headwinds were momentarily forgotten as we watched a Golden eagle attempt to lift off with a kill! A half dozen blackbirds were harassing the big bird,
and eventually he dropped it! We were able to see that his kill was a young goose, but one old enough to have the white cheek marks! The opportunistic eagle no doubt returned to his prize after we were out of sight further downstream.
Paddling progress was slow, but eventually we made it to an excellent, protected campsite with easy non-muddy access. A terrace provided the dining room view of the river and badlands, and just behind, nestled in a dense, young cottonwood forest, was a clearing where we set up the tent. Hiking promised to be good with a fairly extensive coulee behind us.
From the camp, we enjoyed the calls of a Yellow warbler, an abundance of Cedar waxwings, and a resident Baltimore oriole. And then the rain began. It was light, but consistent. We set up a rain tarp with our big green groundsheet, and enjoyed a late afternoon hot mocha drink. Carpets of deer hair indicated a kill, and sure enough, we found a nearly fully articulated skeleton of a buck. Winter kill, no doubt.
The rain stopped around 6 PM, and so we headed up the coulee. Steep, rocky and dramatic would best describe it. After finding more dinosaur bones, we began a gymnastic climb to the height of land, just to prove to ourselves that this was in fact the coulee we intended to camp at. All good.
Upon descent down a different route, we encountered huge slabs of stone fractured and broken creating a labyrinth of caves and overhangs. Bones littered the area, and coyote tracks were everywhere. We may have stumbled upon a den. A lone coyote watched us from the top of the bluff behind our camp upon our return. One long look, and then he vanished. Typical coyote.
Kilometres today: 16, and we called this camp ‘Coyote Camp.’”